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Monday 25 May 2015 | Published in Regional


BRISBANE – Bending the rules to allow Pacific islanders to play State of Origin league in Australia may destroy what is great about the concept, Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett says.

The master coach admitted Origin eligibility rules may have to be addressed again in the future but believed power brokers should not rush into tinkering with a winning formula.

In the wake of the hugely successful recent Pacific Tests, the NRL are considering overhauling the Origin eligibility rules to allow Polynesians to play for NSW or Queensland.

Under the proposed changes, Pacific islanders could represent both their home nation and the Blues or Maroons.

It is understood the NRL believes the move will help further develop the code in the Pacific Test nations Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and PNG.

There have also been calls for an Origin series between the Kiwis and a Pacific side to build on recent development of the game in the islands.

Bennett enjoyed the Pacific Tests but did not believe now was the time to start tampering with Origin eligibility criteria again.

“I have seen too many different competitions around the world in other sports that work and people get too smart with it and all of a sudden they don’t have as much credibility as before and no one is as interested as there in the past,” he said.

“It’s not something we should rush into. That’s not saying you can’t change it in 10 years’ time – there may be a better reason than there is now. But right now it works.”

The rules were changed in 2012 following the outcry over Kiwi-born James Tamou switching his allegiance to Australia and NSW’s outcry over Greg Inglis’ selection for Queensland, despite being born at Bowraville, in northern NSW, and playing all his junior football in the area.

The key change was that no player would be eligible to play for NSW or Queensland unless he had lived in that state before the age of 13.

“The reason it has gotten bigger and better is the genuine Queensland versus NSW psyche that goes with that,” Bennett said.

“As soon as you start bringing people outside of that arena, they come from New Zealand for example at 20 years old and all of a sudden you can play Origin, I think you lose what makes it great – mate versus mate, state versus state.”

Asked if Polynesians being allowed to play Origin would help the developing nations, Bennett said: “There’s already rules in place and they understand it. That’s what I like about it.

“I think it works and will continue to work if we apply some rules to it and recognise why the fans embrace it the way they do.”

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney says the world’s number one ranked team would love to play more matches against their Pacific neighbours but doesn’t think it’s feasible in the near future.

The Kiwis wrested top spot away from Australia following their ANZAC Test victory earlier this month.

Samoa remain the top-ranked Pacific island nation at fourth in the world, following their victory over Tonga in the Pacific test, while Fiji are ranked sixth.

The Toa from Tonga also impressed during last year’s Four Nations, where they finished within a converted try of both England and New Zealand.

Kearney says they would love to play against teams from the Pacific but isn’t sure where to fit the games in.

“It’s a matter of managing the schedule. The Nines starts at the end of January and we’ll get back from this England tour midway through November, so for a lot of players it’s about where do you squeeze the game in?

“For us, we certainly want to encourage test matches against the Pacific nations but it’s a matter of where are you going to put it? It’s a pretty full season as it is so that’s the challenge for international football at the moment”.