Rugby League: What went wrong for the Kiwis?

By Michael Burgess in Liverpool

New Zealand's Issac Luke protests during the Four Nations final. Photosport
New Zealand's Issac Luke protests during the Four Nations final. Photosport

This Four Nations campaign was a major disappointment. It wasn't the worst in the history of the competition - as the 2009 and 2011 Kiwis' teams failed to make the final, though neither of those squads were as impressive as this one.

A return of one win from four matches was below par. But more than the results, it was the manner of the performances, especially against Scotland and Australia in the final.
A month ago, this squad was hailed as one of the best Kiwis teams to leave these shores.

Dally M medalist Jason Taumalolo and Jesse Bromwich headed an impressive pack, with size, experience and power. The backline was a bit green, but still had Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai, as well as Raiders' record breaker Jordan Rapana, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Jordan Kahu. So where did it all go wrong?

1) Coaching

David Kidwell and his assistants Justin Morgan and Willie Poching lack experience at this level and it showed, especially when up against the razor sharp minds of Mal Meninga, Michael Hagan and Adrian Lam in the Kangaroos set up. Their interchange strategy was baffling all tournament, which indicated uncertainty and indecisiveness. Kidwell's attempt at mind games before the final was an unnecessary distraction, and detracted from the Kiwis' focus. Coaching is a difficult art and they weren't unable to get the best out of the playing group.

2) Team of stars vs star team

The Kiwis didn't manage a single 80 minute display, with patchy displays in all four games. In contrast the Kangaroos were cohesive, focused and collectively strong.
"We have a team full of great individuals but we just needed to gel as a team," said Jason Taumalolo. "This whole tour we couldn't do that; it's a team sport and no one player can go out there and win it for his team. That's a great learning curve.

3) Defensive fragility

The New Zealand side was porous. They had moments of solidity in defence, especially in the first and last quarters against England, and the second half against Australia in Coventry. Indeed, the Kiwis were often a contradiction; they would show great courage and heart to scramble, then concede a soft try a few minutes later. Since Perth they have conceded 18 tries, an average of almost four per game.

4) Mistake rate

The Kiwis were their own worst enemies. They seemed to be caught between two game plans - safety first and high risk - and it showed. Even in the win over England they kept inviting the Lions back into the contest, when it was foot on the throat time.

But every team makes mistakes; the key is having the grit, determination and structure to defend them, which the Kiwis lacked, especially in Workington and Liverpool.

"You can't keep making the cheap errors and then not backing it up with good defence," said Tohu Harris. "We have to be willing to back it up with our defence, especially early, and we weren't able to do that. We haven't done that for the last four games."

5) Injuries

The absence of Simon Mannering proved a telling blow. The Kiwis haven't beaten the Kangaroos without him and Kieran Foran in four attempts. Thomas Leuluai was also a vital loss, as the left side edge defence fell apart in the final. Dean Whare, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Ben Matulino would have also made a difference.

6) Goal kicking

The Kiwis' goal kicking was ultimately the difference against Scotland, and more accuracy against Australia in Coventry could have led to a different result. It didn't help the Kiwis scored so many tries out wide, but only three of their eleven tries were converted during the tournament.

7) Schedule

There were no favours from the tournament organisers for the world's No1 ranked team. They had the toughest draw, and had to put up with sub-standard facilities in Workington.

Autex - Proud sponsors of New Zealand rugby league since 1981

- NZ Herald

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