Tonga were everyone's favourite side at World Cup 2017 - and they look just as stacked in 2022.
North Queensland and Tonga star Jason Taumalolo says he intends to play in the 2021 World Cup in England despite the withdrawal of New Zealand and Australia.
Tonga stalwart and North Queensland star Jason Taumalolo says he intends to play in the 2021 World Cup in England despite the withdrawal of New Zealand and Australia and he expects his team-mates to follow suit.
Speaking via zoom at a North Queensland Cowboys press conference in Townsville on Tuesday, Taumalolo echoed the words of Tonga coach Kristian Woolf, the St Helens boss, who insisted at a time when the tournament hung in the balance his players were still committed to it.
“It’s obviously a tough one given the circumstances that’s happened around it and the situation that different countries have been put in,” said Taumololo. “I myself am still going over to play in the World Cup.
“It’s obviously disappointing to have Australia and New Zealand pull out but two countries pulling out doesn’t really hamper what the game is all about.
“It’s about international footy and getting other countries and nations ready to play each other.
“Obviously I can’t change anything, I’ve just got to roll with it I guess.”
Taumalolo, who won 10 caps for New Zealand from 2014-17, kick-started the Pacific revolution by switching his allegiance to Tonga in time for the last World Cup, prompting others like David Fifita and Tui Lolohea to follow suit.
The defections helped Tonga beat the Kiwis in the group stages and push England all the way in a tense semi-final in Auckland.
Tonga consolidated a top-four place in the world rankings with subsequent wins over Australia and Great Britain in 2019 and, in the absence of both the Kangaroos and the Kiwis later this year, will be among the favourites to lift the World Cup.
But, with several high-profile Australians and New Zealanders hinting at switching their allegiance, Taumalolo believes other nations will be capable of springing a surprise.
“It will be competitive,” he said. “I’m not sure what the players from Australia and New Zealand are going to do, with guys having heritage aligned to other countries.
“We’ll see if they return back to play for their heritage but it would make for a pretty interesting international set of fixtures to be honest.
“I really think you could see something special and we could see a few upsets too.”
The decision of the ARL Commission and New Zealand Rugby League to pull their teams out is thought to be the result of pressure from the NRL clubs but it is not expected to affect the five Australia-based England players.
One of them, South Sydney prop Tom Burgess, demonstrated his commitment to the tournament by putting his wedding plans on hold.
“You see how proud Tommy is to represent England,” Taumalolo said. “The end-of-the-year tournament will be a great example of guys who actually do want to represent their country.
“I’m part of it and I’m sure my teammates are part of it too. I guess it’s a different feeling when you pull on your international jersey and get to play for the people that you represent.
“Hopefully I get to do that again at the end of the year.”