Kiwis vice-captain Kieran Foran has implored New Zealand Rugby League bosses not to act rashly and dump long-time national coach Stephen Kearney in the wake of last year's failed World Cup campaign.
Kearney, who was appointed Kiwis coach in 2008, was invited to reapply for his job after coming off contract following New Zealand's shock 34-2 loss to Australia in the World Cup final at Manchester's Old Trafford last December.
Last week, the NZRL confirmed he had been shortlisted to retain his position along with three other contenders, Wests Tigers assistant David Kidwell, former Kiwi Richie Blackmore and outsider, Australian Glenn Morrison, who is coaching a second division team in England.
One well-placed source told Sunday News last night that Kidwell was the favourite to get the nod but Foran, speaking from his home in Sydney, said it would be heartbreaking if Kearney paid the price when it was his players who let him down.
"Steve deserves our support. He's done a great job as Kiwis coach and I don't think he should be to blame for that loss in the final," Foran said. "We are big enough and old enough to take the responsibility for ourselves.
"I mean, people need to understand that it's not always the coach's fault.
"We see so often in the NRL where coaches get sacked here and there and I don't believe that's always fair.
"As players, it's our job to turn up on the day and play hard to win. If you don't, you need to be held responsible. It's not the coach sitting up there in the grandstand.
"And if I'm being frank about my own performance in that final, I didn't play near the level I would have liked, and therefore should be held accountable, too."
Foran added that while Kidwell, Blackmore or Morrison would have his support if they were ultimately appointed, he hoped the NZRL would stick with the man who gave him his first test cap during the Four Nations back in 2009.
"I haven't had a lot to do with any of the other three guys who are vying for the position so I can't really speak with any knowledge about their coaching abilities," he said.
"But what I do know is that Steve's done a great job over the last five years, taking this Kiwis team from strength to strength.
"He has a great rapport with the players and knows what makes us tick.
"I really feel, in terms of moving forward, that he is still the man for the job."
Having had time to reflect on what went so horribly wrong at Old Trafford last year, Foran said he was still "gutted" that New Zealand had surrendered the World Cup so meekly.
The World Cup final loomed as the perfect opportunity for the Manly superstar to get his first win over Australia.
But the Kiwis seemed to lack energy on the big stage and Foran admitted the side's last-gasp semifinal win over England the week before had undoubtedly "taken it out of the players".
"We'd thrown everything out on the line against England and I think physically and mentally that probably took a lot more out of us than we realised," Foran said.
"At the same time, you have to give credit to the Aussies. They are a world-class team.
"They were fresher than us and that showed in the final.
"Unfortunately, we saved our worst performance for last."
Foran also downplayed reports that allege some New Zealand players misused prescription drugs in the buildup to the final, mixing sleeping pills with energy drinks for a "legal high", saying the Kiwis "were certainly professional enough over there" and "were fit and ready to play each game".
As for the final, the 23-year-old said it was hard to escape the feeling that the Kiwis were left shell-shocked by a very good Australian team.
"I think embarrassed is the correct word," Foran said.
"We had an opportunity and had fought our way to a World Cup final. We were playing at Old Trafford and were playing against Australia - a team we love to beat and were desperate to beat.
"We were sort of left wondering where it had come from. It was one of the most gut-wrenching feelings I've ever felt.
"The bottom line is we just didn't turn up. We can't make excuses. We can't blame anyone else. We can't blame that England game. Yes, it was a contributing factor but we can't blame it.
"The fact is that we didn't turn up on the day and that's going to hurt us for the next four years until we get another chance."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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