Player availability hurt Kiwi Tri
Series chances - Anderson

The Kiwis used 27 players in just four Tests during the Tri Nations rugby league tournament, which will be decided here on Saturday without them.

National Rugby League clubs might not use that many over an entire season.

The figure is an indication that, while Great Britain and Australia have had comparatively settled squads, the Kiwis have been forced to cope with the disruption of players coming and going.

Experienced campaigners such as Penrith second rowers Tony Puletua and Joe Galuvao, Bulldogs winger Matt Utai and Bradford counterpart Lesley Vainikolo all appeared in just one Test before being recalled by their clubs for surgery.

All four have won either NRL or English Super League titles.

Coach Daniel Anderson said player unavailability had been a problem for the Kiwis during the tournament.

"That hurt," he said.

"You look at the players who were not here. Tony Puletua, Joe Galuvao and Matt Utai have all got premiership rings. That experience is sometimes vital in key moments of the game."

Another telling statistic is that New Zealand had 22 different players in starting positions over the series.

Australia have used 18, while Great Britain made only one change in their first three Tests until coach Brian Noble decided to rest some of his personnel in a dead rubber against the Kiwis last Saturday.

On the plus side, Anderson said, the tour had given the youngsters in the party a chance to prove themselves on the big stage and he believed they made the most of the opportunity.

"We've had to throw young players in there," he said.

"They handled themselves exceptionally well and the future looks strong."

Eleven of the squad were on their debut Kiwi tour, while seven won their first cap while away.

Anderson said the first experience of touring and being away from family for several weeks could be a stress in itself.

"They've gone through a maturation process on and off the field," he said.

"I think they will all have grown, personally, if not professionally."

Nevertheless, for all the new talent unearthed, the results have been a disappointment and the manner of the defeats even more so.

The Kiwis finished with just one point, from the 16-all draw with the Kangaroos at North Harbour Stadium last month.

They led at halftime in each of their three Tests in England, but then collapsed through a mix of errors and lack of discipline.

Even the last Test at Hull, despite the 26-24 scoreline, featured a third quarter in which Great Britain ran in four tries to nil to turn an eight-point deficit into a 14-point lead.

Anderson said that result reflected the Kiwis' tour as a whole - coming close in each contest but not quite getting over the line.

"It's been 10 minutes in every game," he noted.

"Great Britain are a very good team and so are the Australians, and you have to play for 80 minutes."

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