Year-ender: NZ sides fail to fire when it matters

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 23/12/2013
Dejected Kiwis
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Dejected Kiwis players (from left) Sonny Bill Williams, Dean Whare and Kieran Foran.
Stephen Kearney
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FUTURE UNCERTAIN: Stephen Kearney is welcome to reapply for his job as Kiwis coach.

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It was another bumper year of rugby league which naturally climaxed with the Rugby League World Cup final at Old Trafford. Or should that be anticlimaxed, as far as New Zealand were concerned.

Overall, it was a successful tournament with packed out stadia and mostly competitive games throughout. Minnow nations such as Italy, the United States and Scotland impressed, while countries like Samoa, Tonga, France and Wales, who traditionally sit underneath the three powerhouses had poor tournaments.

England were rocked by off-field sagas throughout their campaign, from the dumping of Gareth Hock before the tournament began for breaking rules to go out drinking and then sleeping in the next day - to Rangi Chase walking out on the team ahead of their semifinal against the Kiwis.

For the Kiwis, though, this tournament will be remembered for two reasons; firstly that stunning win against England where Johnson scored a try with 20 seconds left on the clock and then kicked the conversion for the 20-18 victory and, secondly, for being embarrassed in the final 34-2 by Australia.

Certainly, it was a special Kangaroos side that played in the World Cup and there are a number of players in their side who will end up on the Immortals list.

To have any chance of winning the final the Kiwis had to be at their absolute best and they were far from it. Their key players needed to step up, while Williams had to have a huge impact.

As it was, most of the senior players went missing and Williams found himself trying to hard to make something happen.

Ultimately the campaign to defend their world champion status ended in disappointment, but there are enough players in the squad in their early 20s to feel optimistic about what might happen in four years' time.

For the Chinese, 2017 is the next year of the rooster, but in the NRL it came four years early as the Sydney-based Roosters dominated the 2013 competition, taking out the minor premiership and winning the grand final.

From a New Zealand point of view it's notable that it was the Kiwis Sonny Bill Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who all stood out as the team's best players.

In the case of Tuivasa-Sheck, 2013 was a season where he not only became a star at his club, but was also voted the NRL's best winger and then the world's best winger at the international awards. But this is just the beginning of what should be an incredible career for the 20-year-old.

Williams, though, took out the ultimate prize and was awarded International Player of the Year.

His comeback to league after a five-year absence was remarkable, yet for a player as talented as him, also predictable. Playing back in the forwards, his offloads were even more devastating than they were in rugby, while he is able to read a game and organise a defence better than ever before.

In the grand final the Roosters beat Manly Sea Eagles 26-18, but despite being on the losing side Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans picked up the man of the match award.

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For the Warriors it was the epitome of an up and down season.

They won just two of their first 10 games, with their 62-6 defeat to the Panthers in round 10 being the biggest loss in the club's history.

Seven wins from eight games followed to get the Warriors back in the hunt for a place in the top eight, but disappointingly, when it mattered the most they went flat again.

Warriors coach Matt Elliott would have just about earned a pass mark from the campaign, but that's mainly due to the fact that this was a squad he inherited, rather than created.

Next year there won't be any ready-made excuses, especially as they have broken the world record for a transfer fee in spending a reported $1 million to bring in Sam Tomkins from Wigan.

Players like Ngani Laumape, Glen Fisiiahi, Konrad Hurrell and Suia Matagi all confirmed their status as exciting prospects. Simon Mannering, Thomas Leuluai and Jacob Lillyman impressed, but Shaun Johnson, Kevin Locke and Feleti Mateo frustrated with erratic performances.

The deciding game in the State of Origin series was a 12-10 nailbiting win for Queensland, played in front of 83,813 spectators at Stadium Australia, the biggest crowd at the venue since its reconfiguration.

Domestically, the Akarana Falcons defeated Counties Manukau Stingrays 22-12 for their fourth straight New Zealand premiership title in October. 

- Fairfax Media

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