Kiwis captain Adam Blair has maintained his hard-line stance over the defection of Jason Taumalolo and three other former test teammates to Tonga, ahead of tomorrow's Rugby League World Cup clash in Hamilton.
The 31-year-old stands by comments he made last month criticising Taumalolo, Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Manu Ma'u and David Fusitu'a for turning their back on New Zealand's World Cup campaign, saying the poor timing of their decision and a lack of communication was disrespectful to both the Kiwis jersey and New Zealand coach David Kidwell.
Since the tournament got underway a fortnight ago, the Kiwis have been doing their best to downplay the whole affair with numerous players and Kidwell all insisting they are comfortable with the situation.
But Blair refused to back down from his comments ahead of the Waikato Stadium match, confirming he has still not spoken to Taumalolo and reiterating the point that he only wants to play alongside others that are fully committed to the Kiwis cause.
"No (I haven't spoken to Jason)," said Blair.
"It all happened pretty quick.
"I stand by what I said. It was in the heat of the moment. I'm passionate about the Kiwis.
"I want people that are passionate about the Kiwis as well and I've got a group of 24 men behind me that are really passionate about what we want to do and journey we want to take and the legacy we want to leave here."
Taumalolo is yet to front media since the Tongan side arrived in New Zealand last Monday, with team management denying interview requests this week ahead of the highly anticipated match that will determine which side finishes top of Pool B.
Blair declined the opportunity to enflame the situation further when asked if he thought it was weak for the North Queensland wrecking ball to shy away from explaining himself to local press.
"It's got nothing to do with us what Jase does or the Tongan team," he said.
"It's all about what we can do and what we can control."
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf denied his star player was being deliberately shielded from further scrutiny, as Taumalolo and his teammates completed their final captain's run training session today.
"He's good. He's relaxed. Jason's Jason, he's always the same," said Woolf.
"He's out there having a laugh and having fun and like everyone else he's looking forward to a good challenge.
"He did a lot of press in Tonga, a lot of press in Australia. Obviously he was really topical around those times so we wanted to let him get his side of the story heard.
"It's more just about making sure that the same likes aren't going forward and doing the extra stuff all the time than anything else."
Reports out of Australia this week suggested the Tongan side would look to single Blair out for some special treatment after he publicly questioned Taumalolo's integrity, but the new Warriors signing doubts he'll feature prominently in the opposition's plans.
"I don't think their game plan is going to have anything to do with me," said Blair.
"Like any team you have weaknesses and strengths and you play your game around those things.
"I know it's going to be physical, without a doubt. I've played so many games and I know what to expect.
"I'll be going out there being a calm leader and being positive and bringing a lot of energy around the group and making sure we're not wasting it on things we can't control."
Tongan captain and former Kiwis forward Sika Manu refused to buy into the drama and said predictions the match could explode were off the mark.
"To be honest, I don't think so," said Manu.
"We're all professional athletes and it's been a while now since they mentioned it.
"Our boys are just focused on what we can do best and I'm sure the Kiwis will be doing the same so hopefully nothing goes wrong tomorrow."