The surprise move caught the entire rugby league community off guard, with everyone expecting Taumalolo and Fifita to play for the same teams they had represented during the ANZAC Test.
According to the Rugby League World Cup website, a player can represent a nation if they are either born in the nation, their parents or grandparents were born in that nation or they have a principal residence in that nation.
Additionally, players can nominate one Tier 1 nation and one Tier 2 or 3 nation to play for provided they are eligible for both. The Tier 1 nations are Australia, New Zealand and England, while Tier 2 and 3 nations are made up of all other playing nations.
Typically players will only play for a Tier 2 or 3 nation if they are not selected for either Australia, New Zealand and England.
This is not the case with Taumalolo and Fifita, who have sacrificed a big payday and the best chance they have of winning the tournament to represent Tonga. In fact, Fifita, who would have earned potentially $50,000, will earn around $3,000 for turning out for the Tongan team.
This decision has split not only the fans of the game but the players themselves. Joel Thompson praised Taumalolo’s decision and Chad Townsend commented that the World Cup would be more interesting now.
For the Tongan side, the addition of two international stars is a huge boost leading into the World Cup. Taumalolo and Fifita will join the likes of Will Hopoate, Tui Lolohea, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings and Daniel Tupou in a squad that is studded with NRL stars.
This has certainly increased interest around the World Cup and international rugby league in general.
However is this the right way to develop nations outside of Tier 1?
Relying on major players to withdraw themselves from the big three nations is not sustainable for countries like Tonga and Samoa. With the NRL now featuring a spread of players from a wide number of nationalities, it may be time to rethink the Tier system.
That is the opinion of David Nofoaluma, who believes that moving Tonga and Samoa into Tier 1 would allow them to succeed on the international stage. With financial assistance from the NRL, this could be a possibility.
Under that system, players like Taumalolo and Fifita would not be able to change allegiances before major tournaments. Rugby League’s international game suffers from having players playing for more than one country, which takes away from the credibility of the competition.
On the other hand though, allowing players that miss out of selection for Tier 1 teams to play for weaker sides improves the level of competition across the board. This, in turn, creates more interest in minor games that would not be there otherwise.
There are clearly arguments for both sides, keeping the system as it is or revamping the international system.
What do you think should happen? Should the Tier system remain in place and should players be allowed to change allegiances as they like?