Fear of failure drives captain Kangaroo
They may possess one of the best records of any international team in world sport but Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith says the fear of failure remains their No.1 motivation.
Ahead of Saturday night’s Four Nations Final against the Kiwis in Wellington, Smith admitted the idea of losing to New Zealand for the second time in less than a month was driving his squad.
"Yeah, all the time," the Storm hooker said when asked if he feared losing.
"That drives me personally and is something that drives all sportsmen; the fear of losing and the fear of failure.
"It is something that I have always thought about all throughout my career. I can’t say I have ever really walked off the field after a loss and thought nothing of it.
"It hurts for a long time, and particularly in a game like this where you have three or four months to think about it before you play footy again.
"[Saturday] night it is all about making sure everyone plays the best they can."
After suffering a 30-12 loss to the Kiwis in the opening game of the tournament the Kangaroos have shown improvement in each of their remaining two matches, edging out England 16-12 before crushing Samoa 44-18 last Sunday.
With 11 debutants included in their 24-man squad, this Australian side has the most newcomers of any since 1995 and coach Tim Sheens was full of praise for the way they have developed over the past month.
"With the younger guys in the squad it was a learning curve for them," Sheens said.
"They [New Zealand] tested us in the middle and tested us big time…with the closeness of the competition there has been plenty of pressure on but I am happy with the way we have responded since that first game.
"The challenge now is to meet them head on and make sure that we do the job in the middle."
The Kiwi forwards played a big role in that victory three weeks ago, with five members of their pack running for more than 100 metres against the wounded 'Roos.
Stephen Kearney's side also found major success on the edges that night, where they harassed debutants Dylan Walker, Daniel Tupou and Josh Mansour.
But Sheens said the hard work put in since made him confident of avoiding a repeat at Westpac Stadium.
"With the edges being young – the centre and wing combinations in particular – being new even if they aren't young, it has just been continued practice, practice, practice," he said.
"Reviewing the games, working harder on making sure we know what to expect of the opposition and doing something about it."
Smith echoed those thoughts, also pointing to an improved overall attitude change within the team.
"It has been a challenge for our side and our coaches to get those guys playing the best they can at national level when they haven't played in the Test arena before," Smith said.
"The attitude has been better but there were areas apart from our defence which we had to address after that [first] game, and I think we have done that.
"We have improved in both matches we have played since that first match, and it's a challenge to play better this week against the Kiwis.
"To come out and play with the confidence they (the new players) did against England when we were under pressure to win that match, I was really impressed with that and again they stood up against Samoa.
"But this is a different beast. A Four Nations Final against New Zealand who haven't lost a match in this tournament yet."
Meanwhile 41-Test veteran Smith said his team were well placed for the final, despite a disrupted preparation due to the virus which hit several members of the squad this week.
"I had a quick chat to the boys out on the field yesterday about making sure we were doing everything as best we could," he said.
"We are in good shape for [Saturday] night."
RECORD OF RUGBY LEAGUE TESTS BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND*:
Head-to-Head (1908-2014): Played 128, Australia 95, New Zealand 30, drawn 3.
* New Zealand defeated Australia 16-12 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, November 13, 2010
* Australia defeated New Zealand 20-10 at Skilled Park, Gold Coast, May 6, 2011
* Australia defeated New Zealand 42-6 at Ausgrid Stadium, Newcastle, October 16, 2011
* Australia defeated New Zealand 26-12 at Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington, October 28, 2011
* Australia defeated New Zealand 20-12 at Eden Park, Auckland, April 20, 2012
* Australia defeated New Zealand 18-10 at Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville, October 13, 2012
* Australia defeated New Zealand 32-12 at Canberra Stadium, Canberra, April 19, 2013
* Australia defeated New Zealand 34-2 at Old Trafford, Manchester, November 30, 2013
* Australia defeated New Zealand 30-18 at Allianz Stadium, Sydney, May 2, 2014
* New Zealand defeated Australia 30-12 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, October 25, 2014
SMITH'S CAPTAINCY RECORD WITH THE KANGAROOS*:
* 18 Tests, 17 wins, 1 loss
* Debut as captain: Australia v New Zealand at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, October 14, 2007
* Achievements: Captained Australia to victory in the Centenary Test v New Zealand, SCG, May 9, 2008; captained Australia to World Cup victory 2013
Stats courtesy of David Middleton, League Information Services.