Fit Blair outlines Kiwis culture shift
New Zealand co-captain Adam Blair, passed fit on the eve of the series-opening clash with England, has publicly outlined the cultural changes enforced by coach Stephen Kearney since their controversy-hit 2013 World Cup campaign.
Blair looked no chance of taking the field at Hull's KC Stadium when he left Headingley on crutches with a calf injury nine days ago and was required to prove himself at Saturday's captain's run at the match venue.
"I was confident that if he felt good with it, then he would be good to go," said coach Stephen Kearney.
The game marks the Kiwis' first full international on British soil since they were crushed 34-2 by Australia at Old Trafford, with a post-mortem of the World Cup campaign investigating possible misuse of prescription drugs and energy drinks.
Players reportedly now have to sign code of conduct agreements before playing.
"I guess the thing that has been brought up is the culture and the way the culture can change from back then to now," Brisbane's Blair, who shares leadership duties on tour with Issac Luke, told NRL.com
"The thing that we've worked hard on is building a different culture and creating a culture where we enjoy each other's company and enjoy being around each other and enjoy playing football together, enjoy working hard when it's time to work hard and I think that's what we're trying to do.
"I wasn't in (the 2013 team) but I guess there've been a lot of changes since then as I guess you can tell with this squad. But nothing's been brought up.
"A big part of it is enjoyment but when it's time to switch on, it's head down, bum up, work hard. Do the little things that you have to make sure you're in the right shape and ready to go into games.
"At the end of the day, the last 18 months we've really enjoyed our football and that's what's been happening."
Blair's movement from Melbourne to Wests Tigers in 2012 was rated a disappointment from most observers but he has been a revelation in 2015 with NRL grand finalists Brisbane.
That's notwithstanding a story earlier this year that highlighted him make one hitup in a game against Cronulla.
Blair recalls: "I saw it, all the boys gave it to me. It's part of playing in the NRL. The media bring it up a lot but I didn't make anything of it. I can't remember the game, to be honest.
"It didn't change the way I played or the way I thought about anything. I just went out and did my job the next week.
"There's more stats for everything now. I guess the Broncos would be a prime example - I don't reckon we rated too high in many stats but stats don't mean nothing. We got to the grand final. Everyone's stats probably would have against us. At the end of the day, that doesn't mean too much."
The golden point grand final loss to North Queensland remains a sore point, however.
"When you're sitting around and you're bored it crosses your mind. That's the hardest thing. When you're alone and you've got time to think about what happened.
"I've seen the last couple of minutes and I don't need to see anything else. I've seen it once and I couldn't watch it again."
Blair favours golden try to decide such deadlocks, but adds: "To be honest it doesn't bother me. We shouldn't have been in that situation on grand final night but we were and we weren't about to capitalise on the opportunity. That was it."
Asked to predict how the Kiwis will play during the First Test, he said: "We play how we feel. That's just been us the last 18 months. I don't think there's any method to how we play. There's not too much structure. It's not hard to run hard and if something happens, it happens.
"Our forwards would be the most experienced so it's making sure we're on the front foot for our younger guys to play off the back of it."
And when asked to identify a game breaker to replace absent Shaun Johnson, he said: "I reckon Lolohea, Tui Lolohea does something special. The kid this week, the way he's trained, the things I've seen him do.
"You ask Bully. He's left Bully on the ground a couple of times. There's something about him and I reckon if something's going to happen, it's going to be around him."
The match is expected to be a 25,000 sellout. Lewis Brown and Alex Glenn are the men to drop off a six-man Kiwis bench while England have to whittle down a 19-man squad an hour before kick-off.