David Kidwell scrambles for answers over Jason Taumalolo's shock defection
OPINION: David Kidwell would be a court stenographer's dream.
His delivery of speech is slow and deliberate as he tries to make his point. Even the scribblers in the media benches wouldn't need their sketchy shorthand to follow his words.
And it was hard to feel that the Kiwis coach wasn't on trial on Thursday as he fronted 33 long and difficult minutes at the New Zealand Rugby League headquarters in Auckland, charged with mishandling the country's greatest current talent.
But it was equally difficult to decipher whether Kidwell was the offender or the victim in these extraordinary circumstances.
What quickly became clear was the undeniable fact that Jason Taumalolo had delivered the most devastating hit of his celebrated career. The rollicking North Queensland forward completely blindsided Kidwell and his Kiwis management with his shock defection to the Tongan team for the looming World Cup.
Convener of selectors Tawera Nikau had spoken to Taumalolo on Sunday night after the NRL grand final and all seemed to be on track for the squad announcement. That was the last anyone in the mix heard from Taumalolo until he confirmed his move on Wednesday afternoon to turn his back on Kidwell's Kiwis.
This from a player the stunned coach admitted he had based much of his World Cup game plan around.
Subsequent phone calls, texts and emails to the star went unanswered. The silence was deafening.
Kidwell had no such luxury when the questions were turned on him about how and why this could happen on the eve of the sport's showpiece tournament to be played on home soil.
He used a well-worn evasive tactic, basically saying, "You'll have to ask Jason about that. It was his decision."
Kidwell, Nikau and NZRL chief executive Alex Hayton didn't really want to discuss this embarrassment, especially not in the setting of the sport's official museum at Mt Smart. This was unwanted history. But they knew they couldn't avoid it.
After Kidwell delivered his opening address, trying to persuade the large gathering that he had "100 per cent commitment from the players we have selected", the first question was – surprise, surprise – about Taumalolo, the Tongan terror.
And virtually every question after that centred on the absent player rather than the 24 selected, including five new caps.
After 18 minutes there was the realisation that Kiwis captain Adam Blair was still hooked into the conference via a telephone call from Australia. "Are you there Adam?" asked Nikau. "We forgot about you."
But this is an unforgettable time for the game and once again it's for the wrong reasons.
What should have been a celebration turned into a fumbled explanation.
There was the persistent but weak line that the unfortunate circumstances would ultimately make a better tournament in which a Pacific Islands team may really threaten the powerhouses now that they had had some of the better talent with Taumalolo joined by fellow Kiwi contenders David Fusitu'a, Manu Ma'a, Sio Siua Taukieaho and Australian star Andrew Fifita in the Tongan outfit.
Hayton, looking uncomfortable at the top table, didn't offer anything until five minutes from the end, when he tried to explain the ridiculous rules that have allowed this situation to unfold.
None of it was convincing and it won't have done anything to appease angry Kiwis fans bemused at how this ultimate snub could have unfolded.
Kidwell, with just one win in six tests, now faces his ultimate trial when this World Cup starts. On current evidence he looks to be a dead man walking.