Mulitalo had already represented Queensland at under-age level and even scored a try in the Origin under-20s match in 2019, but it didn’t stop NSWRL chief executive David Trodden from asking the NRL for a please explain on match eve.
The QRL said it would still argue to prove Mulitalo’s Origin eligibility ‘in coming days’, but couldn’t take the risk playing him on Sunday night.
The ARL Commission has discretionary powers to make an exemption potentially in time for game three if an application is made by the QRL. The Commission used that power to grant Joseph Suaalii an exemption to play for the Roosters before his 18th birthday.
There is confusion around whether Mulitalo actually lived with his brother before his 13th birthday, before later returning to New Zealand and coming back a year or so later. The QRL is currently hunting documentation to prove that was the case, but couldn’t get it in time for him to play game two.
Mulitalo, 21, was drafted into Queensland’s extended squad earlier this week, but had been promoted to the wing after teenager Reece Walsh withdrew on match eve.
Valentine Holmes will switch to fullback with the Maroons rushing Broncos winger Xavier Coates, who was axed after the series opener, into their squad for the must-win match in Brisbane.
“Why wasn’t this asked at the start of camp? I was here [in Queensland] when I was 13 and 10 months,” Mulitalo said. “They’re going to strip everything I’ve worked for my whole life because of 10 months?
“I’m angry about it, I’m sad and I’ve got all these emotions. I’m lost.”
“I’ve represented Queensland at every level and I’ve pledged my allegiance to Australia. I backflipped on New Zealand because I wanted to play for Australia. This is my home. But what am I supposed to do now?
“Semi Radradra played for Australia, but he’s from Fiji. I feel like we’re bending the rules here and there, but on the most important day of my life nothing can happen for me. I just want to support the boys now and make sure this is not all about me.”
Queensland Rugby League chairman Bruce Hatcher said they couldn’t take the risk playing Mulitalo.
“We’ve pulled the guy out because we don’t have reasonable evidence [to prove otherwise he’s eligible],” Hatcher said. “The last thing you want is to play a guy, win a game and then find you have an ineligible player and lose the game.
“The fact it’s happening now when we should be concentrating on the game is beyond belief. It could have been investigated in two weeks’ time and found we had an ineligible player and we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. If there’s an arguable case it won’t be heard today.
“This is acutely embarrassing, and above all else I don’t want to be accused of a cheat, or bending the rules to get our own way. He won’t be cleared today and he needs independent evidence. Just imagine if we played him and we were wrong, we would – and should – be judged accordingly.”
The NRL released a statement saying the QRL had ruled Mulitalo out of the do-or-die game for Paul Green’s side ‘after being uncertain of his eligibility to play’.
“I feel very sorry for Ronaldo,” Queensland assistant coach Johnathan Thurston told The Footy Show. “The kid is heartbroken. He was a broken man [on Sunday] morning.
“His dream of playing in the Maroons jersey has been ripped from underneath him. It’s been a hectic 12 or 24 hours for the young kid, but we haven’t given up hope of him playing for us later this series.”