Funny how things change when the shoe changes foot; doesn’t it?
The controversy about Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita choosing Tonga over New Zealand and Australia respectively is not only intriguing, it certainly sets a new benchmark in what can be and cannot be done when it comes to international sport.
As it stands today, rugby league has set a new standard with the rule simply being; do what you like and pick which team you want to play for.
It might look odd but there is nothing wrong with it, especially in the world of professional sports where the reality is for many of these athletes, the World Cup will be just another game in a different jersey.
There is a lot to be said about culture and pride in one’s nation of origin.
But let’s be realistic here. For many of these professional athletes, while they are connected through their last names and paternal blood to the countries they are representing, the fact is they hardly have anything else that motivates them. It’s not as if they grew up there with a dream to represent them whatsoever. For many of them, they can’t even speak the local language and in some cases they have never been there at all.
But that’s ok. This is the era of professionalism.
The same era that has allowed countries like Australia and New Zealand to benefit from Pacific players who migrated there, to be picked up only after a couple of years. These players win them games.
You see, you can have all the pride and culture you want but if you don’t have the right players, you’ll only be good for entertainment value and the “all so close” reel of the tournament.
We’ve seen that over and over. Samoa has been in that reel far too often.
The powers that be for years have been taking advantage of their financial might in terms of cherry picking the players they want. In this case, we are talking about rugby league.
The developments in the past couple of days have been fascinating, especially with the selection of teams for next month’s World Cup.
And to hear New Zealand cry foul about Taumalolo’s decision is laughable. Yes for years the Pacific countries have been playing second fiddle for their best players and in the process suffering because of similar decisions that favour them.
How many times have they had first pick on all these stars only to allow the crumbs so to speak to be picked up by other lesser teams?
And for once in a blue moon, a player turns his back and what do we see?
Headlines such as betrayal, unprofessionalism, farce?
Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.
What Taumalolo and Fifita have done is heartening. Of course they could have made more money if they stuck with New Zealand and Australia. Of course they could have won the World Cup since those are often the best teams who win.
But in this case, they have shown the rest of the world that it is not always about money. It is not always about playing for the best teams.
This is about giving David a chance against Goliath if you like.
Their presence does not guarantee Tonga an automatic spot in the final.
But with them in a team that boasts the likes of Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell Michael Jennings, Solomone Kata, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Sika Manu, Manu Ma’u, David Fusitu’a, Joe Ofahengaue, Daniel Tupou and Manu ‘The Beast’ Vatuvei, they have a bloody good chance.
A fantastic chance.
And good on them.
Rugby League without a doubt is certainly the winner. The World Cup will become a lot more interesting now and at least Tonga will be able to field a full strength team which will challenge some of the traditional powerhouses.
The only downside is that Mate Ma’a is in the same pool as Toa Samoa.
They are heading for a collision course come November in Hamilton and one of them will lose. Now if only Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire and all the other top Samoan players who have opted to stay away would put their hands up for Samoa. It would make this a mouthwatering clash for the ages.
Alas it is what it is.
Yesterday, it was revealed that Frank Pritchard would captain Toa Samoa, with the squad that includes the likes of Josh Papali’i. In all honesty, it’s not a squad that turns heads like that of Mate Ma’a but that’s okay. It all comes down to what happens on the paddock on the day.
What’s important is that Coach Matt Parish is confident.
“Despite some players being unavailable due to injury we have a very strong squad that will do Samoa proud,” said Parish.
“It’s a tough group but these boys have lifted before when they have put on the Samoan jersey, and there is a lot of competitiveness to gain selection. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.”
Indeed, we certainly can’t wait.
Have a pleasant weekend Samoa, God bless!