Maguire in a bullish mood for test with Kan­ga­roos

The Southland Times - - Sport - David Long

Ki­wis coach Michael Maguire had enough of the Aus­tralians talk­ing up their team at a joint press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day and bit back.

In league it’s still a ridicu­lous tra­di­tion to hold joint me­dia ses­sions on the days be­fore tests and this one at Mount Smart Sta­dium was am­bushed by Aus­tralian me­dia fir­ing a never end­ing stream of ques­tions to Mal Meninga and Boyd Cor­ner.

Maguire ini­tially sat pa­tiently as if a spec­ta­tor at an Aus­tralian only press con­fer­ence, but when some­one posed a ques­tion to him about Luke Keary, who he coached at the Rab­bitohs, he’d had enough.

It was a rea­son­able ques­tion, but Maguire didn’t want to talk about the Kan­ga­roos.

‘‘I’ve got a lot of re­spect for Luke, but I’d ac­tu­ally like to talk about my play­ers,’’ Maguire barked.

‘‘I’ve got a fair few de­cent play­ers that I’d like to talk about. I’d put more of a fo­cus around my boys.

‘‘The fact that Kodi Niko­rima and Shaun John­son are keen to drive this team for­ward to where we’re go­ing.

‘‘We came to­gether early in the week and we’ve spoke about what we want to be as a team.

‘‘It’s the val­ues and char­ac­ters of the peo­ple com­ing in and that’s some­thing I want to push right now, that’s what these play­ers have got Ki­wis coach Michael Maguire. and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to them com­ing to­gether and per­form­ing.’’

It’s no sur­prise that the Aus­tralian me­dia are fo­cused on the Kan­ga­roos, but the vibe from them is that it’s not go­ing so much of a con­test tonight and it could even be called a warmup game for next week­end’s test against Tonga.

But why would any­one give the Ki­wis a chance? They haven’t beaten the Kan­ga­roos since 2015 and lost to Tonga and Fiji last year and lost 36-18 to Eng­land in June.

How­ever, even if few oth­ers do, Maguire says he be­lieves in this team and what they can achieve on tonight. ‘‘I’m re­ally confident,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve got a good bunch of boys and I’ve spent the last three or four months get­ting around to a lot of the play­ers and the en­thu­si­asm and pas­sion they have for play­ing for the

Ki­wis is some­thing I’ve never

New Zealand v Aus­tralia at Mt Smart Sta­dium, 7.45pm Ki­wis: Dallin Watene-Zelez­niak (c),

ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

‘‘They’re all fo­cused on mak­ing sure this week is a strong week in prepa­ra­tion and ob­vi­ously look­ing for­ward to the game.’’

This is, though, just the sec­ond test Maguire is coach­ing the Ki­wis for and he’s started from a pretty low base.

He’s been busy find­ing out as much about the play­ers as he can, like how to get the best out of them and what makes them tick. A lot of them may al­ready know each other well, but Maguire is still learn­ing.

‘‘It was great to see all the boys walk into camp and all get

Kan­ga­roos:

along,’’ he said.

‘‘Once you get to know some­one it’s about build­ing re­la­tion­ships and do­ing that is one of the things we want to take mov­ing for­ward.’’

For new Ki­wis cap­tain Dallin Watene-Zelez­niak, it will be a spe­cial night to lead the team out, es­pe­cially as he’s the great grand­son of Steve Watene, the first Ma¯ ori cap­tain of the Ki­wis.

‘‘It’s a big oc­ca­sion for my­self, but it’s a big­ger oc­ca­sion for my fam­ily, be­cause I’m some­one rep­re­sent­ing them and rep­re­sent­ing these boys and this coun­try,’’ Watene Zelez­niak said.

‘‘It’s start­ing to sink in now, but I think we have a lot of lead­ers in this team and al­though I’ve got a ‘c’ next to my name, but we’ve got boys like Jared [Waerea-Har­g­reaves], Jesse [Bromwich] and oth­ers to help me and they’re mak­ing the job eas­ier.’’ This week is just a small step to­wards re­build­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween the Ki­wis and New Zealand pub­lic.

