The storm clouds of international rugby league's eligibility farce were building 12 months ago.

The outrage towards Andrew Fifita's decision to snub Australia to represent Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup alongside superstar Jason Taumalolo, who has also snubbed New Zealand, is entirely justified.

The timing behind Fifita's decision to turn his back on the Kangaroos jumper after already being selected - as Taumalolo walked out on New Zealand one day before the Kiwis squad was announced - demonstrates a classless and amateur approach to the international game.

The weak way the two stars have handled the situation has overshadowed the farcical rules that have allowed them to defect on the eve of rugby league's biggest show without fear of recrimination.


This is a situation that was foreseeable 12 months ago when the Rugby League International Federation changed international eligibility rules to make it easier for players from international powerhouses like Australia and New Zealand to represent developing rugby league nations.

Here is where the fault lies.

Under the new rules players not selected for the so-called tier-one nations are free to play for tier-two nations like Tonga.

Australian rugby league supporters are right to be furious at Fifita for the classless way he handled his defection, but, that aside, under the rules he did nothing wrong.

According to the eligibility rules, Fifita's only mistake was thinking he had an extra couple of days to make up his mind after Mal Meninga had already announced his selection.

His stupidity in not realising the deadline for announcing his world cup intentions isn't the real problem.

Following recent eligibility circuses, including Semi Radradra's defection from Fiji to Australia, the game has been crying out for clearer and stricter eligibility rules.

Instead the international game's governing body announced a further loosening of eligibility criteria plunging the game deeper into a confused grey area.

The balance between making developing nations competitive and the integrity of international competition has become completely skewed.

It's a joke.

It's a move designed to strengthen developing nations, including Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea by giving NRL stars more incentive to play for the so-called second-tier national teams - without jeopardising Australian players' ambitions to play State of Origin or for the Kangaroos.

So, as simple as that, Fifita can decide to play for Tonga.

This is the same player that was overlooked by Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga for the Four Nations tournament last year after his public show of support for convicted one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge. He'd only just fought his way back into the Kangaroos team, and his first act is to turn his back on them? This is what he thinks of the Australian jumper?

He stressed in an interview with Channel 9 on Thursday night that it is only the upcoming World Cup, beginning October 27, that he will desert the Kangaroos for. After that, he says, he'll come back to play for Australia.

Does this sound reprehensible to anybody else?

The Australian jumper cannot be that cheap.

The flow-on result is that every international jumper in rugby league is just another jumper. Every Test is just another game.

By trying to strengthen international rugby league with these eligibility rules, the game is weaker. It's credibility eroding.

After the success of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in England, the RLIF's bungle can be understood, but not excused.

The 2013 tournament in England, Wales, France and Ireland set records for match attendance and group stage television ratings.