The International Rugby League Federation has finally addressed the issue of eligibility which has been problematic for a long time.
The existing rules were not only confusing, ambiguous and annoying for players, but it was also detrimental to the international game which has been mocked in recent years for being in a messy state which played second fiddle to State of Origin despite being at a higher level of representation.
- Eligible players can nominate one tier 1 nation to represent and one tier 2 nation
- Players can switch between their two countries multiple times within a World Cup cycle
- There is no stand-down period between a change of allegiance
- Players of Polynesian heritage can play State of Origin but still be available to turn out for their native island country
- The residency qualifying period has been increased from three to five years.
Team that are outside of the ‘Big Three’ will now have an opportunity to become much more competitive in the international game and even out the playing field.
Players will now be able to apply to play, for example, Australia and Fiji. They can play for one team one year then another the next year without penalty.
The biggest change up; however, is the State of Origin rule which was a major reason why players chose to shun their heritage country in the past.
If Polynesian players such as Jarryd Hayne and Anthony Milford can play both Origin and for their Polynesian countries. This will encourage players to play for the Polynesian countries and instill pride into the jerseys which are currently considered second-rate which is reinforced by their ‘tier-2’ status.
Teams like Fiji and Samoa have the potential to beat teams like England, Australia and New Zealand but haven’t been at that level in the past because of the rules. These teams could potentially become first choice countries soon instead of being a back-up option if their first choice team falls through.
Hayne even recently expressed his interest to play for Fiji rather than Australia.
Expect the International competition to heat up way more in the coming years and next year’s World Cup to be even more exciting and unpredictable.