Lock Jason Taumalolo believes the Kiwis are still finding their way as a team but says yesterday's Four Nations win over England was a step in the right direction ahead of Sunday's showdown with Australia.
Taumalolo admitted the Kiwis were relieved to secure the first-up 17-16 victory but said poor discipline and sloppy handling marred their performance at Huddersfield's John Smith's Stadium.
After a slow start, the Kiwis warmed into their work and improved in the second half but 11 errors and six penalties saw them unable to maintain a comfortable lead over the tournament hosts.
"It was pretty relieving," Taumalolo told Newstalk ZB. "Obviously we didn't make it too easy on ourselves with the way we wanted to play. We didn't handle the ball as well as we could have, with some crucial errors giving away cheap possession but also giving away penalties that could have been avoidable."
After being used sparingly by coach David Kidwell in New Zealand's poor showing against the Kangaroos in Perth a fortnight ago, Taumalolo was one of the Kiwis' best in their campaign opener.
The North Queensland forward demonstrated his ability to play long minutes with a relentless 77-minute contribution seeing him carve out a game-high 271 metres from 24 carries of the ball.
The 23-year-old Dally M winner felt the Kiwis were still honing their combinations and familiarising themselves with the nuances of each other's play and expects further improvement as the tournament progresses.
Despite showing plenty of defensive grit and resilience in the three-tries-to-two result, the Kiwis will need to be more clinical if they are to topple the Kangaroos in Sunday's clash at Coventry.
"We're still learning to play as a team together, obviously with the amount of boys coming from different clubs, but that's a stepping stone we achieved [yesterday]," he said.
"Everyone's slowly learning how each player plays and hopefully next week, everyone's a step better than they were [against England].
"That's probably one of the biggest challenges coming into any team that has different players from different teams and they all have different ways that they play.
"We definitely went out there and had a good crack at it and we just could have been a bit better in a few areas but overall we achieved what we wanted."
Taumalolo praised halfback Shaun Johnson, who slotted the match-winning field goal in the 65th minute, after coming in for intense criticism following the Kiwis' last-start defeat in Perth.
Like the wider team, Taumalolo believes Johnson is getting back to playing his best after getting through just his second game in two months since the end of the Warriors' NRL season.
"Obviously Shaun played a huge role in our win and that's just a stepping stone for him.
"We all know the Shaun Johnson of old, the right-foot step and taking on the line, and it was good to see a couple of glimpses of him returning to that form.
"Hopefully we see a lot more of him running the ball on the whole tour and continuing that form into next week's game."