It feels like the NRL is trying to transform itself, as quickly as possible, into the AFL.

That's the only conclusion from the new television rights deal, which puts the international game on the lowest rung of priorities. Instead of making more room for test matches, there is now even less. Instead of growing the international game - as NRL chief Dave Smith has talked about - it's now likely to shrink.

Sure, the NRL is engaged in a hyper-competitive battle with the AFL in Australia, one that is hard to comprehend in this country. The AFL dominates in four states and has made considerable inroads in New South Wales and Queensland. But it doesn't mean the NRL needs to emulate the other code, where clubs are everything and the representative game doesn't really exist.

Surely there is room for both. The scrapping of the Anzac test - and the shoe-horning of Pacific tests into a State of Origin weekend where they will get completely overshadowed - just doesn't make sense. Neither does the "new" international window at the end of the NRL season, a time when players take time off and have minor or major surgeries.


If an Origin weekend was deemed absolutely necessary by the broadcasters, a better solution would be to cut the NRL season by two rounds (meaning every club loses one home game) and retain the Anzac test weekend. After all, if there is space for the expanded international club challenge - a meaningless competition - there is room for everything.

It's also terrible timing - coming when the international game has never been in better shape. Last year's Four Nations tournament was a terrific event, with a quartet of evenly matched teams providing a month of great action. The Pacific tests this year were also beauties, with the Samoa-Tonga game producing some of the most indelible moments of 2015. And international football is a big carrot. It's why Sonny Bill Williams and Israel Folau converted to rugby, with Folau recently raving about his experiences around the globe. Sure, league can't match that - but not even trying is a crime.

And this week there is a timely template. The battle for the Bledisloe Cup has captivated audiences on both sides of the Tasman. A regular Kiwis versus Kangaroos series could provide something similar ... if only it was given a chance.