Ki­wis dis­card Leu­luai, call up Levi

Nelson Mail - - SPORT - HAMISH BIDWELL

Hardly a ring­ing en­dorse­ment for Thomas Leu­luai and Kodi Niko­rima, then.

New Zealand were up to it phys­i­cally against Tonga, says coach David Kid­well. It was be­tween the ears where the Ki­wis got them­selves beaten 28-22 in Hamil­ton.

So out go Leu­luai and Niko­rima, re­placed by Danny Levi and Te Maire Martin for Satur­day’s Rugby League World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal against Fiji at West­pac Sta­dium.

Some might won­der what re­spon­si­bil­ity half­back Shaun John­son - once named the world’s best player and a man who re­port­edly com­mands a seven-fig­ure salary in club foot­ball - should bear for last week’s de­feat. But in mak­ing just the two changes Kid­well is in­di­cat­ing it was only the blokes who played hooker and five-eighth that were to blame.

To be to­tally fair to Levi, he’s been good off the bench dur­ing this tour­na­ment, while Martin was prom­i­nent in the 74-6 romp over Scot­land. So now Leu­luai’s been left out of Satur­day’s 17 en­tirely, with Niko­rima on the bench to cover hooker, the halves and full­back if needed.

‘‘I thought we had the tough­ness and the ef­fort against Tonga, we just missed our smarts,’’ Kid­well said in Welling­ton on Tues­day.

New Zealand shouldn’t need to be too clever to beat this week’s op­po­nent. Fiji are very good in the backs, with Su­liasi Vu­ni­valu, Akuila Uate and Jar­ryd Hayne among them, while hooker Api­sai Koroisau is a real star on the rise.

Over­all, though, the Ki­wis ought to have too much men­ace up front to make this match much of a con­test.

It’s a moot point whether any­one will feel they have some­thing to prove on Satur­day. Lis­ten­ing to Kid­well, it sounds as if the play­ers have al­ready atoned for the Tonga de­feat, hav­ing led 16-2 at half­time.

‘‘I’ve had the re­sponse [I wanted] straight af­ter that game,’’ said Kid­well.

‘‘Straight af­ter the loss we had a re­ally good talk in the sheds [and] from then on our prepa­ra­tion’s been fault­less. We’ve fig­ured out that it’s the lit­tle things that mat­ter in our footy team [such as] the push around the footy, mak­ing sure we’ve got good sup­port, the dis­ci­pline.’’

As­sum­ing the Ki­wis can win this match, they’d progress to a semi­fi­nal against Aus­tralia in Bris­bane. Get up in that game and they’re likely to get ei­ther Tonga or Eng­land in the grand final.

This is the sharp end of the tour­na­ment, in other words, even if Kid­well is still search­ing for his best 17.

‘‘This is the team that’s tak­ing us for­ward in the quar­ter­fi­nal and af­ter that, or what­ever the re­sult is, we’ll re­visit that,’’ he said.

GETTY IM­AGES

Thomas Leu­luai is one of two play­ers to pay the price for the Ki­wis’ loss to Tonga.

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