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On tour with the Kiwis

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Players and staff converged on Sydney throughout the day, checking in at the Sofitel Wentworth in Phillip Street in central Sydney. For four players it was a first-time experience coming into camp - Kalifa Faifai Loa (North Queensland), Kevin Proctor (Melbourne), Russell Packer (Warriors) and Elijah Taylor (Warriors) meeting up with coach Stephen Kearney, captain Benji Marshall and the rest of the crew.

Apart from welcoming the new players, it was a time to outfit the players and staff ahead of the coming Test against the Kangaroos and the Four Nations to follow. The group was facing up to 44 days away together.

Many of the staff and a number of the players had been involved in the 2009 Four Nations in the Northern Hemisphere, the players backing up including Marshall, Nathan Fien, Jason Nightingale, Issac Luke, Fuifui Moimoi and Adam Blair plus Ben Matulino, Kieran Foran, Kevin Locke and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves who were newcomers to the Kiwis for that campaign.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 10

The first full day in camp is always one of the busiest. This was no exception. After breakfast including the daily staff meeting there was a full-scale briefing to lay down ground rules and go over routines.

The programme continued with head and shoulders photos being taken of all team personnel and was followed by the shooting of the official team photo. Next it was onto the now traditional open media session held on day one of all campaigns, attracting a big attendance from Australian and New Zealand organisations.

As usual Benji Marshall had a heavy schedule of interviews as did Manly's NRL premiership winner Kieran Foran and coach Stephen Kearney. Around the same time several players and some staff were involved in a shoot for the New Zealand Rugby League. After lunch and a team meeting, the Kiwis had their first field session at OKI Jubilee Oval, a ground familiar to St George Illawarra's Kiwis Nathan Fien and Jason Nightingale.

All the players were blown away by the quality of the Dragons' dressing rooms. On site to capture some of the session were several television news crews and journalists. After the players had done their stretches following a lengthy training session, ice baths were on the agenda before they headed back to the hotel for a massage session.

Before dinner, the players and staff met for a presentation from NZRL CEO Jim Doyle about the state of the game, highlighting progress the national body has made in a number of areas. There was also a presentation to three former Kiwis who received their identification tags (or dog tags) carrying their unique Kiwi number. This tradition was started last year and has since resulted in dozens of former representatives being awarded with their tags.

The three recipients on this occasion were Kiwi No 460 Bill Noonan, Darrell Williams (No 586) and Tyran Smith (658). They joined the current Kiwis and management for dinner afterwards.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 11

The day began with an extras training session at 7.00am for players interested (a good-sized group showed up). Extras would be a regular early-morning feature from now on. After breakfast the players travelled to the Ian Thorpe Centre Aquatic Centre for a mid-morning weights session, returning for lunch and a team meeting before heading back to OKI Jubilee Oval for their second field session of the week.

The Kiwis' line-up to face the Kangaroos on Sunday was announced with fullback Kevin Locke, wing Kalifa Faifai Loa, centre Gerard Beale, prop Russell Packer and second rower Alex Glenn named to make their Test debuts. After the run, the players and staff gathered in a circle for what has become a ritual when all new players and staff are required to strip to their underpants and perform the haka (much to the amusement of the rest of the players and staff as well as anyone else looking on).

Packer and Jason Nightingale attended to media commitments afterwards while ice baths again followed. Back at the hotel, the players and staff assembled for another feature which has been familiar throughout Stephen Kearney's coaching era - a family dinner. Players and staff can invite their family to join them for dinner at the hotel and this time the occasion was even more memorable than usual.

Through Benji Marshall's efforts there was an extra special guest - Tauranga-raised entertainer Stan Walker, winner of 2009's Australian Idol. Walker had everyone spellbound as he performed before and after dinner, staying on well into the evening to jam with many of the players and their families.

Countless phones were trained on Walker to record him as he chatted with his audience and sang a selection of songs. It was an unforgettable way to wind up the second full day in camp. Joining the team late in the evening as a replacement for the unavailable Krisnan Inu was Vodafone Warriors wing - and grand finalist - Bill Tupou.

His arrival boosted the complement of players to 22 with Thomas Leuluai to link up with the squad in England. With Tupou added, a significant feature of the 23-man squad was that it included 12 players who were graduates from the first three seasons of the under-20 NYC competition.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12

More extras for the early morning crew (especially those not selected for the Test against Australia) ahead of moving day, a major logistical exercise as all team and personal gear was packed up for the trip to Newcastle. Sydney-based players were able to spend Tuesday night at home before returning to the hotel in the morning.

The bulk of the team gear was transported earlier in the day with the players and most of the staff leaving by bus just after midday, arriving at their next destination - Newcastle's Crowne Plaza Hotel - at 3pm. Soon after checking into their rooms, the players were in the hotel pool for a recovery session, followed by media interviews for Stephen Kearney as well as Test debutants Alex Glenn and Gerard Beale.

After being sized for trousers and another regular undertaking - a hydration test - the players were left to their own devices for dinner, as were management.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13

Another get-up-and-go extras session was followed after breakfast by a strength session at the Balance Health Club in the suburb of Mayfield, a facility where the Newcastle Knights train. When the Kiwis arrived the David Kidwell-coached Junior Kiwis had just finished doing weights.

Seen in the gym was Knights centre Junior Sa'u, the 2009-2010 Kiwi international, as well as former Vodafone Warrior Siuatonga Likiliki; they were both getting some extra work in before Wayne Bennett arrives at the club.

After lunch and a team meeting, the players were back at the same venue for an opposed training session against the Junior Kiwis. The haka ritual also followed this session; on this occasion all players and staff who were in the Junior Kiwis for the first time had to go through their haka initiation ? watched on by the media and some locals. Post-training session media interviews were handled by long-serving internationals Simon Mannering and Jeremy Smith while locals were keen to get as many autographs as they could as well as having photos taken with the players.

After stretches and ice baths, another massage session - and hydration testing - followed for the players back at the hotel before dinner. Benji Marshall had, meanwhile, headed to a local outlet where he was greeted by a huge crowd gathered for a signing session to promote his just-published book.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14

This was a non-training or recovery day for the players with no early-morning extras. The major commitments were two community appearances with 11 players going to the local John Hunter Children's Hospital and the other 11 players visiting two schools. Both events were hugely successful.

At the hospital, the Kiwis' group comprised Benji Marshall, Simon Mannering, Nathan Fien, Jeremy Smith, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Lewis Brown, Kevin Locke, Sika Manu, Fuifui Moimoi, Alex Glenn and Kalifa Faifai Loa. The first stop was the Starlight Room where the players joined patients and caregivers, answering questions, playing games and generally trying to lift spirits.

Marshall showed his talents on a piano in the room before the group visited some wards including the neo-natal ward where they saw tiny, tiny babies in incubators and talked to parents and nursing staff.

Later they moved to the nearby Ronald McDonald House where they mixed with parents and their children. Back at the hotel, lunch was followed by an afternoon off for the players. Some went go karting and others simply relaxed ahead of dinner and a team meeting which followed.

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