Kiwis coach reflects on Four Nations triumph

WELL DONE: Kangaroos star Greg Inglis congratulates Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney on his side's Four Nations title triumph.
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WELL DONE: Kangaroos star Greg Inglis congratulates Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney on his side's Four Nations title triumph.

If you had seen only the press conferences and not the game, you would have sworn Australia won the Four Nations final on Saturday.

Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens and captain Cameron Smith were hardly doing handstands after handing back the trophy, following their 22-18 defeat at Westpac Stadium.

But the pair smiled and talked with warmth, which was more than Stephen Kearney, Simon Mannering and Shaun Johnson could manage.

Johnson had a glint in his eye, which was such a feature of his performance on the paddock, but his comments were in keeping with the humble, even downbeat, tone set by his coach and captain.

Honestly, it was like a funeral in there. "Don't worry, we're happy," Kearney said, having returned to the more lively setting of the dressing room.

"Both myself and Simon, that's the way we are. The happiness is internal, it doesn't always have to show on the outside. The happiness I get is from seeing the boys and what it means to them.

"That's what makes me happy."

Kearney has not had a great run as Kiwis coach and if Saturday was a triumph for anyone, it was him.

When the team won the 2008 World Cup, in his first year in charge, much of the credit went to assistant coach Wayne Bennett.

The Kiwis' win over Australia in the 2010 Four Nations final was written off by some as a fluke and successes thereafter have been scant. He was sacked as Parramatta head coach, while the Kiwis appeared to be going nowhere under him as well.

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Frankly, Kearney was lucky to retain his job after New Zealand lost 34-2 to Australia in last year's World Cup final.

He cannot change that result, as he has said many times.

But he could learn from it and 30-12 and now 22-18 wins over Australia in this tournament would suggest Kearney has.

So there must have been a strong sense of satisfaction, even vindication, about the Kiwis' unbeaten run to the Four Nations title?

"I've always backed my ability, that's not the problem, that's not the issue. I've always backed myself.

"I feel privileged to have the group of staff that I have and the group of players that I have and, again, that's where my happiness comes from."

The most effusive Kearney got was when it came to talking about the setting for Saturday's win.

The former Wellington age-group rep's career took him to Australia in his late teens and, aside from a four-year playing stint at the New Zealand Warriors, it has been home ever since. But this will always be where Kearney is from and where his extended family remain.

"It's a dream, in all reality, to be able to come home and lift the trophy in front of my people. One hundred per cent.

"It's a bit the same as with the players. I'm happy for my uncle, I'm happy for my nieces and nephews that I saw in the crowd and their smiles. For me, that's what it's about. It's like 2008 and that World Cup and to see those happy league people, who'd suffered for so long, that's what gives me the biggest buzz."

These things all hang on a knife edge, though.

Anyone who watched Saturday's final would say the Kiwis had the better of it.

Yet they could so easily have lost.

At first look, Kangaroos wing Sione Mata'utia appeared to have scored a fair try in the last minute, which would have given Smith, who had been kicking them from everywhere, the chance to snatch the game. The replays only enhanced the view that the Aussies might have been dudded.

That was hard luck for them but it would have been a travesty had New Zealand not won.

The Kiwis did not have a bad player but the work done by forwards Jesse Bromwich, Martin Taupau, Jason Taumalolo and Mannering was truly special, enabling Johnson to do what he does best. Manu Vatuvei was good too, scoring a brace of tries to go with those to fellow wing Jason Nightingale and Johnson, who was later named man-of-the-match.

 - The Dominion Post

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