Belonging, respect and trust.
They’re the three simple, but effective words, driving the New Zealand Kiwis push to claim the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.
Ahead of their tournament opener on Saturday, Kiwis coach David Kidwell has placed an unquestionable emphasis on culture and belief – two factors that were at the heart of the nation’s surprise 2008 World Cup success.
“We’ve been out of Auckland for a little while in the last week, doing a bit of cultural stuff, getting to know each other and belonging to the group,” New Zealand Assistant and outgoing North Sydney Bears coach Ben Gardiner told Sky Sports Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast.
“Dave’s gone to great lengths to make sure that the players feel that they belong, regarding the Kiwi jersey in particular, and to the country.
“[A native retreat] brought us back to the culture of the Maori people, the boys were able to sleep on the floor and to do their own washing, and cooking and cleaning, before coming back into Auckland. It’s been a great experience for me, I’d never seen anything like that.”
Set to oversee his first World Cup Campaign, Kidwell has instilled a mindset that the ‘key’ to New Zealand’s would-be success rests with the ‘we’ – a team-first, selfless approach, and one inspired by Jason Taumalolo’s shock Tongan defection.
“[Taumalolo’s allegiance switch], and things like that are always motivational for the team. They use anything these days to get them up and going,” Gardiner said.
“There’s definitely the belief that we can win the tournament, it goes back to that old statement that we’re going to take it ‘week by week’.
“But I think you have to in this competition, the teams are so different … It’s very important that you take care of it on a weekly basis, and perform and prepare for each team individually.”
New Zealand play their first pool match versus Samoa at Mt Smart Stadium this weekend (Saturday 28 October), Gardiner and the Kiwis know they must prepare for a tough, physical challenge from the fifth-ranked side.
“We’re expecting a very big team, they’re big and they’re powerful, we know they’re going to challenge us through the middle,” Gardiner said.
“We need to be very disciplined with our game. We need to put ourselves in a position where we’re not giving penalties away, we’re being very smart, but at the same time playing very tough with our footy.
“For us, the preparation for this week has been exceptional I’ve thought, it’s doing things that are different to what works at an NRL club. I’ve really enjoyed it.”