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Tonga star Jason Taumalolo committed to playing in World Cup despite withdrawals

Jason Taumalolo intends to play at this year's Rugby League World Cup; the Tonga forward says it is disappointing Australia and New Zealand withdrew but believes other nations could avail of the player heritage rule and spring a surprise

Jason Taumalolo
Image: Jason Taumalolo helped Tonga reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2017

Tonga stalwart Jason Taumalolo says he intends to play in the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England despite the withdrawal of New Zealand and Australia - and he expects his team-mates to follow suit.

Speaking 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 that 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 Taumalolo.

"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.

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Wigan head coach Adrian Lam, who is also Australia's assistant coach, hopes a resolution can be found following his nation and New Zealand's withdrawals

"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."

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Taumalolo, who won 10 caps for New Zealand from 2014-17, kickstarted 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.

Jason Taumalolo
Image: Taumalolo believes the World Cup could be 'something special'

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 this autumn, 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.

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"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."

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Huddersfield Giants winger Jermaine McGillvary hopes Australia change their mind and decide to take part in the World Cup

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.

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"You see how proud Tommy is to represent England," said Taumalolo. "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 team-mates 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."

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