Simon Bridges insists he has no desire to take back "the worst job in New Zealand", seeking to shut down ongoing rumours he's teaming up with first-term MP Christopher Luxon for another at the leadership.
Bridges was toppled nearly a year ago, as National slid in the polls just months before a general election. They've only slid further since then however, a poll last week putting the party on just 23 percent - half the support Labour had, and half the support National were enjoying at the start of 2020, under Bridges' leadership.
Judith Collins, who led the party to its worst defeat in nearly two decades last year, insists there's nothing to the rumours she and deputy leader Shane Reti are about to face a challenge from Bridges and Luxon, the former head of Air New Zealand.
Appearing on The AM Show on Friday, the MP for Tauranga backed that up.
"I've come on this show now for a long time, but since before the election you've asked me this from time to time, and lots of other media have asked me this from time to time," he told host Duncan Garner.
"I don't want to be the leader of the National Party - I don't know how many times I can say it."
No matter how many times he does, the media keep asking. On Tuesday, as he made his way through Parliament, he told Newshub it was "just chatter, it's all just rumour and speculation", and he supports Collins "at this time".
That phrasing, combined with Bridges' failure to rule out another leadership bid when asked last week on The AM Show, only stoked the flames. As did his curious answer on Tuesday when asked if he was teaming up with Luxon: "I talk to lots of colleagues. I can't be expected to remember everything I say."
Bridges told Garner it was "nonsense" and - his memory appearing to improve - said he had not had any talks with Luxon at all about a run at the leadership.
"There's been a little bit of rumour and speculation, that's all it is. It's wrong. Right now, National's got a hard job to do. Leader of the Opposition is the worst job in New Zealand, but it's an important job.
"We're in a phase of making sure we hold the Government to account on all the things we've been talking about - like vaccines, like the MIQ response, like smoking."
Collins earlier in the week said the rumours were "simply a bit of mischief-making", and told the media to "just let them get on with the job".