|Full name||Vaai Taumalolo|
|Born||31 May 1993|
Auckland, New Zealand
|Height||191 cm (6 ft 3 in)|
|Weight||117 kg (18 st 6 lb)|
As of 17 March 2019
Vaai "Jason" Taumalolo (born 31 May 1993) is a professional rugby league footballer who plays for the North Queensland Cowboys in the National Rugby League. A Tongan and former New Zealand international representative, Taumalolo primarily plays as a second-row and lock. He was a member of the Cowboys' 2015 NRL premiership and 2016 World Club Challenge winning sides and won the Dally M Medal in 2016.
Born in Auckland, New Zealand to parents Tominika and Vaai, Taumalolo is of Tongan descent. Enrolled in primary school under his given name, Vaai, his teacher was unable to pronounce it correctly, instead deciding to call him "Jason". He grew up in Mangere and started playing rugby league at the age of 4 for the Papakura Sea Eagles and attended De La Salle College, Mangere East along with older brother Warner. At age 14, he moved to Townsville after being scouted by the North Queensland Cowboys while playing for a New Zealand under 16's touring team. Taumalolo attended Kirwan State High School and played his junior football for the Kirwan Bears and Townsville Brothers. He earned a scholarship with the Cowboys and would go on to represent the Queensland under 18's and Australian schoolboys at the age of 16.
Taumalolo debuted for the Cowboys NRL team in round 24 against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, becoming the youngest ever player to debut for the club, aged 17 years, 2 months and 21 days, when he came off the interchange bench in the Cowboys 22–20 loss at Dairy Farmers Stadium. It was his only appearance for 2010. In October, Taumalolo played for the Junior Kiwis.
Taumalolo would make his second NRL appearance almost a year later in round 24 against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He starred for the Cowboys in round 25 against the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, coming off the interchange bench for the 3rd time to score 2 crucial tries and making 2 line breaks and 125 metres. At the end of the season, Taumalolo was awarded the Rugby League Player's Association's Toyota Cup Player of the Year award and was named in the Toyota Cup Team of the Year in the second-row. Taumalolo played in the Cowboys in the NYC grand final against the New Zealand Warriors, scoring a try in the golden point 31–30 loss. He played in 3 matches and scored 2 tries for the Cowboys in 2011. In October, he again played for the Junior Kiwis.
On 17 February, Taumalolo re-signed with the Cowboys until the end of the 2015 season. In March, he was reported to have declared his allegiance to Queensland and Australia, though on 7 April, New Zealand Rugby League's high performance manager Tony Kemp confirmed that Taumalolo had pledged allegiance to New Zealand, his country of birth. Taumalolo was named as a reserve in the New Zealand squad for the 2012 ANZAC Test against Australia, but was not selected to play.
On 20 April, Taumalolo made his international debut for Tonga in the Pacific Test against Samoa at Centerbet Stadium. Taumalolo was a standout in the Intrust Super Cup in the 2013 season, playing for Cowboys feeder club, the Mackay Cutters. The Cutters won the competition and dedicated their win to recently deceased teammate Alex Elisala. He would later go on to star for the Cowboys at the backend of the season including the club's semi-final loss to Cronulla. Taumalolo played 14 matches and scored 2 tries for the Cowboys in 2013. In October, he represented Tonga in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, playing in 2 matches and scoring a try in their match against the Cook Islands.
In February, Taumalolo was selected in the Cowboys tournament winning inaugural Auckland Nines squad. 2014 was a stand out season for Taumalolo with him playing 25 matches and scoring 6 tries as the Cowboys finished 5th. He made 241 hitups and gained 2889 metres. On 7 October, Taumalolo was selected in the Kiwis final 24 man squad for the Four Nations series. He made his test debut for New Zealand against Australia at lock in the Kiwis 30–12 win at Suncorp Stadium. Taumalolo played at lock in the Kiwis 22–18 Four Nations final win over Australia at Westpac Stadium. He capped off 2014 winning Tonga International Player of the Year Award.
