Star players denied a chance to play for Australia and New Zealand at the Rugby League World Cup may turn out for other countries, while the players’ union insists those wanting to compete have not been listened to
- Fallout continues after Australia and NZ said they would not play at RLWC
- Rugby League Players’ Association says some players had expressed their desire to play but that was not taken into account by Aussie and Kiwi rugby authorities
- RLPA claims decision was ‘premature’ with three months to go before the event
- Meanwhile, Mal Meninga, the Australian coach has said he would support Aussie players turning out for other countries if they still wanted to compete
The decision by Australian and New Zealand to pull out of the Rugby League World Cup three months before it is due to start was taken ‘prematurely’, according to a players’ union.
The Rugby League Players’ Association has now added its voice to a welter of criticism of the decision, insisting that those players who want to play have not been listened to.
The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) announced yesterday they would not participate in the showpiece in England in October, due to concerns over Covid.
Reigning champions Australia (pictured) have won the competition eight times and NZ once
The English Rugby Football League immediately hit back, claiming the Aussies and Kiwis were ‘cowardly, parochial and selfish’ and suggesting the decision to withdraw had more to do with safeguarding the National Rugby League season down under, than anything to do with the virus.
In addition, it highlighted inconsistencies in Australian and New Zealand sport, pointing out that their athletes, footballers, cricketers, and Rugby Union players are playing overseas, or due to, including in the UK.
Now the RLPA has said some players wanted to come to play in England on the world stage, but their views were not taken into account by the Aussie and Kiwi rugby authorities.
‘The news that Australia and New Zealand will not compete in the 2021 World Cup is no doubt disappointing for players who were hoping to represent their nations in the tournament,’ RLPA chief executive Clint Newton said in a statement.
Australia and New Zealand have said they will pull out of the Rugby League World Cup
STATEMENT FROM ARLC AND NZRL
The Australian Rugby League Commission (ARLC) and New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) issued a joint statement today announcing they would withdraw from the 2021 Rugby League World Cup.
‘Not participating in this year’s World Cup is not a decision the commission has taken lightly, but we must put the best interests of our players and officials first. Protecting them is our absolute priority,’ said ARLC chairman Peter V’landys.
‘In the current environment, the risks to the safety, health and wellbeing of the players and officials travelling from Australia to participate in the tournament this year are insurmountable.
‘The majority of NRL players are currently living away from home under difficult biosecurity protocols. They would then be required to remain under protocols and away from home for the duration of the tournament before again quarantining on return to Australia.
‘This is too much to ask our players and officials to do. We have again requested the IRL and Rugby League World Cup to consider postponing the event until 2022 to enable all players to participate.’
NZRL chief executive, Greg Peters, added: ‘There are stark differences between how the pandemic is being managed in the UK compared to Australasia and recent developments have highlighted how quickly things can change.
‘The tournament organisers have moved heaven and earth to make this work, so it is not an easy decision, but the Covid-19 situation in the UK shows no sign of improving, and it’s simply too unsafe to send teams and staff over.
‘We understand how disappointing this is for fans and those involved, however player and staff safety remains paramount.’
A statement from the Rugby League World Cup said: ‘RLWC2021 note the disappointing statement made by the ARLC and NZRL which may have wide ranging implications for international Rugby League.
‘RLWC2021 were informed at very short notice and will continue discussions with all stakeholders to agree on the best way forward. A further statement will be made in due course.’
‘We have had feedback from a number of players eligible for these nations stating their intentions to compete in the tournament, pending more information becoming available in the coming weeks.
RUGBY LEAGUE INTERNATIONAL ELIGIBILITY RULES
Eligibility to represent a nation is based upon the birthplace of the player, the birthplace of any parent or grandparent, or residency over a five-year period,
A player eligible for any nations other than Australia, England, New Zealand can only make one switch between those nations in a four-year period.
