NZRL play down player revolt reports following Jason Taumalolo's shock switch to Tonga
New Zealand Rugby League chief executive Alex Hayton is standing by the decision not to select former captain Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor for the World Cup.
The punishment handed down to the duo over the cocaine scandal following the Anzac test in May is being blamed by Australian media for star forward Jason Taumalolo's decision to switch his allegiance to Tonga for the tournament in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Both the Kiwi and Tongan squads are due to be named on Thursday but the Daily Telegraph has reported that Taumalolo was leading a host of players - some eligible to represent Australia - who made a secret pact last week to represent Tonga instead.
Tui Lolohea (Wests Tigers), Solomone Kata (Warriors), Konrad Hurrell (Titans), Manu Vatuvei (Salford), Manu Ma'u (Eels) and David Fusitu'a (Warriors) are among those mentioned ready to walk away from the Kiwis and make themselves available for Tonga.
On Wednesday night, Sydney Roosters' Sio Siua Taukeiaho, who has one cap for New Zealand, confirmed he will play for Tonga.
Bromwich and Proctor were penalised $40,000 and suspended six club matches combined, and the playing group believed that was punishment enough, according to the Telegraph.
Taumalolo, who played for Tonga in the 2013 World Cup, released a statement saying he made the decision to help develop the game in the Pacific Island nation.
It is understood the Cowboys lock did not directly inform coach David Kidwell of his decision, with the Kiwis learning of his switch this week via a third party.
Hayton refused to speculate on the reports but was confident in the stance taken by Kidwell over Bromwich and Proctor.
"I've seen a number of reports on why Jason has pledged and some of it is speculation but we certainly stand by the decision we made earlier in the year," Hayton said.
"At the end of the day it's Jason's decision, he did play for the Tonga back in 2013 at the World Cup. But we have picked the best team to go out and compete and we're certainly focused on winning the tournament."
Hayton also played down talk of a revolt, saying several of the players mentioned were not in contention to play for the Kiwis.
Of the six players named, only Fusitu'a and Ma'u would be likely to make Kidwell's squad. Although, Taukeiaho would have been a strong replacement for Taumalolo.
"There were a group of players that weren't in contention to play for the Kiwis at all so it's great that they're playing for Tonga," Hayton said.
"With the change in eligibility rules it's going to be a lot more competitive which is great from a viewing point of view and certainly we want everyone to come out and support the Kiwis."
Taumalolo's defection comes after leading duo Kieran Foran and Tohu Harris were ruled out through injury and heaps even more pressure on Kidwell heading into their opening game against Samoa on October 28.
Adding to the drama, New Zealand will confront Tonga in a World Cup pool match in Hamilton on November 11.
Kidwell has overseen just one win in six tests since taking over from Stephen Kearney last September.
The NZRL have responded by boosting his support team, naming experienced Australian administrator Shane Richardson as campaign manager prior to the Anzac test. Assistant coaches Brian Smith and Garth Brennan have since been appointed, as well as wellbeing manager, former Kiwi centre Nigel Vagana.
"We've been trying to get the right team of people to build around David," Hayton said. "David's at the start of his coaching career and I think we have got good support around him and I'm confident that we'll do well at the tournament."
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