Tau­malolo mo­tives were ‘pure’: coach

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT - MARVIN FRANCE

Tonga coach Kris­tian Woolf ad­mits Jason Tau­malolo could have han­dled his de­ci­sion to walk away from the Ki­wis bet­ter, but is adamant his rea­sons for do­ing so are gen­uine.

Tau­malolo, widely re­garded as the best for­ward in the game, left the Ki­wis’ World Cup plans in dis­ar­ray af­ter con­firm­ing his switch to Tonga two days be­fore New Zealand coach David Kid­well an­nounced his 24-man squad on Thurs­day.

Roost­ers for­ward Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Eels back-rower Manu Ma’u and War­riors cen­tre David Fusitu’a all fol­lowed suit, leav­ing Ki­wis se­lec­tors scram­bling to fill the squad less than an hour be­fore it was named.

The play­ers have been slammed for the tim­ing of their de­ci­sions, with Kid­well re­veal­ing Tau­malolo has not re­sponded to his nu­mer­ous at­tempts to con­tact him.

While the Cow­boys star has said the move is all about giv­ing back to Tonga, Aus­tralian me­dia have sug­gested that he was not happy with the World Cup sus­pen­sions handed down to Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proc­tor for break­ing team pro­to­col at the An­zac test.

How­ever, Woolf, who has had a long as­so­ci­a­tion with the 24-yearold, says he was told di­rectly by Tau­malolo that was not the case.

‘‘One thing I do know is that Jason’s mo­tives are 100 per cent pure,’’ Woolf told Stuff.

‘‘There are no un­der­rid­ing feel­ings against the coach or how play­ers were treated like that at all. I have spo­ken to him about that.

‘‘Whether he ac­tu­ally spoke to him (Kid­well) I’m not sure. If that is the case then that is some­thing I think Jason should do and some­thing that he should have han­dled bet­ter.

‘‘Ob­vi­ously I was in­volved with all the other con­ver­sa­tions with the other guys who made the same de­ci­sions, but they rang me to tell me they were play­ing for Tonga. The next part of the con­ver­sa­tion was around mak­ing sure they do the right thing and mak­ing sure that you no­tify ei­ther New Zealand or Aus­tralia and you’ve spo­ken to peo­ple there.’’

Woolf and Tau­malolo both live in Townsville and their re­la­tion­ship goes back to when the 10-test Kiwi first ar­rived in North Queens­land from Auck­land in his teens.

Tau­malolo played un­der Woolf in the Cow­boys un­der-20s and they re­mained in reg­u­lar con­tact.

But Woolf says the per­cep­tion that he twisted Tau­malolo’s arm to leave New Zealand could not be fur­ther from the truth. All the play­ers who de­fected – An­drew Fi­fita with­drew from the Kan­ga­roos two days af­ter be­ing named in the squad – have played for Tonga pre­vi­ously and Woolf said they had all ex­pressed a de­sire to re­turn while at their best.

While Tau­malolo signed a 10-year, $10 mil­lion deal with the Cow­boys ear­lier this year, the play­ers are giv­ing up a five-fig­ure pay-day to play for Tonga – a fact Woolf be­lieves should not be ig­nored.

‘‘Jason men­tioned to me at one stage that he was cer­tainly think­ing about it lead­ing into this World Cup but I get that be­fore ev­ery Ton­gan camp.

‘‘That is why I think it is so brave on Jason’s be­half, to be the first and also on the oth­ers. The pop­u­lar de­ci­sion is to fol­low the higher pro­file team and to fol­low where the fi­nances are. That is what ev­ery per­son has done be­fore them and that is what most peo­ple would do. Th­ese guys have de­cided to go the other way and I re­ally think they de­serve a lot of ap­plause.’’

Woolf, who has coached Tonga since 2015, can sym­pa­thise with Kid­well.

He would of­ten se­lect a ‘‘dream team’’ in his head prior to test matches only for those plans to go out the win­dow as his best play­ers were snapped up by tier one na­tions.

‘‘It is in­ter­est­ing now that it has come the other way that it is so con­tro­ver­sial and does get so much air time be­cause it has been hap­pen­ing a few years the other way,’’ he said. ‘‘Even Ad­din Fonu­aBlake (New Zealand) and Felise Kau­fusi (Aus­tralia) haven’t had too much air time from the fact that they played for Tonga in May.’’

I re­ally think they de­serve a lot of ap­plause. Kris­tian Woolf

Su­per­star for­ward Jason Tau­malolo.

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