Tonga v Samoa Crowd

Here we go again. As the international calendar continues to pick up steam, yet another player has made the contentious decision to swap allegiances after having already played for two other countries during his career.

And what’s more, the jelly back stand on the matter by the International Rugby League (IRL) has enabled him to do so with no problem.

Tyson Frizell is in the Tonga touring squad in England after having previously played for Wales and Australia. In defense of his decision to swap, Frizell says he was born in Australia to a Welsh dad and a Tongan mum, so he has no qualms about flip-flopping.

And by no means is he the first player to do it.

Back in 2019, the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) stood up and said enough is enough with this ridiculous country flip-flopping that has been allowed to go on for way too long in international rugby league.

The NZRL was so ticked off it went so far as to consider introducing a Kiwis-only selection policy for its national team to bring an end to a practice it labelled as, “something that is eroding the integrity of the international game.”

It wanted the IRL to tighten up the regulations that allow players to swap their allegiances at will between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations.

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

What really set things in motion though were the high-profile defections of Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita from New Zealand to Tonga in the lead up to #RLWC2017. We had seen it before with Jarryd Hayne flip-flopping between Australia and Fiji a couple of times, but the 2017 defections really put the cat among the pigeons.

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

It also happened to the USA’s national team at that time when former captain Joseph Paulo opted to change his allegiance to Samoa based on family heritage. He is of American Samoa descent and played for the US, along with his older brother Junior Paulo, in #RLWC2013 before changing in the lead up to #RLWC2017.

Both also played for the USA Tomahawks in their successful campaign in the 2011 Rugby League World Cup Americas zone qualifying series.

In 2019, Ronaldo Mulitalo caused a stir when he played for Samoa and the USA within a month or so of each other. After that, the international governing body brought in a new rule whereby players couldn’t swap countries within a calendar year. In 2022, Mulitalo played for his third country New Zealand.

Another high-profile player who has jumped ship from one country to another is James Tedesco. Teddy played for Italy at #RLWC2013 and #RLWC2017 before being picked for Australia in 2018 and playing for the Kangaroos at last year’s World Cup.

His ex-Sydney Roosters teammate Anthony Minichiello also played for the Azzurri and Kangaroos during his playing days.

What has been allowed to happen by the IRL, and the RLIF before it is a situation whereby a player can wait to see if he/she gets picked by a Tier 1 country, and if not, they can then put their hand up for a Tier 2 nation if they’re eligible through country of birth, parental heritage, citizenship and so on (refer to the IRL’s eligibility rules).

When that happens repeatedly, as it has, it makes the game look silly, which is why I think the IRL should go one step further and make it so that a player who’s eligible for more than one country makes a choice of which country he/she wants to play for and once that decision is made, that’s it. No more flip-flopping afterwards.

The fact of the matter is that most players who fall into this category play in the NRL. Other players who compete in domestic competitions in countries outside of Australia, New Zealand and England tend to be regarded as Tier 2 standard at best.

Many people, and they are mainly fans, seem to think the only way for Tier 2 countries to be more competitive internationally is to rely on getting Tier 1 players on their teams, and while there’s no doubt that helps, it’s not the only answer.

If Tier 2 countries truly want to be more competitive how about they improve their domestic competitions? That way, players in the Americas, Pacific islands and Europe who don’t qualify for Tier 1 would benefit from playing at a higher standard thereby improving the competitiveness of their home countries.

In my opinion, if you’re fortunate enough to be in a position in which you are eligible to play for more than one country, you should choose which one you want to play for and then stick to it. None of this laughable back-and-forth stuff.

The IRL needs to make a determination on this, one way or another, once and for all.

Brian is a strong and effective communicator with more than 30 years’ experience in broadcast and electronic media. He has been writing for Rugby League Planet since 2012 and is frequently the first reporter to break news stories about the sport. He has been our North American correspondent reporting on news in the US, Canada and Jamaica covering everything from league standings to strategy analysis to breaking news on key trades to editorials and colourful features on athletes. He is now writing about rugby league on a broader scale to cover developments around the globe. An accomplished storyteller, Brian started his career in Australian radio, before moving to the United States. He is an experienced podcast host and producer and is also a successful TV commentator having done play-by-play and analysis for ESPN, FOX Sports and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) among others. Brian has his own YouTube channel @brianlowe5567 where he posts his interviews for Rugby League Planet. Be sure to check it out and subscribe.