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Rugby League World Cup: Stephen Kearney not feeling pressure

Last Updated: 22/10/13 4:52am

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New Zealand coach Steve Kearney expects the Rugby League World Cup to be the best one ever.

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New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney is in relaxed mood ahead of the defence of their Rugby League World Cup crown, a tournament he expects to be the best in the sport's history.

Kearney made a dream start to his coaching career in 2008 when he led the Kiwis to a historic victory in Brisbane, made all the sweeter by the fact it was old foes Australia they saw off 34-20 in the final.

"The depth of our squad is probably one of the best we've had, certainly since I've been coach, and that's a pleasing thing for us. We've got guys who will have to play well to earn a jumper so that's a real positive for us."
Stephen Kearney

Much has changed in the New Zealand squad since, with a number of talented youngsters having come through the ranks, but when asked if he was under any added pressure as defending champion, he said: "We're not feeling it.

"We're well aware of what is ahead for us. We've got a really tough opening game against Samoa and our focus is making sure we prepare as well as we can to play against them.

"We've been looking at developing young guys over the last five years. We've got some welcome additions and there are still some guys who were part of the group that time as well."

Kearney believes the quality of the game has improved around the world and says shock wins for a couple of supposed minnows last weekend means the tournament in England and Wales will be one to savour.

Best ever

He added: "I think this is going to be the best World Cup we've seen, there's no doubt about that.

"The results over the weekend suggest that. Couple of upsets with Italy beating England, the USA beating France, Samoa getting beaten, so the quality of player at this tournament is the best we've had in a long, long time.

"The depth of our squad is probably one of the best we've had, certainly since I've been coach, and that's a pleasing thing for us. We've got guys who will have to play well to earn a jumper so that's a real positive for us."

Kearney concedes Australia have to go into the tournament as favourites but is wary of ignoring the challenge of hosts England despite their shock warm-up defeat against Italy.

He added: "I think the English side is the best I've seen put together for quite some time. Sam (Burgess) is one of the leading forwards in the NRL if not worldwide, and James Graham also. They've got a great depth of talent which is going to serve them well."

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