The Kiwis have surprised with their impressive and flamboyant style of play throughout the opening fortnight of the Rugby League World Cup - and the players say it's all down to coach David Kidwell.

Little more than a month ago, all hope seemed lost among a New Zealand public disillusioned with the 13-man game, after yet another disappointing Warriors NRL campaign and the Kiwis dramatic fall from grace over the previous 12 months. The Kiwis were being written off before the World Cup even kicked-off and Kidwell was the man in the firing line.

Two weeks into the tournament, however, and the belief is back within the Kiwis side after two dominant wins over Samoa and a lacklustre Scotland side, ahead of today's showdown with Tonga in Hamilton.

"Kiddy's done a terrific job in bringing this group together," said halfback Shaun Johnson.


"After all the stuff that was published leading into our campaign and some of the things that have been written about him as well as a coach, he's done a great job in giving us the tools to connect and feel like we're all equal.

"That's been the most enjoyable thing about this camp. There's no hierarchy and everyone's on the same page and we're all here for the same cause," said Johnson.

Kiwis captain Adam Blair speaks to media ahead of their crunch World Cup game against Tonga.

"We have expectations of one another now and that's something that probably got lost over the last couple of years so it's really cool to have that feeling back."

It's a dramatic turnaround from this time last year, when the Kiwis were struggling through their failed Four Nations campaign in England, during Kidwell's first assignment after replacing former coach Stephen Kearney.

One win from six starts was all he had to show when they returned home and the crisis deepened earlier this year when the Kiwis were towelled up by the Kangaroos in the Anzac test in Canberra. The side fell into free-fall the next day when captain Jesse Bromwich and back-rower Kevin Proctor were caught using cocaine while out on the town in the Australian capital.

It all seemed to be going against Kidwell but things got worse for the 40-year-old two days before naming his World Cup squad, when star forward Jason Taumalolo and three other players snubbed the Kiwis in favour of representing Tonga.

Questions over his coaching credentials and ability to effectively communicate to his players and the Kiwis fan base increased and the side's chances of competing with heavyweights Australia - and the suddenly impressive-looking Tonga - were widely dismissed.

We all sniggered when he delivered corny lines such as "the Key is in the We" and rolled our eyes as he attempted to sell us on his vision of "Kiwis-style footy", but Kidwell's
emphasis on unity has quickly galvanised the team.

The Kiwis haven't achieved anything yet but qualify for the knock-out stages, but a win over Tonga would tick another box and help Kidwell and his side further along the road to redemption.

"You've got to give him a lot of credit," said captain Adam Blair. "I know he was chucked in late last year as a coach.

"Us being calm has come a lot from David and the things that he's done and the way he approaches and talks to us as a group. He's spent a lot of time figuring out what he wants from the group and it's rubbing off on us."

Tonga made a late change with strike centre Michael Jennings ruled out with a hamstring injury and Mahe Fonua coming into the starting side, while former Warriors and Kiwis wing Manu Vatuvei comes on to the interchange bench.