AAP Rugby

Taumalolo pledges allegiance to Tonga

By AAP Newswire

In another blow for New Zealand, Jason Taumalolo has again turned his back on the Kiwis, confirming his allegiance to Tonga ahead of their Pacific Test in Sydney.

New Kiwis coach Michael Maguire had been sweating on Taumalolo's call ahead of next week's one-off Test against England in the United States after injuries and retirements had severely limited his options.

But Taumalolo kept the faith with Tonga after helping the Mate Ma'a book a shock 2017 Rugby League World Cup semi-final berth.

The North Queensland wrecking ball is now expected to chime into a star studded Tongan side in their June 23 Pacific Test clash with Samoa at Campbelltown.

The Cowboys juggernaut will on Thursday be named in a 19-strong Tonga squad also set to feature the likes of Andrew Fifita, Will Hopoate, Tevita Pangai, Konrad Hurrell, Daniel Tupou and the Jennings brothers - Michael, Robert and George.

"The World Cup last year, I'd never been a part of something like that before, it was a really special experience," Taumalolo said.

"I'm very keen for the game in a couple of weeks. It's been a while since the World Cup so I'm excited to see all the boys again and have everyone back together in camp."

Taumalolo caused a stir when he brushed New Zealand and embraced his family's Tongan heritage at the World Cup, prompting several other high profile NRL stars to follow suit and nominate for second tier nations.

The spillover effect is still being felt with New Zealand World Cup prop Addin Fonua-Blake confirming he had defected to Tonga, ensuring Maguire is yet another man short for June 23's Denver Test.

"Myself, along with a number of other players, have recommitted to Tonga again because we are passionate about our heritage and we also want to help make international rugby league stronger and the best way for us to do that is by making Tonga a competitive team internationally," Taumalolo said.

"I hope the governing bodies of the game also follow suit by making sure Tonga and other tier two nations have the opportunity to play regular meaningful games against tier one nations."

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf hoped more players followed Taumalolo's example.

"We all saw the effect of him making the decision for the World Cup. It certainly gave a lot of confidence to other blokes and that they could do the same thing," he said.

Taumalolo's call is another hit for ex-South Sydney premiership coach Maguire who may struggle to come up with a 19-strong Kiwi squad on Sunday.

Ex-skipper Simon Mannering and veteran props Ben Matulino and Russell Packer announced their international retirements this week.

And the likes of Jesse Bromwich, Jordan Rapana, Benji Marshall, Kieran Foran and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck are under injury clouds.