League: Bring on World Cup defence

By Steve Deane

Optimism aplenty as debutant trio and old hands step up against Aussies in one-off test.

James Tamou steps Kiwis hooker Issac Luke on his way to an outstanding try. Photo / Getty Images
James Tamou steps Kiwis hooker Issac Luke on his way to an outstanding try. Photo / Getty Images

Australia 18
Kiwis 10

A highly encouraging start from three debutants, the sparkling return to the fold of Krisnan Inu and a rejuvenated display by captain Benji Marshall gave the Kiwis plenty of reasons for optimism heading into their World Cup defence in Great Britain next year.

Although it was far from a funereal atmosphere in the Kiwis changing shed, any satisfaction with the whole-hearted effort was seriously tempered by the realisation that Saturday night's defeat in Townsville was a match that got away. The Kiwis could-have - and some might argue should-have - won. They were the better side for long stretches, and survived admirably during the periods when they weren't. Their forward pack was superior in all areas, save perhaps play-the-ball speed, and there was a vastly more solid look about the outside back division.

While halves Marshall and Kieran Foran didn't quite gel on attack, they did shut down their opposites.

The most encouraging display came from debutant prop Sam Kasiano, whose hulking frame and wonderful hands added another dimension, although Kevin Proctor and Dean Whare weren't far behind.

"You wouldn't have thought they were playing their first test matches - no way in the world," coach Stephen Kearney said. "They acquitted themselves outstandingly well.

"It's a positive but, for me, we still didn't win. As much as we can say 'yeah we've gotten close', the fact is we still didn't win."

Trying to juggle the head coaching job at the Eels and the Kiwis role had been a mistake, Kearney conceded. Having recently agreed to join Brisbane as an assistant, he would be much better placed to plot the 2013 World Cup campaign.

"There is no doubt about that. I bit off more than I could chew with the Parramatta role. That is the learning for me.

"Fortunately, I have got another opportunity at the Broncos. And it will give me the opportunity without all that pressure to have a real focus on making sure we are prepared for the World Cup.

"We haven't been successful over in the northern hemisphere so that is going to be a real challenge for us."

While he maintains a desire to be an NRL head coach and still believes he will one day be successful, Kearney - who pulled out of the running for the Warriors' head coaching job - said he would be careful about assessing the merits of future opportunities.

"I just want to re-set myself with an assistant's role and wait for the right opportunity and the right timing - and think it through a bit more.

"The Parramatta job is more than ... I don't think every first grade job is the same. I feel wiser for the experience."

- NZ Herald

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