Kearney has off-field behaviour in his sights
The NZ Rugby League press release yesterday said Kiwis players mixing sleeping pills and energy drinks was not the reason why the defending world champions lost 34-2 to the Kangaroos in the Rugby League World Cup final late last year.
But the man who coached them in that final, Stephen Kearney, says the off-field distractions certainly did not help.
As Fairfax Media reported last week, Kearney was yesterday reappointed as Kiwis coach for a further two years.
But at his press conference in Auckland to announce the news, the main topic of conversation quickly centred around the players mixing energy drinks and prescription sleeping pills.
The NZRL conducted a report into the Kiwis' disastrous World Cup final and concluded the loss could not be blamed on the behaviour of some players.
However, Kearney said it did not help their cause to retain the World Cup.
''When you're playing Australia, you have to tick every box, cross every 't' and dot every 'i', and get a bit of luck too.
''If you take that into account and the way they've come out to play, we compromised that opportunity to put in that performance.
''There's no doubt that it was a factor but there were other factors too. We had two of our most senior guys in the group not playing in the final - Thomas Leuluai and Frank Pritchard - and a winger (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck) injured in the first two minutes.
''So there are a number of factors and I think the prescriptive medicine was one of [them].''
Kearney said he became aware of the behaviour of some of the players after their quarterfinal win against Scotland in Leeds and they were spoken to about the dangers of what some of they were doing.
However, despite this, some individuals continued mixing sleeping pills and energy drinks, doing it again after they beat England in the semifinal in London.
Kearney said that was the most disappointing aspect of the entire World Cup.
''It's not one of the most disappointing, it is the most disappointing,'' he said.
''It was disappointing we had to go through that situation and it got to that stage. Very disappointing.
''When you are challenging for a World Cup title against Australia, you can't compromise preparation.
''The actions of a few did that.''
The big question is what happens now for those players who let their team-mates down. It remains to be seen whether Kearney will give them another chance and, if so, if they will be accepted by their team-mates.
''In terms of wiping the slate clean, I'll keep taking us back to what we're trying to create with the group and the environment and culture that we're trying to build,'' he said.
''If that doesn't align or register with what they're after, then the decision is going to be pretty easy for myself and the selectors.
''That's the important part; we're trying to protect something here which is important to a lot of people and that's something when you talk about the disappointment and hurt in terms of the circumstances of the back end of the tournament.
''One of the real painful aspects was there were a lot of people that had invested in this jumper. Not the staff and players that were away on the tournament but the people back home, the people that had been cheering for us for a long time.
''One of our values as a team is to have a country that's proud of us, so straight away that was a kick in the guts. If they don't want to align themselves with where we want to go and try to achieve as a group, then the decision is easy.''