NRL news: Samoa Rugby World Cup players state of origin eligibility, Corey Parker column

Samoa’s main stars have breached a key Home State eligibility rule at this World Cup. Australia and Queensland great COREY PARKER ponders what needs to happen next to avoid a nasty mess.

If State of Origin arrives next year and Jarome Luai, Brian To’o and Joseph Sua’ali’i don’t feature for NSW after Samoa’s brilliant World Cup run, I would be very disappointed.

They must be allowed to play.

International rugby league is better for Samoa who have reached a World Cup final. This was made possible by having Luai, To’o, and Sua’ali’i on the team, so punishing them and other Samoa players in Origin afterwards feels unfair and outdated.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding Samoa’s testing status; though they and Tonga should now be elevated to tier one with Australia, New Zealand and England making their player eligibility more fixed. But does a hot day make a summer, in terms of Samoa making a final and then being propelled into the traditional superpowers?

There’s also the key point that guys like Luai, To’o, Sua’ali’i, Josh Papali’i and Junior Paulo have chosen to play for Samoa first and foremost, rather than making Australia their option. #1 as the Origin rules always state. they must.

Still, we have long tried to have the best players available playing for their home nation, to boost Test football. While this was done on the basis that they weren’t first picked by a Tier 1 team, it’s hard to begin to penalize players for actually choosing to represent their ancestral nations.

In Luai’s case, he wouldn’t have made the Kangaroos squad anyway with Cam Munster at five-eights. But that old hierarchy is a bit of a shock these days, where Australia is supposed to get the first pick and then the Pacific Island teams only get the remaining players.

There are a few important facts to consider in this situation.

A lot of these guys from Pasifika were actually born in New South Wales or Queensland. Luai is a boy born and raised in Mt Druitt. The original rules state that you only need to live in New South Wales or Queensland before you turn 13 and then play your youth football there.

Personal identity is not black and white. Someone may be a born and bred New South Welshman or Queenslander, no longer a proud Australian, and still have deep family ties to an ancestral nation. Of course they can.

If we decide these guys with Pasifika heritage can’t play for NSW or Queensland, what will we do at Origin Arena? In the NRL, 45% of players identify as Pasifika or Maori. That number is only growing, so excluding them based on test eligibility dramatically reduces the talent pool available for the game’s most valuable showpiece.

If you told guys like Papali’i and Luai that they would never play Origin again if they continued to play for Samoa as the #1 Test Nation, who makes what decision? This weakens both the Test and Origin teams once everyone decides and goes their separate ways. It is unfair to impose this decision on the players when they actually grew up in Queensland and New South Wales.

To be fair, many would probably stick with Samoa and Tonga; hence the concern about Origin’s talent pool. People are ensnared by the money guys get to play Origin, saying it stops them from wanting to play Test footy for other nations. This is no longer true, I believe; when you’re a representative-level player in the NRL, you still make a lot of money.

The only questionable rule is that Origin players are supposed to be available for Kangaroos first and foremost. So maybe it’s as simple as applying the international rugby league Tier One rule to Origin: provided these guys aren’t playing test football for New Zealand or England, they can playing for NSW and Queensland.

The bottom line is that we’re a different game these days. There’s a huge Pasifika contingent in rugby league and we’re better at it.

A messy and contentious argument over Origin eligibility, in some cases about guys who have played for NSW or Queensland before, can only hurt the game. Provided they have genuine roots in their states, let them play .

Kangaroos win the galloping final

‘Clunky’ is a word I’ve used more than once to describe Australia’s play so far in this tournament. I also heard Mal Meninga say it a few times.

That’s how kangaroos play. There was no real fluidity in their attack, despite huge scoring, and they are yet to put together a full game.

Maybe it’s due to some of the teams they played. They weren’t tested at all until the semi-final win over New Zealand, in which both teams were still up and down.

