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Only State of Origin is big enough to protect rugby league's other representative matches


Size matters: James Tamou takes on the Kiwis during the 2013 Anzac Test, but the match is no longer big enough to shield the other representative games.

Size matters: James Tamou takes on the Kiwis during the 2013 Anzac Test, but the match is no longer big enough to shield the other representative games. Photo: Getty Images

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.

Queenslander: Canberra's Anthony Milford.

Queenslander: Canberra's Anthony Milford. Photo: Graham Tidy

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.

14 comments so far

  • Hi Steve,

    I agree with you on some points, but not on the status of the Kangaroos. In truth the Kangaroos have had a stronger rivalry with New Zealand over the past 10 years than NSW has had with Qld; they've won a couple trophies in 3N and 4N and a RLWC. What have NSW won?

    No, the problem isn't international League, it's the structure of the season. To be honest, I reckon it'd be far smarter to rationalise the NRL and rep season so that it represented a progression toward higher and higher levels.

    My suggestion would therefore be to get rid of rep week altogether; it serves no purpose where it is and just cuts the season up. Instead, cut the season to 24 weeks, so that it finishes in mid September. Then push Origin to start two weeks after the GF and let it play out on successive weekends. None of this dislocated nonsense where it takes 6 weeks to play 3 games, just 3 weeks in a row all Origin.

    Now, on the last week of Origin you start the international season, which you reduce back to a 3N, but compliment with a developing nations tournament below it. Get the Poms and Kiwis to start it off by playing eachother once, then take a week off for the Aussies to get into it and have them play right after that.

    This would give the poms and the kiwis an advantage by having more time together, and make the season logically progress to a pinnacle of rep footy.

    Date and time
    April 30, 2014, 4:58PM
    • Sorry Dan,
      I see wher you are thinking but disagree, after a grand final, in the heat of summer you are not going to get the quality Origin games we have grown to expect.
      Origin should be played mid season, Tests in winter on the other side of the world or very down south in New Zealand after the Grand Final.
      What to do with comp mid season, well didn't the players play a mid season knock out as well NSWRL and SOO back in the eighties?
      Pay the players more and they will play more, that way if they burn out early they have earned plenty.
      Pay them double what they can earn in Aussie Rules or Rugby (the elite players I am talking about - NRL to top up the wages) and there will be no more code hoppers, just great rugby league
      If a player was to earn let's say an extra 100K-200K a season playing for their national team (NRL TO PAY ANYONE WHO MAKES A TOP 8 NATIONAL TEAM THAT AMOUNT) then players would nominate who they really represent rather than who they think they will make the most amount from.
      Split the rounds at origin but don't nominate until the sides are picked, the least amount of sides effected for the nominated round play on Friday & Sunday with the Origin played on the Saturday (twighlight) this allows for a great buildup with parades in the nominated towns over Friday and Saturday.
      Caxton Street would go off with blending in the Seafood festival as well which is getting bigger and bigger every year.
      I am sure both Sydney & Melbourne could creat their own carnival atmosphere

      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 10:50PM
  • So Milford is as "Samoan" as Inglis is "Queenslander"??????

    The Outback
    Date and time
    April 30, 2014, 7:05PM
    • England v NZ in the RLWC Semi-Final proved on the biggest stage that International RL can be a tantalising prospect with or without Australia involved. In fact, often it's the presence of Australia which leads to the Mexican waves, cavernous stadiums and bloated betting odds. I will go further in stating that Australia is holding the international game back, via nonchalant attitudes, cherry picking minnows and general lack of charity (compare the RFL's relationship with the RLEF). In regards to your suggested restructures, everyone seems to be screaming out for a logical sequence. Start small and end big. Nines > NRL > Finals > State of Origin > 4 Nations. Start in February - End in November. This is a simple and uninterupted hiarchy of Footy that promotes everything in order and in it's rightful place. Each unique phase will be given the attention it deserves and flourish from the concerted exposure.

