The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - SPORT -

IRARELY dis­agree with my friend and col­league Robert Craddock. In fact, “Crash” is prob­a­bly the most agree­able jour­nal­ist I have ever met.

How­ever, on the mat­ter of Ja­son Tau­malolo and An­drew Fi­fita choos­ing to play for min­now Tonga rather than heavy­weights New Zealand and Aus­tralia in the up­com­ing Rugby League World Cup, I find we are on dif­fer­ent sides of the fence.

Crash reck­ons the late de­fec­tion of two of the game’s most dan­ger­ous for­wards makes a laugh­ing stock of the World Cup. I be­lieve it’s just the op­po­site. I’d even go so far as to say it makes this the most fair dinkum World Cup in re­cent his­tory.

Let’s face it, the rugby league ver­sion is the least com­pet­i­tive World Cup in sport.

If Aus­tralia don’t win it, New Zealand will, and if they don’t there is a slim chance Eng­land will.

As for the oth­ers, for­get it. Apart from PNG, in most cases they don’t even play rugby league in the coun­tries that take part.

If not for an in­flux of NRL and UK Su­per League play­ers who have a ge­nealog­i­cal rather than emo­tional link to the coun­try they rep­re­sent, they wouldn’t be able to field 17 play­ers who know the rules.

Which is not to say those coun­tries don’t pro­duce great rugby league play­ers. It’s just that in most cases their par­ents or grand­par­ents have long since left the coun­try of their an­ces­tors to give their chil­dren a bet­ter chance at life. The Aus­tralian team was once cap­tained by a Greek, Ge­orge Pe­po­nis. It is now coached by Mal Meninga, whose grand­fa­ther came to Queens­land from Tanna Is­land, part of Van­u­atu. The Kan­ga­roos have been rep­re­sented by Le­banese and Ital­ians. In re­cent years, Ton­gans, Samoans and Fi­jians have made enor­mous con­tri­bu­tions on both sides of the Tas­man. Trou­ble is, when it comes to the Rugby League World Cup, more of­ten than not they have played for Aus­tralia or New Zealand when at the height of their ca­reers.

Imag­ine how a Ton­gan fan must feel watch­ing his team be­ing thrashed from a side con­tain­ing play­ers whose fam­i­lies are Ton­gan?

That is ex­actly what hap­pened to Queens­land fans when they watched NSW sides filled with Ma­roons stars belt­ing them pre-Ori­gin.

Ori­gin, of course, be­came the jewel in the crown – the most pop­u­lar and prof­itable event in rugby league. So much so that it threat­ened the fu­ture of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, which was the main rea­son the World Cup con­cept was reignited.

This com­pe­ti­tion isn’t about find­ing which of two teams will win the fi­nal.

It’s about pro­mot­ing the game in re­gions that can pro­vide a pro­duc­tion line of play­ers for the NRL – and for that, read Pa­cific Is­land na­tions.

Will it re­ally make an iota of dif­fer­ence if Tau­malolo (left) and Fi­fita (below) don’t play for the Ki­wis or Roos?

Of course not, but it will mean a lot for the game in Tonga, and for the cred­i­bil­ity of the Rugby League World Cup.

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