David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

League: 'Worst performance from a Kiwis side' - former test captain Richie Barnett

New Zealand bench utility Lewis Brown is unable to prevent Australian back-rower Boyd Cordner from scoring. Photo / Photosport.
New Zealand bench utility Lewis Brown is unable to prevent Australian back-rower Boyd Cordner from scoring. Photo / Photosport.

Former test captain Richie Barnett has slammed the Kiwis in the wake of their humiliating defeat to Australia in the Four Nations final, voicing numerous concerns over the direction the side has taken under new coach David Kidwell.

The Kiwis 34-8 loss to the Kangaroos at Anfield capped what Barnett described as the worst performance from a New Zealand side in a Four Nations campaign while he also questioned the side's tactics and playing style throughout Kidwell's first campaign in charge.

"This is quite staggering, the direction that we're heading in," Barnett told Radio Sport.

"Unfortunately, this is probably, I've got to say, the worst performance from a Kiwis side in a Four Nations series.

"It was really disappointing because the players on paper just look so good and I got my hopes so high.

"It just looked like pretty average football all round. It was really disappointing and disheartening."

The Kiwis look stunned during last week's 18-18 draw with Scotland. Photo / Photosport.
The Kiwis look stunned during last week's 18-18 draw with Scotland. Photo / Photosport.

The former Kiwis fullback and ex-test selector called for the New Zealand Rugby League to launch an urgent and wide-ranging review of a miserable campaign, that also saw the Kiwis draw with Scotland between two defeats to Australia, with a first-up one-point win over England the only positive result of the six-week tour.

Worrying signs were evident before the Kiwis even arrived in the UK.

The lackluster 26-6 defeat to Australia in Perth saw Kidwell criticised for giving limited game time to Dally M medal winner Jason Taumalolo and the Kiwis barely fired a shot and looked disorganised on attack playing an unfamiliar and conservative style.

"They'll review how this looks and it's not pretty what's going to come out of it from the New Zealand Rugby League," he said.

"What's really clear is that the game plan just didn't adjust to how we should have played.

"Key fundamental mistakes were made, if we go back to the Jason Taumalolo episode (in Perth), when he didn't come on until late in the second-half."

Lessons were not heeded once the Four Nations got underway. Barnett believes they played into Australia's hands by deviating from the Kiwis' traditional game plan of utilising their big forwards on the fringes of the ruck.

"Why were we playing so direct through the middle instead of spreading the ball a little bit wider to the edges? Which is how we used to play and we found joy that way.

"Why isn't that guy (Taumalolo) running out on the edges at guys like (Johnathan) Thurston or (Cooper) Cronk?

"The most damaging footballer in the game and he was used far too much in the middle."

Celebrations begin for Australia following their Four Nations series win. Photo / Photosport.
Celebrations begin for Australia following their Four Nations series win. Photo / Photosport.

Barnett went on to complain about the lack of adequate playmaking support for halfback Shaun Johnson and Kidwell's decision to play back-rower Tohu Harris at five-eighth following an injury to Thomas Leuluai. That stop-gap solution had failed in the past and did so again in the tournament decider against Australia.

However, rather than laying all the blame at Kidwell's feet, Barnett believes the rookie test coach was not helped by the appointments of his inexperienced assistants, Willie Poching and Justin Morgan, and hopes he is provided with more support before next year's World Cup.

"We needed some real experience around David Kidwell and I think we just let him down considerably.

"When you look at our support staff in Poching and Morgan from the Warriors, I don't think that would get you excited and they needed a bit more than having those two blokes.

"We just need to really start thinking about what the World Cup will look like next year because we just can't go backwards like this.

"The brand has been damaged considerably."

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