New Zealand’s coaching staff have praised the five Kiwis rookies in the side which beat Samoa on Saturday night and admitted they had all exceeded expectations.
Prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona ran the furthest of any player in the 38-8 win, backrower Joseph Tapine topped the tackle count and played the full match and hooker Danny Levi was creative out of dummy half during his 50 minutes off the bench, while centre Brad Takairangi and secondrower Isaac Liu constantly threatened the defence to finish with a try each,
“I am very proud of them,” Kiwis coach David Kidwell said. “They have worked hard, they deserve their place in the team. I have talked a lot about the Kiwis style of football, it’s our first game and a lot of players hadn’t played a lot of football but there is an excitement there.”
The performance of Asofa-Solomona created particular excitement after the 125kg frontrower managed a game high 180 metres with the ball and scored a try during 41 minutes of action from the interchange bench, while Kidwelll was also impressed with how Tapine, Levi, Takairangi and Liu had played.
Tapine, who was the only one of the four to have played for New Zealand before, started for the first time and made 35 tackles while running 126 metres with the ball in an 80-minite effort.
“Joe had only been playing 20-25 minutes on average for Canberra and we really pushed him out,” Kidwell said. “He showed a bit of grit there and for a young guy to want to stay out there for the full 80 minutes was really good.”
Kiwis technical adviser Brian Smith added: “Personally I felt all five debutants probably gave a little more than we could have expected of them, especially in such a tough game. The score line finished up nicely in our favour but the boys had to work hard for it.”
With so many new faces in the team, Kidwell was pleased with how they had jelled together in their opening game. After losing Jason Taumalolo, David Fusitu’a, Manu Ma’a and Sio Siua Taukeiaho to Tonga, he was proud of the players and felt they deserved credit for their performances.
“From day one on the marae everyone has just bought in, everyone has felt like they belonged. That is the Kiwi way” Kidwell said. “I thought our effort and grit out there in defence, at times on our line, we really showed that good brotherhood that we are trying to make everyone belong in the Kiwis camp. “
Scoring two early tries sparked up the crowd at Mt Smart Stadium but Kidwell admitted their first errors would prove costly against the better teams.
However, he believes the Kiwis are on the right track but must play to their strengths and focus on decision making in the upcoming games.
The Kiwis will have to do that without centre Gerard Beale, who is officially out of the Rugby League World Cup after fracturing his ankle. Beale was taken to hospital and underwent surgery on Sunday.
Kidwell expects forward Kenneath Bromwich to be available for New Zealand’s next match against Scotland in Christchurch next Saturday after being a late withdrawal from Samoa match due to a groin injury.