Now that the NZ Kiwis are confirmed in next weekend’s Four Nations final, veteran utility Lewis Brown is looking on the positive side of events that have delivered them there.
Held to a surprise draw by Scotland on Saturday (NZ time), the world #1 side needed to rely on Australia holding off England, before they could finalise plans for another week in the north of England.
With that nightmare behind them, the Kiwis can now focus on their one-off assignment at the iconic Liverpool FC home ground of Anfield.
“Obviously we’re a bit disappointed, but it is what it is,” reflects Brown, who filled the unenviable 18th-man role for the encounter against the Scots at Workington.
“We came up against a team that was very passionate at a place where they’ve had a lot of success.
“Luckily, we get another bit of the cheery. It wasn’t ideal, firstly losing to Australia and then having a draw against Scotland, but it shows how strong international rugby league is becoming.
“It was probably a wake-up call, to be honest, and maybe a blessing in disguise.”
Brown has carved a niche for himself in the Kiwis rotation, often spelling hooker Issac Luke for 15-20 minutes in the second half. That provides an ideal opportunity to gauge the team’s performance through the opening stages of a match.
“We probably haven’t started games that well,” he admits. “Against England and Australia, we were probably chasing out tails a bit.
“It was the same against Scotland. With a strong wind behind us, 6-4 at halftime probably wasn’t that ideal.
“Our starts haven’t been the best, but it’s all there. As individuals, we need to focus a bit more and hopefully our execution can come from that.
“We probably haven’t put together a full 80 minutes of football. We’ve got a lot of calibre in the side, but we haven’t put it all together yet.
“When you think about it, that’s quite exciting.”
After the Scotland game, the NZ contingent moved base from Carlisle to Manchester, awaiting further developments. Their hotel did not carry BBC coverage of the Australia v England game, some nervous Nellies chose not to watch, while others went elsewhere to learn their fate.
With one training run under their belts, they are due to relocate to Liverpool tomorrow.
“Looking back on the three games, we’ve prepared pretty well, but we just haven’t put the right performance together,” says Brown. “We’ve gone pretty close, but I believe our energy has been a bit down, whereas in past successful years, we’ve had a lot of energy.
“It’s all about stripping it right back and playing the brand of footy we like to play. We’ve got forwards who can move the ball and I’m pretty sure, this weekend, we’ll be looking to do that.
“It’s been there the last three weeks, but we probably haven’t executed it that well.”
After the Scotland result, the Kiwis will enter the Four Nations climax as firm underdogs, but Brown is adamant his team are capable of turning their fortunes around, with their tournament crown and world ranking at stake.
“We haven’t spoken about that this week, but we came over as #1 and we want to go back #1,” he says. “New Zealand rugby league is in a pretty strong position at the moment and our attitude here is we don’t like losing.”
Twelve of this current squad took the field for the 2014 Four Nations victory in Wellington, a performance that capped an unbeaten run through that tournament.
“Playing in that final was one of the highlights of my career and you’ve got to take a bit of belief from that,” reflects Brown. “A lot of boys were in that final and if you haven’t won one, it’s a bit hard.
“But we’ve been there and done it, and that experience will hopefully hold us in good stead this weekend.
“I have every belief that if we can get ourselves right, we give ourselves a good chance.”
One dilemma immediately facing coach David Kidwell is a replacement for veteran five-eighth Thomas Leuluai, who left the Scotland game with a broken jaw.
Two obvious candidates are second row Tohu Harris, who has filled the #6 jersey on a makeshift basis previously, or international rookie Te Maire Martin, who made his debut as Leuluai’s replacement on Saturday.
But the Kiwis’ struggles on tour have perhaps found some perspective, as news filters through on the earthquakes that have struck much of New Zealand in recent days.
“Obviously, it’s a bit close to home for us,” admits Brown. “I’ve got family in Christchurch and they’ve had it rough.
“It’s not very pleasant to see stuff like that happen in your own backyard and the city has been through a lot. Luckily, my family are all safe.
“The boys are a bit rattled. A few of them are from Wellington, and their families or friends got evacuated.
“It’s a weird feeling when something like that is going on back home.”