Rugby League World Cup: New Zealand and Australia players defect to Tonga

Jason Taumalolo
Jason Taumalolo posed with the New Zealand flag at a World Cup media event in June - but will now represent Tonga

Eight New Zealanders and one Australian have switched allegiance to play their international rugby for Tonga, just a month before the World Cup.

North Queensland Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo is the highest profile of the New Zealand players to defect.

Kiwis coach David Kidwell said the players in question have not given him a reason for their decisions.

Prop Andrew Fifita, who was originally named in Australia's World Cup squad, has also linked up with Tonga.

World Cup co-hosts New Zealand, who were beaten by Australia in the 2013 final, have been drawn in the same group as Tonga, and will meet the Pacific Islanders on 11 November in Hamilton.

In addition to Taumalolo, Manu Ma'u, David Fusitu'a, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Tui Lolohea, Solomone Kata, Konrad Hurrell and Manu Vatuvei have swapped allegiance.

Tonga centre Will Hopoate said having players such as Taumalolo and Fifita available was "great for Tonga and great for the game".

"It's building the game internationally and I think it will make the World Cup a bit more competitive," he said.

The World Cup, which is being jointly hosted by Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, takes place between 27 October and 2 December.

Australia face England in the opening match in Melbourne.

England's squad will be announced on 9 October, with Scotland and Wales naming their line-ups on 10 October.

How are they able to switch allegiance?

International rules allow eligible players to switch to a Tier Two or Tier Three country before a tournament if they are not selected by a Tier One nation - Australia, New Zealand and England.

They must declare their allegiance for the World Cup before 13 October.

Players can qualify for other nations through their parents or grandparents.

Australian full-back James Tedesco, the NRL's players' player of the year last season, used the rule to switch to Italy after being left out by Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga.

However, Tonga have been boosted by the arrival of players who were wanted by the Tier One nations.

Fifita had already been named in the Australia squad, while the eight Kiwi players were all likely to have been considered for selection by Kidwell.

Analysis

BBC Sport's rugby league correspondent Dave Woods:

Taumalolo's decision will have created as many tremors as some of his barnstorming runs and tackles and is yet another sign of the shifting sands of power in the international game. It is on the scale of, say, Sam Burgess giving up on England to play for Scotland.

In the past few weeks, Tonga have gone from being likely rank World Cup outsiders to one of the must-watch teams with a realistic chance of making the semi-finals, if not the final itself.

Taumalolo and several others have taken advantage of a rule that is promising to revolutionise the game at the highest level.

Every nation outside England, Australia and New Zealand have Tier Two status and now, even if you have represented one of that trio, you can still opt to play for a Tier Two side.

It's been introduced in part to allow players who missed out on selection for the 'big three' the chance to represent their heritage homelands. But this is the first time that star players have chosen to play for those so-called weaker nations.

It's a massive blow for Tonga's Group B opponents, New Zealand, who go into the tournament looking vulnerable. In fact, that section could be an international tombola given the presence of an improving Samoa and Scotland, whose last international outing was an historic draw against New Zealand at last year's Four Nations in England.

New Zealand squad

Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Gerard Beale, Adam Blair, Kenny Bromwich, Addin Fonua-Blake, Peta Hiku, Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai, Danny Levi, Isaac Liu, Simon Mannering, Te Maire Martin, Jason Nightingale, Kodi Nikorima, Russell Packer, Jordan Rapana, Brad Takairangi, Joseph Tapine, Martin Taupau, Elijah Taylor, Roger Tuivasa Sheck, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dean Whare.

Tonga squad

Andrew Fifita, Mahe Fonua, David Fusitu'a, Siliva Havilli, Ata Hingano, Will Hopoate, Konrad Hurrell, Michael Jennings, Solomone Kata, Sione Katoa, Samisoni Langi, Tuimoala Lolohea, Sika Manu, Manu Ma'u, Sam Moa, Ben Murdoch Masila, Joe Ofahengaue, Tevita Pangai jnr, Ukuma Ta'ai, Sio Siua Taukieaho, Jason Taumalolo, Peni Terepo, Daniel Tupou, Manu Vatuvei.

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