The cocaine scandal that engulfed the Kiwis six months ago is threatening to derail New Zealand's Rugby League World Cup hopes following Jason Taumalolo's shock decision to represent Tonga at the upcoming tournament.

The man who leaves crater-sized holes in defensive lines, dropped a bombshell on the Kiwis World Cup preparations - ditching New Zealand in favour of the side he represented at the 2013 tournament.

A statement from Taumaolo's management included all the expected spin about him wanting to "give back" to Tonga but there is far more to his decision.

According to the Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper, the 24-year-old is taking a stand in protest over Kidwell and Kiwis management's decision to ban Melbourne Storm premiership winning front-rower and former Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich and Gold Coast back-rower Kevin Proctor following their involvement in the drugs scandal after this year's Anzac test in Canberra.


Sources have told the Herald senior Kiwis players understood a harsh punishment needed to be handed down but believed a ban of one or two World Cup matches would have been sufficient on top of the suspensions and fines that were imposed on the pair by their clubs.

Taumalolo's defection is understood to be a culmination of his frustration over the perceived severity of the penalty - with Kidwell and Kiwis selectors sticking to their guns and leaving the duo out of their 24-man squad due to be named at 1pm tomorrow - and a desire and opportunity to turn out for Tonga under coach Kristian Woolf.

In many ways, Kidwell was forced into a corner.

He needed to act and show some leadership in the face of intense criticism, but his inexperience - and an alarming lack of direction and support from the NZRL - saw him commit to a stance he could not change.

And while Taumalolo is apparently unhappy with the action taken against Bromwich and Proctor, the Herald understands Bromwich contacted Kiwis selectors earlier this week, reiterating he respects their decision and offering his best wishes to the team and coaching staff.

Taumalolo's decision also comes after Kidwell's coaching ability was roundly criticised following his misuse of the 2016 Dally M winner during the Kiwis' heavy loss to the Kangaroos in Perth and the failed Four Nations campaign throughout the UK last November.

The fact Taumalolo has walked out on the side that has lost their last four tests to Australia and managed just one win in six starts under Kidwell since he replaced Stephen Kearney last September, indicates he has little faith in the Kiwis' ability to turn things around.

But long-term the situation poses bigger questions regarding Taumalolo's
future prospects of playing for New Zealand.

Could the Kiwis selectors ever forgive him for jumping ship?

More importantly, does Taumalolo even care?

And while Kidwell again finds himself in the firing line, the NZRL need to shoulder some responsibility, and unanswered questions remain regarding their handling of the events that occurred in Canberra and their failure to come clean publicly about previous incidents of player misbehaviour.

In the wake of that debacle and Taumalolo's desertion, the Kiwis' World Cup hopes are now in free-fall following news earlier today that Melbourne Storm premiership winner Tohu Harris will miss the World Cup through injury, after star five-eighth Kieran Foran last week withdrew in similar circumstances.

New Zealand's loss is Tonga's gain, however, with the second-tier side's title hopes sky-rocketing with the addition of Taumalolo, which will also be confirmed tomorrow.

At this rate, the Kiwis will be flat-out trying to get beyond the pool stages and the scene is now set for a block-busting encounter when Taumalolo meets his former teammate in Hamilton on November 11.

Tournament organisers will be doing backflips on the back of today's media onslaught, with Taumalolo's switch giving the World Cup much-needed press in a country jaded by the Kiwis' poor run of results over the last year and the Warriors diabolical end to the NRL season.

The Kiwis open their campaign against Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on October 28, while Taumalolo will trot out for Tonga in their first-up clash against Scotland in Cairns on October 29.