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Benji Marshall describes it as a moment that will define Shaun Johnson's career, but it may also prove to be a defining moment in the revival of New Zealand as an international force.

When Johnson chased 70 metres to make a try-saving tackle on England winger Jermaine McGilvray that jolted the ball loose and enabled Ken Maumalo to score at the opposite end during last weekend's World Cup 9s semi-final, Kiwis coach Michael Maguire and the players on his bench looked knowingly at each other.

At his first team meeting after taking charge of New Zealand before last year's mid-season Test against England at Denver's Mile High Stadium, Maguire showed players video footage of Patriots tight-end Benjamin Watson performing a similar feat at the famous venue where they were to play.

Players at every Kiwis camp since have watched the legendary NFL play, in which Watson ran from the far corner to make a touchdown-saving tackle on Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey after he intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the New England end zone and ran the length of the field.

"It is just a clip that shows what effort is all about and if you do that you will get some rewards off the back of it," Maguire said.

After New Zealand's disastrous 2017 World Cup campaign, in which players defected to other nations and the team lost to Tonga before being eliminated in the quarter-final by Fiji, Maguire's focus has been on restoring pride in the Kiwis jersey.

The fact he now has to choose between Marshall, Johnson, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Kieran Foran, Kodi Nikorima, Brandon Smith, Jahrome Hughes and Charnze Nicol-Klokstad for the key positions in the spine even though captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak is injured, suggests Maguire has at least convinced the players.

Feats like Johnson's at Bankwest Stadium last Saturday night should also help convince the fans.

"I think the first clip Madge showed when we got into camp [in Denver] was just about effort," prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves said.

"It was like Shaun making that effort in the Nines, when he saved that try.

"He didn't need to make the effort but he still did. He chose to because he wanted to and he didn't want to let his teammates down."

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The other side of Johnson

Waerea-Hargreaves was one of the players watching from the sideline who immediately recognised the significance of that moment.

"It was actually all the players around us, we were all saying it," Maguire said.

The Kiwis were still talking about it in camp this week as they prepare for Friday night's Test against Australia at WIN Stadium, with Marshall interrupting an interview with Johnson to declare: "That moment will define Shaun Johnson's career. He won that game for us."

While Johnson is best known for his flashy footwork and electrifying speed, Marshall said that effort was typical of what teammates regularly see him do at training.

"The side of Shaun that people don't get to see is what happened in that game," Marshall said.

"It's a moment where he was 20 metres behind a guy and you have to make a decision when you are tired, 'do I chase or he is going to score?'. 

"For someone who has come off the back of hamstring and quad injuries this season, who probably hasn't backed his speed because of that, to just make the decision because he is wearing this jumper sums up where I reckon Shaun is at mentally and commitment-wise for our team.

"It is a play that Madge has been talking about and will show to our team about what the standards are."

Maguire joked he no longer needs to show footage of Watson's heroics because "I can just show them Shaun's".

The best of Shaun Johnson at the Nines

"Effort is what teams are built on and if you put the effort in you will get the reward," Maguire said.

"The boys have really bought in to what we are trying to do and it is about the efforts that they can have at any stage of a game, and Shaun definitely displayed that in that England game.

"Whether it is a defensive effort like Shaun's, or pushing on with their teammate, they are the things we are trying to push at the moment. That clip was just one that stood out to me that shows what great teams are about and they [the Patriots] have done that for a long time."

Making NZ great again

When Maguire took over after the 2017 World Cup, the Kiwis were at rock bottom.

They were reeling in the lead-up to the tournament from the suspension of captain Jesse Bromwich and second-rower Kevin Proctor for a drug-related incident after the mid-season Test in Canberra, and the mass defection of players, led by superstar Jason Taumalolo, to Tonga.

While the World Cup was a huge success in New Zealand because of Tonga's rise as an international powerhouse, the Kiwis were humiliated at home and their fans failed to turn out for last year's end-of-season Test against Australia in Auckland.

Rather than concern himself with how to woo the defectors back or prevent others from being able to choose Tonga or Samoa, Maguire focused on ensuring the Kiwis jersey was one players eligible for New Zealand would aspire to wear.

