Shaun Johnson scored a winning drop-goal as New Zealand beat England in a tense and physical Four Nations match at a sell-out Huddersfield.
Man of the match Johnson, who scored a last-gasp try to beat England in the 2013 World Cup semi-final, put the Kiwis 17-16 ahead with 14 minutes left.
And his team held on for a precious two points that takes them a long way towards the final on 20 November.
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Gareth Widdop had kicked two penalties and England had repeatedly threatened the Kiwi line as the home team dominated the opening 20 minutes.
But New Zealand then seized control, scoring a Jordan Kahu penalty and a try from Jordan Rapana in the right corner as David Kidwell’s side took a 6-4 lead into the break.
They soon doubled their advantage when Johnson intercepted a Widdop pass for an 80-yard score that Kahu converted.
England rallied, with Huddersfield Giants winger Jermaine McGillvary scoring in the corner as the hosts moved to within two points.
Another try from winger Rapana – after a brilliant Manu Ma’u offload – was cancelled out by a converted Ryan Hall touchdown by the corner flag created by a sublime flicked pass from Widdop.
That left the score 16-16 before Johnson struck from in front of the posts.
The long road to the final
New Zealand captain Jesse Bromwich said before the match that the round-robin format of the Four Nations gave Saturday’s Test the feel of a semi-final.
With both teams yet to face favourites Australia, as well as minnows Scotland, the importance of winning at Huddersfield was obvious.
England play Scotland in Coventry next Saturday but are likely to need to defeat the Kangaroos in London on 13 November if they are to reach the final at Anfield.
It leaves Wayne Bennett’s talented team with an uphill task as they look to end their long wait for a major tournament victory – a sequence that stretches back to Great Britain’s World Cup victory in 1972.
Bad start for Big Sam and Bennett
The match was forward Sam Burgess’s first for England since his return from rugby union and his debut as captain, and it was also the first time Australian Wayne Bennett had coached England in a meaningful fixture after last Saturday’s warm-up win over France in Avignon.
It looked extremely promising for them as England started with a purpose and intent that the Kiwis seemed unable to match.
Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson marshalled the team superbly and England were good value for their 4-0 lead.
However, they were unable to score a try and, by the break, had been forced to defend numerous repeat sets as the Kiwis took charge.
Although England refused to give in after the influential Johnson’s intercept try, they were always chasing the game during an increasingly scrappy second half as the Kiwis showed why they are rated as the world’s number one side in the way they closed out the game.
The promise that this might be the start of a bright new era for an England team with a history of falling short in key contests was quickly extinguished, and many of the players slumped to the floor at the end of what was ultimately a very disappointing afternoon.
Kiwis finally find some form
England defeated New Zealand 2-1 in a Test series last year and the Kiwis had won only two of their past 10 away games against Great Britain or England.
It has not been easy for new coach Kidwell in 2016, his team managing only two line breaks and one try in their previous two matches this year, both of which saw them comfortably beaten by Australia.
But with a huge forward pack providing a platform for versatile, in-your-face hooker Issac Luke, as well as the mercurial Johnson, the Kiwis pulled off a much-needed victory ahead of their match against the Kangaroos in Coventry next weekend.
The defended solidly early in the match and built pressure superbly as they wrestled the initiative away from their opponents – and with it a valuable two points.
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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-league/37811472