16 February 2009

New strict UK visa rules hoped to change behaviour of Aussie league stars

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After yet another rejection of a UK work permit for an Australian rugby league star, officials are hoping that the Australian league players will take the hint and start to behave themselves, reports The Press Association.

British officials have been tightening the UK immigration system, making it harder for individuals to have their UK visa application approved.  Since January this year, three big-name Australian league players have been stopped in their tracks to move to the UK to play in the Super League competition, including Todd Carney, Michael Crocker, and Greg Bird.

This week, Greg Eastward, New Zealand international playing for the Brisbane Broncos, is anxiously awaiting approval for his UK work permit.  It is unclear as to why the application approval is taking so long, yet it has been suggested his driving convictions are causing trouble.

Gold Coast Titans chief executive Michael Searle said it is hoped the tightening of the visa rules would change the culture in league that encourages bad behaviour, as many professional league players look to the UK as their back-up plan when their career in Australia has reached its peak.

"The immigration rules of the UK are very strong and, as such, if you're convicted you won't be given entry," Searle said.

"If they don't have that plan B, it sets a real benchmark for behaviour. There's no parachute for those guys anymore."

NRL chief executive David Gallop shared similar sentiments, adding that in the long-term, Australia would benefit from retaining talent in the country rather than losing it to high-paying contracts in the UK.

"It's just a further reminder that it's no longer necessarily easy to take up that option of finding a club in the UK.  And it's a definite reminder of what the consequences are for not keeping your nose clean or stepping out of line," Gallop told reporters.

Eastward's teammates are already two games into the season, but his team officials remain positive that he would join them soon.

"Greg will be looking to appeal the decision but obviously that will take its due process.  Greg remains very much in our plans for this season and we will continue to stay in touch with him during this process," said Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington.

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