David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: Worrying signs as Scotland expose Kiwis frailties

Kiwis players appear stunned after Scotland came back to claim an 18-18 draw at Workington today. Photo / Photosport.
Kiwis players appear stunned after Scotland came back to claim an 18-18 draw at Workington today. Photo / Photosport.

The Kiwis appear to be going backwards rather than improving over the course of the Four Nations and were lucky to escape with an 18-18 draw against Scotland side today.

Coach David Kidwell's men are a long way off living up to their billing as the world's No 1-ranked team and were made to look ordinary and complacent against the spirited Bravehearts.

Scotland's come-from-behind effort is being hailed as one of the greatest performances in international league while yet another patchy and unconvincing display from New Zealand leaves more questions than answers.

Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich has had a difficult initiation over the last month and, together with Kidwell, has struggled to inspire the squad.

A one-point first-up win over England had us believing the Kiwis were building into their campaign after last month's limp 26-6 loss to Australia in Perth.

But the six-point margin in last week's 14-8 loss to the Kangaroos flattered the Kiwis and Scotland exposed their frailties by simply playing with greater commitment and intensity.

Desperate goal line defence from New Zealand prevented both England and Australia from scoring more points but, despite their ability to scramble, the Kiwis have looked shoddy and disorganised in much of their play.

Halfback Shaun Johnson has produced moments of brilliance in each game but has yet to put together a complete performance, however, he has been playing behind a pack that has struggled to assert themselves physically for 80 minutes.

The Kiwis rotation of impact forwards have performed solidly in each of the three games so far but playing on heavy fields, with just one referee keeping a smaller 10m than they are accustommed to in the NRL, has nullified much of what the likes of Martin Taupau, Adam Blair and first-choice lock Jason Taumalolo can offer in terms of go-forward and second-phase play.

Kidwell will surely be ruing his decision to blood four new players and rest some of his big guns with their place in the tournament final now in jeopardy - Australia must beat England on Monday morning (NZT) or the Kiwis will be eliminated.

The new players all performed admirably. David Fusitu'a looked good in crossing for two tries and both Joseph Tapine and James Fisher-Harris did their bit in the middle, while Te Maire Martin was thrust into a difficult situation after Thomas Leuluai was forced from the park with a suspected broken jaw. But it was the Kiwis senior players who failed to step up and lead the way when the going got tough.

Ill-discipline and poor handling put pressure on the Kiwis who were already having trouble dealing with the wet and slippery conditions and Scotland's in-your-face rushing defence.

Composure was sorely lacking at vital times and New Zealand were guilty of committing errors following Fusitu'a's first-half try and Gerard Beale's second-half double which allowed Scotland opportunities to hit back.

The television commentators made mention of the players' poor body language as they emerged from the sheds following halftime, after Kidwell had presumably given them both barrels in the wake of an underwhelming first-half display that saw them clinging to a 6-4 lead.

The end result will have done little to boost their confidence and Kidwell and his players face a nervous wait.

Despite another below-par display, the Kiwis still possess the talent and skill to cause an upset win if they advance to next Monday's final at Anfield but such improvement looks a long way off.

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