Players qualified for Australia, England and New Zealand plus any other nation can make multiple switches however they can only elect to represent one nation in any calendar year.
Players can only represent one of Australia, England or New Zealand in a career, even if eligible for more than one of those nations. If eligible they can play for nations outside of those three.
Players cannot represent Australia or New Zealand if they have elected to represent Great Britain and vice versa.
No player can play for more than one country in any recognised international competition.
‘Clearly, the views of those players have not been enough to prevent this decision and we believe it has been made prematurely.’
Among those who have said they are keen to play in recent weeks are James Tedesco, Damien Cook and Christian Welch.
And they may yet get their wish, if not for Australia and New Zealand, then for other countries they qualify for, according to Kangaroo’s coach Mal Meninga.
In rugby league, players can be selected for a country based on birthplace, the birthplace of a parent or grandparent, or residency.
While players must choose between the tier one nations – Australia, England and New Zealand – they can maintain eligibility for tier two and three countries, although they can only represent one country in any calendar year.
Australia’s last international was a 16-12 defeat to Tonga in Aukland in November, 2019.
According to the Australian Associated Press, close to 350 Australian-based players and staff could travel to the tournament, which includes men, women and disabled athletes, if it goes ahead.
Several expected Australian picks could play for other nations, including James Tedesco for Italy and David Fifita for Tonga, said AAP.
Jarome Luai, Junior Paulo, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Payne Haas, Brian To’o and Josh Papalii could all play for Samoa, while Daniel Saifiti and Tariq Sims are both eligible for Fiji.
‘That’s their decision and I would support that,’ Meninga said.
‘If James for instance chose to go play for Italy because he can’t play for Australia, I wouldn’t stand in his way.
‘I would back him to do it under the circumstances. It comes down to if they want to.’
Meninga’s stance was also backed by outgoing South Sydney coach and former Kangaroos and England mentor Wayne Bennett.
‘It’s the players’ rights,’ Bennett said.
‘The NRL and NZRL have made a decision, that’s fine. But if a player wants to go and play for Samoa and Tonga, I don’t see why he can’t.
Australian rugby league star James Tedesco (left) and the Kiwis’ Benji Marshall are among the players who will not be taking part in this year’s tournament after their countries’ sporting authorities pulled out, but Kangaroo’s coach Mal Meninga says he would support Tedesco playing for Italy
Kangaroo’s coach Mal Meninga would support Aussie players turning out for other countries
‘We have made so many exemptions to keep our competition going here.
‘If England and other nations want to keep the World Cup alive, then I don’t think it’s our prerogative to interfere.’
The Australian and New Zealand rugby authorities said they were pulling out of the World Cup over the risks posed by Covid and player welfare.
But the World Cup organisers remain convinced that the NRL has forced the decision to pull out, despite extensive assurances over safety, including charter flights to bring players and officials from the southern hemisphere.
Sources told Sportsmail yesterday, the governing bodies had ‘bowed down’ under pressure.
Players returning from the World Cup would have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival back in Australia, meaning they would miss a chunk of pre-season training.
And the NRL has suffered a backlash from rugby league fans, who share suspicions over what motivated the Aussies and Kiwis to withdraw at such an early stage.
James Tedesco and Damien Cook play for New South Wales Blues, who won the Origin trophy, but could miss the tournament where they were expected to play starring roles
The NRL tweeted its support for plans to include rugby league in the 2032 Olympic Games, which will be held in Brisbane, with a clapping emoji.
‘The IRL has confirmed its ambitions for rugby league to feature at the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane,’ said the NRL. There was an immediate response.
‘You gonna withdraw from that as well?’ replied the rugby league podcast, Hold the Ball. ‘NRL think they’re above rugby league and the most elite,’ tweeted @PlaytheBallRLF.
‘Better not, it might interrupt preseason games,’ quipped Brad Boucher. ‘I’m sure if they look hard enough the NRL will be able to find a reason not to take part.’
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