Taumalolo recommits to Tonga
North Queensland Toyota Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo has confirmed his international allegiance will remain with Tonga.
The 25-year-old opted to play for Tonga over New Zealand in last year's World Cup and helped lead the tiny Pacific island nation on a fairytale run to the semi-finals, impacting not only Tongan rugby league, but the game internationally.
Taumalolo's decision to represent Tonga at the World Cup stemmed from a desire to honour his family heritage with both parents born in the country.
"The World Cup last year, I'd never been a part of something like that before, it was a really special experience," Taumalolo said.
"The following we had and the amount of support we had was overwhelming and it made our journey in the World Cup that much more special.
"To share it with a group of boys who obviously sacrificed a lot to be a part of that group, I find it really hard to describe how proud I am of them all.
Taumalolo said his main goal was to help establish Tonga as an international rugby league powerhouse.
"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," he 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 will take on traditional rivals Samoa in the second game of a Pacific Test doubleheader on Saturday, June 23 at Campbelltown Sports Stadium in Sydney.
The group stage clash between the two nations during last year's World Cup was arguably the highlight of the entire tournament with Tonga registering a memorable 32-18 victory in front of a deafening crowd at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
"The lead up to that game was unbelievable. Everyone knows about the traditional rivalry between Tonga and Samoa, but I think that game was bigger than anyone expected," Taumalolo said.
"When we ran out on to the field that night and heard the crowd it was something I'll never forget.
"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."
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf said Taumalolo's commitment to country was not just a huge coup for rugby league in the nation, but the international game in general.
"It's obviously a terrific boost for Tonga Rugby League," Woolf said.
"Jason is not only a terrific player and terrific person, but he's also going to develop into a real leader within the Tongan group. 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.
"There will be a flow-on effect with other teams as well and it's not just about us becoming stronger internationally, I'm sure you are going to see teams like Samoa, Fiji and PNG become really competitive and have more and more guys put their hands up to play for those nations."