Hamish Bidwell: Defection of star player Jason Taumalolo an embarrassment for Kiwis

Jason Taumalolo has decided to play for Tonga rather New Zealand.
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Jason Taumalolo has decided to play for Tonga rather New Zealand.

OPINION: The irony is almost too delicious for words.

Almost 10 years after David Kidwell helped see off Kiwis coach Gary Kemble, the actions of a player look about to make his own position as national coach untenable.

The decision of New Zealand's best player, Jason Taumalolo, to represent Tonga at the upcoming Rugby League World Cup is a lot of things. But number one, it's a rejection of Kidwell's position as Kiwis coach.

Kiwis rugby league coach David Kidwell has big problems ahead of the World Cup.
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Kiwis rugby league coach David Kidwell has big problems ahead of the World Cup.

Kemble should never have been appointed to the job himself and a group of senior players, including Kidwell, spoke out to ensure his record never progressed beyond one win from five games.

Kidwell's own record as Kiwis coach is 1-6 and now he's lost the most damaging ball-runner in the game. Somewhere Kemble must be chuckling. When Kidwell spoke out against him early in 2008, the player claimed that New Zealand players would consider playing for Samoa or Tonga at the World Cup if Kemble remained coach.

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Barnstorming backrower Jason Taumalolo in action for the Kiwis.
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Barnstorming backrower Jason Taumalolo in action for the Kiwis.

The true fault lies with the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL), of course. It continues to appoint coaches and selectors whose stature doesn't match that of the players, with increasingly familiar results.

Not only don't the Kiwis win, but the players either look to nobble the coach - as Kidwell did - or do what Taumalolo's done and walk away.

How can this have happened? How can Taumalolo's participation for New Zealand in this tournament have even been in question? Surely the NZRL had him locked in for this World Cup months, if not years, ago?

The NZRL must have felt something wasn't right in the camp. Otherwise why would they belatedly bring in former Penrith, Cronulla and now South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson to run their World Cup campaign, with Brian Smith and Garth Brennan as assistant coaches to Kidwell.

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Smith has taken three clubs to NRL grand finals, while Brennan has won multiple multiple lower-grade titles, including this year's New South Wales Cup with Penrith. All of which are feats way, way in advance of anything Kidwell has achieved as coach. 

But the addition of Richardson, Smith and Brennan came too long after the nadir of Kidwell's time as coach, when captain Jesse Bromwich and senior player Kevin Proctor were caught up in a drugs bust following New Zealand's 30-12 loss to Australia in Canberra in May.

Kidwell condemned the pair and, with the NZRL's backing, decided to suspend them from playing in the World Cup.

Now a report in the Australian media suggests Taumalolo has opted to play for Tonga partly because of Kidwell's decision not to reinstate Bromwich and Proctor.

A statement from Taumalolo's agent later suggested the 24-year-old felt he owed a debt to Tonga for giving him a game at the 2013 World Cup.

Whatever the case, this last-minute defection is an embarrassment to Kidwell and the NZRL and significantly lessens the Kiwis' prospects of repeating their upset win of 2008. No matter how capable Richardson, Smith and Brennan are.

This event is supposed to be a showcase for the sport and to rival the tribalism that accompanies NRL football. But when New Zealand's best player doesn't want to be associated with the Kiwis, it's hard to see why the rest of us should.

* Comments on this article are now closed.

 - Stuff

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