Australia gets Origin blame from top official

BIGGEST BUZZ: James Tamou says State of Origin trumps playing international rugby league for Australia.
BIGGEST BUZZ: James Tamou says State of Origin trumps playing international rugby league for Australia.

The controversy over State of Origin eligibility rules is "an Australian issue", says the Kiwi who heads the Rugby League International Federation.

Scott Carter – who also serves as the chairman of the New Zealand Rugby League – said the federation was paying close attention to the current "furore" across the Tasman.

The selection of two New Zealand-born players – James Tamou (New South Wales) and Ben Te'o (Queensland) – for Origin this year has caused widespread debate both here and abroad.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant, in responding to speculation recently that another New Zealander – Bulldogs prop Sam Kasiano – was set for a call-up to Queensland, said the federation had to look at its rules.

"I don't think the State of Origin rules are going to change, I think more the issue is the international rules," Grant said.

"Internationals should come before State of Origin. You either play for Australia or New Zealand or whatever before you contemplate either New South Wales or Queensland.

"That's really an international federation issue and there are a lot of countries on the international federation and there is a sub-committee out of the board that actually deals with rules and eligibility rules particularly.

"I'd expect the New Zealand Rugby League would be putting that sort of situation very firmly on the board agenda and I think we'd have a strong point of view about that."

But in response, Carter has defended the federation's eligibility rules as "sound and clear" and said any issues around Origin were a by-product of Australia's requirement that Origin players must declare their allegiance to the Kangaroos.

"It's been interesting to follow some of the comments from across the Tasman where the inference has been that it's the international body which needs to look at its eligibility rules," Carter said.

"But, as many people well know, the RLIF has already looked at its rules and they are sound and quite clear.

"There are two live issues remaining for the international board. One is whether international eligibility rules should apply to junior internationals – in other words the under-20s level. And of course we also need to get some clarity on when residence is deemed to have started."

Carter said the controversy across the Tasman stemmed from the Australian requirement that Origin players had to make themselves available for Australia.

This was an Australian interpretation. Many players did not realise there was nothing in the federation rules to prevent them playing Origin as well as tests for a different country.

The emphasis in the search for a solution was on Australia, "because it is an Australian issue".

For example, Warriors star Feleti Mateo could represent Tonga at next year's world cup even if he achieves his ambition of playing for New South Wales. It's only once he plays for the Kangaroos that he would then be ineligible.

"The reality is that Feleti has played for Tonga and he remains, at this stage, a Tongan international as long as he doesn't play an international for any other country that he qualifies for," Carter said.

Mateo, 28, opted to switch allegiance to Australia earlier in the year in a bid to earn selection for New South Wales.

He played in the annual "trial" match for the City team against Country in April but failed to sufficiently impress the selectors.

Mateo insists he still has a strong desire to play for his state. But with another world cup next year and the strong possibility he will continue to be overlooked by the Origin selectors, he would have no qualms about turning out for the Pacific nation again.

"I've always said Origin is about the best players playing. If they don't want to use me then I don't see any reason why I can't go and play for Tonga," Mateo said.

"I think for now, the line has been drawn. But if the world cup rolls around and I haven't had a shot yet, I don't see why I would have to be wasted on the sideline.

"I'm sure there's many more cases like mine."

Sunday Star Times