25 January, 2018. Tonga is doing everything possible to tempt Jason Taumalolo away from ever representing New Zealand again.
Taumalolo and three former Kiwis internationals have had Tongan rugby league competitions named after them following the Pacific Island nation's historic Rugby League World Cup campaign.
Tonga's national competition has been renamed 'The Jason Taumalolo Cup', reports NRL.com, and Manu Vatuvei, Solomone Kata and Tuimoala Lolohea will have age-restricted leagues named after them.
Taumalolo's stunning last-minute defection from New Zealand to Tonga surprised everyone – nobody more than Kiwis coach David Kidwell – but it greatly boosted interest in the tournament held last year in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
Australia prop Andrew Fifita joined Taumalolo along with former Kiwis David Fusitua'a, Sio Siua Taukei'aho and Manu Ma'u and Tonga then reached the semi-finals for the first time - controversially losing 20-18 to England - after beating New Zealand 28-22 in the pool stages.
These players have all played for the Kiwis previously.
Taumalolo, widely considered one of the best forwards in the game, led Tonga's Sipi Tau before beating the Kiwis for the first time and did so against England before buoyant Tongan crowds, who painted Hamilton and Auckland red with immensely passionate support.
The North Queensland Cowboys star earlier this month refused to rule out ever wearing a Kiwis jersey again, but dropped several hints that he would stick with Tonga.
And the 24-year-old showed his commitment to Tonga's grassroots scene, hoping to build on their success at the Rugby League World Cup.
"Tonga's dominated by rugby union, pretty much every time, so for us boys to put rugby league on the map in Tonga, now everyone is starting to play rugby league," he told NRL.com.
"It's growing, so hopefully in a few years' time there will be a bit of a grassroots, and boys coming through the ranks in [the] NRL system."
Taumalolo, who was born in Auckland, represented Tonga at the World Cup in 2013, aged 20, and played for New Zealand in 10 internationals before his sensational switch back as squads for last year's tournament were being announced.
He admitted he was too blind drunk to call Kidwell about his late decision to play for Tonga instead of New Zealand following Mad Monday celebrations. Taumalolo apologised to Kidwell.