NEW ZEALAND’S NEW IDENTITY
The Kiwis are rebuilding. They had a disastrous 2016 Four Nations – a one-point win against England their only success – and go into the World Cup with their regular captain and another senior player suspended for an off-field indiscretion.
Coach David Kidwell came into the role only three weeks before the Perth Test last year. Apart from his side’s poor performance, he also had to deal with Jessie Bromwich and Kevin Proctor’s misdemeanour after the Anzac Test in May.
Stephen Kearney also faced a short turnaround and a disrupted side when he took over the New Zealand side in 2008. He decided to create a team that people would be proud to follow. “When I got offered the role, my main purpose was to have a footy team that rugby league people back home were proud of,” says Kearney. “It was about creating that as an identity by the way we played and hung in the tight games.”
Kearney’s culture shift took many years and only happened after the subsequent World Cup. “The biggest transformation was after the 2013 World Cup,” he said.
“We countered issues at the back end of the tournament – leading into the semi-final and final – that told us maybe we needed a real change, a shift, about who we were. In 2014, we had six or seven guys making their Test debuts and left guys out that others were saying should’ve been there. We made a conscious decision to rebuild, to make sure we do this the right way.” Graham Lowe also took the Kiwis during a transformational change in the mid-1980s, expanding their game style and introducing new players. He’s shared his experiences with Kidwell over a few cups of tea and feels encouraged by the young coach’s openness to new ideas. “I find it is really encouraging and enlightening talking with David,” says Lowe. “I think he sat back and thought, ‘Heck, more of that and I won’t be here. So what have we got to do?’ “I think David will get the buy-in quickly. I’ve been impressed talking with him. I’ve not had a lot to do with him – but if he’s able to get across the type of game he wants to play, they’ll be a revelation.” Lowe wants Kidwell to be brave and stick to what he thinks will work. “The biggest risk in this World Cup for David is not taking one. He’s prepared and brave enough to do something different.” Kearney also feels the new Kiwi coach has an opportunity to reshape the team his way. “He has a real opportunity to build for this campaign. I’m pretty sure, talking to him briefly, he’s got his focus on creating a new identity or reshaping it for the team.”
New Zealand needs to bounce back from its mid-year Anzac Test loss to Australia. The Kiwis will miss Jason Taumalolo.