Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Rugby League: Land of hope and little glory for Kiwis

Former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott.
Former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott.

This week the Kiwis will head off to their unhappiest hunting ground - or at least that's how it seems.

David Kidwell's side depart for England later this week ahead of the Four Nations tournament which begins on Saturday October 29 (NZT).

Trips to the Northern Hemisphere have rarely been successful in recent times, as New Zealand league teams invariably come unstuck when they cross the equator.

In the 2009 Four Nations, the Kiwis' only win came against France, as they drew with the Kangaroos and lost to England to miss the final. Two years later it was even worse, with comprehensive defeats to Australia and the home side overshadowing a big victory over Wales.

The 2013 World Cup had some good moments, especially the last-gasp semifinal win over England at Wembley, thanks to Shaun Johnson's converted try seconds from fulltime, but the tournament was ultimately remembered for the capitulation in the final against Australia and the sleeping pills/energy drinks scandal that emerged in the fallout of that loss.

Last year's tour to England was also underwhelming, as a depleted Kiwis side (without Johnson, Kieran Foran and Simon Mannering, among others) lost the test series 2-1 and struggled to get their attack going for the whole trip.

"It's a very tough place to go," said former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott, who fashioned an impressive record against Great Britain.

"The timing doesn't help - it's at the end of the year when the players are pretty weary - it's coming into winter so it's cold and the conditions aren't easy.

"And the crowds are right on top of you. They create an amazing atmosphere but it can be hard for young players."

Endacott never lost a test against Great Britain and masterminded the historic 1998 tour of England, when his team won the series 2-0 (the third test was drawn), becoming the first Kiwis touring side to not lose a test in England.

Times have moved on - there are now many more English players in the NRL - but some principles haven't changed.

"Touring teams normally get better as the trip goes on," said Endacott. "But it needs to be a unified group. Living together, travelling together, playing together ... everyone needs to be buying into the same message. And discipline is key. Any 50-50 penalties will go against you, due to the influence of the crowd."

He said England can never be underestimated, despite the apparent decline of Super League over the past few years.

"People will look at Super League and think that the standard has dropped, and it probably has. But there are still plenty of good individual players around that can be moulded into a good team," said Endacott.

"You can't take them lightly at all, especially with a coach like Wayne Bennett on the scene."

- NZ Herald

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