When you think about it dispassionately, representative football is quite a Victorian concept: “You’ve been chosen to represent the district – hip, hip, hurray!”
This quaint old convention is almost completely incompatible with an age where athletes are employed full time by their clubs and money comes from television rights for the club competition, not gate receipts.
The only way representative games can remain relevant is through weight of money. In cricket and rugby union, as examples, representative competitions make more money than the club competitions.
In, say, American basketball and baseball, the national teams play quite infrequently because the club scene generates the cash.
In soccer – that’s what I still call it here – and ice hockey, they seem to have something of a balance because both theatres are very profitable. It’s no coincidence that both these sports are in the Olympics.
Rugby league is not.
In our sport, the only representative competition that makes money in Australia is State of Origin. The spectre of players pulling out uninjured, or playing in a curtain-raiser in preference to a full international (in the case of Anthony Milford), this weekend illustrates the disarray and apathy at other levels of representative rugby league.
The authorities trying to encourage and foster under 20s Origin, City v Country and Test football are like that little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke. But on the other side of the wall there is not water, but tonnes and tonnes of cash.
It’s only going to get harder for them as players are paid more and the NRL becomes a bigger and bigger behemoth. They are trying to maintain an amateur institution in a ruthless, cynical, professional environment.
Australia is only playing New Zealand this Friday to satisfy a broadcasting contract and place a protective buffer around City v Country, the under 20s Origin and Fiji v Samoa. These games are seen as important to the code for altruistic reasons, but without a ‘'big bill'’ feature on the same weekend, they could never be staged.
Reporter Chris Irvine, of The Times, said on a recent edition of the Super League Back Chat TV show that Australia was “a big country with small minds”. He was discussing the apparent reluctance of the Australian Rugby League Commission to host Great Britain next year.
The fact is, the rest of the rugby league world needs the Australian rugby league team more than Australia does. England/GB and New Zealand are like lower division teams whose big pay day comes when they play a glamour side in the cup.
As things stand, only romance and the interests of the 17 players in green and gold require Australia to play home internationals. It serves no other purpose at all.
Australia should mostly play away and if they must turn out on home soil, it should be in places where they are appreciated, such as Brisbane, Townsville, Newcastle, or even, depending on the opposition, Melbourne.
The Australian rugby league side should be like the US basketball "Dream Team": more often heard of than seen. They should play mainly just to help their rivals earn a quid.
Instead of using the Anzac Test to insulate other matches that are in the game’s interests, we should be using our only profitable representative matches: State of Origin. The NRL’s reputation immediately before and after these games is already sullied: understrength teams attract poor crowds and ratings.
Denying clubs of the very men they employ is also hopelessly anachronistic and ridiculous.
Let’s move the representative round to the weekend before Origin I. City-Country is no more a selection trial for NSW than Origin is for Australia. Club competitions could pause worldwide and everyone, but Australia, could play that weekend, giving us a competitive midyear international window.
Ten days before Origin, everyone could go into camp: NSW, Queensland, England, New Zealand, NSW under 20s, Fiji, the Czech Republic – everyone.
Fox showing Fiji v Samoa indicates there is some interest in these matches – even if it doesn’t come from Channel Nine. If Nine want something that weekend, maybe one club game could be given to them as a peace offering.
Eventually, we might have two rep weekends and one Origin might be pushed – kicking and screaming – to a weekend.
Take Australia largely off the international scene between World Cups and create mystique and expectation as everyone else plays and improves.
The trans-Tasman Test is no longer big enough and strong enough to shield the fixtures underneath it this weekend. Only Origin can do that job.
Milford more a Queenslander than a Samoan
A quick world about Milford and his ilk.
We have to be careful about accusing Queensland of ‘'stealing'’ Milford from Samoa. He was born and raised in Brisbane. Samoa were fortunate to have his services at the World Cup.
Many of our international teams are “heritage” teams and it’s getting things arse-about to blow up when someone chooses to represent the place they were born and raised.
David Mead, on the other hand, was born in Port Moresby. His selection for Country will not prevent the Kumuls from picking him, but it is a far bigger concern.
Hayne try a classic, too
Thanks to everyone who tweeted with tries to compare to Greg Inglis’ beauty on Friday.
The Jarryd Hayne try in 2009 has been largely forgotten. See it here.
Not the same distance as Inglis, but a similar number of defenders beaten.