And so�in the cold hard light of day, the stats and the score remain the same as they did last night. Kangaroos 28, Kiwis 26. A sense of disappointment, but also a feeling of pride for this gnarly old Kiwi supporter. Pride in the fact that, for now at least, my team is able to compete with the very best League team in the world. Not only are they able to compete but they came incredibly close to pulling off an historic victory. But for a lack of defensive attention for ten minutes and the odd errant goal kick, it was theirs.
Now, as both teams wing their way to cooler climes ( although Ericsson Stadium, last night, was hardly balmy ), it�s time to reflect on why things are as they are. Why is the Kiwi team performing, or at least appearing to be performing, at a level that is so much higher than last year. The first half Kiwi defence last night was at a level of intensity that is rarely seen outside of State of Origin. Their desperation to score the winning try last night came at a time that, in previous years, would have seen them with heads down and praying for the final hooter so they could get off the paddock. What is the difference ? The difference this time is two fold. Two people in fact. Brian McClennan and Graham Norton.
Bluey and Natty to their mates, and to all and sundry in the League world. Just a couple of local Auckland blokes who happen to be exceedingly passionate about their sporting code and just happen to have an absolute gift in their ability to bring out the very best in the players they are charged with teaching. Both men are highly qualified in the academic coaching scheme of things, but this, as has been seen in recent years, counts for absolutely nothing if the �people� skills are missing. It may be understating it to say that the players would crawl over broken glass for these two fellows, yet both men remain with their feet very firmly on the ground and both are truly unorthodox in their coaching methods.
That Brian McClennan is Kiwi Coach and Graham Norton is his �Technical Advisor� has come about more by good luck than good management. In fact, had things been slightly different at NZRL this year, both would have been passed over. It is to the NZRLs eternal shame that Norton has so long been thrown on the scrap heap - since his successful Nines campaign all those years ago. For so long, Rugby League folks have questioned why, individually and in Club teams, New Zealand players have performed outstandingly, yet have not been able to reproduce the winning form for the National side�..put quite simply, they have not had the true passion and desire infused until now
Australians, in particular, I think, would embrace both of these men. Both embody the principles and the traits that Australians hold dear. They could be described as sardonic, both have been battlers ( and still are ), they are extremely approachable and both will buy you a beer without a second thought��in other words bloody good blokes.
It is early days yet in this, the 2005 Rugby League Tri-Nations, but I reckon more than a couple of folk will have a few bob on the Kiwis with these blokes calling the shots.