News of Jason Taumalolo’s massive $10 million contract was announced as a coup for North Queensland, with commentary around how this will make him ‘a Cowboy for life’.
Anthony Milford is another key player who is weighing up the next part of career, The Courier Mail reporting he is set to become the richest player in Broncos history. Again, his value his placed on growing the club’s revenues by winning premierships.
But if we want to truly grow the game internationally, then this rhetoric – or way of thinking – needs to change.
Taumalolo is an established Kiwis player. He, along with Shaun Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Simon Mannering, are probably the most recognisable faces in New Zealand league.
But these marquee players need to have time to promote the New Zealand Kiwis, not simply their club. This only is good for Australian rugby league, which in turn means by definition, the Kangaroos and Australian representative program gets a bigger player pool.
Milford needs to commit to a country. It sounds like he will play for Samoa again this year – presumably because his chances of forcing his way into the Queensland and Australian sides is shaky.
— Samoa Observer (@samoa_observer) 21 March 2017
Imagine if Samoan stars like Milford, Tim Lafai, Sam Kasiano and Leeson Ah Mau spend a week each year promoting the game in Samoa? Running clinics, visiting schools and building the brand of Toa Samoa?
And likewise with Taumalolo and his New Zealand teammates; why can’t there be more investment into growing the game within the nation they represent, rather than just during the Four Nations or major events at home?
I understand that clubs are the main employer therefore they have an obligation to do whatever they are asked to do. But this is where the big picture of international rugby league needs to be considered.
Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns have spent time in Fiji as part of the NRL ‘s initiative to grow the game.
Video of Brad Fittler and Andrew Johns who have ventured to Fiji to conduct Rugby League clinicshttps://t.co/hvftmkXWHq
— FIJI NSW Cup Bid (@FijiNSWCupBid) 31 October 2016
Well done to the NRL, and well done to the two Australian greats, but that isn’t helping the Fiji national team grow a presence or brand.
Instead of Johns or Fittler, kids should be talking about Kevin Naiqama, Korbin Sims or Marcelo Montoya.
Herein lies the fundamental problem. The National Rugby League has become a sort of caretaker in the Pacific region. They sponsor a ‘Representative Round’ each year, even as far as naming the annual match between Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa or Tonga ‘the Pacific Test’.
Perhaps they have taken it on themselves to grow the game on their own.
Going back to the 1990s, the Australian Rugby League were set on looking after themselves. Now it has morphed into something that wants to be all things to everyone in the region.
Again, I understand what the NRL are trying to achieve by putting their name beside these annual fixtures as well as visiting the nations. But give it another 10 years, and the NRL logo will be synonymous with rugby league, rather than the identities and brands of the national sides.
— NRL (@NRL) 13 December 2016
With the World Cup looming, the Rugby League International Federation, the Rugby Football League and the National Rugby League need to agree on a long-term strategy to set up world football.
Otherwise, international rugby league will simply become an expanded club competition, something that is already seeping into the game with the aforementioned marketing.
The NRL Kiwis versus the NRL Kangaroos?
I can’t bear to contemplate it.
But the nations could do worse than try and get marquee players involved in promoting the game locally and build their own brands.