Richie Barnett on league

Opinion and analysis from former Kiwis captain Richie Barnett

Richie Barnett: Action needed to stop the talent drain

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Kiwis lose out as player agents are seduced by the big bucks State of Origin offers.

Sam Kasiano is one player who, having said that he wants to join the Kiwis, is no longer sure. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Kasiano is one player who, having said that he wants to join the Kiwis, is no longer sure. Photo / Getty Images

The situation we're facing with our young Kiwis struggling to decide whether they should play for their country is all about money.

Guys like Josh Papali'i and Sam Kasiano were born in New Zealand, lived here until their teenage years, have played for Junior Kiwis and have pledged in writing that they want to play for the Kiwis. Then suddenly they're not sure any more. The fact that one moment they are fully committed to the Kiwis and the next moment they are not tells us pretty clearly someone is getting in their ears.

That someone is almost certainly their agents.

All the agents care about is the best way to get a bigger return from their client. The quickest way to earn more money is by playing Origin. Cracking Origin raises the player's profile and helps them renegotiate more lucrative contracts. It wouldn't surprise me if it was the agent going to influential people like Mal Meninga and getting them to lay it all out in front of their young clients.

Is Meninga forcing these players to consider turning their backs on their country? To me in a way he is. Someone of his stature going up to a 16- or 18-year-old kid and saying "one day you could play Origin" is bound to have an impact.

Mal would make no bones about the fact that he has approached these players, but the truth is they have been in Australia only three or four years and have a tenuous link to Queensland.

There's clearly a strategy from the Origin coaches to identify the best young players and try to recruit them regardless of what it means for the game. It doesn't matter who you are, bro or no bro.

That situation is making it really difficult to pick a Kiwis side. Instead of being honoured to be selected for their country, players are considering what it could mean for them financially. Just look at someone like James Tamou. He was probably underpaid at the Cowboys. Then he jumps into Origin and it's boom, let's renegotiate the next few years and he's away.

That's the harsh reality of where things are heading.

The argument that the Kiwis have done the same thing doesn't stand up. We've asked the question - are you a Kiwi and do you want to play for us? That's different from inducing players with financial rewards. We've never dangled a carrot in front of players the way Queensland and New South Wales are now.

We're now trying to pick a Kiwis side when we don't know 100 per cent whether players will say yes. These players have been in our system for years and have given every indication they want to play for the Kiwis. The fact that we can't count on them tells you everything you need to know about what is happening to them over in Australia.

There should be some serious alarm bells ringing here. It's bad for the game. New Zealand is trying to compete with 20 million people in Australia. We're making progress but we need to retain our best players if we are going to be competitive.

It's also bad for the game in Australia. Someone like Tamou - who is clearly a Kiwi - is taking an Australian's spot. The more Kiwis who follow Tamou, the more Australians will miss out on teams they deserve to be in.

Something needs to be done - and quickly.

- NZ Herald

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