Sam Ackerman: What the hell was that, Kiwis

OPINION: If you follow rugby league, not much should surprise you anymore. But the performance the Kiwis turned out in their shocking 4-2 defeat to Fiji in the World Cup quarter-finals is actually beyond comprehension.

It's not the result - Fiji have some very talented players, a close-knit culture, and it was always a matter of time before they claimed a big Test scalp. This will be a watershed moment for them and they deserve it.

It was the bizarre effort from New Zealand, both individually and collectively, that boggles the mind. Who the hell were those people in the black jerseys and what did they do with the Kiwis?

Coming off an upset loss against Tonga, there were still signs the Kiwis should be competitive.

There was certainly arrogance in thinking there's no way they'd lose to tier-two teams in consecutive weeks. I was certainly guilty of that when forecasting their future meeting with the Kangaroos.

New Zealand's record against Fiji is now played one, lost one. Fiji boast a 100 percent winning record over a nation that has been in the past four World Cup finals. Let that one sink in.

I have sat in the stands and witnessed Australia put up 50 unanswered points against hapless Kiwi outfits - twice. But neither was as exasperating as watching the capitulation in the capital.

It was the full house of the shocker spectrum - awful handling and passing, appalling completion, weak-minded discipline and woeful options on the last tackle.

But why? I honestly still can't work it out. What forced a team that has NRL premiership winners, World Cup and Four Nations champions to implode under pressure?

After being starved of possession and territory, any team worth their salt would know to try to force a repeat set and camp down your opponents' end. What did the Kiwis do? Run it on the last with no set play in mind. 

There was never any need to panic. They'd held the top try-scoring team in the tournament tryless, albeit through luck on occasion. Even when they were down to 12 men after a needless sin-binning, their line was intact.

But still they felt the need to rush everything they did with ball in hand. Ironically, the word "calm" has been used on high rotation in their public declarations over the past fortnight, but there was none of it on display.

Sport is always a contest and people have off nights, but virtually everybody at once? Culture off the field doesn't mean a thing if it's so poorly reflected on the field.

This will haunt the sport and those involved for years to come, not unlike the All Blacks' 2007 quarter-final exit.

But there'll be no saving the coach this time. Clearly, David Kidwell's tenure in charge of the Kiwis is over.

No one can question he wanted the best for New Zealand but his time is up, and he won't the only person to walk out of Kiwis camp for the last time on Sunday.

That's the reality - there has to be consequences, because there are for the rest of the sport in this country.

Participation levels sure won't be any higher next year. Kids deciding which code they want to specialise in or nation they want to pledge allegiance to will potentially find those decisions a lot easier, and it will be a tall order to get future Test matches on our soil if the organisers don't think they can sell out the ground.

You can add the Warriors to the current malaise. Those who have an agenda to put the boot into league have been given an early Christmas present.

The next coach needs the main thing Kidwell doesn't have  top-level experience and plenty of it. It doesn't matter what his passport says, as long as his resume has stacks of success on it.

When you see Tonga, Fiji, Lebanon and Papua New Guinea doing what they've done so far at this tournament, it's clear international rugby league has never been in a better position.

But have the Kiwis ever been in a worse state?

Sam Ackerman is the head of sport at Newshub.