Kiwis blindsided by Taumalolo omission
New Zealand Kiwis coach David Kidwell said star forward Jason Taumalolo had formed a key part of his side's Rugby League World Cup plans, right up until two days before the squad was named on Thursday.
In a stunning decision Taumalolo, who was the joint-winner of the Dally M Award last year, this week pledged his allegiance to Tonga for the end-of-year campaign, with the Kiwis unaware of his intentions right up until the news broke.
"I haven't had a conversation with Jason, a face-to-face or on the phone," Kidwell said.
"I think that's the most disappointing thing, I respect his decision but I think a conversation between myself and him would have been a good thing to do.
"I have had conversations with all the key players. As far as we were concerned, Jason was part of our World Cup team, and to find out two days out… that's the disappointing thing, finding it out that late.
"[Now] we have got to focus on the guys who have put their hand up, who want to play in the jersey."
Kidwell confirmed he had attempted to get in touch with Taumalolo.
"We have made a number of phone calls, emails and texts [with no answer]."
Taumalolo is one of several New Zealand-eligible players who have elected to represent the island nation at the World Cup, while prop Andrew Fifita also withdrew from Mal Meninga's initial Kangaroos squad in order to make himself available for Tonga.
With big-name players such as Manu Ma'u, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and David Fusitu'a all out of contention for New Zealand, last year's Four Nations runners-up have included a bunch of newcomers in their 24-man squad, with Danny Levi, Isaac Liu and Brad Takairangi all in line to debut for New Zealand when the tournament kicks off later this month.
Meanwhile Kiwis selector Tawera Nikau preferred to focus on the positives for the international game, but admitted the circumstances surrounding Taumalolo's omission had left a sour taste.
"Jason has made a decision along with a number of other Tongan players, Andrew Fifita pulled out of the Australian side to align himself with Tonga, with a number of other key players," Nikau said.
"We want the World Cup to be competitive, it's a great opportunity for those teams.
"We think it's fantastic. Obviously we are disappointed with [how it's happened], but in saying that it all augurs for a really outstanding World Cup."