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Kearney links team culture to selection

Re-appointed Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney is looking at having policies in place to prevent a repeat of the misuse of prescription medicines that blighted last year's Rugby League World Cup campaign.
Kearney links team culture to selection
by AAP

AUCKLAND, Feb 21 AAP - Re-appointed Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney is looking at having policies in place to prevent a repeat of the misuse of prescription medicines that blighted last year's Rugby League World Cup campaign.

One result would be that a player's selection prospects would be jeopardised if he didn't agree to what was considered to be accepted behaviour.

The New Zealand Rugby League announced Kearney's reappointment on Friday for two more years, with a right for renewal to the 2017 World Cup.

The NZRL also said some players' practice of mixing sleeping pills with energy drinks as part of their recovery divided the squad at the tournament.

While not illegal, the practice had health risks and it left some players unable to function at 100 per cent afterwards.

Management warned several individuals about the practice during the tournament and the NZRL undertook an investigation afterwards.

Chief executive Phil Holden stopped short of blaming it for the Kiwis' 34-2 loss to Australia in the final in Manchester, but Kearney said it compromised preparation.

"From an operational sense, we need to have some policies and procedures in place to guard ourselves against particular behaviours," Kearney said.

If players didn't want to align themselves with that, "the selection process is going to be easy".

Kearney said he first became aware of the practice within the squad after the quarter-final against Scotland.

The team were travelling to London to prepare for the semi-final against England and he was "a bit puzzled" by what was happening on the bus.

He said the effects were still evident the following day.

He and manager Tony Iro called in the senior leadership group to address the matter and he said it was disappointing that the practice happened again after that.

Kearney said there was no evidence of it in the nights leading up to the final, but he believed the build-up had been affected.

"When we play Australia, we have to be at our very, very best and nothing can be compromised," he said.

Kearney declined to say if any of the senior players were involved in the practice.

"We're not here to hang people out to dry. We're here to learn from the experience and move forward," he said.

Holden said it was understood that a small number of players were involved.

"Their behaviour certainly divided the group and, in some cases, probably affected how individual players recovered from games, so it was definitely a factor," Holden said.

"But we can't, in all honesty, say it cost us the World Cup title - that would be disrespectful to an Australian side that deserve to rank among the all-time greats."

Holden said the episode had galvanised rugby league's governing bodies on both sides of the Tasman in a drive to stamp out the practice.

The NRL has set up a taskforce on the issue.


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