The secret plan to get Taumalolo in Origin
The National Rugby League has scuppered an ambitious plan by Queensland to poach Jason Taumalolo and unleash the Cowboys sensation on NSW in this year's State of Origin series.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the Queensland Rugby League approached NRL bosses over summer to inquire about the prospect of Taumalolo quitting Tonga to play for the Maroons this season.
Queensland's poaching attempt was so genuine that the Cowboys' Origin stars recently sounded out Taumalolo about joining them in the Maroons' revenge mission this season.
Taumalolo's new Cowboys teammate, Maroons ironman Josh McGuire, spoke to the 113kg back-rower, while longtime teammates Matt Scott, Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess also have Queensland ties.
Taumalolo is the most destructive ball-running forward in the game and Maroons hierarchy believed the former Dally M winner could have been an Origin option after renouncing his ties to New Zealand two years ago.
Taumalolo has since played for Tonga - a second-tier nation - alongside fellow defector Andrew Fifita, who remains eligible for NSW and Australia.
Taumalolo has previously donned the green-and-gold jumper, playing for the Australian Schoolboys as a 16-year-old before being picked for the Junior Kiwis.
But Queensland's shrewd bid to clear Taumalolo for Maroons selection was vetoed by the NRL, which ruled the
Cowboys hulk ineligible for Origin because he played 10 Tests for New Zealand, a tier-one rival to Australia.
Former Queensland enforcer Tonie Carroll played for both Australia and New Zealand between 2000-2005, but NRL bosses are determined to clean up the code's representative eligibility mess - shutting the Origin door on Taumalolo.
An NRL spokesman confirmed Taumalolo will never be able to play for the Maroons, despite living in Queensland for 12 of his 25 years.
"Under current RLIF (Rugby League International Federation) rules around eligibility, players cannot represent two Tier One nations," he said.
"If Jason Taumalolo were to play for Queensland, he would need to make himself available for Australia."
This is not the first time the Maroons have made overtures to Taumalolo.
In 2012, former Maroons coach Mal Meninga met with Taumalolo to sell the Queensland Origin dream, only for the Cowboys back-rower to pledge his allegiance to the Kiwis.
Taumalolo later rocked his country of birth, quitting New Zealand on the eve of the 2017 World Cup to spearhead Tonga's stunning emergence as an international force with their semi-final charge.
Queensland coach Kevin Walters said Taumalolo would have been a revelation in Maroon but is confident in his next wave of young forwards.
"We had some interest but Jason isn't available," Walters said.
"You want the best players playing Origin, but they need to be eligible and available.
"I wasn't aware of it (making Taumalolo eligible for Queensland) initially. But then I spoke to a few Queensland players and they made me aware of Jason's interest.
"Jason was weighing up Queensland a few years ago. He met with Mal and he decided to stick with New Zealand and he eventually played for them.
"He would have looked good in Maroon, certainly, but we have plenty of good forwards to choose from."
For now, Taumalolo is focused on getting the Cowboys back into premiership contention following the retirement of Maroons maestro Johnathan Thurston.
"We can definitely still get the job done with the amount of talented young players we've got at the club," he said.
"Everyone brings something different to the table, that's what I love most for our club in the post-JT era."