Tonga and Samoa Rugby League

By Brian Lowe

Kudos to the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) for having the cajones to stand up and say enough of this ridiculous country flip-flopping that has been allowed to go on for too long in international rugby league.


According to media reports, the NZRL is looking at introducing a Kiwis-only selection policy for its national team to bring an end to a practice it sees as something that is eroding the integrity of the international game.

Chief executive Greg Peters reportedly plans to ask the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) to tighten up the regulations that allow players to change their allegiances at will between tier one and tier two nations.

No doubt what finally pushed Peters’ and the NZRL’s buttons were the late defections of Marty Taupau and Jamayne Isaako to the Samoa national team. Both had been included in the Kiwis’ preliminary squad for this weekend’s Test against Tonga, although in Isaako’s case, he didn’t make coach Michael Maguire’s final cut, which reportedly prompted his decision.

What really started the ball rolling were the high-profile defections of Jason Taumaulolo and Andrew Fifita from the Australian team to Tonga in the lead up to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup (RLWC). Yes, we had seen it before with Jarryd Hayne flip-flopping between Australia and Fiji, but the 2017 defections really put the cat among the pigeons.

Another country swapper, although he didn’t get as much media coverage at the time, was Josh McGuire flipping from Samoa to Australia.

It also happened to the USA’s national team when former Tomahawks captain Joseph Paulo opted to change his allegiance to Samoa based on family heritage, as current RLIF rules enable players to do. He is of American Samoa descent and played for the US, along with his older brother Junior Paulo, in the 2013 RLWC before changing midstream prior to the 2017 iteration.

Both also played for the USA Tomahawks in their successful campaign in the 2011 RLWC Americas zone qualifying series.

Peters advocates a return to the pre-2016 situation when players were allowed to change countries only once in a World Cup cycle.

He thinks having a two-year international declaration would be a better outcome because it would do away with the situation in which players can wait and see if they get picked for one country, and if not, they can then jump ship to another.

He says that doesn’t make the game look good and you know what, he’s 100 percent right.

I would actually like to see the RLIF go one step further and implement a new rule by which a player who’s eligible for more than one country making a choice of which country he/she wants to play for and once that decision is made, that’s it. No more flip-flopping.

In my opinion, if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position in which you are able to choose which country you want to represent, you should make that choice. Either the country you were born in or the one you live in now, if they’re not one and the same, and then stick to it.

Clearly, the RLIF needs to get serious about this and make a determination one way or the other once and for all.