Coach Michael Maguire may be mulling a Kiwis halves combination of old after including Benji Marshall and Kieran Foran in his extended squad ahead of next week’s Test against Tonga.
As a proud and passionate supporter of the New Zealand rugby league team it pained me to see the Kiwis lose to Fiji in their quarter-final Match at Wellington.
It was the manner in which they lost which was the most disappointing. The lack of intensity and passion and the way that the Kiwis were out-muscled and out-enthused by the Fijians was difficult to watch, and you could have sworn that Fiji were the tier-one nation rather than New Zealand.
That is to take nothing away from the Fijians, who dominated possession and territory for large portions of the match due in no small part to the repeated handling errors made by the Kiwis. Were it not for the defensive efforts of the Kiwis, they would have lost by a far greater margin than the final scoreline of 4-2.
Sure, it’s easy to blame the destabilising effect that the defection by Jason Taumalolo to Tonga had on the team, but New Zealand should still have been able to overcome his loss and that of some other players – yet after appearing to be a galvanised and united team at the start of the tournament, the wheels started to fall off as the competition progressed.
The writing was on the wall after their meek capitulation in the second half of their third-round match against Tonga.
The lack of leadership, guidance and potency was clearly evident without players such as Kieran Foran, Jesse Bromwich and Shaun Kenny Dowall.
The hardest thing of all to cop though was to see Adam Blair’s nonchalant responses to some of the questions at the post-match press conference. Where was the hurt and anger at having lost a match that they could and should have won at the Rugby League World Cup?
If New Zealand Rugby League is fair dinkum, then there’ll be a comprehensive review after the World Cup and heads will roll, with David Kidwell and Adam Blair unlikely to retain their positions. Sure, they weren’t wholly or solely responsible for the Kiwis’ early exit, but sport at the top level now is very much results-driven.
I would have thought being knocked out at the quarter-final stage of the Rugby League World Cup is far from a pass mark.