Under the previous rules, a player such as Broncos star Milford – who has Samoan and Australian heritage – could have represented the Maroons, Australia and Samoa all in the one season. The idea was to bolster the talent available for emerging league countries including Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea if players missed out on Kangaroo or Kiwi call-ups.
However, there will be less flexibility to move from now on in a bid to bring greater integrity to the international game.
“This is not about player payments, this is about giving people the opportunity to represent the area of their heritage,” said the RLIF’s southern hemisphere general manager Jeremy Edwards.
“It’s a chance for the player to make a decision and for the fans to understand it as well.
“It has been confusing [in the past].”
Tongan officials have been in contact with cross-code star Folau – currently playing for French club Catalans in the Super League – in a bid to get him to commit to the nation. The former Wallaby had represented Queensland and Australia in his previous stint in rugby league.
The rules also govern junior international matches, meaning young guns including teen Rabbitohs fullback Joseph Suaalii will need to make a call between NSW and Samoa.
Last year’s World Cup 9s was hit by several eligibility dramas, resulting in Lebanon being stripped of one of its wins. Under the new rules, there will be serious ramifications if a player breaches the new qualification criteria. Players can be fined up to £10,000 ($18,000), teams will be stripped of points and the offender will be banned until eligibility can be established.
RLIF chairman Greg Barclay said it was time for a more contemporary policy.
“I didn’t want it blindly drafted out of Manchester, it’s got to work for the world game,” Barclay said.
“We’re probably a bit guilty of being myopic or Euro-centric with certain things we have done, which is why things may not have worked for this part of the world.
“It’s important we came up with something that works for everybody.”
ARLC chairman Peter V’landys said Test football “is not off the table” for 2020, despite the coronavirus outbreak. It has raised hopes of internationals being staged at the end of the current season.
“What we’re very keen to do is get across to all of the parties is an understanding that here is an international window,” Barclay said.
“Once we’ve got that, we can start thinking about how we fill that. There is some good momentum around some of the countries and we don’t want to lose that.
“In October-November, could we [play]? Possibly, fingers crossed.”
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.