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'I came to win the World Cup': NRL coach leaves club to join Michael Cheika's Los Pumas

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

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Just weeks into his new role as Los Pumas head coach, Michael Cheika has sprung a recruitment surprise, hiring an NRL coach as one of his assistants.

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Former Kiwis boss David Kidwell has left his post as assistant coach at the Parramatta Eels to join Cheika’s coaching set-up in Argentina with immediate effect.

“I came to win the World Cup, that’s my mentality,” Kidwell told Argentine media via a Zoom call with Cheika and newly-appointed Los Pumas backs coach Felipe Contepomi on Monday.

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“I told Michael, I’m very excited. I spoke with my family, it was a very big decision. I am very happy.”

A former rugby league star who turned to coaching following a playing career that saw him win the 2002 NRL Premiership with the Sydney Roosters and 2008 World Cup with the Kiwis, Kidwell’s comments echoes those made by Cheika earlier this month.

Speaking to Argentine press for the first time since confirmation of his appointment as Los Pumas boss, Cheika said he believes that Argentina are capable of winning next year’s World Cup in France.

That’s in spite of the fact that the South American powerhouse rugby nation endured a torrid test campaign last year, winning just three of their 12 matches, leading to the resignation of former head coach Mario Ledesma.

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In his place comes Cheika, who was Ledesma’s boss at the Wallabies between 2015 and 2017 before the pair reversed roles when the former joined Los Pumas as a technical advisor two years ago.

Now acting as Ledesma’s successor, Cheika has looked beyond rugby union in a bid to help Argentina realise the world-beating potential he has envisaged for Los Pumas, resulting in the arrival of Kidwell from the NRL.

Kidwell’s role as an assistant to Cheika is his first official position as a rugby union coach, although he revealed that he helped Japan boss Jamie Joseph in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup.

Since his playing retirement in 2009, Kidwell has been an assistant coach for numerous NRL clubs, including the Eels, Melbourne Storm and Wests Tigers.

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His most notable rugby league coaching role, though, came when he was appointed head coach of New Zealand in 2016 after having earlier served as an assistant coach to Stephen Kearney in the two preceding years.

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Kidwell’s tenure at the helm of the Kiwis was disastrous, with the lowest point coming during the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, when New Zealand were bundled out of their home tournament by Fiji in the quarter-finals.

Prior to that match, which proved to be Kidwell’s last in charge of the Kiwis, New Zealand had lost to Tonga in the pool stages.

Under Kidwell’s stewardship, the Kiwis also suffered a shock draw with Scotland at the 2016 Four Nations, failed to register a single win over Australia and lost the international allegiance of key players such as Tonga star Jason Taumalolo.

Kidwell’s only other head coaching roles have come with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he led the club’s U20 side to a Toyota Cup grand final appearance in 2010, and the Maori All-Stars.

The former 25-test rugby league international is reportedly eager to keep his role as Maori All-Stars boss after enjoying an unbeaten run since taking charge of the exhibition side two years ago.

The acquisition of Kidwell adds to the rugby league coaching experience within the Argentine coaching group, as Cheika worked as an advisor for the Roosters two years ago and will coach Lebanon at this year’s Rugby League World Cup in England.

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