The Kiwis' wonderful win over the Kangaroos on Saturday night will have come as no surprise to anyone who's met Michael Maguire, the new Kiwis coach.

Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of being the MC at a youth leadership day in Manukau City. It was organised by the iSport Foundation, a charitable trust originally founded by Richie McCaw and Dan Carter to offer advice and opportunity to secondary school students through sport.

Maguire, or Madge as everybody seems to call him, was one of the speakers. I knew a little bit about his success as a coach including wins at the two biggest occasions in rugby league – the NRL Grand Final and the Challenge Cup at Wembley.

But I didn't know anything of the man's methods or personality. To be honest, I'd figured that if he was any good, he'd have a job in the NRL and wouldn't be taking over a cot case like the Kiwis.


It didn't take long on stage in front of 750 kids to convince me that this guy had something special. He's a born communicator, a confident and fluent speaker who engaged with a large group of teenagers very quickly, and held their attention.

The theme of the day was about how self-leadership is important for group leadership. In other words, how personal responsibility is key to achieving good outcomes in life.

Michael Maguire then talked of his own background – as a rugby union player who was too scared to tell his father when he started playing rugby league – and about some of the challenges he faced when he took over at Wigan in England in 2009.

The stories that resonated were about the so-called stars at Wigan who thought that being late for training was their privilege and right. That was until Maguire dropped them from the match day team, meaning they missed out on bonus payments. Very soon, all players were on time for training.

After success at Wigan he came back to Sydney and was offered the job as coach at South Sydney, a team without a premiership since 1971. Maguire's story goes that at his first meeting with owner Russell Crowe, the New Zealand born movie star talked to him about how the Rabbitohs would be attending this event and appearing on that red carpet, and generally being a high profile part of Sydney celebrity life.

Maguire told Crowe he didn't think that was going to work, so said no thanks to the job.

It was Crowe who changed his mind. Maguire took the job in 2011 and again had issues with senior players at training. He noted some weren't doing a full complement of press-ups during training drills. He stopped the session, identified the culprits and made sure all the players did all the work.

In other words, here was a guy who didn't play favourites, stuck to basics and made sure that if good results were achieved on the training field, there was every chance they would come on game day too.


On Saturday night we saw a Kiwis performance which was far from perfect, especially on defence.

But we saw courage, determination and desire, to go with high levels of ball handling and attacking skill. It was team that looked like it really wanted to win and believed that it could, despite twice falling behind on the scoreboard.

Was this really the same team that was such a rag tag of incompetence during the World Cup last year?

It also reinforced how stupid it was to deny a non-New Zealander the chance to coach the Kiwis for all those years. Coaching is an international business. Good teams appoint the best coaches regardless of where they come from.

Maguire has set some very high standards after Saturday night.

After watching him talk to those secondary school students in late September, I'm not surprised there's a completely different feel to the Kiwis team now.

And as far as we know, nobody was snorting cocaine after the match either.