Taumalolo switch stuns Kiwis coach
New Zealand coach David Kidwell admits he was stunned to learn that star forward Jason Taumalolo will play for Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup.
Kidwell said the Cowboys forward had been a key part of his plans, right up until two days before the squad was named.
There's a great mix of enthusiasm and experience in this side, and a real desire to win this World Cup.David Kidwell
Taumalolo, who was a joint-winner of the Dally M Award last year, has opted to play for Tonga instead of the Kiwis.
Kidwell said the most disappointing aspect was that he hadn't been able to speak even on the phone to the player about his decision.
"I respect his decision but I think a conversation between myself and him would have been a good thing to do," he added. "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."
The coach said the Kiwis staff had made a number of phone calls and sent emails and texts to Taumalolo with no reply.
New Zealand weren't able to select Sio Siua Taukeiaho or David Fusitu'a who have also opted to represent Tonga in the tournament.
The Kiwis' 24-man squad includes five debutants, as well as three players who played in their 2008 World Cup-winning side - captain Adam Blair and veterans Thomas Leuluai and Simon Mannering.
The uncapped players are Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Addin Fonua-Blake, Danny Levi, Isaac Liu and Brad Takairangi.
Dally M Winger of the Year Jordan Rapana is in the squad along with the likes of Kenny Bromwich who played in the Storm's grand final-winning side last weekend.
Kidwell wasn't able to consider Tohu Harris, Jordan Kahu, Kieran Foran or Ben Matulino due to injury.
The coach said: "This is a unique opportunity, a World Cup in our country is a great honour and I can't wait to get into camp and work with this group of men.
"There's a great mix of enthusiasm and experience in this side, and a real desire to win this World Cup. I can't wait to show the people around New Zealand all the work we have been doing and how committed we are to this campaign."
New Zealand are 9/1 to win the Rugby League World Cup.
The Kiwis are 8/13 to win Group B.
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