Wayne Bennett has used time in his press conference following England’s quarterfinal win over PNG to take a shot at the eligibility rules currently in place in the World Cup tournament.
Having declined to comment in the past, coincidentally the Broncos and Dragons premiership-winning coach has broached the subject just a week away from his England sides semi-final match-up against Tonga.
For those who are unaware of the situation, Bennett believes the rules that allowed Taumalolo and Fifita to represent Tonga over New Zealand and Australia respectively, have created a bad look for the international game.
I literally could not disagree more if I actively tried.
The decisions made by Taumalolo and Fifita (as well as Fusitu’a, Jennings and Tupou) to play for Tonga have given this tournament genuine interest outside the tier-one nations. I’d go so far as to say right now international league is as strong as I have ever seen it in my 30 years.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained by seeing Australia, New Zealand and England run rings around all before them if rules can be relaxed to make games more competitive.
I am a huge fan of eligibility rules that have allowed the likes of Tedesco, Moses, Jennings and co to play a huge part in this world cup, rather than sipping drinks on a beach in Bali.
The only reason the Taumalolo and Fifita selections made headlines is that they were both named in their tier one nations sides. Family reasons and a chance to be apart of something very special lead to both pulling on the red of Tonga, and I don’t think anyone outside of Bennett has a problem with it.
Remember this is a coach who has actively pushed for his players not to be picked in rep games previously. Anthony Milford was advised not to represent Samoa in the past, meaning Samoa were sans their biggest profile player and best-attacking option. THAT is a bad look for the international game.
Heading into the tournament all the talk was about who the Kangaroos would beat in the final, New Zealand or England?
Taumalolo and Fifita have played a massive part in shocking that system, with Hayne playing a big part in Fiji’s rise.
This World Cup has been, by far, the most exciting in recent memory. We owe that to the eligibility rules.
Imagine if they were tightened and players like Tedesco, Hayne and Jennings were locked out due to having played Origin and/or for the Kangaroos previously. What good does that do?
If Fifita had played for the Kangaroos he would have been a prop coming off the bench. The stars who run the Roo show are Cronk, Smith, Slater and co. Fifita would have been an asset to the side no doubt, but I doubt he would have started over Klemmer or Woods.
Instead, he is one of Tonga’s biggest superstars. He has a huge profile, plenty of experience and has made plenty of metres.
Taumalolo’s presence may have made a difference to the Kiwis horrible campaign, but to be honest I still don’t think they would have challenged either England or Australia at the business end of the tournament.
Instead, his defection set off such an amazing chain of events that we now have a very real chance of seeing Tonga in the World Cup decider in two weeks time.
How is THAT bad for the international game?
Sure the Roos and Kiwis were forced to scramble to find a replacement, but in RCG and Simon Mannering, they’re hardly short of options.
Instead of being side stories in their respective nations, both players are now THE story. We have the relaxed international rules to thank for that.
We have more competitive games, we have shock upsets which have made huge waves internationally. We have more Tongan and Fijian fans with eyes on the game than ever before. Tongan flags and jerseys are absolutely flying. Young kids are running around pretending to be Konrad Hurrell and co.
Sounds horrible for the game to me!?
Perhaps the game has passed the former Supercoach by? At least at international level.
I fail to see, in any way, how the rise of Tonga is a bad thing for the game. So what is a few negative headlines came up as a result of Adam Blair and co not liking the Taumalolo switch? I’d argue the hundreds of positive stories that have come out of Tonga as a result massively stomp those negative headlines into the ground.
Let’s not forget the fact that Bennett has named a Camden born player in his English side also…
I think the international game is in a better place than ever before, purely as a result of the eligibility rules.
Taking choice away from superstar players, robbing their nations of joy, is perhaps only a negative thing in the mind of one man, Wayne Bennett.