For a start, we hate the term ‘Tier 2 nation’ in the first place (could Australia, New Zealand and England be any more condescending?) but given the tier structure’s entanglement in international eligibility, we don’t really have a choice. One day, however, we hope that won’t be the case.
And that day may come that little bit sooner, if Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has anything to do with it. According to SMH, Meninga has suggested a radical change to Test payments, in order to encourage players to stick with the so-called ‘Tier 2 nations’.
Specifically, Meninga has put forward the idea that Australia – and, necessarily, New Zealand and England – give up their rich match payments, and have them placed into a pool, where they’d then be awarded to participants based on results.
Should New Zealand and England agree, this would be a giant step in the right direction, as it would give a team like Tonga, for example, the opportunity to not only match, but potentially out-earn a ‘Tier 1’ team like New Zealand, if they were to beat them – as they did at last year’s Rugby League World Cup.
We love the idea, but would argue it actually doesn’t go far enough. Making the payments performance-related isn’t a huge risk for the Kangaroos, who have relatively little decent competition as it is. Given their half-century long dominance, Australia would no doubt be understandably confident of winning the money back.
In a perfect world, the NRL would fund equal Test payments for all the Southern Hemisphere teams, at whatever number the game can afford. As the only major professional competition in the region, the NRL inevitably pillages the Pacific Islands of their best talent, and as a result has a moral obligation to fund those nations, as the de facto guardian for the sport in the Southern Hemisphere (likewise the RFL in the Northern Hemisphere).
The fact that the NRL hasn’t done so already is disappointing, and when they’ve then turned the pay disparity into an opportunity to poach home-grown Pacific talent like Semi Radradra and Akuila Uate on ‘residency’ grounds, it’s down-right offensive (think about it for a moment; quite literally every single top-flight Pacific Island player will inevitably become Australian or New Zealander on residency, by virtue of the fact that they’re the only two places in the region that you can play professional rugby league).
You could (and we do) argue that the ‘Tier 1’ nations shouldn’t be picking dual-eligible players in the first place, in order to encourage competitive balance; but we understand that that’s likely a bridge too far (at least at the moment).
In the meantime, addressing the pay disparity will go a long way to correcting the problem, by removing the financial sacrifices players have to make in opting for their country of heritage.
Meninga’s suggestion isn’t perfect, but it’s a huge leap forward.