Unfazed Marshall says Kiwis can only get better

They’ve been criticised for relying too heavily on safety-first football in last week’s loss to Australia but New Zealand captain Benji Marshall says the Kiwis won’t deviate from what works best when they look to make amends in Saturday night’s Four Nations final.

Despite comments from former stars Stacey Jones and Monty Betham that the home side was too predictable during their 34-20 loss at Eden Park, Marshall pointed to the Kiwis’ dummy-half pairing of Thomas Leuluai and Issac Luke as key to the side’s success and blamed their poor showing on a lack of execution.

“We’ve got some of the best dummy-half runners in the game and I thought the dummy-half running was one of the more solid parts of our game,” Marshall told NRL.com.

“I don’t know that we played within ourselves. “We [just] didn’t execute well enough and we didn’t do what we practised.

“Obviously it wasn’t ideal preparation – but it’s not the end of the world either.

“We wanted to improve on the week before and we didn’t do that. We know there is a lot we can improve on this week.

“We’ve got one more chance to turn it around, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

However, Marshall said he was confident his side could turn the tables and repeat their World Cup success of 2008. The Kiwis have beaten Australia just once in their past 13 outings but their lone victory came in the most important game of the past decade.

More importantly, Marshall believes that they are quickly closing the gap on their trans-Tasman rivals.

“You’ve got to be confident in your ability and this team has a lot of self-belief now,” he said. “With Stephen Kearney coming to Australia coaching, and the whole re-structuring thing within the New Zealand Rugby League with the administration – a lot of the boys feel confident, and Stephen has helped us feel confident in ourselves.

“Whenever we’ve stuck to our game plan we’ve been in all the games we’ve played against Australia since Steve has been a part of it, so if we do the things we want to do this week we’ll be right up there again.

“Last week we just didn’t play to our game plan. A lot of the things that we practised we didn’t put into the game, so this week will be about making sure we have great intensity at training so that we can provide that on the field as well.”

The Kiwis will be relying heavily on their captain to lead the way this Saturday night following last week’s first-half capitulation.

New Zealand trailed 18-2 early and 34-10 midway through the second half before Marshall inspired a late fight-back with two dazzling try assists to close the gap.

Asked how he felt about the added responsibility that came with leading his country these days, Marshall said it was something he was quickly growing accustomed to.

“It’s not an easy thing to get used to, captaining your country, especially so young,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m learning as I go.

“Darren Lockyer has been captaining Australia for a long time and I think he’ll tell you the same – the more you do it, the better you get... it’s like anything [else].

“I feel like I’m getting better but I’ve still got a lot to learn.

“For the time being I’m happy with where I’m at, and if you lead by example that’s all you have to do really.

“I’m glad I’m in this position and captaining my country. I’m really enjoying it.”