Michael Maguire questioned after New Zealand’s heartbreaking loss to Australia at the RLWC

Tony Kemp has criticised Michael Maguire’s team selections after New Zealand were narrowly beaten by Australia 16-14 in their Rugby League World Cup semi-final.

“We’ve got to get those selections right when we go out in those big games,” he said on SEN. “I think there were crucial decisions on replacing players at the right time and starting players.”

Should Michael Maguire have started Moses Leota? 

The former Kiwi international pinpointed the omission of Moses Leota from the starting side as a mistake, claiming the Penrith prop should have got the nod ahead of captain Jesse Bromwich who played the opening 20 minutes before not returning to the fray.

MORE: Australia vs. New Zealand key talking points from absorbing semi-final clash at Elland Road

Leota has formed a devastating partnership with James Fisher-Harris, with the duo famously causing mayhem against Parramatta in this year’s NRL grand final.

Kemp felt that a similar strain of brutality was needed against Australia in the early stages, when the Kiwis were on top and making plenty of headway through their expansive offloading game. 

“There’s got to be some challenges on why Moses Leota and Fisher-Harris didn’t start in the front row as the most dominating front row pairing in the competition,” he said.

Although, Leota did battle with injury concerns throughout the tournament which caused him to miss a number of matches and may be the reason why he was kept out of the initial softening up period.  

Brandon Smith should have been benched before crucial error 

Kemp also highlighted the inability to spot how Brandon Smith was struggling to keep pace with the game as a major mistake which ultimately changed the momentum of the match in Australia’s favour.

“We all knew that Brandon Smith was eventually going to run out of steam, and he basically did that when he didn’t move off his line,” Kemp said.

“Everyone knew that Smith couldn’t play 80 minutes, so I think you had to work out a strategy.

“When Foz [Kieran Foran] came on, the damage had already been done as they’d got their noses in front.

“They needed to make that choice around Smithy [earlier]. That’s all your coaches advising [Maguire], as he has so much going on.

“I guess if you’re reviewing your own performance, I’m guessing Madge will be sitting there going ‘I should have spelled him.’”

Cameron Murray took advantage of Smith’s compromised state when he picked him out and charged past him on the way to the try line.

MORE: ‘Knocked the door down’: Cam Murray makes the crucial play in Australia’s semi-final win

Kemp believed the South Sydney captain helped to change the game not only with his crucial four-pointer but also his go-forward when he was injected alongside Patrick Carrigan off the interchange bench. 

“They were getting done in the middle of the park. They had no go forward,” Kemp said.

“[Jake] Trbojevic was terrible, [Isaah] Yeo couldn’t pass the ball and [Nathan] Cleary couldn’t get going. They had nothing in the middle, but as soon as Murray and Carrigan came on, they straightened them up.”

Kemp criticises Maguire’s post-match comments after loss

Kemp was left unimpressed with the comments Maguire made post-match about how he thought New Zealand had cut the gap to the Kangaroos.

MORE: Emotional Michael Maguire claims the Kiwis have now closed the gap to Australia

“One of the comments that I really don’t get is that I heard Maguire say after the match that, ‘We’re there now with Australia’. We’ve been with Australia since 2008, not 2022,” he said.

“We had a really poor time under David Kidwell, that wasn’t Kiddy’s fault, that was the organisation which was in turmoil — they were run by a very average CEO that was making poor decisions.

“But the Kiwis team have been next to Australia since 2008…This one we let get away, we should have won it.”

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