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.
SKY Sport is proud to announce that it will provide LIVE coverage of the historic Denver rugby league test match between the Kiwis and England on Sunday morning, June 24th.
This is the first time that the countries currently ranked two and three in world rugby league have met in the United States, and will also be Michael Maguire’s first test as coach of the Kiwis.
Match commentary will be provided by experienced NRL and FOX commentator Andrew Voss.
WHAT: Kiwis v England
WHERE: Denver, Colorado, United States
WHEN: Sunday, June 24
CHANNEL: SKY Sport 2 (Channel 52)
TIME: Coverage times TBC and will be released closer to the time.
Former Kiwi legends are rallying together in support of the mid-year clash between the New Zealand Kiwis and England scheduled to go ahead in Denver.
Stomping ground of the Denver Broncos, Mile High Stadium will host the international match on 23 June where Americans will get a taste of world-class rugby league for the first time.
While the Test in Denver is set to challenge the status quo of where international rugby league is played, former Kiwi legends Olsen Filipaina, Ali Lauitiiti and Henry Fa’afili are right behind the new fixture.
Kiwi #529 Olsen Filipaina and Kiwi #677 Ali Lauitiiti played 28 and 19 Tests respectively for the Kiwis and both say taking the game to Denver is an important step for rugby league to move forward.
“I fully support the Kiwis playing in Denver – how else is our game of rugby league going to expand if we don’t showcase it to other countries? Let’s give them a taste of Kiwi,” Filipaina says.
Exploring all international and commercial opportunities for the Kiwis becomes an essential part of growing the game. Expanding into the North American market would, in turn, allow New Zealand Rugby League to better support and resource grassroots rugby league throughout the country.
Lauitiiti is excited to share the game he loves with those in America who haven’t yet had the opportunity to experience ‘the hits’ in real life.
“Personally, I think it’s a great initiative and it’s worked for other sports so why can’t rugby league do the same thing. It’s our great game so why not bless the rest of the world with it,” he says.
Like Ali Lauitiiti, Kiwi #687 Henry Fa’afili remembers his days in the black and white jersey very fondly and only wishes he could do his time again running out at the world renowned Mile High Stadium.
“It would be disappointing if the game in Denver weren’t to go ahead. We’ve got the opportunity to make history with our great game so I think we need to embrace it,” Fa’afili says.
“You only have to see the excitement and reaction from the Americans when Shaun’s twinkle toes are on show. Then there’s Roger’s speed to beat players one on one, and Marty’s strength and power to fend and run over players. For them to experience it first-hand I think will be talked about for a long time,” he added.
Filipaina, Lauitiiti and Fa’afili, alongside a number of other former Kiwis continue to support the growth of rugby league in New Zealand even after hanging up the boots. This includes NZRL Board Member Tawera Nikau and Wellbeing Manager Nigel Vagana who work behind the scenes at NZRL to ensure rugby league continues to benefit New Zealanders across the country.