WATCHING ENGLAND in rugby league Test matches is frequently a frustrating and disappointing experience and their opening 17-16 loss to New Zealand in the Ladbrokes Four Nations was another example.
As so often in the past, England showed some good signs, but were let down in key areas and lacked the ability or smartness to come through a tight contest.
Three years ago, in an epic World Cup semi-final at Wembley, their hearts were broken when Kiwi half-back Shaun Johnson scored a last-gasp winning try.
Johnson was again New Zealand’s hero, scoring an interception try early in the second half before landing what proved to be the decisive drop goal 16 minutes from time.
After that England had opportunities at close range to set up for an equalising one-pointer, but did not take them and when they did try to salvage a draw, Gareth Widdop’s kick was from long distance and off-target.
Centre Dan Sarginson had a late try-scoring chance, but spilled the ball just short.
England will take heart from a strong defensive display, but after leading 4-0 through two Widdop penalties there was a long spell before the break when they were starved of possession and that proved costly.
Jordan Kahu got New Zealand off the mark with a penalty goal before Jordan Rapana scored their first try to make it 6-4 at half-time and Johnson snatched Widdop’s pass for a converted touchdown soon afterwards.
Rapana crossed either side of tries by Jermaine McGillvary, who had a fine game for England, and Ryan Hall, but Johnson’s quick thinking made the final difference. England should be too good for Scotland in Coventry this weekend, but it will take a big improvement for them to get over the top of Australia in their final group game and a final between New Zealand and the Kangaroos looks most likely.
England: Lomax, McGillvary, Watkins, Sarginson, Hall, Widdop, Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, S Burgess. Subs T Burgess, G Burgess, Cooper, Clark.
New Zealand: Kahu, Nightingale, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana, Leuluai, Johnson, Bromwich, Luke, Waera-Hargreaves, Proctor, Harris, Taumalolo. Subs Brown, Taupau, Ma’u, Blair.
Referee: Robert Hicks (England).