Peter Sterling: I should have been a Maroon

NO matter how often I joke to people that my parents went to Tweed Heads for a naughty weekend and I was conceived south of the border, the simple truth is that I am a Queenslander.

I was born in Toowoomba, in southern Queensland, and though my family headed to NSW when I was just five years old, that did not alter the place of birth at the bottom of my birth certificate.

In fact, every important document that required my personal history details shows that I am and always will be a Queenslander.

I am often cited as an example of a player who should have had the right to represent NSW at Origin level because my formative years in the game were in this state.

As it turned out I wore the sky blue jersey on 13 occasions and would like to think that I played with as much pride and passion as any other player who has represented the Blues.

I am also certain that if I had been chosen to play for Queensland as a result of being born there, I would have displayed the same degree of desire.

With the rep season kicking off this weekend it is somewhat disappointing that the subject of eligibility raises its head again.

The main bone of contention is the selection of James Tamou in the Kangaroos squad, which is a shame at a time that is obviously the highlight of his sporting career.

However, part of the shame is that the confusion and discontent being felt by some fans is completely understandable.

It is well documented that Tamou left New Zealand when he was 13 to live in Australia and that all his junior rugby league was played in this country.

It is also true that he played for the 2008 and 2010 Maoris and was part of the Kiwis’ train-on squad for last season’s Four Nations in the United Kingdom.

The likeable front-rower has stated that this is a “career decision”, and there is no doubt that a big part of that is the opportunity to play State of Origin.

I believe this sounds alarm bells, because not only does it have the capacity to affect why Origin works but also may contribute to a dilution of the international game.

Tamou has done nothing wrong. He meets the criteria set by the Rugby League International Federation and, if chosen by Ricky Stuart, will meet those of the Australian Rugby League when it comes to state selection.

To its credit, the new commission endorsed on March 20 a set of guidelines more focused on birthplace, school and playing records in juniors rather than just at age 16 when it comes to domestic representation.

However, I believe that to eradicate what has always been a grey area we should bring in a system that bases state and national selection on where a player was born.

It may not be perfect, but at least it takes away uncertainty. Obviously not all players are born in NSW or Queensland, or in Australia or New Zealand, and for those we would implement the current criteria to determine where their allegiance would be.

For example, Timana Tahu and Peter Wallace were born in Melbourne but would qualify for the Blues.

This approach would also “protect” Origin from players who should not be there.

Benji Marshall is a fantastic entertainer and a joy to watch, but he is a Kiwi and should never have the opportunity to play Origin football.

It appears that New Zealand will introduce its own Origin-type contest with an “Auckland-born” versus “the rest” concept not far away, and that may help appease those who can’t play in the Australian series.

When it comes to the international scene, the criteria are based on three factors: country of birth, heritage and a three-year residency rule.

Feleti Mateo, for example, now qualifies to represent Australia, New Zealand and England on that basis.

The Warriors back-rower was born in Australia, so I believe should only be available to earn that Test jersey, but when it comes to tournaments that aren’t confined to just the top-tier nations, such as the World Cup, if he is not chosen for the green-and-golds, he should immediately be able to revert to his heritage that is not aligned to another top-tier country.

This would take New Zealand and England out of the equation but would allow him to turn out for Tonga and not be sitting on the sidelines on account of the two-year “election period” that now applies.

For those players who were not born in Australia or New Zealand, I’m quite happy for the present system to continue.

That system tackles the needs of those from emerging nations as well as someone such as Bulldogs great Hazem El Masri, who was born in Lebanon.

As I mentioned, this may not be perfect, and for that reason there should be an appeals system to look at those cases that may have extenuating circumstances.

The one thing that it will tackle is any farcical Tonie Carroll-type situation. Carroll played Test football for Australia and New Zealand.

This system should not be retrospective and Greg Inglis, who was born in Macksville, would continue to play for the Maroons and Darlinghurst-born Frank Pritchard would still turn out for the Kiwis.

It would just be a new clear line in the sand.

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