Kiwis v Kangaroos: Michael Maguire defends Shaun Johnson after below-par performance

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire has leapt to the defence of Shaun Johnson, who was criticised after New Zealand's 26-4 loss to the Kangaroos in Wollongong on Friday night. 

New Zealand were outmuscled and outplayed, as Australia dominated to avenge last year's 26-24 defeat in Auckland. 

Overall, the Kiwis finished the game with a completion rate of just 63 percent, made 13 errors, missed 36 tackles and conceded two tries from intercept passes. 

After the match, Fox Sports pundits Michael Ennis and Braith Anasta both felt Johnson was one to blame for the Kiwis' dismal performance, with the latter saying the 29-year-old played one of his worst tests ever.  

"They struggled, New Zealand," Anasta told Fox League afterwards. "Their attack was diabolical.

"Shaun Johnson probably had close to the worst test I've ever seen him play.

"I saw tonight as a real opportunity for New Zealand and they just didn't take advantage of it. They gave them no chance to win that game - absolutely none."

Benji Marshall and teammates react to the loss to Australia.
Benji Marshall and teammates react to the loss to Australia. Photo credit: Getty

Ennis suggested Maguire should look at changing his halves pairing for next weekend's test against Great Britain at Eden Park. New Zealand have Kieran Foran and Kodi Nikorima waiting in the wings as halves options.

"I think Maguire's got to look to someone like Foran, who's just so tenacious and leads from the front, but he's happy to play the long game. He's happy to build pressure and, more importantly, he's happy to play direct.

"I thought tonight, Johnson just tried to finesse his way through that game, and it just got worse and worse for him."

But Maguire is backing the five-eighth to rebound.

"I'll talk to Shaun around that space - we'll go through that. We've seen Shaun perform and build pressure, and tonight just wasn't his night.

"We've definitely got to look at that."

Johnson's halves partner and Kiwis captain, Benji Marshall, is confident the team will bounce back. 

"I guess leadership comes with responsibility and we've got a big job this week in terms of getting the boys back on track.

"We just need to hold onto the ball and build pressure. With pressure, the opposition cracks and that's what happened to us tonight."

Join us next Saturday for live updates of the NZ Kiwis v Great Britain rugby league test.