Despite some heavy pushing to promote both Samoa and Tonga to Tier One status, International Rugby League is set to deny both nations a promotion – much to their relief.
Samoa became just the sixth nation in rugby league history to compete in a World Cup final last weekend, while Tonga‘s meteoric rise came in 2017, coming within moments of completing the same feat at the last World Cup.
Regardless of their recent successes, News Corp is reporting that International Rugby League will reject both nations from a promotion into tier-one status, a mountain that only Australia, New Zealand and England sit atop of due to their dominance on the world stage.
While on paper it seems a net negative, it comes as a relief for both sides, putting to bed a number of fears over eligibility, mainly in terms of the Origin arena.
Under the current international eligibility rules, State of Origin players can only play for a nation other than Australia if said side isn’t a Tier One team. This means Origin players essentially can represent any nation other than England or New Zealand.
However, a promotion into the top tier would’ve likely meant players of Pacific Islander descent would be forced to choose between State of Origin football, and representing their heritage, a disaster for the representative game.
Between Tonga and Samoa‘s 24-men squads for this year’s World Cup, 14 of the 48 players had played State of Origin in their careers, including seven that featured for Samoa in the men’s final on Sunday morning AEDT.
The tier statuses are based on more than results, with pathways considered a key factor in promotion, leaving International Rugby League chairman Troy Grant confident that the two nations wouldn’t be moving up a wrung anytime in the near future.
“I don’t think that (Samoa and Tonga being upgraded) will change any time soon,” Grant told News Corp.
“We have a December board meeting where eligibility and tiering is on the agenda because of the interest and the lack of understanding.
“Tiering about nations is not just about on-field performance.
“It also takes into account domestic competitions, participation levels and governance arrangements.
“Whilst Samoa and Tonga‘s on-field national teams are performing to a level of excellence, they have some work to do on the domestic front.
“It’s those performances that will hopefully drive the standards in their nations back at home and we’ll see where that takes us.
“The aspiration of Samoa and Tonga (to be tier-one nations) is terrific and we will do everything we can to support them because that’s our job, but we don’t want to set them up to fail either.
“You want to make a tier-one elevation based on a really strong framework so as countries their performances can be sustainable on and off the field.”
The ARL commission will also have a look at eligibility rules in terms of Tier One nations and Origin regardless, with lock Victor Radley now no longer eligible for New South Wales and Australia after donning an English jersey for the World Cup.
“The current situation is great for Origin football,” he said.
“Currently, Pacific guys such as Tino Fa’asuamaleaui (Queensland and Australia forward who has Samoan heritage) can go back and forth between nations.
“If Tino wasn’t selected for Australia by Mal Meninga (Kangaroos coach), he could still play for Samoa because they are a tier-two nation.
“That’s why the tier-one and tier-two system works well.”
Both countries appear in good stead for the next World Cup, which is just three short years away in France, provided that they can find time on the calendar to play Test matches after the NRL removed the mid-season rep weekend from their calendar in 2023.