Maguire in a bullish mood for test with Kangaroos
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),
‘‘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
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.’’
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.