Why NZ Rugby League wouldn't allow Michael Maguire to coach both NZ Kiwis and State of Origin

NZ Rugby League chief executive Greg Peters says the decision not to allow Michael Maguire to retain his role as NZ Kiwis head coach while also coaching at State of Origin level was partly motivated by a desire to both protect the integrity of international rugby league.

On Friday, NZRL confirmed Maguire had chosen to part ways with NZ Kiwis. He's expected to take up the vacant role of NSW Blues head coach.

Maguire met with the NZRL board last week but was unsuccessful in convincing them it would be possible to do both roles, ultimately choosing to prioritise his opportunity with NSW.

Peters suggests letting Maguire do as such would have undermined his job with NZ Kiwis and – on a broader level – test rugby league. 

"Our big drive is to put international football at the top of the pecking order and at the moment," Peters told Newshub.  

"In Australia, sometimes State of Origin is viewed above international football and we are fighting hard to change that.

"That's factored into our viewpoint around this matter."

Maguire with the Kiwis after their Pacific Championship triumph.
Maguire with the Kiwis after their Pacific Championship triumph. Photo credit: Getty Images

The NRL's annual inter-state series has been often held up as the pinnacle of rugby league, with players eligible to represent nations other than Australia consistently opting to pledge their allegiance to either Queensland or New South Wales.

Under the current rules, a player can't play for New South Wales or Queensland if they play for a tier one nation other than Australia. 

With talk of Samoa and Tonga being promoted to test status, it would force several high-profile players to choose between State of Origin and their chosen country at test level, including the likes of Samoa and NSW's Jarome Luai and Brian To'o.

Those factors combined with the sparse test rugby league calendar and its ongoing struggle with the NRL and State of Origin schedule have been huge obstacles in elevating the international game to the top of the sport's pecking order.

The Kiwis will have to wait another year before taking the field again after their impressive Pacific Championship victory over Australia earlier this month, which Peters admits completely stifles their momentum.

"One of the challenges we have after that Pacific Championship is that it's now another year before we get to see that again, and it's very hard to keep fans engaged though that process when you don’t have regular content in the market," he explained. 

"We would certainly advocate at any chance we get for more international football. We should be having something in the middle of the year again.

"But we are constrained by clubs and NRL and players associations that say some people want less football.

"We've got to find a way through that because we believe international rugby league should be the preeminent level of the game, which is where it is in other codes."

Peters says the Kiwis players share that perspective and insists the board had the wholesale support of the senior leadership core, who were consulted before any decision was finalised on Maguire. 

The Australian took the reins during a low ebb for New Zealand, coming off the back of their abysmal 2017 World Cup performance on home soil, laying the foundation for a future Peters is confident is brighter than ever.

"The player group we've spoken to is supportive of the way we're doing this and we wouldn't do this without consulting them," he said.

"They see it as very supportive that someone needs to be focused on the Kiwis and on them continuing to improve. They didn't see how he could potentially do both roles.

"The whole group has grown under his leadership but at the end of the day, the mana in the jersey is the most important thing and we want a 100 percent Kiwi-focused coach who wants to build on that."