Mal says international selection laws are hurting the game and have to go.
QUEENSLAND and Kangaroos legend Mal Meninga says the Rugby League International Federation is being short-sighted with its eligibility criteria, and has demanded changes to help the game grow internationally.
Big Mal was left gobsmacked after the RLIF came down heavy on Canberra winger Daniel Vidot in the off-season after the Queensland Emerging Origin squad member was picked to play for Samoa in an international friendly against Tonga.
Vidot was told if he played for Samoa in the curtain-raiser to the Australia-Papua New Guinea Four Nations game in Sydney, then he would be banned from realizing his dream of playing Origin for Queensland for two years.
Vidot, who has his eyes on the backline berth vacated by Israel Folau, reluctantly withdrew.
But Mal, who knows a thing or two about international footy as the only man to go on four Kangaroo tours, believes banning players like Vidot from representing lesser-ranked nations is hurting the game at international level.
“He is a good kid, Daniel. It was a heart-breaking affair for him,” Mal said. “I had a yarn to him while the whole process was playing out.
“I think it is really unfortunate. I believe a lot of people close to the game believe he should have been allowed to play.
“He was available to be selected for Australia in the Four Nations, but that wasn’t achieved. So why wouldn’t you, for the benefit of the game and the betterment of the game – particularly around the pacific region – allow him to play for the country of his upbringing?
“For the betterment of the game, the growth and development of the game, these rules need to be looked at. A guy like (Dragons and Queensland lock) Neville Costigan is a perfect example.
“Neville made himself available for Australia and he wasn’t selected, so rather than allow him to play for Papua New Guinea where he can bring his abilities and experience to that country’s team, he sits on the sidelines doing nothing.
“Now, surely the game is better served by having Neville playing for Papua New Guinea, and lifting the performance of that team and as a result, the competitiveness of the Four Nations competition, than having him as a spectator.
“I just think about how fantastic it would have been for the Kumuls players and for the country itself to have a player of Neville’s ability playing for them. I can’t fathom why they don’t do it.
“It is a short-sighted treatment of international rugby league to continue on the path that they are travelling.
“A change needs to be made to lift the standard and the development of international rugby league, and that change needs to be made soon.”
The Four Nations competition was criticised for the standard of the matches, up until the top-notch final, but Meninga believes spreading NRL-quality players out through the developing nations will only bolster the growth of the game internationally.
“There are so many positives of allowing the players who have not been selected for Australia to represent another country of their heritage, whether it is through a parent or a grandparent,” he said.
“They should be allowed to do it.
“It benefits the game, it benefits the player because he is able to give something back, it benefits the players around him who benefit from his experience, and it benefits the profile of the game by producing more successful teams in more areas. There is not one negative thing I can say about it.”