Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Time to stop Aussies pillaging our talent

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The Kiwis have left the door open and the Aussies aren't ones to wait for an invitation. Picture Rod Emmerson.
The Kiwis have left the door open and the Aussies aren't ones to wait for an invitation. Picture Rod Emmerson.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is far more useful. The Kiwis had their chance to secure the booming talents of three prime NRL forwards, and they blew it.

Now they have lost James Tamou to New South Wales and Australia, Sam Kasiano may be about to declare for Queensland/Australia, and even Kiwi 18th man Jason Taumalolo is still technically ripe for the picking.

When the anger takes hold over this situation, you wonder if the NZRL might consider some kind of court action to try to reverse what is starting to look like a lost cause.

The more players who make the James Tamou switcheroo to the Kangaroos - ostensibly to establish their State of Origin eligibility - the easier for others to follow. The State of Origin is eating holes in the Kiwis.

The NZRL needs an administrative giant, a powerhouse in the boardroom, someone with clout, cunning and an obsessive zeal, to save the strength of the Kiwis and the legitimacy and status of international league.

A solution HAS to be found. The SoO eligibility criteria need to be looked at, to at least consider the possibility that Kiwis can play for the state sides.

For now, the Kiwis have left the door open and the Aussies aren't ones to wait for an invitation. The Kiwis could have secured all three players by picking them in tests over the past couple of seasons.

There are the quick and the dead in the little dog-eat-dog world of league and the Aussies don't play dead very well.

The New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Jim Doyle and his high performance manager Tony Kemp have said all the right things during these disputes, but action speaks louder than words. Kemp is in danger of becoming Australasian sport's Neville Chamberlain, triumphantly waving bits of paper that don't mean anything. League letters of intent are about as solid as laxatives for breakfast and indeed, in these cases, may be counterproductive by inducing false security at the expense of aggressive selection decisions. Tamou, Kasiano and Taumalolo would have turned the Kiwis into a massive force.

It's been many sets of six since Australia really cared about international league and they now put all their eggs in one very popular basket, the State of Origin series, to satisfy the existing audience and as league's best shot in the code war.

It's been game on since the powerbrokers realised too late they might have snared the Sonny Bill Williams superstar factor for the SoO had they been quicker out of the blocks. As it is, it would be no surprise if the Aussies designed a rule to get SBW into a State of Origin team when he goes back to league by claiming that the eligibility slate was wiped clean by his rugby interlude. SBW doesn't care all that much about the Kiwis anyway - after all, he walked out on league in the middle of a World Cup season.

I'm never quite sure what the NZRL actually does all day, but if they want the Kiwis to live up to their potential on a permanent basis, they need a boss or bosses who are just as pigheaded, single minded and ruthless as the State of Origin coaches.

Kemp deserves some sympathy because he is playing against a stacked deck. But waving a letter of intent at Ricky Stuart or Mal Meninga is about as threatening as flicking a bus ticket at a charging bull. The Kiwi selectors are the ones who should have been doing the damage on paper. Tamou was actually in the Kiwi camp last year, but didn't play. Taumalolo and Kasiano could easily have been selected for this year's test at Eden Park - they actually justified selection - before the SoO could swoop.

Quite frankly, if I was a young footy star in Australia, the State of Origin would be hard to resist. There are financial benefits but this isn't entirely or even primarily what their decisions are based on. The publicity around the games, the intensity during them and the massive TV and ground attendance stamps the series as league's premier Southern Hemisphere event. The SoO delivers remarkable drama and players want to be part of that. In contrast, you could hardly even guarantee international league's future.

One lesson here is that when at all possible, pick the obvious young stars such as Taumalolo pronto. Force the issue, and get the players to make their decisions before people like Stuart fill their heads not only with dreams, but reality. A host of teenage New Zealand players are being pulled across the Tasman by NRL clubs, and this decision to stay or go is going to continually face the cream of the crop.

The mate-against-mate brigade aren't out to make friends. They are out to win and at any cost. For now, the Kiwi selectors are the only ones with the real power to fight back.

HANNIBAL HARTLEY

Wow. Maybe we've got Dylan Hartley all wrong. The Kiwi-born rugby-mad man who has been suspended for eye gouging an opponent and biting another will captain England in the third test against South Africa.

Maybe trips to a psychologist to sort out his temper issues have done the trick.

He is, apparently, a changed man who garners enormous respect from influential people in the English game. But if the hooker, nicknamed Hannibal Hartley by some online forum contributors, transgresses again, this will blow up in England's face.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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