Tongan coach says cocaine bust and suspension not behind Taumalolo's decision
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf doesn't know if Jason Taumalolo has a poor relationship with New Zealand boss David Kidwell – but is convinced the superstar back-rower is not aggrieved at the suspension of two Kiwis after May's cocaine bust.
Woolf at the weekend attempted to hose down suggestions Taumalolo's decision to pick Tonga over New Zealand was a result of displeasure with the Kiwi camp.
However, when the 24-year-old was asked in another interview if he had a problem with coach Kidwell, he replied: "I'm sorry I can't answer that".
"Whether there's something there between Jason and Kidwell, I don't know – it's not something I asked him about," Woolf told Fairfax Media.
"But I did ask him about this link between his decision and [Jesse] Bromwich and [Kevin] Proctor and he actually scoffed at that."
Woolf's comments suggest there may be some bridges that need mending before Taumalolo returns to the Kiwis fold – but the reasons for any tension aren't as obvious as the exclusion of forwards Bromwich and Proctor from the World Cup for being captured on camera using cocaine after this year's Anzac Test.
Taumalolo also said at the weekend he couldn't say if he'd play for New Zealand again.
"I thought Jason answered the questions well," he said. "Any issue he has with David Kidwell or the Kiwis or anyone is best handled in person, not in public through the papers.
"I liked his answer."
Woolf responded calmly to the uproar about five players – Taumalolo, Andrew Fifita, David Fusitu'a, Manu Ma'u and Sio Siua Taukeiaho – choosing Tonga over tier one nations.
But he also has a clear message to aggrieved Australian and New Zealand coaches and officials: welcome to my world.
"These things happen to us every single camp, players only letting us know until the night before a team is named that they are in or out," he said.
"Addin Fonua-Blake played for us mid-season and now he's in the Kiwis squad. No-one says anything about that.
"Andrew Fifita had just arrived in camp with us when he was called up by Australia earlier this year. I've not had guys pulled off the training paddock to go straight into camp with the Aussies or Kiwis but I know it happened previously.
"I understand why these teams are upset at the lateness of some of the calls because they're not used to it. But we certainly are."
Woolf also said some of the personal criticism of Taumalolo and Fifita had been "off the mark", adding that calling them anything but brave was wrong.
RLWC chief executive Andrew Hill said his organisation had advised players and officials on how the rules worked but had not actively recruited for tier two countries. Still, the competition's head office would have had some idea of what was afoot.
Asked to outline the timeline surrounding the decisions of the five "rebels", Woolf said: "I had heard that some of the boys were considering making this call but I didn't do any planning around it.
"You've got to understand how players feel a connection to two countries. But in the end, profile and financial clout usually wins out. Jason made his decision a couple of days out, when Andrew told me he felt he had to play for us I advised him to call Mal (Meninga) and Mal was hugely supportive."
- Sydney Morning Herald