No panic yet for wounded 'Roos
Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith insists the panic button doesn’t need to be pushed yet despite Australia losing their opening Four Nations match and key personnel in the process.
The Kangaroos were forced to play the entire second half of their 30-12 defeat against New Zealand with only 15 men after five-eighth Daly Cherry-Evans (lower back) and fullback Greg Inglis (virus) failed to reappear when they left the field at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
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The loss of two players in key positions forced coach Tim Sheens to move Dylan Walker to fullback with back-rower Aiden Guerra slotting into right centre at the beginning of the second half.
Inglis was suffering from a virus before the game but is expected to be available for Sunday's must-win encounter against England.
The same can’t be said for Cherry-Evans who won't know whether his Four Nations campaign is over until he has a scan on his gluteal muscles.
"Daly will have a scan on a glute injury and Greg was suffering from a virus," Sheens said.
"[Inglis] pulled up a little sick today. He said he'd be right but half a game in he was dizzy and dehydrated from it. We thought he'd be okay, but obviously that back-fired on us."
A lack of numbers wasn't Australia's only issue against a passionate and enthusiastic Kiwi side, with the hosts struggling to complete the basic fundamentals of the game.
Australia's woes were compounded by a 70 per cent completion rate which featured 14 errors, while their defence was non-existent at times with 51 missed tackles and five line-breaks conceded.
The Kangaroos’ wastefulness with ball in hand was further emphasised by New Zealand's 55 percent possession count, leaving Sheens with no doubt as to why the game panned out like it did with the Kiwis keeping Australia scoreless in the second stanza.
"Obviously they worked us over. Possession went against us and once that happened we struggled and we were down to 15 so that didn’t make life any easier," he said.
"We were chasing our tail in the second half and I think some of our errors were forced. There seemed to be a lot of errors around the play-the-ball area of the ruck with some ball coming out.
"I thought we got a couple of tough calls but at the end of the day that's not going to change the nature of the game. We were comprehensively beaten on the ground in offence and defence – we started well but that's where it finished."
Australia started the game brightly, scoring off their third set through Beau Scott. However, when they produced their first error 15 minutes into the contest, New Zealand made them pay two sets later when Kevin Proctor crashed over.
The Kiwis lifted another gear from that point and were unlucky not to be leading at half-time given their territorial dominance, with skipper Cameron Smith lamenting Australia’s lacklustre performance.
"We turned a lot of possession over to them and you just can't do that against the Kiwis. They're a big and powerful side and they did a really good job of gaining momentum through the middle of our team tonight," Smith said.
"We were lacking a bit of intensity to get into the tackle tonight. Particularly the way the referee allowed a slow play-the-ball and the Kiwis did a great job of containing that and they had numbers in the tackle all the time and I don’t think we had too many quick play-the-balls tonight.
"To the credit of the Kiwis they took advantage of the all errors we made. They played up-tempo and their skill was pretty good for their first hit-out so we need to be a lot better next week.
"You just can't give an inch at this level and we didn’t give an inch, we gave a mile tonight."
And while Smith acknowledged the loss of Cherry-Evans and Inglis didn't help their cause, he stressed that his side must now perform or perish, with the Kangaroos facing two must-win games against England and Samoa in the next fortnight in order to qualify for the November 15 decider in Wellington.
"Losing Daly and losing ‘G.I.’ are big losses, but we had 15 Australian players out there that were all healthy and ready to go so that should be good enough," he said.
"Most of the blokes out there have played at representative level or in big matches, so as a team we need to improve all across the park.
"We need to be better and we need to win. There's a lot of expectation on this team to do well, not only from the public but within ourselves as well.
"We didn’t reach our standards tonight… we need to get back to those standards next week."