Kiwis will embrace Tonga defectors
Time appears to have dissolved any ill feeling between the Kiwis and the group of players who snubbed New Zealand selection in favour of Tonga for the Rugby League World Cup.
Asked this week if they would welcome Kiwi defectors Jason Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma'u and David Fusitu'a into the sheds after Saturday's match against Tonga, both coach David Kidwell and veteran players Thomas Leuluai and Martin Taupau said they were open to the idea.
"Back then I did [harbour hard feelings], but not now. Time I suppose heals and Jason is playing for Tonga and we have got guys playing for New Zealand," Kidwell said.
"If the opportunity presents itself [for them to come into the sheds post-match], yes. If I haven't talked to Jason and the other guys [prior to the end of the match], 100 per cent I will."
Having played alongside Taumalolo and Ma'u in last year's Four Nations campaign, and been a teammate to Fusitu'a and Taukeiaho at the Warriors, Leuluai said once the full-time siren sounds at Waikato Stadium he will treat the occasion as a chance to reunite with players he still calls good friends.
"I have got no problems whatsoever, I have played some football with a few of them and I'm good mates with them, there's no bad blood, I'm not angry at them or anything like that," Leuluai said.
"I am looking forward to catching up with them to be honest."
With New Zealand and Tonga both undefeated so far at the tournament, the week three meeting at Waikato Stadium will decide who tops Pool B, with Lebanon and Fiji already qualified and awaiting the group winners and runners-up respectively.
Taumalolo is likely to feature heavily against the Kiwis, having taken his 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership form into the World Cup where he is averaging 183 metres per game.
When asked how he planned to combat Taumalolo, Kidwell was quick to shut down any suggestion he would target the North Queensland Cowboys enforcer.
"I have heard that question a few times throughout the NRL. Look, it's about limiting his metres, he's obviously the form forward in the game," Kidwell said.
"But I look at our forward pack and the way we have been performing and we have just got to make sure we prepare well and are ready.
"We're not targeting anyone in our game plan, we are just making sure that we play our Kiwi footy."