Aussies in picture over defection
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.”