      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 7:45PM
      • well said

        Date and time
        May 01, 2014, 4:39PM
    • The key with rep-footy is to have meaningful encounters. With soccer friendlies, it's not completely pointless, same with 1 off rugby tests. I'm not certain but FIFA and the IRB give out rankings points at every test-match, so they do count towards things eg seeds in European World cup qualifiers. Rugby league should make matches like the upcoming Australia V NZ test-match count towards ranking points. Maybe the RLIF do now, I don't know. But Fiji V NZ has meaning, as a spot will be awarded in the 4 nations to the winner. Id like to see a proper 4-year cycle rep calendar started. Something like this
      -Yr 1 GB Lions tour eg either Australia or NZ every 4 years
      -YR 2: A Pacific-nations cup (Aust/NZ/Fiji/Samoa/Tonga/Cook Islands/PNG/USA
      -YR 3: A rest in off-season or test series eg Australia V Rest of the World or test tour or Europe eg a 2-test French series and a Test V Italy, or a Grand slam tour of British Isles and Ireland 4 tests in 4 weeks V(Eng,Scotland,Ireland,Wales) like they do in rugby.
      Yr 4: Rugby League World Cup (RLWC)
      -Proper alignment and structure.

      Of Newcastle
      Date and time
      April 30, 2014, 8:45PM
      • Kangaroo and Lion tours are dead. They effectively died the year Super League moved to a summer season in the northern hemisphere. That change made it unfeasible to include any significant club element in any tour because the clubs have ended their season. Besides which the move to full time professionalism with big money riding on the health of star players, made it undesirable to have our stars playing any more matches than they absolutely have to. Traditional tours are dead. Remember them fondly and make the best use of the situation we now have.

        The big three need to be playing each other every year. That is the core of the international game and what generates the interest and the money that funds the rest. Australia, New Zealand and England need to play each other every year in a single tournament with either one or even two guests (I actually think France should be fast tracked as an annual participant with an additional rotating northern or southern hemisphere qualifier in a Five Nations). If a warm-up game is necessary, play those against non qualifying minor nations. Then every fourth or fifth year, invite the rest of the world and call it a World Cup.


        Dallas, TX
        Date and time
        May 01, 2014, 3:24AM
    • How about 4 representative/Challenge Cup weekends - with the 3 SOO matches first and then (logically) a test played on the 4th weekend. The Rep games to be played on the Friday nights, and the Challenge cup matches played Sat/Sun/Mon. Spread the 4 weekends throughout the season. Cup teams could be made up of NRL/NYC/NSWCup/Qld cup players. So for example on the 3rd weekend you would have SOO3 friday night, a cup semi Saturday night and the other cup semi Sunday at 3pm. City/Country would be gone - but the first round of 8 Cup matches could be spread throughout country areas to make up for that...

      Personally I hate the way the rep games make the premiership lose momentum - but the reintroduction of Cup footy would be great...and who knows - Souths or Cronulla may eventually win something again!

      Enmore Chook
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 8:33AM
      • Steve what happened? You used to be the champion of rep footy. Rugby league has a tremendous opportunity to do what no code has done before: treat the Pacific Nations with respect. Why not host a Pacific Origin in conjunction with State of Origin. That would allow Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, PNG and Cook Islands to play meaningful matches every year and prepare for the World Cup. There would be a massive audience for it if promoted properly. I would love to go to an Origin double header where I could see Fiji and Samoa get stuck into each other before NSW and QLD. It would be a fantastic way to promote the international scene. I think within five years the likes of Fiji would be challenging England and NZ as the top contending nations. You should push for it in your column.

        In terms of pushing league in Sydney's West our Pacific Islander players are a point of difference that league will always have over soccer and AFL.

        Also the World Cup in Australia made millions of dollars in profit. This is NOT insignificant and when you consider that union is almost broke it is another tremendous opportunity that can spread the gospel and fill the game's coffers.

        Date and time
        May 01, 2014, 9:19AM
        • The crowds and television audiences in the semis and final of the RLWC last year suggests that there is an appetite to see the big three - even Australia - play in other parts of the world. The England v NZ semi showed why. From memory there was a big turn out at Eden Park in Auckland in 2012 as well.
          I actually think that the biggest hindrance is the fact that the club seasons are so long (both NRL and Superleague). I would have have internationals running (eight teams?) over a three week period with a break in the club scene roughly half way through the year. The ANZAC test has regularly been channel 9's highest rating Friday night game over the last 10 years, so telecasting internationals rather than club games shouldn't hurt the TV deal too much. Origin will flourish no matter where it's put, so maybe it can be placed wherever best suits from there.
          This will mean that the number of club rounds are reduced and some 'creative' scheduling can see more rivalry blockbuster style games in the NRL. A win all round in my mind.

          Date and time
          May 01, 2014, 2:49PM

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