TONGAN star Jason Taumalolo says he was too drunk to answer desperate calls from Kiwis coach David Kidwell after he made the shock decision to switch allegiances for the Rugby League World Cup.
The 24-year-old broke his silence to the New Zealand Herald and finally explained his thinking behind his decision to turn his back on the Kiwis to represent the Pacific Island side following Tonga’s stunning 28-22 upset victory over New Zealand in Hamilton.
The world’s best forward was slammed for leaving the Kiwis in the lurch after announcing he would play for Tonga just 48 hours before Kidwell announced his 24-man squad and was accused by Kiwis captain Adam Blair of disrespecting the black and white jersey by failing to front up and explain himself.
The North Queensland lock admitted he had regrets about the way the drama unfolded but revealed he was too intoxicated to even think about picking up the phone as he enjoyed the excesses of the Cowboys celebrations following their grand final defeat to Melbourne.
“Half the reason was because I was still blind on Mad Monday then so that probably didn’t help,” Taumalolo said.
“Being drunk and handling phones doesn’t go to well if you ask me. That’s got me in some pretty bad situations.
“Post-season celebrations were probably one of the reasons I had to make my decision and obviously teams were being finalised so that was probably the main reason why.
“I definitely could have handled it a lot better, that’s probably the biggest (regret).”
Knowing his decision would spark a media storm, Taumalolo says he declined to reveal his intentions in the weeks leading up to the World Cup squads being confirmed, saying he wanted to remain focused on the Cowboys finals tilt.
“Obviously the timing was one of them (regrets).
“I thought it was fair enough on my behalf. Obviously the timing of was a bit late but didn’t want to distract my preparation leading into finals footy for the Cowboys.
“I just had to bite the bullet with what everyone was saying about my timing.”
The pair finally had the chance to speak in the moments after fulltime at Waikato Stadium, with Taumalolo issuing an apology to his former coach.
“We exchanged a few words. I apologised about how things went and he was pretty good to talk to and he said how happy he was for me to represent my country of heritage and said good luck and that was about it.
“Kiddy’s been a great coach for New Zealand throughout the World Cup and I just wish him all the best for the rest of the tournament.”
The Auckland-born destroyer also dispelled rumours he had abandoned the Kiwis in protest of Kidwell’s decision to ban former test captain Jesse Bromwich and back-rower Kevin Proctor, after they were caught using cocaine in the early morning hours following New Zealand’s Anzac test defeat to Australia in Canberra.
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“I’m totally behind Kiddy’s decision,” he said.
“I don’t take drugs and I don’t condone it either so I stand by his decision.”
He came under fire again in the lead-up to today’s match after refusing to speak to local media over the last fortnight since Tonga arrived in Auckland two weeks ago.
The outrage did little to faze the 113kg powerhouse, who said he enjoyed a laid-back build-up to the Pool B showdown by shortening his go-karting record.
“I knew there’d be a lot said on paper and a lot of people talking and I didn’t want that to get in the way of my preparation.
“I took it as another game of footy, that’s all it was to me. I stayed relaxed, did a bit of go-karting through the week and got my time down so that was probably the best part of the week’s preparation.
Te Iwi Kiwi v Sipi Tau#NZLvTON#RLWC2017 pic.twitter.com/70lSsYHKNZ
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“Nothing’s personal to me. For those who know me I like to take everything as one big joke so I didn’t look as much into this game as everyone else did, thinking it would be a big grudge match.
“The main part for me wasn’t that I made it personal but it was a pretty emotional game playing against the country I was born in.”
While both sides did their best to hose down suggestions of lingering tensions over the last week, Taumalolo surprised the capacity crowd pre-game when he led the Tongan side’s rendition of their Sipi Tau war cry.
It set the tone for a fierce opening to the match, after Blair led the Kiwis haka as they advanced over halfway to confront the opposition.
“It wasn’t my decision. A few of the leadership group thought what better way for me to play my country of birth than to lead the Sipi Tau.
“I was a bit nervous at the time but its an opportunity I’ll probably never get again.”