Why International footy can challenge Origin
THE phenomenal growth of international rugby league in the past 12 months has shown Sydney can no longer be snubbed as a host for Test match football.
When the magnificent new Western Sydney Stadium opens in Parramatta next year, it will be the perfect venue for the Kangaroos to regularly stage Kiwi, Tonga or Great Britain internationals against Australia.
In the past 10 seasons, Sydney fans have been treated like outcasts with just three Test matches in 2010 against PNG, 2014 against the Kiwis and 2017 against Lebanon.
We're always carrying on, myself included, about scheduling NRL games in regional centres to save bush footy.
Or taking State of Origin games to Adelaide, Perth or Melbourne to build the brand with a view to eventual expansion.
In more recent times it's about the importance of growing the game in the Pacific Islands.
Which is great, but we can't just forget and ignore rugby league heartland in Sydney's west.
International footy now has the potential to challenge State of Origin.
I have no doubt Australia v Tonga would sell out the new Western Sydney Stadium if played on a Friday night in the October school holidays. The Poms and New Zealand would almost fill the place too.
It would open up new revenue opportunities through TV rights.
Rugby league has been desperate to establish a competitive international competition.
Now we've got one. The World Cup last year and the Kiwi and Tonga Test matches have proven that.
The growth in players with a Polynesian heritage in the NRL is quite staggering.
Check out these figures:
1976 - 0.1 per cent. 1986 - 0.7 per cent. 1996 - 10 per cent. 2006 - 20.1 per cent. 2016 - 48 per cent.
It's an extraordinary growth that proves the teams like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa are only going to get stronger considering their experience of playing in the best competition in the World.
And if the percentage of Aussie kids continues to fall, you'd think it will eventually effect the strength of the Kangaroos.
It might be 10 or 20 years away but the day will come where the Kangaroos will regularly be the underdogs.
Some might argue this explosion in Polynesian numbers is not a great thing for the game.
That rugby league has now become more about power than skill.
That in junior footy the smaller boys can't cope with the bigger Polynesian kids.
This is about weight rather than age divisions and an important discussion for another day.
What we do have to acknowledge is that Sydney deserves part of the international excitement.
Why build the new stadiums at Parramatta, Moore Park and Homebush if the government won't back up the investment and bid for all showpiece events.
The international game virtually died in Sydney 20 years ago because of the Kangaroos' dominance. Fans stopped turning up because we rarely saw a decent sporting contest.
Saturday night's game in Auckland was a season highlight for the game.
Tonga probably weren't as competitive as we'd hoped after the Kangaroos took an early 12-nil lead and were never seriously threatened.
But the sea of red it turned it into a wonderful spectacle.
We should play them every second year. Call it the Meninga-Taumalolo Cup because it was Mal who fought so hard to make Saturday night's game happen and Jason Taumalolo was the first superstar player to commit to Tonga.
Now it's up to the State Government to make sure Sydney fans get a slice of the action.