Bench shapes as key for NZ
Initially viewed as a potential weakness, the Kiwis' youthful interchange looks set to offer them a point of difference at the Rugby League World Cup.
Despite having just three Test caps between them ahead of Saturday night's 38-8 victory over Samoa in Auckland, New Zealand's interchange men were among their strongest contributors, with Melbourne Storm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona coming off the pine to run for more metres than any other forward on the park.
There were also memorable first outings for hooker Danny Levi and versatile forward Isaac Liu, with coach David Kidwell full of praise for the trio in the aftermath.
"I thought Danny really stood up… I thought the game as it went on, Danny got better and better," Kidwell said.
"Big Nelson Asofa-Solomona ran hard, scored a great try. Isaac Liu, that footwork to break the line, also the ball that he recovered at the end of the game, [he had] a never say die attitude."
Clinging to a 10-4 lead at the break, the Kiwis' bench was a key difference after half-time at Mount Smart Stadium, as the tournament co-hosts wrestled momentum their way and punished Samoa with five second-half tries.
Asofa-Solomona made an impact on almost every one of his 17 carries, earning a penalty on his very first touch and later scoring a try to go with his 180 run metres.
Captain Adam Blair believed the 21-year-old would only get better as his connection improves with teammates, in terms of knowing when to offload and promote second phase.
"I think he knows he is 125 kilos. You get him out wide with a couple of smaller people and he obviously backs himself and believes in himself," Blair said.
"I guess as a young kid that's good to see. I'm grateful he's in my team.
"We did use him up a fair bit in the middle, but I think his better runs from what I saw were a bit wider against those smaller guys.
"It's important we have everyone pushing up with him, especially our halves and fullback, because he does have an offload."
The Kiwis will spend all of this week in Christchurch as they prepare for their second Pool B match, against Scotland on Saturday night, after the Bravehearts were crushed 50-4 by Tonga last Sunday.