Sam Ackerman: Kiwis' Rugby League World Cup hopes still very much alive

The Kiwis chances of winning the World Cup are not over yet, writes Sam Ackerman.
The Kiwis chances of winning the World Cup are not over yet, writes Sam Ackerman. Photo credit: Getty Images

OPINION: Everyone scoffed when Kiwis coach David Kidwell called the upset loss to Tonga 'a blessing in disguise', including me.

But I've got to admit, that sentiment is starting to hold some merit for me. Skeptical? Don't blame you - let me explain my reasons...

The match in Hamilton put the Kiwis under real pressure and exposed some holes in the new touted 'Kiwi style' that Kidwell has implemented at this tournament. To expect the drastic overhaul in the New Zealand team's attitude and tactics would come without slip-ups is frankly ridiculous.

The Kiwis have been terrible over the past couple of years - prior to this tournament they'd won just two of their last 10 tests. For a variety of reasons, a bare minimum of six first-choice players are not in this squad. Change had to happen.

The Kiwis could easily (and have previously done so) dropped their head and waved the white flag when Tonga put on 22 unanswered points. But they put themselves back in a position to push for victory. They didn't get it done, but they didn't go down with some late fight. That's something to work with and a great chance for the coaching staff to lift the intensity at training.

Kiwis coach David Kidwell.
Kiwis coach David Kidwell. Photo credit: Getty Images

I'd much rather Russell Packer threw that intercept pass in a pool game than in a knockout one.  The best team won on the day, but that doesn't mean the other team can't improve.

And oh, complacency? Not much chance of that anymore.

A semi-final date with Australia shouldn't be seen as the end of the world either.

To win the World Cup, they have to beat the Kangaroos - what does it matter if they lose to them in the semis or the final? It looks good to say you made the final, but if the plan is to win, losing should hurt just as much in the decider as it does the week before.

Put it this way, would you have considered the tournament more of a success if they lost to Australia in the final than if they lose to them in the semis?

The Aussies haven't been particularly impressive so far in this tournament, and they have lacked a real killer instinct against France and Lebanon. They'll take on Samoa who haven't been able to win a game - just a draw against Scotland. They're hardly going to be match hardened for the semi-finals.

And if they get another crack at Tonga in the final, motivation will be through the roof, and lessons learned from Hamilton. Can Tonga knock them over twice? Mate Ma'a have to get past either England or Papua New Guinea first, but you can't count that out. 

Kiwis captain Adam Blair won the World Cup with New Zealand in 2008.
Kiwis captain Adam Blair won the World Cup with New Zealand in 2008. Photo credit: Getty Images

Sold yet? No? Let's get historic.

The Kiwis have lost one game at every Rugby League World Cup dating back to 1995. Well, they've already got that out of the way. The last time they lost in pool play, they went on to win the whole thing 9 years ago.

Yes, they have to play away from home in the semis now, but think about where they're playing.

Suncorp Stadium is the Kiwis spiritual home of success. 2008 World Cup final, 2010 Four Nations final, the drought-breaking Anzac test win in 2015. All against the odds victories, all in Brisbane.

I'm not sitting here telling you the Kiwis are going to win the World Cup. But their chances haven't been hurt by the events of the weekend.

Sam Ackerman is the Head of Sports at Newshub.