Steve Deane: What the Kiwis need to do

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Herald league writer Steve Deane outlines a half dozen things the Kiwis will have to do to take out the Four Nations crown.

Kiwi Sika Manu pulls down Darius Boyd at Eden Park last Saturday. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kiwi Sika Manu pulls down Darius Boyd at Eden Park last Saturday. Photo / Dean Purcell

As far as omens go, copping a good old-fashioned kicking in the buildup to a big final is actually quite a positive for the Kiwis.

In 2008, the eventual world champions were soundly trounced by Australia in their opening game, with the tournament favourites recording a 30-6 victory in Sydney. The Kiwis then rolled past the Kumuls and England twice in a row to book their final spot. But the Australians had had it all too easy, thrashing Fiji 52-0 in their semifinal. The Kangaroos might have been tested a little more than that by the Kiwis last week in Auckland, but not a hell of a lot more.

In 2005 it wasn't the Aussies who caused the eventual Tri-Nations champions grief. Bluey McClennen's Kiwis scored a historic 38-28 victory over Australia in the competition opener in Sydney and then lost a two-point thriller in Auckland six days later.

Having belted England in London, the Kiwis went into their final pool match in Huddersfield knowing even a 20-point defeat would guarantee a place in the final.

They promptly lost by 26, copping a 38-12 belting from the fired-up English. Luckily for the Kiwis, the Kangaroos cruised past England in Hull to set up a transtasman final in Leeds. Coming off two weeks' rest, the same Kiwis who did a Lay Down Sally impression against England somehow kept the mighty Kangaroos scoreless to claim what was then the biggest victory in the history of the sport in New Zealand.

A turnaround of that magnitude is possible again in Brisbane tomorrow, but to go from zeroes to heroes the Kiwis will have to make some major repairs to their game.

(1) WIN THE WRESTLE

At Eden Park the Kiwis were completely cleaned up in the tackle.

Sure, they put in more of the big hits that fans love to see but shoulder charges are only effective as an occasional shock tactic. They don't slow down the opposition play-the-ball, which is what the Kiwis must do if they are to have any chance.

The Kiwis were forced to operate off painfully slow play-the-balls.

The Kangaroos line was always well set, it nullified the influence of the backs and Issac Luke out of dummy half, cut down the Kiwis' yardage game and meant their kickers were always on the back foot and under pressure.

The Kangaroos dominated the quick play-the-ball count. The likes of Petero Civoniceva and Sam Thaiday won the initial contact and maintained a body position that allowed them to spring up and play the ball quickly.

That the Kiwis were so poor in the wrestle was a shock. Stephen Kearney's Melbourne Storm have long been the best in the business in that area and the Kiwis spent much of last week honing their tackle technique. If they don't improve substantially this week the result will be exactly the same as last Saturday night.

(2) MAINTAIN THE DISCIPLINE AND WIN THE PENALTY COUNT

Of the six tries scored by the Kangaroos in Auckland, two came from Kiwis errors, three were the direct result of penalties and the other from a refereeing blunder. Although the final penalty count was 10-10, the Kangaroos did better at turning their chances into tries. Twice the Kiwis didn't even try, settling instead for kicks at goal. That tactic has to be questioned. But, more importantly, the Kiwis can't afford to be on the wrong side of the penalty count. If they are, the Kangaroos have more than enough strike power to make them pay.

(3) STAY IN THE GAME

If the Kiwis hand the Kangaroos another three-try lead in the early going they'll be pushing runny poo up a cliff face with a rake for the rest of the match.

No league follower needs reminding of the massacres that have ensued when the Kangaroos get in front and smell blood in the water. But, even for players of genius, confidence can be a fickle thing. If Darren Lockyer had grounded that ball to make it 16-0 in the 2008 World Cup final, the Kiwis were dead. Instead Lockyer ballsed up, the Kiwis went down the other end and scored and it was game on.

The longer the game went on, the more the Kiwis grew. And the more spectacular became the Kangaroos' unravelling. It was the same in the 2005 Tri Nations final. When the acid went on, the Kangaroos dissolved. The Kiwis need to stay in the fight for there to be any chance of another Australian meltdown in a major final.

(4) SHUT THEM DOWN OUT WIDE

The Kiwis' goal-line defence through the middle was rock solid last Saturday night, providing perhaps the biggest - and maybe even only - positive to come out the match. The Roos had plenty of prime field position and possession but couldn't crack the Kiwis through the middle. The problems for the Kiwis came when Australia shifted the ball to the edges.

Sam Perrett and Junior Sa'u had a nightmare on the left. They weren't helped by the inside defenders failing to number up. Perrett made some sound defensive decisions, opting to come in on Brent Tate, but the winger failed to execute his spot tackles, ultimately leaving his flank exposed for the speedy Brett Morris. A huge defender when the mood takes him, Sa'u needs to do more to help out his winger.

The introduction of the more mobile Bronson Harrison for Sika Manu should also help shore things up.

But the Kiwis' linespeed still needs to be much better, cutting down the chances for Lockyer and Cronk to send the ball to the edges.

(5) KEEP IT SIMPLE, GET TO A KICK

There's a time and a place for offloading, and it's not on the first tackle after a kick-off 15m out from your own line. The Kiwis killed themselves by attempting too much too early last Saturday night.

Frank-Paul Nuuausala's dumb offload was the most glaring example, but there were plenty of others.

The Kiwis simply must complete their sets in their own half this time around.

Any errors will be seized on by the Kangaroos, who in Darren Lockyer, Cooper Cronk and Cam Smith have three masterful practitioners of the in-goal grubber to force repeat sets.

If the Kangaroos control possession they will suck the life out of the Kiwis and the points will come.

The Kiwis need to get in the arm wrestle and show the Aussies they are there to stay. They need to kick deep, chase well and back their defence through the middle.

(6) GET LUCKY

In 2005 and 2008 the Kiwis got lucky. Extremely lucky. There was more than a hint of a knock-on in Paul Whatuira's opening try in the 2005 final, while, from memory, Manu Vatuvei's first try also required a favourable video referee decision. And who could have dreamed Lockyer would knock-on when it was easier to score in Brisbane, and that Billy Slater would have a brain fade with the game on the line and hurl the ball in-field to Benji Marshall? Fate was a Kiwi for all of those plays, and she'll need to suit up in the black and white again tomorrow night if the Kiwis are to repeat the miracle.

WHAT: Four Nations final
WHERE: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
WHEN: 10.15pm (NZT) Saturday
TV: Sky Sport 2

- NZ Herald

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