NRL or else?

It’s ironic that at the same time the Rugby Football League in the UK are putting their necks on the line to develop the sport, their Australian counterparts are apparently doing the opposite.

Kangaroos Head Coach Ricky Stuart has called for a two year ban from the NRL for all players that either defect to rugby union or to Super League.

Isn’t it about time that Australia got off their high horse? Yes they are the greatest rugby league playing nation. Yes they host the greatest rugby league competition in the world. But they must stop treating everybody else with disrespect.

I totally agree that those defecting to union should be hung, drawn and quartered, but the question has to be asked as to why these players are leaving, similar to those who move to Super League. Long gone are the days where the only Australians in the UK (and now France) are those who are past their peak. We’re now seeing world class players in their prime moving to the northern hemisphere to ply their trade. Matt King, Jamie Lyon, Trent Barrett to name but three.

Is it money? You often hear of clubs having to get rid of sometimes their best players, simply to fit a couple more players on the cap. As an outsider, this would suggest problems with the salary cap. But what or who is holding an increase back? Are the league too cautious, fearing that the poorer clubs will become less competitive? Are the clubs fearful of an increase in player demands?

Who knows. It might not even be money. No one can argue that the competitiveness of Super League has increased dramatically in recent years, and hopefully it will continue to do so. And maybe players are coming over for a new challenge, rather than the extra dollars in their pay packet.

Either way, to ban a player from the NRL simply because he plied his trade in the UK for a couple of years is an insult, not only to the player himself and Super League, but to the sport.

Similarly is the tradition of not selecting players for international honours if they don’t play in the NRL. The international game is about the best players from each nation competing to be the world’s best team, and that includes everyone, not just those competing in one competition.

Gareth Ellis’ forthcoming move to Wests Tigers could be the catalyst to big changes in Australia’s outlook. If Ellis impresses, maybe NRL clubs will have another look at taking English players over. Adrian Morley aside, there has been no English influence in the NRL for decades. But have those that have tried it been given a fair crack at the whip?

Some may argue that Richie Mathers could have made it with Gold Coast, had he not been struck with injury, whilst Chris Thorman never really got a consistent run with Parramatta.

Who’s to say that English players aren’t getting offers? They might be, but are more comfortable at home. Ellis is the one that has put his hand up and said he’ll have a go, and hopefully he’ll make the Australians a lot more trusting of English players, which may lead to a bit more English influence down under.

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