As the new half-back, Nathan Cleary has come under intense scrutiny over Australia’s performance. Still, he had relatively limited playing time to settle in, having missed the opener and shared early duties with Daly Cherry-Evans. He always tries to find his own ease while building combinations with the five-eighth and prostitutes; Cam Munster, who he has never played with, as well as two other Queenslanders in Ben Hunt and Harry Grant, who are on and off for around half a game each.

I don’t think Cleary was bad. He did his job. Still, due to the brilliant form he was in at the start of the tournament, we all expected him to absolutely light it up. He didn’t, but he wasn’t alone in this regard among the Kangaroos and certainly wasn’t ordinary.

There have been good performers for Australia without anyone being absolutely exceptional. James Tedesco led by example. Liam Martin took the opportunity to claim a starting spot in the back row, while Cameron Murray was terrific on the bench. Grant was animated. Josh Addo-Carr was brilliant, both in finishing and creating tries.

Aussies just have too many great players and to be honest I don’t see Samoa coming close.

Samoa are on this very high emotional streak at the moment, and rightly so, but I just don’t see them winning this final. England had several chances to win this second semi-final and will blame themselves for not having done so.

The English played too laterally at the start of the match. I expect Australia to be very direct at the start of the middle third, really trying to wear down Samoa’s strong suit, their attacking pack. From there, the Kangaroos can play a very fast attack through that middle third.

For the first 20 minutes or so, it should be a brutal contest. But based on what I’ve seen from Samoa, I can see the Australians really running away from there, provided they finally click and put on a proper 80 minute performance.

Whatever happens in the final, Samoa had a wonderful tournament.

I feel like Jarome Luai felt a bit of pressure as the lead playmaker. It looked like, for that first loss to England and the first half of the game after, he was trying to allow the likes of Anthony Milford, Danny Levi and Nu Brown to play their way. Then he just grabbed the bull by the horns and said, “This is my team and it’s going to follow me”. Luai is used to playing second fiddle to Nathan Cleary for Penrith and NSW, but he really took charge of Samoa from then on, with attacking squad leaders like Junior Paulo.

Joseph Sua’ali’i really grew throughout the tournament as a fullback, as expected. And Tim Lafai has jumped off the page, given that he’s been out of sight, out of mind to play in the Super League. He remains a quality player, while Stephen Crichton had a decent tournament in the other center position.

Only one thing surpasses winning the World Cup

You can feel the legacy in the old changing rooms at Old Trafford. You know you’re sitting in the seat of Bobby Charlton and George Best. Roy Keane and David Beckham. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. World sports idols.

This is the first pitch I’ve played on where you walk up the pitch, taking a few steps from the locker room run up to the pitch. It’s unique and it’s special.

The stadium, the Theater of Dreams, is emblematic. As an Australian rugby league player, you will usually only be able to play there if you are in a World Cup final.

I had the chance to do that when Australia won 34-2 in the 2013 final against New Zealand. Now these kangaroos and proud Samoan players have the opportunity of a lifetime.

It will be a full house for the decision maker. Gamers will love it. These are the moments that make all sacrifices worthwhile.

We won well in 2013; while we were very focused on not taking a try, we had a few moments to soak up the atmosphere. Then you grab a beer with your teammates in these legendary locker rooms. How good is this.

For me, winning the World Cup is between winning a premiership and winning an Origin Series.

The effort and camaraderie it takes to win a premiership…nothing beats that. It took me seven years to win one NRL Grand Final and nine years just to reach another.

But playing and winning for your country trumps your state, as much as I love Queensland. Wearing green and gold is something every Australian sportsman aspires to do. Nothing is more special at the representative level than lining up alongside the best players the whole country has to offer, in front of friends and family.

I hope these Kangaroos players feel like they’re lifting the World Cup. As inspiring as Samoa has been this tournament, I’m sure it will be.

Corey Parker is a former rugby league player who played 347 games for the Broncos. He was part of Brisbane’s 2006 premiership victory and also appeared 19 times for Queensland and five times for Australia. Since retiring in 2016, Parker has been a member of the Fox League team.

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