THE reaction in New Zealand to the Kiwis' disastrous Rugby League World Cup campaign has gone from bemused to savage as the players and staff continue to blame the media and fans for their shock loss to Fiji.
Shaun Johnson is the latest player in the media's sights after he attacked the negativity that permeated the press and the fans throughout the tournament.
That interview followed the defiance of coach David Kidwell and captain Adam Blair, who both seemed unable to grasp the depth of the low the side had been guided to, at least according to everyone outside the Kiwis' team bubble.
"I'm not sure the Kiwis could be more pathetic on or off the field," Budge wrote, sticking the boot in with his opening line.
" ... Make no mistake - the game is in total chaos at present and it needs a complete and total overhaul to prevent this mess getting any worse.
"I don't have confidence in those running the sport to make that tough call so it will be up to the game's stakeholders to ensure the broom is taken through the organisation in the coming months.
" ... A total clean-out is needed - starting with chief executive Alex Hayton, who continues to bury his head in the sand, and the likeable but simple Kidwell. Seriously you wouldn't follow either of these blokes in a conga line with any sort confidence.
" ... It was obvious to anyone not inside the team that the place was a complete shambles when Jason Taumalolo and others walked away at the 11th hour and it was clear the runaway train was spiralling out of control when they were stunned by Tonga in Hamilton last week.
"They're upset we called it? Why? If they had played well and won it might be a different story but all they did was prove us "haters" all correct."
Budge explained New Zealand's lack of leadership further, describing the cocaine bust that stopped Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor from playing in the tournament as the first obvious sign things were amiss.
"To be knocked out by a Fijian side full of a handful of NRL players and a bunch of passionate nobodies has to be the darkest hour in the sport's history here," he wrote.
"Add to that the drugs scandal back in May, the defection of a number of key players and a governing body that simply refuses to accept they are not getting things right and you have to wonder why anyone would even bother to support this rabble at all.
"So what is the problem? Well in a nutshell it is a complete lack of leadership across the game. From the board and chief executive all the way down to the playing roster - there are simply no genuine leaders in this sport up to minimum standard."
While Budge touched on the ignorance that was plaguing the Kiwis in the wake of their "darkest hour", his New Zealand Herald colleague David Skipworth singled out star playmaker Johnson's "poor timing".
"Kiwis halfback Shaun Johnson was out of line in having a crack at doubting fans and media in the wake of their embarrassing Rugby League World Cup quarter-final loss to Fiji," Skipworth wrote.
"The Warriors playmaker came across as petulant and paranoid when he decided following the 4-2 loss in Wellington to tell us how sections of the public and media have had it in for them all along.
"Talk about poor timing. Johnson's comments perhaps would have been better received if the side had played well and bounced back from last week's shock loss to Tonga to make the final four.
"But the fact is the Kiwis played poorly and no amount of spin or polish can hide the fact they underperformed with their premature exit the worst result for any Kiwis side in World Cup history."
But perhaps the most damning assessment of the Kiwis came from Fairfax Media's Hamish Bidwell.
"The Kiwis made fools of themselves on Saturday night," he wrote.
"As they're entitled to. You can't make people behave sensibly.
"But the issue the team - and the New Zealand Rugby League (NZRL) - have in the wake of a ridiculous, inept World Cup campaign, is that none of them feel foolish. They actually think we're the halfwits, for not being able to see what a magnificent entity they've created.
"You can't write or talk sense about them or ask legitimate, straightforward questions and expect similar in response because, from head coach David Kidwell on down, you appear to be dealing with people who have been brainwashed.
"Cult's a strong word, but there's definite quasi-religious element in play here.
"The team are so swept up in their culture and this "Mana Group" they've created and so certain that they're building a great sporting dynasty, that they look at the rest of us and see dullards.
"Or worse, judging by halfback Shaun Johnson's attitude towards "yous" people on the outside looking in.
"They really are as baffled by us as we are by them."
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