Kiwi dreams turn to nightmares in Wellington

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    Former player now TV commentator Monty Betham made a statement during last night’s epic quarter-final clash in Wellington that summed up exactly the current state of international rugby league.

    Betham made the comment, “One of these teams is playing like a tier 1 nation and the other like a tier 2 nation”.

    How right he was as we saw a composed Fiji expertly guided around the field by the enigmatic but brilliant Jarryd Hayne. Coach Mick Potter, although he struggled for success in the NRL with the Wests Tigers, has this team playing and believing they can go all the way. The gap between nternational teams has well and truly closed, and that is great for rugby league.

    All supposedly tier 2 national sides have fielded in this tournament have assembled their best squads of all time.

    For the Kiwis, with their well-documented weakened squad, they had this match to continue to redeem themselves after becoming the first tier 1 nation to lose to a tier 2 nation in rugby league history after the previous week’s defeat to Tonga.

    Tournaments are about building momentum, and New Zealand were unable to do that after allowing Tonga to score 26 second-half points in their final pool match a week earlier. With that Tonga took top spot, booking a quarter-final clash with Lebanon, which they only just survived, while the Kiwis were going to have to get past two unbeaten teams in Fiji and then Australia to make the Final.

    It will be forever remembered that this wasn’t going to be the case, as Fiji killed all New Zealand dreams with a stunning two-point victory.

    Where did it go wrong for the Kiwis?

    (NRL Photos/Grant Trouville)

    It is more a case of what went right, and the simple answer to that is not much. Maybe even nothing, as coach David Kidwell, campaign manager Shane Richardson, technical assistant Brian Smith, the Kiwis themselves and New Zealand Rugby League suffered one controversy after another, contributing to quite possibly the worst build-up to a tournament you could imagine.

    This was shown in the results of the tournament, with the Kiwis unable to get going when the going got tough.

    There are many questions that will be asked but probably not many answers to be given. The list of calamities this national side faced was on an extraordinary scale.

    The facts will remain, though, that since November last year and even before that, with Stephen Kearney still in charge of a very poor away series against England, that the fateful draw against minnows Scotland stands out (although the Kiwis did exact masterful revenge for that previous result), and also in the Anzac Test when Australia raced to a 24-0 lead.

    They were just two on-field signs that New Zealand were nowhere near where they needed to be heading into this year’s rugby league World Cup.

    Unfortunately it was all the off-field controversies that the Kiwis could not rebound from – far too many to list and dissect over as they have been well documented anyway.

    (NRLPhotos)

    So the end result leaves rugby league in New Zealand in turmoil, with the game needing a complete revamp and a well thought out recovery plan.

    New Zealand Rugby League have left the game to die at grassroots level and then allowed that poor management system to infect the countries most senior team, the Kiwis.

    Their is not one person to blame for the Kiwis predicament. This poor World cup exit is purely as a result of bad management on many levels right throughout the NZRL.

    On a positive note, the management of the tier 2 nations have the international game of rugby league at the strongest it has ever been. This world cup is not over and Papua New Guinea could well continue the upsets tonight against a powerful England team.

    As New Zealanders we may be hurting, but as rugby league fans this is a great time to be watching the great game of rugby league.