It’s no won­der tonight’s test be­tween the Ki­wis and Kan­ga­roos might be played in front of a half­filled Mt Smart Sta­dium.

Years of ig­nor­ing Auck­land, the sport’s hot­bed in this coun­try, chas­ing the cash by play­ing in Eng­land and an abysmal World Cup last year have all had an im­pact on the Ki­wis’ rep­u­ta­tion.

New Zealan­ders have fallen out of love with the na­tional team and it’s go­ing to take time to re­pair the dam­age.

Thank­fully though there’s as last some de­cent lead­er­ship at New Zealand Rugby League now with Greg Peters as chief ex­ec­u­tive and Reon Ed­wards as chair­man.

‘‘To be able to be a part of the trans-Tas­man test is spe­cial and to have not only this game, but the three games on the same date, is spe­cial.’’ Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves

Plus in Michael Maguire they’ve not only got one of the best coaches in the world, but some­one who’s will­ing to re­build the cul­ture and evolve a squad for the long-term.

How­ever, none of this is go­ing to be a quick fix. It’s go­ing to be a while be­fore the Ki­wis are reg­u­larly com­pet­i­tive against Aus­tralia again and the same for the pub­lic to pas­sion­ately sup­port them.

But there’s only one way to win back fans and that’s by play­ing more tests in New Zealand and get­ting out among the pub­lic.

About 300 peo­ple who turned out for the sign­ing ses­sions for the New Zealand and Aus­tralian teams at Sky City on Thurs­day.

A mod­est num­ber, given the stars that were out there, but it’s a start and for Ki­wis prop Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves, who plays for the Roost­ers, it was a rare ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting up close with New Zealand rugby league fans.

‘‘It’s al­ways a priv­i­lege to come into camp, but to come to these sorts of days, this is what it’s all about, es­pe­cially in our home coun­try and for our com­mu­nity,’’ he said.

‘‘To be able to be a part of the trans-Tas­man test is spe­cial and to have not only this game, but the three games on the same date, is spe­cial and I’m look­ing for­ward to it,’’ he added, re­fer­ring to the Ju­nior Ki­wis v Ju­nior Kan­ga­roos clash and the test be­tween the Kiwi Ferns and Jil­la­roos.

‘‘To play the Aus­tralians here is mas­sive for our game, we’ve played plenty of tests, but to play this one here is awe­some.

‘‘For our peo­ple and com­mu­nity, this is what it’s all about, try­ing to build the game, make it stronger here in New Zealand and this is how we do it, by play­ing these sorts of games here.’’

Of course, a win tonight by the Ki­wis will has­ten the much needed re­con­nec­tion with the New Zealand pub­lic and Waerea-Har­g­reaves says a big fac­tor will be the be­gin­ning of the test.

‘‘We’ve got to start well and ev­ery­one in the 17 has to of their job,’’ the 29-year-old said.

‘‘Com­ing up against a qual­ity side like Aus­tralia, we need to do what we can con­trol and that’s get­ting the prepa­ra­tion right, bring­ing the right at­ti­tude on Satur­day and play as well as we can.

‘‘We’ve got to start well first of all, just com­plete and get to a kick.’’

Not that he’d say any­thing dif­fer­ent, but prepa­ra­tion wise WaereaHar­g­reaves said it had been a good week in camp and cer­tainly they do seem to be a more or­gan­ised out­fit.

‘‘I’m re­ally ex­cited about our play­ing group,’’ he said.

‘‘There has been a lot of change, but for the bet­ter.

‘‘We’ve trained well all week, we’re com­ing up against a qual­ity side in Aus­tralia, but I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to the chal­lenge on Satur­day night.

‘‘We’re build­ing and build­ing for some­thing spe­cial.’’

MATT KING/GETTY IM­AGES

Prop Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves will bring the same pas­sion to the Ki­wis for tonight’s test against Aus­tralia that he ex­hibits for his Roost­ers club.

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