The Rugby League International Federation announced on Tuesday that eligibility criteria are to be overhauled in order for ethnic islanders to play for their country of heritage.
From October 1, players will no longer be forced to choose between State of Origin and their “lower tier” national team, which is any nation outside the big three of New Zealand, Australia and England.
The RLIF also extended the residency-qualifying period from three to five years, to attempt to avoid farcical repeats of situations like the one that saw Semi Radradra play for Australia just three years after moving to the country.
Keeping eligibility rules constantly up to date with the climate of international rugby league is important.
Rules that may have suited five years ago now do not, evident in the public outrage at the aforementioned Radradra debacle, as well as the multiple situations last year that saw players like Milford spurn Samoa in the case of Origin selection.
“These rules will allow the best players to represent their countries and ensure that fans will get to see the best product whenever international rugby league is played,” said 2017 World Cup CEO Andrew Hill.
But this is far short of “the miracle saviour required to rescue international league”. This is little more than a necessary Band-Aid to an issue that is still bleeding.
20 years on from the commencement of the NRL era, international rugby league is still in its’ infancy stages. Outside New Zealand, Australia and England, talent is very thin, and it is quite concerning.
Over the same time period, the rugby union World Cup has seen five different finalists, with the same final having not appeared twice.
But as important as the Pacific Islands are to the league community, the road to the international success of the code runs through Europe, not the Pacific.
The Catalans Dragons have no doubt been fantastic for rugby league in France – it’s unlikely they would be a robust fifth in the world without Catalans involved in the English Super League.
We almost saw the same positive effect take place in Wales, with the Celtic Crusaders taking place in 2009, 2010 and 2011 Super Leagues before administration and liquidation.
This is hugely disappointing for Welsh Rugby League. Were they still contesting the top-level European rugby league competition, who knows where the Welsh program may be now?
Meanwhile, in rugby union, Wales reached a high of #2 in the world last year, summiting even famed world powers South Africa and Australia.
Their club scene is much the same. Four Welsh club sides contest the Pro12 competition, alongside eight other Irish, Scottish and Italian clubs.
But the model of success that rugby union has taken forward for international growth and development has not included attempting to maintain these nations as the next best thing outside the big three – that’s simply not realistically possible.
Europe is where the money, population and prospective fans are. Europe is the future of international rugby league.
The RLIF allowing the release of New South Wales hooker Robbie Farah to Lebanon is a nice touch but is also simply papering over the cracks.
It’s an important step, but much more need to be taken.