Unavailable players open spots in Kiwis for players to return, ex-coach says
Could the 2017 Kiwis Rugby League World Cup side see the return of some familiar faces? Former Kiwis player and coach Howie Tamati thinks so.
With forward Jason Taumalolo set to play for Tonga and Tohu Harris being the latest player to be made unavailable for selection, Tamati said players looking for a way to get back into the black jersey could be in luck.
"There's a lot of good players who have played internationally before that are still playing first grade football," Tamati said. "If you can hold down a first grade spot, you're a good player and this gives them a chance to get back in the Kiwis frame.
"We can't forget there's players in England as well. Players like Thomas Leuluai who can cover spots in the halves and at hooker. There are plenty of good players out there."
Taumalolo was reported to be leading a group of up to eight eligible Kiwis to the Tonga squad, with the Daily Telegraph reporting Kiwis coach David Kidwell's stance in overlooking prop Jesse Bromwich and forward Kevin Proctor for breaking team protocol in May was being blamed for the revolt.
However Tamati, who played for the Kiwis from 1979-85 before coaching the side in 1992-93, said Kidwell shouldn't be singled out for the decision.
"It wouldn't have been David's decision on his own. There would have been other members of New Zealand Rugby League involved, so I don't think you can pin that on David."
While Tamaiti wouldn't comment on whether he would select Bromwich and Proctor, he didn't have an issue with Taumalolo's decision and said players were able to make up their own minds regarding eligibility, given the rules.
In international eligibility rules, a player who qualifies to play for both a tier one nation (Australia, New Zealand or England) and a tier two or three nation can choose which of the two he wants to represent at the World Cup.
While the Kiwis will play against Taumalolo when they meet Tonga on November 11 in pool play, Harris will watch at home after withdrawing from selection following the NRL Grand Final on Sunday.
After injuries disrupted his season, the demand of another six-week campaign with the Kiwis is expected to be too much as Harris focuses on getting healthy ahead of his move to the Warriors next season.
"This isn't a new thing for New Zealand Rugby League," Tamati said. "In 1993 I took a Kiwis side away and we have eighth first-grade players made unavailable after the season."
"A lot of players carry injuries through the season and use the off-season as a chance to recovery and to have surgery if necessary."