The Kiwis were almost grounded yesterday in a significant setback for their Four Nations campaign.

If they make the final, which will be through the back door after yesterday's shock 18-18 draw with Scotland, they will need a huge improvement to compete at Anfield.

They will be nervous spectators tomorrow morning (NZT), willing the Kangaroos to victory, as any other result (an England win or a draw) sees them on the plane home.

That wasn't in the script after the first-up win over England, which had seemingly set up the tournament for New Zealand. The Kiwis had made incremental improvements each week since Perth, but the events in Workington felt like a huge step back.


The fact they were out-enthused by Scotland was bad enough, but they were also outsmarted. Twice they gave up crazy penalties as they knelt in the ruck and let the Scottish dummy-half pass the ball into their body.

Sure, it was questionable refereeing by Ben Cummins, who had an ordinary game, but the Kiwis shouldn't be putting themselves in those positions.

There was also a lack of mental focus. Letting Scotland back into the game so soon after David Fusitu'a scored his first try was one example, as were several fifth tackle defensive penalties which undid previous hard work. And then when leading with just over a minute to play, they weren't urgent enough to secure a short kickoff, from which Scotland grabbed possession and scored.

But there are some reasons for hope. If the Kiwis make the final next week, they will be outsiders against the Kangaroos, especially after the results in Newcastle, Perth and Coventry this year. Australia were dominant in all three matches.

But the Kiwis thrive on underdog status - they haven't handled the world No 1 ranking well - and have a tradition of peaking at the end of tournaments. They did that at the 2008 World Cup, when they reversed a 30-6 loss to the Kangaroos in the pool stage to an astounding 34-20 win in the final.

There was the same recipe in 2010. A comprehensive defeat in the group stages to Australia was followed by an-against-the-odds 16-12 win in the final.

That, however tenuous it might seem, is something to cling on to.