The Kiwis came away 42-24 winners in the end, having led 36-4 10 minutes after half time, and were given a stern test by a buoyant Samoan side, cheered on by a sell out crowd at Warrington.
The most unlikely of comebacks was almost on the agenda at 36-24, before Manu Vatuvei‘s hat-trick try eight minutes from time ensured the holders got off to a winning start in Group B.
Kearney said: “It was disappointing, but I think the Samoan side played with a lot of energy through that period, and we dropped a couple of balls. They just gained the momentum, and we didn’t see a great deal of possession for 20 minutes, and to their credit they played with a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, and consequently put some tries on us.
“There were some good parts of the game there for us, and when we stuck to our structures and processes, I thought we built some really good pressure on them, and came up with some pretty good plays. We just let ourselves down by errors or silly penalties.”
Kearney added: “I probably anticipated that. The English crowds tend to go with the underdog, and as I said, they played with a great deal of energy for a 20 minute period, and they were carrying the ball in hard, and obviously that pleases the fans.”
The sell out crowd may well have been partly due to the presence of Sonny Bill Williams, making his return to the Kiwis line-up after more than five years.
But he made the headlines for an unexpected error. He surged through the Samoan line, fended off a few defenders, but delayed grounding the ball, and ended up losing his footing and hit the line as he got the ball down for an embarrassing no try.
Kearney said: “How do you explain that?! He might want to check his boots next time, but that’s probably a good indication of that period of the game. I’m sure if he had the opportunity again, he wouldn’t do that.”
Photo courtesy of www.swpixrlwc2013.com