A cracker first half in front of a 19,320 strong crowd wasn’t enough to make the Kiwis victorious against England at the Denver Test going down 18-36.
Esan Marsters, one of seven debutants started his Kiwis career with the first try of the match off the back of Kodi Nikorima’s quick feet and offload. Marsters backed that up with some moments of brilliance on attack and when partnering with Peta Hiku, was a weapon the English struggled to stop.
Oustanding in the fullback position, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak got his reward, the first of his two tries following a line-break from veteran Issac Luke. Another conversion from Jamayne Isaako bringing the score to 12-0.
Wayne Bennett’s men trailed 12-0 before Connor was thrust into action after a number of defensive lapses by five-eighth Jonny Lomax and set up two first-half tries before scoring one himself as England continued the form which took them to last year’s World Cup final.
After running in a converted and unconverted try, England chewed away at the Kiwis’ lead taking the score to 12-10 as they ran into the sheds at halftime.
The Kiwis were starved of the ball in the second half making several mistakes that cost them. Although he showed fine form in a Test that has reinvigorated his Kiwis career, Issac Luke was guilty of kicking the ball over the dead ball line on the full three times conceding penalties for each.
England halfback Gareth Widdop landed a 50-metre penalty goal with ease after Isaako’s 55th-minute mistake, while there was limited kicking in general play.
The Kiwis started the better team and played an attacking brand of football in their first Test under Michael Maguire, while forwards Martin Taupau and Nelson Asofa-Solomona kept the crowd entertained with some big hits in the opening minutes.
It was a different England side in the second half and Widdop levelled the scores in the 46th minute with a penalty goal after Luke stepped on the hand of England centre.
England took control of the game following Whitehead’s second try in the 53rd minute after replacement Tommy Makinson swooped on a Widdop grubber.
A 56th-minute penalty goal by Widdop from halfway put England ahead 20-12 and Connor scored a try for himself when he beat Nikorima and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves before dummying past Watene-Zelezniak in the 60th minute.
Fellow rookie Makinson scored a long-range try in the 65th minute before Watene-Zelezniak scored his second try of the match. Final score, 18-36.