Taumalolo praised for 'brave' decision
Head coach Kristian Woolf says that Jason Taumalolo has put the future of Tonga Rugby League ahead of any potential personal gain by making good on a promise that many others have failed to keep.
As New Zealand's prospects of success in this month's Rugby League World Cup plummeted with the news that Taumalolo would instead pledge his allegiance to Mate Ma'a Tonga, Woolf breathed an almighty sigh of relief as the man mountain also proved to be a man of his word.
Regarded as the most influential running forward in the game today, Taumalolo played three Tests for Tonga at the 2013 World Cup before being enticed by the possibilities available by playing for the Kiwis.
Born and raised in Auckland, Taumalolo has played 10 Tests for New Zealand since making his debut in 2014 but after carrying the Cowboys to an unlikely grand final berth shocked the rugby league world by declaring he would represent the homeland of his mother and father.
 Telstra Premiership: Jason Taumalolo
All Run Metres, Hit Ups, Tackle Breaks.
Taumalolo's promise to Woolf that he would again play for Tonga while still at the height of his powers is one the experienced coach has heard a number of times since taking the coaching role in 2015 and after seeing so many head the other way, praised the 24-year-old for a decision that will change how young Tongan players view their international allegiances.
"He's always said that one day he would like to come back and play for Tonga while he's at his best. I was never quite sure when that might be but he's obviously decided to do it now," a delighted Woolf told NRL.com.
"There are a lot of players who talk about it and make the noise and everything else but he's the best forward in the game at the moment so for him to make the jump while he is in such a position in his career says a lot about his character.
"He's obviously sacrificing a lot. You're not comparing apples with apples when you're talking about the benefits of playing for a tier one nation compared to a tier two nation. One group of nations are looked after a hell of a lot better than the other.
"That's why I think it is such a brave step, him being the first to really do that and lay a platform. To say that it is OK to sacrifice other things and play for a team that in your heart you know you want to play for and you know you're going to enjoy playing for.
"In my conversations with him, he's very much thought about how it impacts on other people.
"Not just our team obviously but also kids back in Tonga and kids who are in a similar position to him in terms of being Tongan kids that have grown up in Australia and New Zealand and what teams those kids want to play for when they do get the opportunity to choose."
Taumalolo's availability adds a level of firepower to the Tongan team that will be the strongest the nation has ever put on the park when they face Scotland in Cairns on October 29.
Tonga's World Cup squad will be announced at 9.30am on Thursday morning before they spend a week in camp in Tonga and then have three days in Tully in North Queensland prior to their one and only World Cup warm-up game against Italy in Innisfail on October 22.
The likes of Will Hopoate, Daniel Tupou, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Siosaia Vave gave Tonga a strong base from which to build from but Woolf doesn't believe that the inclusion of Taumalolo changes how they view their World Cup prospects.
"We had pretty high ambitions anyway to be honest," Woolf said.
"We're in an extremely tough pool. We're rated No.11 in the world and we're playing No.2, 4 and 5.
"So we're probably in the toughest pool and going to have to play some really good footy across a number of games if we're going to advance through to a quarter-final, which is obviously what we want to do.
"I'd be very disappointed if we're not in a position to play in a quarter-final but at the same time we're going to have to play some really good footy and work really hard between now and then before we can consider doing that."