Kearney demands improvements from Kiwis

DAVID LONG IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 25/11/2013
Shaun Johnson
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MATCH-WINNER: Shaun Johnson broke English hearts at Wembley last year and he’ll get the chance to do it again next season.

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As Shaun Johnson reflected on the sort of try that defines careers, Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney was demanding improvements across the board ahead of the Rugby League World Cup final and worrying about a serious injury to two-try semifinal hero Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Trailing 18-14 with 20 seconds left in yesterday's epic semifinal against England at Wembley, it looked like the Kiwis' reign as world champions was about to end.

But Johnson spotted a small chink in the English defence and ran through it like his life depended on it.

The halfback then had to regain his composure to kick the conversion from 10m to the left of the posts, the 20-18 win setting up a date with the Kangaroos in next weekend's final.

Australia defeated Fiji 64-0 in the boring game of the double header at Wembley.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say my hands were shaking when I was lining the tee up," Johnson said of the winning kick.

"I went back to every other kick I've taken and went through my routine like it was just another kick.

"For myself, that was pretty cool to knock over, because I knew what I went back to and the rhythm I got myself into.

"I was just stoked I got it over, nothing else matters really."

Johnson said scoring the last-gasp try remained "a bit of a blur", but it was the sort of moment he's played over in his head as a kid.

"It is just so unreal that it actually happened and the way it did was pretty cool.

"I can remember going to that left edge because there was some space. We'd been attacking the right edge all night with Sonny [Bill Williams], I looked up and saw they had three or four players covering half the field, so I drifted over there, got a pass and what happened, happened."

England soaked up the early pressure and then went up 8-0 thanks to a try to Sean O'Loughlin and two Kevin Sinfield goals.

But the Kiwis hit back before the break with one of the most stunning individual plays of the tournament.

Issac Luke overthrew his pass to Dean Whare, who was waiting on the wing. With the ball already beyond the line, Whare managed to reach out and flick the ball back to winger Tuivasa-Sheck with most of his body out of play. Crucially, though, he did it all without putting a foot on the ground.

There were tries to Kallum Watkins for England and a second to Tuivasa-Sheck later in the game, but England would have thought they'd sealed it when man-of-the-match Sam Burgess scored in the 67th minute.

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The Kiwis toiled away, but often made silly errors and it looked like their World Cup was about to come to an end until Johnson struck.

But while it was an incredible victory, the Kiwis will have to lift their performance if they're going to beat an Australian side that's barely been troubled in this tournament.

"We have been ticking along for the last five weeks and all of a sudden we got thrown in the cauldron, which we anticipated, but you can't prepare for that," said Kearney.

"We are going to the World Cup final so for the lads, there's an understanding that to get ourselves in that position we had to hang in there and come up with that play.

"But also understand that we need to be better. It's as simple as that."

The sight of Tuivasa-Sheck leaving the stadium with his right foot in a moon boot is a concern for Kearney.

He has a suspected fractured fibula and will have an x-ray to find out the extent of the damage.

Manu Vatuvei should be back for the final, but the Kiwis can't afford to be without the NRL's winger of the year, who has scored eight tries in his five games at the World Cup.

- Fairfax Media

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