Taumalolo show dominates NZ-Tonga clash

Jason Taumalolo. Photo: Getty Images
Jason Taumalolo. Photo: Getty Images
Speak softly, and carry a big stick.

Words have flowed thick and fast from all parties before today's crunch World Cup pool match between New Zealand and Tonga.

Except from one very, very important man.

Jason Taumalolo has dominated every aspect of this week's pre-test build-up, having rocked the Kiwis with his last-minute Cup defection to Mate Ma'a.

A typically reticent speaker, the 24-year-old powerhouse has done all he can to avoid the public spotlight before today's Hamilton showdown.

But he will do plenty of talking on the field, coach Kristian Woolf says.

``Jason is Jason, always the same - out there having a laugh, having fun and, like everyone else, looking forward to the challenge,'' Woolf said.

A Dally M medallist and the world's in-form forward, Taumalolo's snub was thought to sound the death knell for a beleaguered Kiwi side's Cup hopes.

And with his Cup form to date, it is easy to see why.

The Cowboys lock has made a combined 366 running metres in pool wins over Scotland and Samoa, bettered only by prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

Yet, galvanised by a back-to-basics mentality and squad overhaul, David Kidwell's troops have proven they do not need Taumalolo's go-forward to thrive.

They have also tipped over Samoa and the Bravehearts in pool play, placing them on a collision course with Tonga for top spot in pool B.

That means skipper Adam Blair facing off against a man he has labelled a traitor and coward for not telling Kidwell of his allegiance switch in person.

Not that the Warriors-bound veteran was too concerned.

He upheld his previous harsh words for Taumalolo but, like his counterpart, hoped to channel any emotions he felt into a clinical and dominant performance.

There would be no additional fireworks from his end.

``I know it's going to be physical, without a doubt - I've played in so many games and know what to expect,'' Blair said yesterday.

``I'll be going out there, being a calm leader, positive, and bringing a lot of energy around the group, making sure we're not wasting it on things we can't control.

``Our preparation's been spot-on throughout this tournament.''

Victory today is especially crucial for both sides, with the winner to top the pool and probably evade Cup favourite Australia until the final.

Blair called on his team-mates to cast all such thoughts aside, and keep their attention on producing a composed display against Tonga.

``We're just going to play our Kiwi style that we've been playing throughout the tournament, a little bit of smarts and toughness,'' Blair said.

``We won't be pulling any surprises.''

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