Buck stops with Kidwell after disappointing Four Nations
IF DAVID Kidwell is to continue as Kiwis coach, he'll need some help.
The New Zealand Rugby League won't consider a change at the top, as it's too close to the 2017 World Cup. And it would be harsh to judge Kidwell on one campaign, especially as Stephen Kearney's sudden departure meant preparations for this tournament were compromised.
But the last five weeks has illustrated the massive jump from being an NRL assistant to the main man at Test level, and Kidwell has struggled.
He needs someone beside him - like an Ivan Cleary - with experience, knowledge and an analytical mind. If not, it's difficult to see the Kiwis repeating the success of 2008.
Kidwell couldn't get the best out of this group. The players need to take accountability for their performances, but ultimately the buck stops with the coach who creates the environment and is responsible for the preparation.
He denied after the final that there was anything wrong with the team's preparation, and added that "internally we are very strong”. But it feels like there must be something awry, otherwise a performance like Monday's doesn't happen.
Sure, there was a truckload of individual errors in the final, but such mistakes are almost always a symptom of something deeper. Something was missing, which caused New Zealand to lose focus and self-destruct.
At the one open media session last Wednesday the Kiwis trained with intensity, which was a positive sign. But the captain's run on Saturday at Anfield was remarkably short, with the team not making the most of their only time at the stadium. In contrast Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk stayed behind after the Kangaroos' session, reeling off a succession of 40-20s.
Kidwell's attempt at mind games was also awkward. On the day before the final Kidwell insisted he was still working through options, and Jesse Bromwich and Adam Blair also had to go along with the line that they didn't know who was playing No.6. But Tohu Harris revealed after the final that he was aware from "pretty early in the week”, so something didn't add up.
The Kiwis interchange plan was also hard to understand. It was epitomised by a change made 90 seconds before half-time against Scotland, with Joseph Tapine coming on for a bemused Marty Taupau. They did the same thing in Monday's final, swapping Issac Luke for Lewis Brown in the 39th minute.
There was little rhyme or reason to the bench strategy throughout the tournament, which meant they failed to get the best out of Jason Taumalolo and Taupau.
Selections were also hit and miss. Rolling the dice with four rookies against Scotland was probably too many. Sure, it would have been tough for one or two of them to miss out, but it has happened on previous tours.
The choice of David Fusitua for the final also backfired. Fusitua played well but without Thomas Leuluai, the left edge needed more experience (ie Jason Nightingale) not less, beside centre Solomone Kata.
Perhaps Fusitua could have been employed at right centre, where the ongoing faith in Shaun Kenny-Dowall wasn't justified.
Kidwell's demeanour throughout the tournament also changed, from being relatively open and engaging to quite closed in the last two weeks, where the same stock answers were on high rotate.