Fifita, Taumalolo opt for Tonga after withdrawing from Kangaroos and Kiwis sides
Stars Andrew Fifita and Jason Taumalolo have caused a stir by deciding to represent Tonga at the Rugby League World Cup after withdrawing from the Australia and New Zealand squads respectively.
Fifita and Taumalolo were set to feature for the Kangaroos and the Kiwis at the upcoming tournament, scheduled to get underway on October 27, but both players opted to pledge their allegiances to Tonga on Thursday.
Cronulla Sharks forward Fifita - a member of the Kangaroos' World Cup-winning team in 2013 - has been replaced in the Australia side by Penrith Panthers' Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
"Andrew called me and said he was passionate about playing for Tonga and I respect and support that decision," said Kangaroos head coach Mal Meninga, who also included Panthers winger Josh Mansour after Darius Boyd failed to recover from a hamstring injury.
"It is obviously a significant boost for Tonga as well as the World Cup - and international Rugby League in general.
"At the same time it is also a great opportunity for someone like Reagan, who has been outstanding for the Panthers. I'm extremely excited about seeing Reagan in a Kangaroos jersey."
Meanwhile, New Zealand head coach David Kidwell expressed his disappointment with the timing of Taumalolo's decision.
Taumalolo - who has played 10 Tests for New Zealand since making his debut in 2014 - was named joint winner of the Dally M Medal in 2016 and the North Queensland Cowboys star now headlines an impressive Tonga squad.
"I haven't had a conversation with Jason, a face-to-face or on the phone," said Kidwell, who selected five debutants in his 24-man squad.
"I think that's the most disappointing thing, I respect his decision but I think a conversation between myself and him would have been a good thing to do.
"I have had conversations with all the key players. As far as we were concerned, Jason was part of our World Cup team, and to find out two days out... that's the disappointing thing, finding it out that late. [Now] we have got to focus on the guys who have put their hand up, who want to play in the jersey."