Tonga coach Kristian Woolf says star Kiwi defector Jason Taumalolo has taken this week in his stride, as he prepares to play the country of his birth.
Tonga coach Kristian Woolf has labelled the prospect of Kiwi defector Jason Taumalolo fronting against the country of his birth in Saturday's Rugby League World Cup clash a "non-issue", and says it won't be discussed in-house.
In a bitter blow to New Zealand on the eve of their Cup campaign, Taumalolo and three other players snubbed the Kiwis to represent their Tongan motherland.
They've since bounced back with dominant wins over Samoa and Scotland, but are set to face Taumalolo's Tonga head-on this weekend in Hamilton.
Woolf said the 24-year-old Dally M medallist was his usual ebullient self in training this week, and wouldn't be distracted by the noise surrounding him.
Neither he nor his fellow defectors - David Fusitu'a, Manu Ma'u and Sio Siua Taukeiaho - were having any trouble keeping calm ahead of the Test.
"They made decisions five or six weeks ago, they're happy with their decisions and you only have to look at their body language to tell how they feel, so for us it's a non-issue, it really is - I'm not sure how the Kiwis feel about it," Woolf said.
"They're relaxed, confident in their own ability.
"Jason is Jason, always the same - out there having a laugh, having fun."
Plenty is riding on Saturday's result for Mate Ma'a, who have started their campaign with a 50-4 thumping of Scotland and 32-18 win over Samoa.
They also won a trial match against Italy, 16-6.
A victory against New Zealand would mark the first ever victory of a tier-two nation over a tier-one nation, and help Tonga evade Australia until the Cup final.
It'd also be a huge moment for the side's players, who - like the aforementioned Kiwi defectors - are majority born and raised in New Zealand.
Woolf said Saturday's Test would be Tonga's hardest yet.
"To try and find a weakness (in the Kiwis team) is really hard, they've been outstanding in those two games and really dominated them," Woolf said.
"The game last week certainly gives you some confidence, knowing we can not only compete but do a really good job against a quality opposition.
"They're going to ask plenty of questions - they've been absolutely devastating, they look like they had spiders on them against Scotland."