Born: 31 May, 1993
Test record: 10 Tests (2014, 2016-17) – 0 points
Tours: 2014 Four Nations, 2016 Four Nations
Champion North Queensland Cowboys back-rower Jason Taumalolo played 10 Tests for New Zealand from 2014-17, but his decision to change his allegiance to Tonga ahead of the 2017 World Cup sparked an international rugby league revolution.
Auckland-born Taumololo started his journey in the game with Papakura Sea Eagles before being scouted by the Cowboys while playing for a New Zealand Under-16s team and moving to Townsville at the age of 13. The Kirwan State High School pupil played juniors for Townsville Brothers and represented Australian Schoolboys in 2009.
The giant tyro made his NRL debut in 2010 – less than three months after his 17th birthday – but did not become a first-grade regular until 2012. A phenomenally mobile, tackle-busting powerhouse, Taumalolo debuted for Tonga in early-2013 and featured in its World Cup foray later that year.
After a breakout 2014 NRL campaign in which he played 25 games for the Cowboys, Taumalolo was named in the Kiwis’ Four Nations squad. The 21-year-old played all four matches of the triumphant, unbeaten campaign at lock.
Injury ruled him out of contention for New Zealand’s 2015 Anzac Test victory, but the peerless metre-eater won the first of three Dally M Lock of the Year awards before starring in North Queensland’s epic golden point grand final triumph.
By now regarded by many as the game’s most valuable forward, in 2016 Taumalolo became the first New Zealander since Gary Freeman 24 years earlier to win the Dally M Medal (shared with Cooper Cronk) and collected the first of five straight Cowboys Player of the Year awards. He also played in five of the Kiwis’ six Tests in 2016, including the Anzac Test and the Four Nations final against Australia.
Taumalolo made his last appearance for New Zealand in the 2017 Anzac Test. After playing a monumental role in the Cowboys’ charge to the grand final from eighth spot, he revealed his decision to instead make himself available Tonga on the eve of World Cup squad announcements.
As well as inspiring others such as Kangaroos star Andrew Fifita and Kiwis teammate David Fusitu’a to follow suit, Taumalolo was magnificent throughout Mate Ma’a Tonga’s unforgettable run to the RLWC semi-finals. He featured in the island nation’s Tests against Australia in 2018 and New Zealand in 2019 but was unavailable for its historic wins over the Kangaroos and Lions in late-2019.
Tauamalolo maintained his high standards of performance and consistency in the NRL despite the Cowboys’ decline and assumed the club captaincy during a trying 2021 campaign. The veteran was at his blockbusting best in 2022 as the Cowboys surged to a top-four finish and a preliminary final, winning his sixth Paul Bowman Medal as the club’s best player. He played in the mid-2022 Test against the Kiwis at Mt Smart Stadium and skippered Tonga at the World Cup, which ended in quarter-final defeat to Samoa.
Taumalolo was named in the Official Rugby League Annual’s 2010s Team of the Decade, while in the 2022 book 25 Incredible Years of the NRL, a panel of judges voted Taumalolo as the 14th-greatest player of the NRL era’s first quarter-century.