Jason Taumalolo's weak call has damaged, not helped, international rugby league
OPINION: For 24 hours, nobody could find Jason Taumalolo.
Kiwis coach David Kidwell heard rumours the North Queensland Cowboys wrecking ball was going to switch his Rugby League World Cup allegiances to Tonga. He called him and texted him, and nothing came back.
Team officials asked the Cowboys. No, he hadn't said anything to them.
They got on to Taumalolo's manager, Chris Orr, who didn't know either. Orr finally got on to his client and told them, yes, Taumalolo wasn't going to play for Kidwell's team but play for the Kingdom of Tonga instead.
* Taumalolo's timing disrespectful: Marshall
* Kidwell blindsided by Taumalolo's Tonga switch
* Scramble for answers after Taumalolo's defection
* Taumalolo can't be blamed: Bidwell
* Taumalolo shocks with Tonga move
Said Taumalolo in a statement: "I just feel the World Cup provides developing nations like Tonga an opportunity to play on the big stage and I would like to help them with their campaign."
Nobody seems to be buying it.
Most seem to think he's angry with the decision to ban New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich and senior player Kevin Proctor from playing in the World Cup after they were busted snorting lines of cocaine off a drug dealer's iPhone, which they are not really designed for if you check the instruction manual.
Taumalolo's decision is being lauded as "brave" and "courageous" and a watershed move for international rugby league.
Let's call it for what it is: weak.
It damages international rugby league's reputation and given Australia are Winx-like odds to win the tournament it doesn't need the bad press. Representing your country is not your undies: you don't just change them whenever you want.
Taumalolo has given no indication in the past five months that he was going to play for Tonga. According to the Kiwis, he never said he was upset with the suspension of Bromwich and Proctor.
It's been suggested he was peeved about being benched for much of the second half in the Anzac test against Australia in early May. If he had concerns, why not raise them sooner?
Earlier this year, Taumalalo was happy to pose next to the World Cup trophy, draped in the New Zealand flag, to promote the tournament.
A change in international rules allows players eligible for a "tier-one nation" to play for a "tier-two nation".
But for Taumalolo to do it the day before Kidwell announced his squad, without having the gonads to at least call the coach let alone return his calls and tell him the score, is quite pathetic. There's nothing brave or courageous about that.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga was slammed for forgetting to call Sam Thaiday and tell him he wasn't selected even when the rest of the known universe knew that Sam Thaiday wasn't going to be selected.
Former Kiwis captain Benji Marshall saw it for what was while being interviewed on New Zealand radio on Thursday morning.
"I just don't know what part of society has changed that you all of a sudden decide three weeks out from the World Cup you are not playing," Marshall told Veitchy on Sport.
"It's just a bit disrespectful to the jersey when you've been part of the team for a certain amount of time. If you really think that, the decision could have been made seven or eight weeks ago."
Marshall was talking about Taumalolo but he could've also been talking about David Fusitu'a, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Manu Ma'u, who also pledged allegiance to Tonga as the team was being finalised.
And he could've been talking about Andrew Fifita, who on Thursday morning told Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga that he too wanted to play for Tonga – three days after being picked for Australia.
Fifita was welcomed back into the Kangaroos fold earlier this year after his armband support of one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge. Now, he's snubbed them three weeks before the World Cup starts.
The more leading players play for minnows such as Tonga the better. Rugby league's strong Polynesian presence gives the code a unique opportunity to develop the international game.
But not like this.
There have been rumblings about player dissatisfaction with Kidwell since the mid-year test, although most of those reportedly involved in a player revolt weren't going to be selected anyway.
Better judges than this one would know if Kidwell can coach or not. He was very keen on Mick Potter's job at the Wests Tigers when he was an assistant coach.
But he was a freight train for the Kiwis in the 25 tests that he played; all fire and brimstone and sometimes the odd high tackle.
When he took over from Stephen Kearney as coach, he wanted his side to stand for something. So did highly respected chairman of selectors, Tawera Nikau.
When Bromwich, the captain, and Proctor, a senior player, are told it's time for bed after their side's substandard performance against Australia, and then they head back out, and then are caught on CCTV footage hoovering cocaine up their nose, and all of this a year after Kearney dropped six players for abusing prescription drugs on a night out, what else is the coach is supposed to do?
Now Kidwell – if he keeps his job after the World Cup – and the NZRL need to show what they're made of once again: don't pick Taumalolo to play for country.
- Sydney Morning Herald