Qld in fight to prove Mulitalo eligibility

·3-min read

Johnathan Thurston says Queensland can prove Ronaldo Mulitalo's eligibility after Phil Gould blasted the "farcical" laws that have extraordinarily denied the winger a State of Origin debut just hours before the game.

New Zealand-born talent Mulitalo was withdrawn from the Suncorp Stadium clash on Sunday morning after the Maroons were unable to provide proof that disproved information from a 2019 article claiming he had moved to Queensland just shy of his 14th birthday.

Under eligibility requirements, players must have lived in either NSW or Queensland prior to their 13th birthday.

NSWRL asked the NRL to look into the matter on Saturday night after the 21-year-old's late call up to replace the injured Reece Walsh.

With time against them the QRL opted to pull Mulitalo from the game and replace him with Brisbane winger Xavier Coates, who arrived at the team hotel less than 10 hours before kick off.

The Maroons believed Cronulla winger Mulitalo was eligible because he had already played for Queensland's under-18 and under-20 sides, albeit potentially only because of administrative oversight.

However, Queensland assistant coach Johnathan Thurston said on the Nine Network's Sunday Footy Show that the Maroons were confident they could produce documents that proved Mulitalo had arrived in Australia before his 13th birthday.

"His dream of playing in the Maroons jersey has been ripped from under him," Thurston said.

"It's been a hectic 24 hours for the young kid and we have still haven't given up hope of him playing in the series, given the fact we couldn't get the right documentation to prove he was here before he was 13.

"The NRL made the call that if he does play the game will be null and void.

"Hopefully we can get that documentation over the next week or so and he can be back in camp."

That claim is despite Mulitalo telling News Corp on Sunday that he had arrived as a 13-year-old, while he was also quoted in a 2016 article claiming he was a "NSW boy" but would represent Queensland at a junior level "as a favour" to his mother.

QRL managing director Rob Moore said he didn't know why Mulitalo's eligibility hadn't been verified when he played at a junior level, and he was frustrated this had not come to light until Saturday.

He said Mulitalo's claims in the 2019 article that he arrived just before his 14th birthday weren't necessarily correct and that they would attempt to find evidence that he had in fact arrived sooner.

Former Blues coach Gould said the eligibility rules were out-dated and not suitable for a sport trying to enhance its international footprint.

"The players playing here in Australia who come through the Australian system should be able to play Origin football and then if they elect to play internationals with New Zealand or whoever strengthens international football," he said.

"Nobody's trying to cheat the system.

"He's already played 16s, 18s and 20s for Queensland so who allowed that to happen if he was never a hope of playing Origin down the track?

"The whole thing is just farcical, absolutely farcical.

"These eligibility rules have been ad-hoc, done on the run, changed here and there to suit a team.

"And he's going to be replaced by Xavier Coates who's already played for Papua New Guinea."

ARL Commission boss Peter V'landys accepted responsibility for the gaffe and apologised to Mulitalo, saying there was not enough time to use new discretionary powers available to grant the Sharks flyer a debut.

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