"He has just come on with a lot of passion, that's what we all love about him," said Tuivasa-Sheck, who admitted he had been tempted to play for his native Samoa over New Zealand.

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"Madge has got a lot of passion and he is real hungry for the Kiwis to succeed. That's what he is trying to push and drive and we all want to go out there and do our best.

"The World Cup was really tough for us and we were really disappointed but everyone has bounced back.

"We have had a few wins a and that has given younger boys the chance to want to play for the Kiwis. They have seen we are back in the winning circles and we have got boys like Joseph Manu and Brandon Smith coming through."

Maguire has also revived the Test careers of players such as Marshall and Waerea-Hargreaves, and they have helped instil the passion which appeared to be waning.

"A lot of Kiwis are eligible for other countries and we can't force people to play but what we have to do is set an example that this jersey is such a great place, with the family bond we have, that players want to be a part of it," Marshall said.

"Our job is to make this a desirable jumper where they feel that wearing this is everything."

Marshall's influence

Marshall had that impact on a generation of young players, including Johnson and Nicoll-Klokstad, who have said they were inspired to want to play for the Kiwis after watching the star playmaker lead New Zealand to victory at the 2008 World Cup.

"Everyone speaks about the 2008 World Cup final, and you just take yourself back to where you were at that point," Johnson said. "I was on the piss with my mates and we were going crazy, and from that day forth I was like, ‘I'm going to get there'.

"That was my drive, Benji, Nathan Fien, Lance Hohaia, Adam Blair … all of those guys, so we understand what winning can do.

"Rugby league in New Zealand isn't what rugby league is like in Australia so we are starting behind the eight-ball. We lose players to play Origin, we lose players to play for Australia, to play for Tonga … you see it all.

"We've got to create an environment where people just don't want to leave. To me this is the pinnacle. Wearing this jersey is the best thing in the world, it is a dream come true. We need to share that with the world so that the kids coming through see that."

Marshall: It will be one of the proudest moments of my career

With Marshall having been out of the Test team for seven years until his recall against Tonga in July and now nearing the end of his career, Johnson has been the player kids want to emulate but the pressure has on occasions seemed overwhelming.

He seems more comfortable in the role under Maguire's guidance.

"I have spent a fair bit of time with Shaun talking about what the jersey means and what we want to build, and it is all about your actions," Maguire said.

"We want to be able to create pathways for the young kids coming through and when I talk to the players they talk about if we show everyone what the jersey means and we take it to the higher level we are going to get a lot of support behind us.

"We have got some great players but we want to make sure there is a legacy that has been built on and pathways for young kids to come into this jersey."

Unprecedented depth

Before the mid-season Test against Tonga, Johnson had played alongside Marshall just once – in his 2012 debut against Australia.

In turn, the only time Marshall had played with Stacey Jones was when the Hall of Famer came out of retirement to play for the New Zealand All Golds in the 2007 centenary Test against the Northern Union.

The Kiwis have had to play the likes of Nigel Vagana, Willie Talau or even Sonny Bill Williams at five-eighth, while in recent seasons, Johnson has been partnered by Foran, Nikorima, Thomas Leuleai and Te Maire Martin.

With Marshall and Johnson in the halves for Friday's Test against the Kangaroos, Maguire had no room for Foran or Nikorima, while Parramatta rookie Dylan Brown played at the World Cup 9s and is considered a long-term option.

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"I was talking to Stacey and [selector] Mark Horo about it the other day and if you go back 20 years they were trying to find players in key positions so the jersey has definitely taken a step forward but we need to take a really large one to put ourselves in a position for the young kids," Maguire said.

After beating the Kangaroos 26-24 in last year's end-of-season Test at Mt Smart Stadium, the Kiwis have grown in confidence and but Johnson insisted that sustained success was needed and said they were building towards the 2021 World Cup in England.

"People want to play for winners, that's just the way life is," Johnson said. "If we win we get those kids wanting to stay and not wanting to divert.

"It is something that we have got to keep building, none of us are satisfied with where it is at or that we have done enough yet. We know we have to back it up and if we do we will have these kids coming through like we were when Benji and the boys won back in 2008 so that is what we are striving for."

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