Malcolm Boyle: How Cup went pear-shaped

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Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Did anyone else see that? The No 10 bus to Old Trafford at the League World Cup, full of Aussies intent on destroying the aspirations of the Kiwi pretenders, four years in the making.

Over-hyped, overrated and thankfully, over there. If there ever was to be true sporting theatre in international rugby league, this could have been it - the first time the New Zealand side successfully defended the trophy it won so dramatically four years ago.

It was the weirdest of weeks. Even the powerhouse Australians seemed uncannily wary of the Kiwis as both sides went through their final preparations. For once, the Kiwis appeared to have assembled the artillery necessary to mount a more than credible contest to challenge their formidable transtasman adversaries. Never has a Kiwi side looked as well prepared to face the old enemy. In more than 50 years of suffering long and hard, this could yet be the cruellest blow the game has delivered.

Sure, there were flashes of class during the warm-up games but in the end it was seven seconds of brilliance by Kiwi halfback Sean Johnson which in hindsight flattered to deceive.

For starters, it seemed that the New Zealanders must have spent a significant amount of time during the week creating a new - and much more intricate - haka, which failed firstly to strike trepidation into the Australians' hearts and secondly to lift the Kiwis to any discernible degree. The Kiwis' performance left many people wondering how it could have gone so pear-shaped. Here are a few thoughts.

• Selection problems: Clearly Bryson Goodwin was not up to the task. Despite a bad first game against Samoa and no discernible improvement during the tournament he retained his position in the starting line-up. On the other hand, boom winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was clearly injured when he took his place and lasted only one tackle in the final.

• Game plan appreciation: Wily old Kangaroo coach Tim Sheens all but blew the Kiwis off the park with a brilliant game plan which completely tied up the Kiwis' ruck offloads and the distribution powers of Sonny Bill Williams. It seemed that wherever the Kiwis went, three and four Australians were unleashing huge defence and the New Zealanders' line breaks were few.

• Dominance in all facets: A key part of the game plan was obviously to pressure the Kiwis with and without the ball. Indeed, from the opening whistle when Jesse Bromwich dropped his first hit-up, there were foreboding signs and Australia's try straight after half-time was a brilliantly taken piece of Cameron Smith magic which virtually closed the game out.

• Disappearing act: It's a mystery as to where the Kiwis' big front rowers disappeared to during the game. The biggest disappointment was Kiwi prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, one of the NRL stars, who failed to fire a shot. The same could be said of prop Sam Kasiano.

• Coaching: Australia fielded a team of superstars and all played to their reputations. On the other hand, the Kiwis appeared to have no plan to stop the Australians at any stage. Stephen Kearney's face throughout the game told a story of increasing humiliation.

It's a long way back for the Kiwis but now we'll see what they are really made of.

- Herald on Sunday

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