Kiwis keep faith in Kidwell despite patchy form
RUGBY LEAGUE: The Kiwis retain full faith in coach David Kidwell, despite the roller-coaster nature of their Four Nations campaign.
After an impressive win over England, the team has struggled over its past two games.
The Kiwis put in a patchy - albeit gritty - display in the 14-8 loss to Australia in Coventry, before a sub-par performance against Scotland in Workington, with the 18-18 draw destined to go down in New Zealand league infamy.
In such circumstances focus tends to centre on the coach, who has ultimate responsibility for the team's performance. As a rookie head coach, Kidwell's interchange strategy has been questionable and his team selection for the Scotland match was ultimately a gamble that backfired.
But the players retain their belief in Kidwell.
"As soon as he stepped into the role, he showed he has got the passion for the job,” said Kiwis fullback Jordan Kahu.
"He's a very proud Kiwi.”
Many of the Kiwis are coached by some of the biggest names in the game at club level - including Craig Bellamy (Storm), Wayne Bennett (Broncos), Trent Robinson (Roosters) and Des Hasler (Bulldogs) - but Kahu didn't think Kidwell's relative inexperience was an issue.
"I don't think there is a problem at all,” he said. "It's down to us ... it's down to the players.”
Kahu's Broncos teammate Adam Blair echoed those thoughts, though he was hesitant to offer an opinion on the selections for the Scotland match, in which five frontline players were rested.
"I can't comment on what the coach was thinking picking the team,” Blair said. "But those boys that played really put their hand up and it shows a bright future for New Zealand rugby league.”
Some observers on both sides of the Tasman have questioned the Kiwis' attitude throughout the campaign, but both Blair and Kahu are adamant the New Zealand team is focused and motivated.
"I don't think there was any problems (on Saturday),” Blair said. "It was just a tough grinding game.
"They turned up with the right attitude, we did as well. Both teams took their opportunities.”
Kahu was unequivocal.
"We came here for a reason and we have all been working hard,” he said. "The fans at home only see the games, and we haven't put our best performances on the pitch. But we are all here for the right reasons and we have sacrificed a lot to be here, including our time with families.”
Kahu said the Kiwis' lack of form was down to execution ("not backing ourselves”) and also indisplicine, as the team gave up penalties and tries through mental lapses.
But he maintains that the Kangaroos, who will be heavy favourites on Monday (12.30am AEST) at Anfield and look almost unstoppable in their quest to retain the Four Nations crown, can be beaten.
"Of course,” Kahu said. "If we didn't think so, we wouldn't be here.”