Johnathan Thurston stands by Jason Taumalolo over Kiwis backflip
North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston has defended Jason Taumalolo in the wake of the New Zealand-born star's last-minute change of allegiance to Tonga.
The Pacific Island nation has been the talking point ahead of the World Cup, which kicks off on October 27, with with a handful of other Kiwis-eligible players joining Taumalolo in opting to play for Tonga along with Australian prop Andrew Fifita.
Thurston, who has been ruled out of the tournament for the Kangaroos due to a shoulder injury, was pressed on the issue as he and Aussie captain Cameron Smith launched their pre-season testimonial club clash set for Brisbane in February.
Thurston admitted Taumalolo's switch took him completely by surprise but he stood by his Cowboys teammate.
"Like Smithy I was shocked about it as well, but ... as a mate and friend I support that decision," Thurston said.
"As long as he's content with it in his heart then I'll support him."
The big-name acquisitions have injected plenty of hype into Tonga's campaign, with the minnows now seen as semifinal contenders.
They are in Group B alongside New Zealand, Samoa and Scotland and take on the Kiwis in Hamilton on November 11 in what should be an emotional affair.
Thurston, though, somewhat tempered the hype surrounding the Tongans.
"No doubt they're a good strong side, but we've got a pretty strong side as well," the injured playmaker said.
"But with what's been happening it's going to be a great, fiery World Cup."
Meanwhile, Smith took a swipe at Fifita after he was initially selected to play for the Kangaroos only to pull the pin and join Tonga.
"World Cup year is almost like a year off where you can pick where you want to play if you have any type of heritage in some nation," Smith said.
"I was a little bit shocked to be honest, both with Jason's decision and Andrew's, but at the end of the day it's up to the individual and if they're happy to represent the countries that they decide to play for then I'm happy for them."
Under the international eligibility rules, there is nothing stopping Fifita from representing Australia next season if selected.
And Smith said he would not oppose Fifita's selection if that were to happen.
"If he's playing well enough, then why not."
Thurston and Smith stand to benefit financially from the NRL-first testimonial, designed as a thanks for their contributions to the sport.
Both men will donate some of the profits to charities NRL Cowboys House, Ovarian Cancer Australia and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and are comfortable with the initiative.
"We don't make the rules, we don't deal with salary caps - our bosses do that," Smith said.
"A lot of the proceeds are going to those charities, which is very important to us."