New Kiwis coach brings enthusiasm to the role, writes Michael Burgess.

David Kidwell's first foray into professional league was sealed over a breakfast scotch and milk at a Christchurch hotel 21 years ago.

Kidwell, who was announced as the new Kiwis coach last week, has been involved in the NRL as a player or coach for more than two decades.

It all began on an April morning in the Garden City in 1995. The 18-year-old Kidwell, who had made a name for himself on the domestic scene with junior representative teams, was invited to meet the late Peter Moore, the Bulldogs patriarch who was recruiting players for Super League, as the code's civil war played out.

"Bullfrog [Moore] was the big Super League scout at the time and we met at the Parkroyal in Christchurch," said Kidwell. " We sat down and he asked my mum and I if we wanted a drink. We both ordered orange juice then Peter said to the waitress 'I'll have a scotch and milk'. It was 8.30am. I looked at my mother and she just shrugged. He was a bit of character that Peter Moore ..."


Kidwell didn't take much persuading to sign with the newly formed Adelaide Rams, having set a goal at the age of 11 of playing professional league.

"The Winfield Cup was always in my head," said Kidwell. "I knew I would have to head to Australia to make it. Peter offered a $15,000 sign-on fee, then $1000 for each first-grade game I played. For us that was massive money and I signed straight away. It was a dream come true and the start of a journey.

That journey took an important new turn last week, when Kidwell was unveiled as the 29th man to coach the Kiwis since 1921. He was the logical choice, as Stephen Kearney's assistant since 2014 and with six years of coaching work in the NRL behind him.

"I thought they might have had a look around Australia as there are a few experienced options around," said former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott. "But I'm glad they didn't. David's done the apprenticeship and deserves the opportunity to show what he can do."

Kidwell is famously passionate about the black and white V, and resembled a kid in a candy store last Friday, his enthusiasm bouncing off the walls at his first press conference.

"I was so proud to play for my country," says Kidwell. "To coach my country is a huge honour. I can't wait to get started."

Kidwell was born in Warkworth, north of Auckland, but his family moved to Christchurch before his first birthday. He joined the Hornby Panthers as a 7-year-old and life soon revolved around sport. As well as league, he was doing karate four times a week (he has a black belt) and also played provincial volleyball and briefly dabbled in rugby.

"All I wanted to do was play sport," said Kidwell. "School never really interested me, which I regret now but that was the way it was."

After arriving in Adelaide, Kidwell had an inglorious introduction to first-grade footy in 1997 with the Rams, a 58-16 hammering against a star-studded Raiders team.

"They smashed us which was hard but I was playing against all my heroes - Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Bradley Clyde," said Kidwell. "I wanted to go into their dressing room and get my jersey signed but thankfully I changed my mind. It wouldn't have looked good."

After the Rams at the end of the 1998 season, a call from Jarrod McCracken took him to the Eels, where he played under Brian Smith ("the best tactical coach I have had"). Kidwell also made his Kiwis debut at the end of 1999.

"Whenever he joined the camp, he gave everything," remembered Endacott. "He always played with great passion for the Kiwis, he feared for nothing."

Kidwell continued his nomadic career at Warrington (2000-2001) and the Roosters (2002) before joining the Storm in Craig Bellamy's first season as coach.

"It was the hardest pre-season ever," said Kidwell. "Geez it was tough. We were doing hill runs all the time but Craig would often join in, which was impressive. I was there four years, saw the Storm culture as it was starting to grow and played my best football there."

Kidwell ended his playing career at the Rabbitohs (2007-2009), before being given the reigns of the club's under-20 team in 2010.

"I took a simple, honest approach," said Kidwell. "They were young guys so I made sure they looked after each other, enjoyed each other's company and worked hard for each other."

Kidwell had some unconventional methods, like sending the team on runs through the suburbs around Redfern, carrying bags or weights.

"There were a lot of locals who would recognise them and cheer them on," said Kidwell. "I wanted to show them who they were playing for."

The Junior Rabbitohs, whose roster included Josh Mansour, Adam Reynolds and James Roberts won the minor premiership before then losing to the Warriors 42-28 in the grand final.

Assistant coach stints followed at Melbourne (under Bellamy) before three seasons working with Jason Taylor at the Tigers.

"I've learnt a lot, especially from Craig," says Kidwell. "He leaves no stone unturned and looks after all the little details. You can still have some fun, but you need to put in the work first."

It hasn't all been plain sailing for Kidwell. He was a central figure in one of the most controversial incidents in modern Kiwis history, as he (alongside then captain Roy Asotasi) spoke out against Gary Kemble's reappointment as coach in early 2008.

"We want to win the World Cup this year, and the players haven't got any confidence in Gary Kemble as coach," Kidwell told Radio Sport at the time. Kemble resigned a few days later.

"I was with the All Golds [in 2007] but some stuff was coming out of that [Kiwis] camp," reflects Kidwell now. "Things happened but that is history. All we cared about was the black and white jersey."

Kidwell has taken the hard road. Playing for seven different clubs across a career isn't ideal, as he had to constantly prove himself to new coaches, teammates and fans. But he gave honest service and seemed to go to another level for the Kiwis.

As we speak, Kidwell has just finished a session with the Kiwis train-on squad in Sydney, before heading back to his Coogee base. His wife has a successful homewares business and his two teenage daughters excel in netball and touch.

Kidwell's back in New Zealand this weekend meeting with players and staff, before his first Kiwis squad is named the day after the grand final.

"I want to put everything I have into this," said Kidwell. "That's why I insisted on a full-time role; it needs 100 per cent of my focus and commitment. I want to take things up another level, to give the players the best possible environment and preparation so we get the best possible performance."