A disappointed Tim Sheens has applauded the courage his inexperienced team displayed in the wake of losing their Four Nations crown to the Kiwis in Wellington on Saturday night.
The Kangaroos included 11 rookies in their 24-man squad for the tournament, the most of any Australian side since 1995, and fell desperately short of securing a miraculous comeback win, going on to lose 22-18 at Westpac Stadium.
Coming into the tournament having won 24 of his 26 Tests as coach of Australia, Sheens and his side made history for all the wrong reasons this year. Despite being the first Kangaroos side in 61 years to lose consecutive Tests against the Kiwis, Sheens said their effort and courage couldn’t be doubted.
“They played very well, I was very proud of my guys and their courage, they did the jumper proud,” Sheens said.
“We were a little inexperienced and a couple of things went against us and that is all it takes in these sorts of games.
“We just didn’t get the ball where we needed it at times and we used up a lot of juice defending our own line there so it was hard going.
“That defence on goal-line second half…that game could have blown out but it didn’t and we gave ourselves a second chance and nearly snagged it.
“At the end of the day I suppose we ran out of a bit of time.”
The ‘Roos did themselves no favours at times, coming up with 11 errors and 33 missed tackles, but still completed at 77 per cent and looked dangerous with the ball in hand.
On the night they encountered a Kiwi team full of standout performers, none more so than halfback Shaun Johnson who scored 10 points and set up a try on his way to man of the match honours.
“The second phase and Johnson’s running on the last, skipping across field when he gets that kind of ball…he had spiders on him tonight the boy and he played really well,” Sheens said.
“We did [talk about containing Johnson], but it’s a matter of being able to achieve it.
“It easy to sit there and say ‘well why don’t you tackle him? But you get out there and see if you can. He is moving pretty quick and they had momentum.”
Captain Cameron Smith said the loss was painful, but that he was relieved his side avoided a repeat of the 30-12 drubbing the Kiwis dished out to them in the opening game of the tournament three weeks ago.
“There was a point in that game where we were put under enormous pressure by the Kiwis, we were camped down our own line and it could have gone a blown out similar to that first match,” Smith said.
“But we spoke about our resolve on our own try-line and the boys stood up. I thought the old heads in the team really put their hands up tonight.
“We had to, we were asked by the coaches to lead the team.
“They were particularly upset tonight the young fellas, it’s the first sort of heavy loss they have felt at this level so it is not easy to take.
“The good thing is that there are a few of them there who showed a lot of promise throughout the tournament and hopefully those guys get another opportunity in the future.”
Smith was also quick to throw his support behind Sheens as the man to coach Australia in 2015 and beyond.
Earlier this week the veteran mentor was rumoured to be on the verge of signing a new deal with the world champions, something Smith endorsed.
“Well, if he's going to pick me I will keep him as coach,” the Storm hooker joked.
“But I have spoken during the week about ‘Sheensy’ and the role he has played with us since 2009 and he has done a great job with the team.
“He has won every trophy that you can at international level and he has only lost a few games as a coach.
“If he feels he can still contribute to the team and he wants to then I would love to see him go on.”