Players back Kearney's future focus
New Zealand forward Greg Eastwood believes coach Stephen Kearney's future focus could pay immediate dividends as the youthful squad looks to build on the encouraging signs from the mid-year Test to cause a first-up Four Nations shock.
The Kangaroos and Kiwis will reprise their World Cup final match-up in the second clash of the double-header at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night where a win by the New Zealanders would give them a tremendous springboard for their final two pool matches against Samoa and England back home.
Kearney caused some selection shocks in May when he overlooked established stars such as Sonny Bill Williams, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Frank-Paul Nuuausala and promoted young players such as Martin Taupau, Peta Hiku and Siliva Havili with one eye on the 2017 World Cup.
A veteran of 17 Tests, Eastwood admitted that he was surprised by the raft of new faces introduced into the squad but said their performance in the 30-18 defeat gave credence to Kearney's long-term philosophy.
"A lot of people were shocked but we knew that the people he was picking weren't just there to make up numbers," Eastwood told NRL.com at the Kiwis' excursion to Dreamworld on Sunday.
"He knew what they could bring to the team and they showed that on the day. Unfortunately we lost but we were up at half-time and it was good signs so I guess Kearney and the selectors knew what they were doing so it was good to have them in there.
"We were disappointed that we didn't win after leading for 60 minutes but where we're going, we took a lot of positives out of that game. I think we're sort of looking towards the next World Cup and bringing the young kids in and giving them a taste of what international footy is all about.
"Just having those young guys in the Anzac game, we had a lot of people come in as first timers and look what it brings. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Kearney's selection policy drew plenty of criticism from within rugby league circles and had bookmakers predicting a Kangaroo rout but the final scoreline of 30-18 to Australia didn't add any further weight to his firmly-held belief.
"Before I made the decision I knew it was the right decision," Kearney said. "It was based on form at that level, other decisions on some other players were based on having an eye on the future and if you look at the kids we've got in the group now – a bit like the Australians at the minute – our hand's been forced because of the injury toll.
"It was very similar during Anzac week, obviously Jared's situation is a little different but from point of view I was comfortable with my decision right from the start.
"At no stage during that week did they allow the external stuff to get to them so they were clearly focused on getting the job done that night. I was pleased for them. Criticism comes with the job so I didn't let much of that sink in."
Four Nations champions in 2010, New Zealand failed to qualify for the final in both 2009 and 2011 when the tournament was held in the northern hemisphere and were smashed 34-2 by the Kangaroos in last year's World Cup Final.
With the Four Nations Final to be held in Wellington on November 15, Kearney knows that a positive performance first-up is integral for the traditionally slow-starting Kiwis.
"Looking at the context of the tournament it's very important," said Kearney, who is hopeful the Samoan fans will stick around to cheer them on. "I think each of the four teams will be thinking that so it's real important we take our best performance to Suncorp next Saturday. I've got no doubt that Australia will be thinking the same thing so that's going to be our focus.
"The fact that they've got 30,000 tickets sold already I think the quality of the games is going to make for a great tournament, I really do. They are teams of great quality; the Samoan side has some great NRL players and the England side have the form forwards of the competition at the moment so there are some great challenges."