Former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe slams 'disrespect' being shown to New Zealand jersey

Former Kiwis coach Graham Lowe has issued a stinging indictment on international rugby league, after the defection of New Zealand lynchpin Jason Taumalolo to Tonga for the upcoming Rugby League World Cup.

The Cowboys forward's 11th-hour withdrawl from Kiwis consideration is the latest in a string of major blows to New Zealand's chances at the tournament, with news that Tohu Harris will also add his name to a growing list of key players unavailable for selection.

Kieran Foran and Jordan Kahu have already ruled themselves out, citing opportunities to rehabilitate nagging injuries.

However, Lowe believes some of the decisions come from questionable motivations and, as a result, the value of the black jersey is being undermined.

"I think there's a certain amount of disrespect being shown to the Kiwi jersey… and to the World Cup in general," said Lowe. "I don’t think these players should have the choices that they're having.

Lowe was referring to the sport's controversial eligibility laws, which allow players to represent both a tier-one and tier-two nation.

"The clubs and some of the player managers have got to be a little bit responsible for this, because they guide the players to a certain extent.

"To represent your country, I don’t think there's a greater honour. To 'umm' and 'aaah' whether they're available… I say stuff them, you're better off without them."

Reports have emerged that Taumalolo's decision was inspired by his displeasure at suspensions dished out to Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor, who were both ruled out of contention for New Zealand's World Cup campaign in the wake of their Anzac Test cocaine scandal in May.

Renowned rugby league coach Graham Lowe.
Renowned rugby league coach Graham Lowe. Photo credit: Photosport

It's also understood the 24-year-old has issues with coach David Kidwell on a personal level, leading to speculation that a player revolt is at hand.

The warning from Lowe is loud and clear.

"That's hinting of player power to me. If there's any truth in that, I think the Kiwis are better off without him," he responded, when made aware of the allegations.

"With player power of any description, you cannot put up with it… it might be a good chance for David to star with a clean slate.

"There's plenty of players - and they're lined up from here down to Wellington - who want to play for the Kiwis and will do anything to play for the Kiwis.

"Taumalolo's possibly the best in the game at the moment. It's a massive blow, but you've got to get on with it."

Kidwell's opening salvo as national coach has been far from convincing, with just one win from his six games in charge, including a shock draw against Scotland.

A former Queensland State of Origin coach who's well versed in the nuances of the role, Lowe empathises with Kidwell's situation and thinks the 25-Test Kiwi inherited a side that was already in a poor state.

"He was probably guilty of playing follow-the-leader when he took over, they weren't playing well.

"What we don’t want him to do is start second-guessing himself. He needs support now and I think we should give it to him."

Once encouraged by conversations he'd had with Kidwell regarding his approach to the campaign, particularly the new style of play he was set to adapt to the side centering around Taumalolo, Lowe's thoughts on the team's chances of repeating their 2008 heroics are now decidedly more measured.

"I was really optimistic about the opportunities they were going to have to win, but it's going to be a lot tougher for them now."

Ultimately, it will be the success or failure of this Cup campaign that determines Kidwell's future at the side's helm, says the 70-year-old.

"It hasn't quite gone as well as he'd hoped, but I think its gonna be the making or breaking of him as a coach."