The Kiwis went to the UK as world champions and eight weeks later will return empty handed and the reality of that was hard for many to take.

Sunday morning's disappointing 34-2 defeat to Australia brought to an end a long campaign that started when they gathered in Sydney on October 12. They played seven games, including the warmup against the Cook Islands, for six wins and one defeat and it is that one loss which will define their World Cup campaign.

The Australians reportedly had a banner in their dressing room which said, 'how do you want to be remembered?'.

"They will always be the 2008 world champions just like we will always be the 2013 world champions," said Johnathan Thurston who was named man of the match and was the tournament's best player.


The Kiwis were comprehensively outplayed by a brilliant Australian side in the deciding game and it didn't make defeat any easier knowing the Kangaroos produced a complete performance.

"With the effort from the guys over the last six weeks and the contribution that all of them have made, it's a tough, old game when you get no reward for it," Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney said.

The Kiwis put together a good campaign. Their organisation off the field was very good and they weren't distracted by off-field incidents which marred the Australian and England campaigns.

"It has probably been the best camp I've been involved with," Kearney said. "In saying that, it's probably been more challenging than ones in the past because this one is six-seven weeks and it has been a real challenge trying to keep them out of mischief and entertained."

Kearney said he doesn't think there was any more they could have done.

"In terms of the tournament itself, I don't think there is. When the Australian side play the way they do, we had to bring our best game and I know we didn't do that. Australia certainly didn't allow us to play like that. That's as good as I've seen them play."

Australian captain Cameron Smith, who expertly controlled the game from the base of the ruck, expects the Kiwis to recover quickly.

"I know exactly how the boys are feeling," said Smith, who was part of the Australian side who lost the 2008 World Cup final to New Zealand. "They've had a wonderful tournament and, unfortunately, they couldn't get it done.

"But the thing about the Kiwis is they've got a lot of young guys on their squad, and they'll bounce back. They're a confident bunch of boys."

They were devastated as the left Old Trafford on Sunday morning (NZT). Sonny Bill Williams admitted he was "heartbroken" and Elijah Taylor said the tears flowed in the dressing room afterwards.

Sonny Bill Williams on his journey to become the cross-code legend has been named the Rugby League International Federation Player of the year for 2013. Courtesy of Rugby League World Cup TV

"One hundred per cent," Taylor said. "It means so much to a lot of the players, our families and friends back home. We let them all down. It was not good enough."

For Kiwis five-eighth Kieran Foran, it meant he missed out the two biggest prizes in rugby league this after also losing the NRL grand final to the Roosters.

"It was gut wrenching to lose the grand final and I thought this week I would be able to even it up and win a World Cup." He said. "It wasn't to be. Australia outplayed us."

Most of the players will have about a month off before heading back to their NRL clubs for pre-season training. They won't have the skip in the step they might have hoped.