Kiwis rugby league coaches Stephen Kearney and Wayne Bennett have told their players they won’t tolerate a second consecutive World Cup fizzer tomorrow night.
Coming off a comprehensive 6-30 loss to Australia which took the wind from their sails, the Kiwis face a Papua New Guinea side everyone expects them beat, but have the potential to make them look silly.
While the heat is on halves combination Thomas Leuluai and Benji Marshall, all players are on notice with England looming the following week, and the semifinals to follow.
Kearney again rejected any thoughts Leuluai’s place was under threat.
“It’s a crunch game for everyone. The circumstances we find ourselves in, when you play the current world champions first and you’re in this predicament in the second week,” Kearney said.
“I expected a bit more out of everyone (against Australia). The players expected more and we were certainly disappointed. But that was five days ago and we’re thinking about what we need to do to get it right.”
Australia’s TAB Sportsbet has it a one-horse race, with the Kiwis at $1.01 and the Kumuls at $13 which will delight their ever-growing army of supporters in the wake of their creditable 22-32 loss to England.
Kearney said the focus this week was on recovery from a bruising encounter against Australia, which saw rookie forward Sika Manu ruled out for a fortnight with a fractured eye socket.
It was also about regaining confidence, not being lulled into holiday mode in their plush Surfers Paradise surroundings and not being lured into the Kumuls’ helter-skelter brand of football.
Skilled Park, home of the Gold Coast Titans, is an impressive venue and the ground is hard and fast, with a maximum temperature of 29degC forecast.
“We’ve identified areas we think will be effective for us. I thought PNG spooked England into playing a bit sideways and I’ve made the lads well aware of that,” Kearney said.
“They’re a real physical, confrontational side and we have to make sure we’re up for that kind of game.
“It’s just about making sure we get the job done. It’s a real tough game and they’re an awkward side to play against and they pose a real threat.”
Their star is veteran playmaker Stanley Gene, in his third World Cup, while tough Canberra forward Neville Costigan leads a big pack who will be a handful.
Coach Adrian Lam said this week he’d give his confident side permission to “go berserk” and party all week on the Gold Coast if they produced a boilover.
The Kumuls led England at halftime last week in Townsville but fell away late in the match and missed plenty of tackles.
Kiwis centre Krisnan Inu, in for the suspended Steve Matai, gets his chance to regain some confidence and show his class, while recalled hooker Issac Luke will offer spark from the bench.
Captain Nathan Cayless said Kearney and Bennett laid down the law this week.
“Yeah they did which was definitely warranted. We reviewed that game early in the week and put that behind us, we needed to do that. It was made pretty clear we weren’t here for a holiday,” Cayless said.
“We let ourselves down and we let our country down. We need to turn that around and we get a good opportunity to do that tomorrow.”
Cayless said Bennett’s influence was about helping the players believe in themselves and rebuilding some dented confidence.
“Everyone’s pretty much written us off for the tournament after last weekend but we certainly haven’t thrown in the towel. There’s a lot of footy left.”