Sideline eye hopes to improve Kiwis
After watching from the stands as New Zealand went down to Tonga in a historic defeat last weekend, Te Maire Martin is hoping his different perspective can aid improvement in the Kiwis on Saturday night.
The 22-year-old five-eighth's inclusion in the side to face Fiji in the Rugby League World Cup quarter-final in Wellington is the major change in coach David Kidwell's team, with Martin taking Thomas Leuluai's spot in the 17, which sees Danny Levi starting at hooker and Kodi Nikorima moving back to the bench.
After an ugly second-half collapse against Tonga, which saw them outscored five tries to one, Martin identified execution on the ball as New Zealand's major concern.
"Last week didn't go to plan, that's footy sometimes… it's easy to see stuff when you are watching but harder when you are playing," Martin said.
"But in saying that, I saw what could have been done a little bit better and we have gone through that as a spine this week and we will try and make it better.
"Everything flows pretty nicely [with Shaun Johnson in the halves] at training. I thought we connected pretty well together in the last game against Scotland. We are getting a lot closer… I think that sort of shows on the field when you have got that combination going."
While there were obvious shortcomings on the ball, much of the focus this week will be around containing Fiji's hulking outside backs and middle forwards, with the momentum they generate becoming a pivotal part of the reason the Bati have emerged as one of the best attacking outfits at the tournament.
Fiji lead the competition in tries scored with 32, seven more than next-best New Zealand, with 38 line breaks to their name along the way.
"It all comes back to winning the middle first, if that roll on doesn't happen then they don't get that momentum and come through," Martin said of Fiji.
"Try and win those tackles first and slow that middle down. Try and minimise the offloads, and that is quite similar to Tonga, they have got some big forwards that have got footwork and that late offload.
"It's good for the people who played last week, they know what's coming, and it will be good to see how much we picked up from last week."
Meanwhile Kiwis prop Russell Packer said the shock loss to Tonga, and the resulting second-place finish in Pool B which puts them on the same side of the draw as Australia, had done nothing to change his belief that his side can go all the way at the World Cup.
"I'm still supremely confident that we have the team capable of winning it if we live up to our standards and perform the way we can," Packer said.
"We are on the right path to perform well against Fiji and earn the right to move on in the tournament."
NEW ZEALAND v FIJI
4.30pm Qld (7.30pm local) Saturday, Wellington Regional Stadium
New Zealand: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Brad Takairangi, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 Martin Taupau, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11 Simon Mannering, 12 Joseph Tapine, 13 Adam Blair, 14 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 15 Russell Packer, 16 Isaac Liu, 17 Kodi Nikorima, 18 Kenny Bromwich, 19 Jason Nightingale, 20 Peta Hiku, 21 Addin Fonua-Blake.
First published on NRL.com.