Distractions could ruin the Kiwis' Cup campaign

12:07, Oct 20 2013
Stephen Kearney
AWKWARD WEEK: Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney dumped Tohu Harris to make way for Sonny Bill Williams.

With so many off-field distractions and things that could go wrong, the task confronting the Kiwis - namely, defending the world cup - is not an easy one.

Back in 2008, the New Zealand team caught the Aussies off guard but as they head into this year's tournament in the northern hemisphere, there's a massive target on their backs.

Everyone knows by now that the Kiwis are a great tournament side. In one-off tests, they can sometimes struggle.

But in big tournaments, the team gets only better as time goes on.

That said, England is going to be hard to dislodge on their own soil and the Aussies, as always, pose an immense threat.

Making the task even more difficult is the fact that in many respects, the Kangaroos and Poms have caught up to the Kiwis in the past couple of years when it comes to creating the perfect winning team environment.

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Believe it or not, the New Zealand Rugby League has long led the way on the international stage when it comes to high performance matters.

The Kiwis had a full-time coach before England and Australia even thought about it and when I worked at the NZRL, we spent a lot of time visiting world-class sporting teams to find out what made them tick.

We were always looking for ways to give the Kiwis the best chance possible to succeed.

It didn't take long, though, for the Aussies and English to catch on and follow suit.

Speaking of those two rivals, make no mistake that they'll stop at nothing to disrupt New Zealand's campaign.

Time and again, the Kiwis have been treated like the poor cousin in tournaments in regards to things like being left with the worst accommodation and facilities.

When it comes to the top level, the little things like that can make a world of difference.

With the world cup just around the corner, I don't expect the psychological games to subside any time soon either.

Back to the Kiwis, and I believe coach Stephen Kearney has everything at his disposal to make sure the world cup returns with his team in November.

He's got the players and his off-field setup is second-to-none.

In particular, later in the cup, when it really gets to crunch time, keep an eye out for a lady sitting with him in the coaches box.

That's Pippa Grange and she's New Zealand's not-so-secret weapon.

A psychologist by training, Grange worked for many years with champion AFL club Geelong.

She helped shape them into a tremendously successful outfit and there's a good chance she'll do the same with the Kiwis.

Her role is to ensure the team's culture is a winning one and she'll have her work cut out for her up in England.

A huge issue for New Zealand touring teams in the past has been alcohol and how to manage the off-field distractions.

That will be no different this time around.

Even on tours when I was the manager, such as the 2011 Four Nations, for example, we had issues behind closed doors with booze.

With 24 blokes in the squad and only 17 being picked each week, it's easy for boredom to start creeping in. Booze is a distraction the players often turn to.

It can be a massive issue and there's no doubt, if it's not kept under control, it could be the difference between New Zealand making the final or coming home early.

I said before that Kearney had the right team to win the cup. But I do worry about the off-field stuff.

Back in January when I was still working for the NZRL, we held a camp in Sydney with our players.

At the time - and at the behest of Grange - we decided to get all the guys to take part in a survey where they ranked one another in terms of abilities, contribution to the team and values.

It was hardly a surprise that Sam Perrett came through with flying colours. Another player, who I won't name, however, ended up with a terrible score.

Put simply, his team-mates didn't trust him.

Yet, when the Kiwis team was named, Perrett was a notable admission while this other individual had somehow made the cut.

On a long tour, you need you guys like Perrett. Contrarily, one bad apple can spoil it for everyone.

The task ahead is a tough one. Here's hoping the Kiwis can perform on the field and stay out of trouble off it.

Sunday News