Players have options


RUGBY league’s new international eligibility rules could help sell next year’s World Cup in Australia to the USA and the rest of the world.
Under new rules being proposed by the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF), players not selected for tier-one nations, Australia, New Zealand and England, will be free to play for developing league countries.
For Papua New Guinea, it could mean elite players who are eligible to play for the Kumuls would not be encumbered by rules that restrict them from opting to play for a country other than Australia.
PNG Rugby Football League chief executive officer Bob Cutmore said although the rule would be a boon for the minnows, he doubted that PNG would benefit immediately simply because of the dearth of PNG talent in the NRL.
“While this is a good rule, I’m not so sure how much of an impact it will have on us (Kumuls),” Cutmore, pictured, said.
“As far as I know, the door has always been open for players of PNG heritage playing in Australia and elsewhere but the fact is at the moment, we don’t have too many players in the NRL first grade or those other top-tier competitions.
“If anything, I think this rule would benefit more countries like Fiji, who probably would have a pretty strong side if they could pick all their available talent in the NRL.” The rule means players such as Alex Johnston (South Sydney) and James Segeyaro (Leeds) could still turn out for PNG, even though they had already represented Australia and the pair, as well as David Mead, Nene Macdonald, Ray Thompson, Luke Page and Kurt Baptiste could all play Origin next year and still play for PNG at the World Cup if they were not called up to the Kangaroos.
“The reality for us is that we’ve got a list of PNG eligible players running around in the lower grades but we’re aware of them and can pick them if our top-line players can’t make or chose to play for Australia,” Cutmore said.
The likes of Jarryd Hayne and Anthony Milford could each play State of Origin next year, before being selected to play for Fiji and Samoa respectively at the end-of-season World Cup.
“It allows us to market a better product when we’re trying to sell it internationally,” RLIF international development manager Tas Baitieri said of the positives the new rule would bring. We’re going to have a better quality standard of the game, which is going to be appealing to the public and also TV broadcasters.”
Twelve of the 28 matches at the last World Cup, in 2013, were decided by 20 points or more.
“When you have games that are blowout scorelines, it doesn’t endower the game a lot when you’re trying to sell the game to new countries like America,” Baitieri said.
Samoa also stand to be the big winners of the decision, with a number of players, including Milford, Josh McGuire, Suaia Matagi, Junior Paulo, Marty Taupau and Joseph Leilua set to star for the country if they miss out on Kangaroos or Kiwis selection.
Samoa coach Matt Parish was delighted with the news but warned a change needed to come at NRL level if the rule adjustment would have any affect on an annual basis through the mid-year Tests.
“It’s disappointing that some clubs don’t support the international game,” Parrish said. “They support their players when they get picked for Australia and New Zealand but they need to support them when they get picked for other countries.”

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