Aussies in pic­ture over de­fec­tion

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS -

Ja­son Tau­malolo’s de­ci­sion to turn his back on New Zealand might have blind­sided Ki­wis man­age­ment but their Aus­tralian coun­ter­parts knew of the North Queens­land su­per­star’s in­ten­tion weeks in ad­vance.

Tau­malolo’s de­fec­tion came as no sur­prise to the Kan­ga­roos, as­sis­tant coach Michael Hagan re­vealed yes­ter­day.

“I did get in­for­ma­tion through a third party a cou­ple of weeks ago that it might hap­pen and ob­vi­ously that’s now been con­firmed,” Hagan told Ra­dio Sport’s Mark Wat­son. “That’s dis­ap­point­ing for New Zealand in one way but I guess from a World Cup point of view, and for Tonga, it makes them a lot stronger and adds a bit of spice to the whole event.”

The Aus­tralians suf­fered a sim­i­lar fate with prop An­drew Fi­fita’s 11th hour switch to Tonga — a move that caught the world cham­pi­ons off guard, Hagan ad­mits.

“We were a bit sur­prised by that as well. I think he only rang Mal [Meninga, the Kan­ga­roos coach] in the last day or two to in­form him. I know that was a dif­fi­cult choice for him to make, given that he’s had to fight his way back into the Kan­ga­roos team which played against New Zealand in Can­berra in May,” Hagan said.

Tau­malolo’s de­fec­tion forced Kid­well to pick a de­pleted 24-man squad, scram­bling to in­form a num­ber of play­ers — in­clud­ing West Tigers back rower Eli­jah Tay­lor and Syd­ney Roost­ers front rower Jared WaereaHar­g­reaves — of their se­lec­tion af­ter ear­lier telling them their World Cup hopes were dashed.

Adding to the Ki­wis’ woes are the with­drawal through in­jury of Mel­bourne Storm premier­ship win­ner Tohu Har­ris and de­part­ing War­riors half Kieran Fo­ran.

Hagan, how­ever, in­sisted the Ki­wis would still be a force at the tour­na­ment that starts in just over two weeks.

“They’re still very strong. They have a nu­cleus of very strong guys up front. They’ve got a re­ally good back five that caused us some trou­ble in Can­berra and on the Four Na­tions trip [in 2016]. The fact that there’s no Fo­ran in their group prob­a­bly hurts them a lit­tle bit, but they’ve got [Kodi] Niko­rima and Shaun John­son of course, so they’ve got some good tal­ent there that can still get the job done,” Hagan said.

“We cer­tainly re­spect the Ki­wis and what they’re ca­pa­ble of. They’ll be strength­ened by the likes of Joseph Tap­ine, and Si­mon Man­ner­ing’s had a great year for the War­riors. Danny Levi from the Knights. They’ve got some good tal­ent and they’ll be com­pet­i­tive like they al­ways are.”

Hagan wouldn’t be sur­prised to see Tonga at the busi­ness end of the tour­na­ment.

“They will def­i­nitely be there­abouts.”

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