Another season-closing test defeat to the Kiwis bitterest rivals is cause for concern, though given the footballing challenges Stephen Kearney has endured - and failed -- this year the coach tasked with defending New Zealand's World Cup crown can still count his blessings.
Not only has Kearney recovered from his ignominious exit from Parramatta by negotiating a return to the NRL with an assistant's role at the Brisbane Broncos, there are signs the national side struggle's since the 2010 Four Nations title are being addressed by a regeneration phase that continued at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday night.
The Kiwis suffered their second eight-point defeat to Australia in 2012 but there was a marked improvement on their Anzac Test effort at Eden Park as the seamless introduction of new caps and reinstatement of former stars guarantees completion for next year's World Cup squad will be intense.
Debutants Sam Kasiano, Kevin Proctor and Dean Whare acquitted themselves against better credentialed opponents while Sam Perrett, Krisnan Inu and Greg Eastwood justified their comebacks from injury and questionable form.
Kearney headed for Sydney yesterday, where he will coordinate his move to the Broncos in a fortnight, confident the world champions' reign is not about to end in England next November, where the Australia predictably looms as their major threat.
"I've got no doubt the gap's closing. It's definitely closing but sometimes close enough is not good enough," he said pondering the Kangaroos superior execution in the closing stages of their clinical 18-10 victory.
"We've got to make sure we nail those opportunities - we had an opportunity there we just didn't execute."
While finessing their attack is a work in progress, Kearney at least has the security of knowing the players are united behind him - unlike the disparate group he inherited and could not mould at the Eels.
Watching Kearney interact with the Kiwis squad in North Queensland during the test build-pup it seems apparent he has found his niche.
"Everyone was clear on what their jobs were, defence was going to be a major part and I thought they did that really well," he said.
"If the lads aren't buying into what we're trying to do it makes it really difficult. They really bought in. It was pleasing to see, especially when those young guys performed so well."
The selection of Whare - an inexperienced centre effectively shunted to Penrith in 2013 because of Steve Matai's status at Manly - was a revelation as Kearney confronts several welcome selection headaches while pondering the make-up of the 24-man Cup squad.
Asked if all the bases are covered, he smiled: "You always want more don't you?"
Back-up at dummy half for the peerless Issac Luke is one priority and a problem likely to be solved by Thomas Leuluai joining the Warriors after an extended stint in the English Super League.
With Leuluai now more accessible the utility is a prime candidate to inherit the role previously held by the recently retired Nathan Fien.
"Thomas has always done a really good job for us in the past," Kearney said, confirming the 27-year-old's return home will be closely monitored.
Kearney nominated centre as another troublesome area so Whare's unruffled arrival was particularly pleasing.
"For me he exceeded my expectations the way he performed," he enthused.
Jerome Ropati, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Inu and Matai remain in the frame, depth that suggests Simon Mannering's future will be in his preferred back row position barring an injury crisis.
Gerard Beale's emergence on the flank in place of an out-of-form Manu Vatuvei and injured Jason Nightingale presents another conundrum, though Kearney emphasised the Warriors strike weapon could not be discounted despite a tough year at the underperforming Warriors.
"Manu's a champion, he's performed for us at the highest level on the biggest stage. He's a part of 2008 (World Cup) and he was unlucky not to be there in 2010 (Four Nations) because he broke an arm.
"You never write off champions. There's a number of guys who aren't in the mix because they're injured or other guys are playing really well," Kearney said as a broad grin formed.
"There's a heap of them."
- © Fairfax NZ News