Australia 32 New Zealand 12
Bradford skipper Robbie Paul has vowed to bounce back after producing his “worst-ever” performance for New Zealand.
The 28-year-old hooker or half-back won his 25th cap for the Kiwis in Saturday’s 32-12 defeat by Australia in the second Gillette Tri-Nations match at Loftus Road.
New Zealand, who took a point from their opening clash with the Kangaroos, have still to play Great Britain twice but they now need other results go in their favour if they are to reach the November 27 final.
Paul was introduced as a substitute 28 minutes into the game with his side trailing 8-4 to a Luke Rooney try and two Craig Fitzgibbon goals.
The Kiwis turned the game around thanks to two tries in 10 minutes just before the break from Bradford winger Lesley Vainikolo – his 40th in all games this year – and stand-off Vinnie Anderson to lead 12-8.
But they collapsed in the second half, allowing the Aussies to run in 24 points without reply, and Paul, who missed a one-on-one tackle to let Kangaroo captain Darren Lockyer in for the first try, blamed himself for the defeat.
“I’m devastated,” he said. “That’s probably the worst game I’ve ever had in a black and white jumper. One of the key reasons for it is that my fitness just wasn’t up to scratch.
“Super League level is one thing but to get ready for the international arena is another. You’ve got to be prepared and I don’t think I was prepared for what went on, especially in the second half.
“Australia were relentless, they kept coming at us and lost our energy battle in the second half.”
The emphatic defeat compounded a miserable eight days for Paul, who produced the handling error in the Super League Grand Final a week earlier that set up the position for Leeds’ match-winning try.
He had hoped to use the Tri-Nations to take his mind off the Bulls’ disappointment at Old Trafford but admitted he had not had enough time to prepare with his new team-mates.
“It’s given me a breath of fresh air but, from a personal point of view, I didn’t have enough opportunity to get up to speed with the system,” he said.
“I was getting lost a little bit in the middle with all the calls that were going on. I was calling out Bradford Bulls plays as opposed to New Zealand ones.
“The luxury we have is that I have two weeks to prepare for the next game and I am making a promise to myself and to New Zealand fans that I will be a lot, lot better next time.”
Australia, who wrapped up victory with second-half tries from Lockyer, prop Petero Civoniceva and centres Willie Tonga and Shaun Berrigan, will go into Saturday’s first battle with Britain in confident mood after re-discovering their scoring touch.
But they have major injury doubts over key players Lockyer, who was today having medical checks on an aggravated rib injury, and Fitzgibbon, who hurt his shoulder.
Britain, fresh from a warm-weather training trip to Spain, will be monitoring the fitness checks with interest as they prepare to set up camp in Manchester.
And Paul believes that Britain, coached by his Bradford boss Brian Noble, can bring the world champions back down to earth at the City of Manchester Stadium.
“I know from first-hand knowledge of the coaching staff of the Great Britain team and key individuals in their team that they want this more than anything,” he said.
“They see this is as a real opportunity to get some international success, something they’ve been missing for years.
“The British team have the ability to beat them, what they need to do is be aware that they’ve got to play the Australians for the full 80 minutes. It’s no use giving up at half-time, as you saw out there today.
“It’s no use playing to the 70th minute and thinking you’ve done enough because they’re going to take it all the way. I hope Brian instils into the players that they can do it because they have got the ability.”