Kiwis in great shape for 2010 Four Nations

The Kiwis will take form, depth, experience and confidence into the 2010 Four Nations starting this weekend but it “won’t guarantee victory” says their Dragons premiership-winning utility Nathan Fien.

Fien, 31, who has been named as starting halfback for Saturday’s tournament opener against England in Wellington, stopped short of saying the 2010 Kiwis are better than the 2008 World Cup champions … but he is very happy with where the team is at.

Many of the NZ players will go into the three-week Four Nations tournament in great form from a successful NRL season; as well as having two years more experience and confidence since they won the World Cup; and a greater depth of players to choose from.

“The 2008 World Cup got us to where we are now,” Fien said. “A lot of the players who were in then are still playing, in particular people in key positions like Benji (Marshall), myself, Issac Luke and Thomas Leuluai.

“We have been together awhile so it is good to have some continuity. We know each other’s game very well. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything. It doesn’t guarantee victory.

“We have to work our bums off each and every time we play a Test match. The guys in the Australian and England teams and even Papua New Guinea have the same dreams as us.”

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney and his charges are keen to erase the memories of a disappointing Four Nations last year where they lost to England and missed the Final, just 12 months after causing one of the game’s biggest upsets to beat the Kangaroos in the 2008 World Cup Final.

“We really let ourselves down in last year’s Four Nations,” Fien said. “We’re not worrying about who the Kangaroos have or haven’t got for this tournament - we are concentrating on ourselves.

“There is a lot of depth in the Kiwis. A lot of players are knocking on the door; the competition within the team for spots is healthy. Whoever misses selection and is on the bench is very good.”

In a move to emulate the formula which proved so successful for the Kiwis in 2008, Kearney named Leuluai at hooker and Fien at halfback alongside skipper Marshall, with hooker Luke dropped to the bench.

Fien secured his selection after the impact he created at halfback in the second half of last weekend's 50-6 thumping of Samoa in Auckland to continue the great form he showed in the NRL Grand Final 10 weeks after his return from a broken ankle. br>
“I am very proud and honoured to wear the black jersey,” said Fien. “It means a hell of a lot. In 2006 I made a commitment (to play for NZ). It was tough in that first year with the ‘Grannygate’ thing that went on.

“But I never faltered. That is what commitment is about. And the boys all made me feel welcome. Wearing the black jersey, I am representing not just myself but my family and past players.

“I take it on with great respect. ‘Grannygate’ is definitely buried. I qualified through residency after that. I chose to play for New Zealand.”

(Fien was first selected to play for the Kiwis in 2006 based on information that his grandmother was NZ-born. It later turned out to be his great-grandmother not his grandmother so he was ruled ineligible. However after a stint playing with the Warriors, he then qualified through residency to play for NZ).

Saturday’s Wellington clash is set to play a huge part in determining the Four Nations fate of both sides, with the winner of that clash in the box seat for a berth in the November 13 final in Brisbane.

New Zealand v England, Saturday, October 23

NZ team:
Lance Hohaia; Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Junior Sa'u, Manu Vatuvei; Benji Marshall (capt), Nathan Fien; Greg Eastwood, Thomas Leuluai, Adam Blair; Simon Mannering, Bronson Harrison, Jeremy Smith. Interchange (from]) Issac Luke, Ben Matulino, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Frank Pritchard, Sika Manu, Sam Perrett.