IT’S all very well to write a column like this and outline what you think should happen, or should have happened, and why.
But with all the debate going on about the Auckland Nines, I found myself so fired up and passionate about a proposal that I wrote it down formally and started sending it to rugby league officials – something I’ve never done before.
I see the Nines as an opportunity to get something great done for our game – an opportunity which will only come once. There is a way to keep the promoters happy and dramatically reduce the demands on players, which is the main obstacle.
Here’s what I think should happen at the ‘Tasman Nines’
Instead of the 16 clubs going to Auckland, we satisfy the Kiwi hunger for Origin by sending NSW and Queensland. Surely Mal Meninga and Laurie Daley would welcome the opportunity to get their squads together pre-season, the buzz in Auckland would be massive and Sydney and Brisbane media would love it.
The Nines would also serve as a soft launch for the proposed New Zealand Origin, with Auckland and The Rest or North Island and South Island making their bows in the Nines. And they would get to take on the Maroons and Blues, something that has been proposed at 13-a-side level on and off for 15 years.
Where do the other teams come from? This is where you need to be patient with me.
The World Sevens helped our developing countries by allowing them to compete with the big boys in a truncated version of the game. The Auckland Nines can do the same for our developing states.
But under an invitational selection policy (birth, residency, parents or grandparents), Ben Barba and James McManus would play for Northern Territory, Timana Tahu would represent Victoria alongside some Storm players and the Goodwin boys would turn out for Western Australia.
It’s would be the greatest thing we have ever done for rugby league in Australia outside of NSW and Queensland.
This would give rugby league a pre-season focus in ‘hostile’ markets and marshall support for future expansion. Every Australian state would have a stake in the ‘Tasman Nines’ . We could eclipse the likes of the Rebels and Force in one weekend each year by giving those states true superstars.
For one weekend every year, we would have a competition that encompasses the entire continent and both islands of New Zealand! We’d get the $2.2 million but we’d also do something great for rugby league.
Sure, there are questions about how some states would competed. But surely a bunch of amateurs from Tasmania taking on the might of Queensland for 20 minutes or half an hour is more in keeping with the spirit of nines and sevens than what’s on the drawing board now!
You might say these teams sound random and contrived. But so does a side of indigenous-heritage players taking on everyone else – and it works. This would work too.
THE last player Australia picked from outside the NRL is no longer interested in playing representative football.
Jamie Lyon was chosen for the 2006 Tri-Nations from St Helens – although he was returning to Manly the following year. Lyon, of course, has had a troubled relationship with Country, NSW and Australia and has now officially retired from all rep football.
Before that, we have to go back to 2003 and Darren Smith being controversial selected from St Helens during the Kangaroo Tour.
The main reason Australia – unlike every other rugby league playing country – refuses to pick players from outside its domestic competition is that it wants to create a deterrent to players leaving.
And at many times since 1908, that’s been an eminently sensible strategy. The likes of Harry Bath and Brian Bevan never wore the green and gold even though they were among the greatest Australians ever to grace the rugby league field – because all the money was in England at the time and it was a sacrifice they knowingly made.
But the NRL is now awash with cash and there is no need for such a deterrent. English players will come to the Australasian competition at a younger and younger age and the traffic in the other direction will come to an almost complete standstill.
Where am I going with all this? Joel Monaghan should be considered for Australia’s World Cup side, that’s where.
I firmly believe Joel is the best Australian winger currently playing professional rugby league in the world. His two tries for Warrington in the 24-10 win over Hull on Saturday night brought his total to six in just four rounds – he seems to score them every time he walks onto the park.
Sure, in some cases the men inside him have done the lion’s share of the work but he’s also deadly in the air.
His absence from Origin will be a setback but when selectors sit down to pick a squad for England and Ireland, his name deserves a mention.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK