Kiwis coach Gary Kemble feels his team's 22-28 loss to Great Britain yesterday might have been close enough to keep his job alive.
It has been clear Kemble needed to regain respectability with the Wigan match, and after it he said he still wanted the job and enjoyed the full support of the New Zealand Rugby League, despite a 3-0 series loss, which included a record 44-0 defeat.
"As I said to the players, they did their country proud. They have just missed out on winning a test series," he claimed.
"The first test we lost 20-14, three tries apiece, and this one we just lost by six points and, for a young team and a new team, we have gone very close to winning a test series, even though the second test wasn't good enough, and they know it."
That was an over-enthusiastic read of the series, with the Kiwis only looking likely winners in the first 20 minutes yesterday, and they only dominated in flashes of a disjointed first test. However, given the improvement and the passion with which his side played, Kemble might be forgiven his exaggeration.
"I am happy for the players more than myself. They have gone through a hectic week and had to put up with a lot, and came out to try and prove everyone wrong," he said.
"It hasn't happened, but hey, they can hold their heads up high."
After being criticised for showing less than explicit support of his coach, skipper Roy Asotasi yesterday said there had been a lot of pressure on Kemble.
"But the players need to step up. He's not going out there doing all the tackling and running."
Asotasi, yet to win as captain, said he hadn't known how tough the job would be and sidestepped questioning about whether he wished to continue.
Second row Jeremy Smith called the coach a "poor bloke". "He's had a rough, rough trot in the job, but we have all been there together and all stuck hard."
Clinton Toopi called for Kemble to be given more time.
"The exciting thing about Gary's appointment is that he took a chance; he had a go with these young fellas trying to blood them. We've lost a lot of players. We had to rebuild and everyone needs to give Gary some patience.
"I think things look promising next year," Toopi said.
Normally athletes pretend to ignore what journalists report, but Toopi yesterday conceded the Kiwis had kept a close eye on the hostile media coverage before the third test.
"We were aware of it. We got updates on how things were going and that was another motivation. We wanted to prove the critics wrong."
That sense of injustice propelled the Kiwis into an early 12-0 lead and helped motivate a strong final-quarter performance, which stopped the game becoming flat after they had trailed 14-12 at halftime and then 26-12 before the hour. But a patch either side of halftime showcased the faults that have dogged them during the past four weeks loss of direction and concentration and poor goal-line defence.
The Kiwis' last chance of a victory this year comes on Sunday, when they play France in Paris.
Scores: Great Britain 28 (Jon Wilkin, Keith Senior, David Hodgson, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire tries; Burrow 4 goals) New Zealand 22 (Chase Stanley 2, Paul Whatuira, Taniela Tuiaki tries; Jeremy Smith 3 goals).
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