England coach backs Kiwis to rebound

Nov 22, 2017 - 1:03 AM Reports of the demise of New Zealand rugby league have been greatly exaggerated, England coach Wayne Bennett believes.

Bennett has also backed Kiwis skipper Adam Blair, who has played under him for the last three years at the Brisbane Broncos, as the right man for the job.

The Kiwis were turfed out of the Rugby League World Cup in Saturday's quarter-final, beaten 4-2 by Fiji in Wellington after earlier losing 28-22 to Tonga.

Coach David Kidwell is considering his future, joining Blair and playmaker Shaun Johnson in copping criticism for post-match comments following the shock defeat.

Blair said afterwards the Kiwis had set high standards, and he was proud of what had been created, while Johnson said doubting fans and media had "got your way" with the defeat.

New Zealand Rugby League chairman Reon Edwards has since apologised for the comments, saying they were inappropriate and unnecessary.

Bennett, assistant coach to Stephen Kearney when the Kiwis won the 2008 Rugby League World Cup, said he was confident the New Zealanders would rebound from their disastrous 2017 campaign.

"New Zealand will come back from that," he told media in Auckland ahead of England's semi-final against Tonga on Saturday.

"I think we all expected that they would be in the semi-final phase, but Fiji to their credit, and Tonga, played well and got the rewards."

Bennett said Blair's post-match comments, and those from Johnson, were made straight after the loss when emotions were rawest.

"It's when we're at our most vulnerable," he said.

"So what we say at those times might not be what we're really feeling. He was just trying to get his emotions together - he'd just played his heart out for his country, because that's what Adam does.

"I just think it's terribly unfair, the amount of pressure they have come under so quickly.

"They're young men, not experienced at it to that extent as well, and their country's just been beaten. It's not easy."

Source: AAP

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