On 27 January, Taumalolo was named in the Cowboys 2015 NRL Auckland Nines squad. On 13 February, he was selected at lock for the NRL All Stars in the All Stars match at Cbus Super Stadium. Rejecting a $2 million contract offer from the New Zealand Warriors, Taumalolo extended his contract with the Cowboys to the end of the 2017 season. On 28 September, Taumalolo was named at lock in the Dally M Team of the Year. On 4 October, in the Cowboys Queensland derby 2015 NRL Grand Final match against the Brisbane Broncos, Taumalolo started at lock in the Cowboys golden point 17–16 win. He finished the Cowboys premiership winning season with 2 tries from 26 matches. Taumalolo was selected in the 23-man New Zealand Test squad for the Baskerville Shield series but later withdrew due to injury.
In the pre-season, Taumalolo again played in the Auckland Nines, and was a member of the Cowboys' World Club Challenge winning side, starting at lock in the 38–4 victory over the Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Stadium. On 6 May, Taumalolo played for the Kiwis against Australia, starting at lock in the 18–0 loss. In Round 14, he played his 100th NRL game.
Taumalolo was named the RLPA Player of the Year by his fellow players. He was also named as the joint winner of the Dally M Medal with the Melbourne Storm's Cooper Cronk, in addition to being named Lock of the Year for the second consecutive season.
After the Four Nations final against Australia, Taumalolo and Valentine Holmes were flown to the United States to take part in drills as part of scouting for NFL teams. The outfits, including Kansas City, then offered Taumalolo the opportunity to inspect their set-ups in the strongest sign of an NFL future.
On 22 March, Taumalolo re-signed with the Cowboys on a 10-year deal, which will see him stay with the club until the end of the 2027 season. He would go on to play 26 games for the Cowboys during the 2017 season, starting all of them at lock. On 1 October, he started at lock in the Cowboys' 2017 NRL Grand Final loss to the Melbourne Storm. He became the first forward in NRL history to run for over 5000 metres in a season, averaging 205.8 metres per game for the 2017 season.
On 5 October, Taumalolo was named in the Tonga squad for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. He chose to represent the nation of his parent's birth, for whom he played for at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, over his country of birth New Zealand. This move although negatively portrayed in mainstream media, was deemed a noble move by many of the public not only in New Zealand but around the world. On 6 October, he was awarded the Paul Bowman Medal for Cowboys' Player of the Year for the second straight season.
He was also awarded the Royal Order; alongside his Mate Ma'a Tonga players by HRH Princess Salote Lupepau'u Tuita at the residency or the current Tongan King, Tupou VI in their final visit to Tonga in 2017.
On 29 October in the Rugby League World Cup 2017 against Scotland, Taumalolo was award a man of a match for show his way past several Scottish defenders to score Tonga's try in the lead of 50-4 win at Barlow Park.
Following another strong season, in which he averaged 177m per game, Taumalolo was awarded the Paul Bowman Medal for Cowboys' Player of the Year for the third straight time. On 26 September, he was named Lock of the Year at the 2018 Dally M Awards and finished sixth in voting, the highest of any forward.
Achievements and accolades
- Dally M Medal: 2016
- RLPA Player of the Year: 2016
- Rugby League Week Player of the Year: 2016
- Dally M Lock of the Year: 2015, 2016, 2018
- Paul Bowman Medal: 2016, 2017, 2018
- North Queensland Cowboys Players' Player of the Year: 2016, 2017, 2018
- North Queensland Cowboys Rookie of the Year: 2012
- North Queensland Cowboys NYC Player of the Year: 2010, 2011
- NYC Team of the Year: 2011
- RLPA NYC Player of the Year: 2011
- 2014 Auckland Nines:North Queensland Cowboys – Winners
- 2015 NRL Grand Final: North Queensland Cowboys – Winners
- 2016 World Club Challenge: North Queensland Cowboys – Winners
- Statistics are correct to the end of the 2018 season
|†||Denotes seasons in which Taumalolo won an NRL Premiership|
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