Bennett: Kiwi criticism unfair
This time last week England expected the people of New Zealand to be buzzing ahead of seeing the Kiwis in a World Cup semi-final, but the visitors have instead encountered a rugby league nation going through competitive mourning.
After suffering a shock 4-2 loss to Fiji in last week's Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals, the Kiwi league community haven't held back in venting their fury, with coach David Kidwell, captain Adam Blair and halfback Shaun Johnson copping the majority of the criticism for the embarrassing exit.
But speaking ahead of Saturday's semi-final against Tonga in Auckland, England coach Wayne Bennett said some of the reaction was unwarranted and backed the Kiwis to turn things around.
"I think it's terribly unfair the amount of pressure they have to come under so quickly," Bennett said.
"I think we all expected they would be in the semi-final phase… but Fiji to their credit, Tonga, they have played well and got the rewards.
"It's at the demise of New Zealand, but we can handle that, New Zealand will come back from that.
"They will recover from this. The last thing they need is a review though."
Bennett also went into bat for Blair, who he has coached for the last three NRL Telstra Premiership seasons at the Brisbane Broncos, defending the forward's strange post-match comments which suggested the loss wasn't a negative and that poor fan support was partly to blame.
"It's when we are at our most vulnerable [straight after the match]. What we say at those times is maybe not what we are really feeling and you are just trying to get all your emotions together," Bennett said.
"He had just played his heart out for his country, because that is what Adam does. I saw [Shaun] Johnson getting a bit of criticism as well.
"Their country has just been beaten... it's not easy."
The early exit from the tournament marks the first time New Zealand have failed to advance to the semi-finals of a World Cup under the current play-off format, and has been made worse by the fact that all four of their games were played on home soil.
Veteran England prop James Graham was another to say the negative reaction was uncalled for, suggesting fans take some lessons from the round-ball game.
"As disappointing as it would be for New Zealand, I feel like our competition, our game as a whole, gets towed down a hell of a lot and I think it needs to be towed up. This needs to be celebrated," Graham said.
"At the FIFA World Cup if something like this happens [it's celebrated] – the Italians are out already, the Dutch are out already and didn't even qualify – why don't we start talking about how good this is for international rugby league? How good it is to see Fiji in a semi-final.
"If I was in a position where we went out in the quarters I might be a bit bitter about it, but I think from the whole game point of view it's got to be celebrated."