Change may be on the way for international league eligibility rules — again.

The New Zealand Rugby League will be taking a case to the sport's international federation, asking for a tightening of the current regulations, which allow players to switch allegiances multiple times during a World Cup cycle.

The situation was highlighted last week by Martin Taupau's move to Samoa. Taupau had played 24 tests for New Zealand, and was also a former Junior Kiwis captain.

But a day after being named in the wider Kiwis squad, the 29-year-old announced he was going to represent his country of heritage this weekend against Papua New Guinea.


Jamayne Issako, who went to the United States and England with the Kiwis last year, followed suit.

There could be the possibility of further rotation around Tonga, New Zealand and Samoa for the end of year tests, as players of dual nationality opt for what suits their particular circumstances.

"We will be advocating for a change," NZRL CEO Greg Peters told the Herald. "We don't believe it respects the integrity of the international game to allow players to flip flop easily between countries. We think there should be changes to the rules to at least have a period when they are committed to one country and we are advocating for that with the RLIF at the moment."

League's international eligibility rules have been a long standing, complex puzzle.

Before 2016 the laws allowed a player to switch once in a World Cup cycle, between any two nations.

That same individual, could change again in the subsequent four years, with the approval of the RLIF.

In 2016 the current regulations were voted in, creating tier one, two and three nations and allowing freedom of movement between the top tier (New Zealand, Australia and England) and the two lower rungs.

England's Mark Percival and Kiwis' Jamayne Issako jump for the ball in last year's test. Photo / Photosport
England's Mark Percival and Kiwis' Jamayne Issako jump for the ball in last year's test. Photo / Photosport

The change was designed to maximise the amount of talent on display at the 2017 World Cup, allowing players who missed the cut for one of the big three to turn out for another country, if they had dual heritage.


It was a success, with the most competitive tournament in modern history, though the dramatic last minute defections to Tonga from the Kiwis stole the early headlines.

Peters says the rules now have to move with the times.

"At that time very few matches were played by the Islands," said Peters. "Now there are more matches, more opportunities for players to play for different countries if they recognise they have an opportunity elsewhere and they do it for their own reasons.
However we would support a review of those rules and are advocating for that.

"Much more competitive internationals are great, but needs to be some integrity around international football that stands in place for a period of time."

Peters wants a stand down period in place within a cycle where players have to commit to a single nation.

While Australia have lost occasional players to the Pacific nations, the Kiwis are the most vulnerable.

Michael Maguire's team on Saturday will have five players of Samoan descent (including Warriors Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Ken Maumalo), one with Tongan heritage and two eligible to represent the Cook Islands.

"There are a lot of Samoan players in the New Zealand side," said Tongan coach Kristian Woolf. "If they all decide to do the same thing as the Tongan blokes have done it certainly is great for international footy.

"It makes international footy really strong, with more than three competitive teams, and if other teams keep getting stronger then we have a genuine international competition and that has to be attractive to everyone."

Woolf had empathy, if not sympathy, for rival coach Maguire over the Taupau and Issako situation.

"We've been in that boat before," said Woolf. "There was a stage where Tonga had to sit back and wait till other sides were picked, wait for guys who weren't picked in those teams to come and play for us.

"It was always last minute and you never knew who your team was going to be. We are happy we are past that, we have some real loyalty from our players and I don't think any of them are going anywhere."