This week we take a look at a Blues selection blunder, the complex and often ridiculous representative eligibility rules and the decline of Craig Bellamy's magic at the Storm.
We tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
Time to split State of Origin from international eligibility
Real. The decision by NSW Blues winger Brian To'o to represent Samoa at this year's World Cup has once again reignited the tiring debate about representative eligibility rules, with some critics arguing all State of Origin players should only be allowed to represent Australia.
Leaving aside the fact that international rugby league could benefit from all nations that aren't Australia being a strong as possible, the big question is why State of Origin representation should dictate international eligibility at all.
Yes, NSW and Queensland are part of Australia, obviously. But it's equally obvious that players can have roots in multiple countries. What's more, the eligibility rules for Origin and the international game are completely different -- so it's hard to argue why one should affect the other.
To play State of Origin, you either need to have resided in one of the two states before your 13th birthday (or your father had to play State of Origin). In international rugby league, you can represent the country you were born in or your grandparents were born in -- or, if you haven't already played for a different nation, the country where you've resided in for at least three years.
Clearly, it's possible to be eligible to play State of Origin and also for a country other than Australia. Why can't a player do both? Even the division between tier one nations (Australia, New Zealand, England) and tier two (everyone else) seems trivial here -- is there any good reason a New Zealand-born, Queensland-raised player shouldn't be able to play for the Kiwis and the Maroons?
State of Origin hasn't been a selection trial for the Kangaroos side for years, if it ever truly was. Australia hasn't played a game since 2019, and before that they would often play around Anzac Day -- before that year's Origin series began -- or at the end of an NRL season that would have more influence on Test selections than the mid-year interstate series. Origin is an entirely separate product from the international game, and it's time the eligibility rules reflected that.
International rugby league needs all the help it can get. The more (eligible) players who are able to represent a country other than Australia without having to forgo the big pay packets on offer on the Origin stage, the better.
- Dominic Brock
Jacob Saifiti is the right man to step in for the Blues
Not real. This is no criticism of Saifiti, who has improved significantly as a player in the past couple of seasons at Newcastle. But the decision of NSW selectors to pick the 25-year-old as Jordan McLean's replacement in the Blues team for Origin III is an even stranger one than the decision to pick McLean in the first place.
Jacob Saifiti is a solid NRL front-rower, but he's third in the pecking order at the Knights behind his twin brother Daniel and the club's forward leader David Klemmer. Jacob has averaged an unspectacular 88 metres per game this season, with just two offloads and zero tackle breaks. Those numbers are a long way behind Klemmer (149m per game, 24 offloads, 13 busts) and Daniel Saifiti (106m, eight offloads, six busts). And that's just the competition at 12th-placed Newcastle.
Eels big men Reagan Campbell-Gillard (150m, five offloads, 16 tackle breaks) and Ryan Matterson (159m, 30 offloads, 29 tackle breaks) have better stats this season than that Knights trio, and McLean, but have seemingly dropped out of contention altogether since playing in Origin I. The Blues have three terrific lock forwards in the form of Isaah Yeo, Jake Trbojevic and Cameron Murray, but their front-row stocks are suddenly looking decidedly thin after an injury to Payne Haas, with Trbojevic already playing out of position up front.
The selection of Jacob Saifiti once again draws attention to the snubbing of Klemmer -- the last forward to win the Brad Fittler Medal as the NSW Origin player of the year. He may have starred on the Origin stage in the past, but Klemmer clearly hasn't won over the namesake of that award, and there will be more questions raised about Fittler's selection policy if the Blues are outgunned in the middle in the series decider.
- Dominic Brock
Bellamy's magic is wearing thin
Real: It has long been an accepted truth of rugby league that Craig Bellamy is a genius coach who can squeeze the very best out of the most mediocre of players. Time and again he has proven his ability to pick up discarded footballers, who possess the "Storm mentality", and slot them into his well-oiled purple premiership threatening machine.
At the core he has always had a sprinkling of superstar quality players who do most of the heavy lifting, but his bit-part players have always been key to the club's continuing success. So much so, that in previous years when the superstars were lost to either representative duty or injury, the rest would lift and there would barely be a drop in performance.
This year has been different and we have seen that most clearly over the past two rounds. The Storm have suffered two disappointing losses to the Sea Eagles and the Sharks. Both times Melbourne have looked disjointed and lacking in defensive determination and both times the biggest missing piece to their puzzle has been Cameron Muster. With key players like Brandon Smith out of form and Ryan Papenhuyzen carrying injuries, the task has been too great against teams eager to prove themselves against one of the competition's benchmark clubs. Most alarmingly, the Sharks and Sea Eagles have both found gaping holes in the usually impenetrable Storm defence.
It will be a true test of Bellamy's abilities to turn things around from here, even with the return of Munster and Harry Grant.
- Darren Arthur