League: Kiwis to batten down hatches

The Kiwis will look to make amends agains the Kangaroos in their Four Nations final. Photo / Getty Images
The Kiwis will look to make amends agains the Kangaroos in their Four Nations final. Photo / Getty Images

The Kiwis will batten down the hatches ahead of the Four Nations rugby league final in Brisbane next weekend as they look to bounce back from their latest defeat to the Kangaroos.

The Kiwis went down in disappointing fashion to a slick Australian outfit 34-20 in Auckland last night in the tournament's last pool fixture, a dress rehearsal for the two sides' rematch in the title decider next Saturday night.

There had been plenty of expectation among New Zealand fans ahead of the test at a refurbished Eden Park but the Kangaroos, despite seven changes to their 17, had too much pace and precision, running in six tries to three.

By the time winger Brett Morris finished off a slick blindside scrum move for his second touchdown midway through the second half to help to push the margin to 34-10, the writing was on the wall.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said the preparation for the test had gone as well as possible and he was at a loss to explain the performance.

One consolation of sorts was that he didn't think the Kiwis could play any worse.

"Probably the positive thing for us is that we have a lot of improvement in us," he said.

"I'm confident that we will batten down the hatches and make sure we prepare as well as we can for next week."

While each side had roughly the same amount of possession, the Kiwis were left ruing the fact that they had to play so much of the game at the wrong end of the park.

"A lot of our possession was in our half because we made errors," Kearney said.

"Against Australia, you just cannot do that. We failed to get to our long kick often enough and we put ourselves under pressure."

The Kangaroos' greater speed in the play-the-ball would be another aspect the Kiwis would look to counter in Brisbane.

Kearney said his players' first contact in defence was poor, which put them on the back foot, whereas the Australians were more dominant in the tackle, and so were able to slow the Kiwis down.

While Kearney put out what looked to be his best line-up at Eden Park, rival coach Tim Sheens elected to give game time to all of his players who hadn't had a run in the tournament.

The Kangaroos hardly missed a beat despite a number of changes.

They will be strengthened by the return of the rested pair of skipper and five-eighth Darren Lockyer and fullback Billy Slater.

Second rower Luke Lewis, who starred in the win over England the previous weekend, is also expected to be back from a leg injury.

Sheens agreed that he had some difficult selection decisions ahead but that was the rationale behind the changes he had made.

He had wanted to see every member of his squad in action and also to increase the competition for spots.

But Sheens also played down the significant of the Kangaroos' win, saying "it was always about next week".

"We fired a shot across their bow, that's for sure," he said.

"But in saying that, that means nothing. We can't be thinking that means we're going to win next week. Next week will be a new game.

"There will be some changes to both sides and it's a final. When you get down to a final, you're talking about a different intensity again."

The Kiwis have now won just one of the past 13 transtasman clashes.

However, for those looking for a good omen, that sole success came at next week's venue, Suncorp Stadium, where New Zealand scored a stunning upset two years ago to claim the World Cup.

- NZPA

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