Rugby League: Olympic Stadium to host England v New Zealand Test

New Zealand head coach Stephen Kearney outside the Olympic Stadium in London.
New Zealand head coach Stephen Kearney outside the Olympic Stadium in London.
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THE Olympic Stadium in London will host the second Test between England and New Zealand this autumn with Hull FC’s KC Stadium holding the opener of the three-game series as part of the club’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

From 2016, the Olympic Stadium – initially built for the 2012 London Olympics – will become the home of West Ham United as well the National Competition Centre for UK Athletics.

However, the 54,000-capacity all-seater ground will stage its first international rugby league game on Saturday November 7 when the Kiwis, reigning Four Nations champions, take on Steve McNamara’s side.

The series marks England’s first appearance on home soil since their thrilling encounter with New Zealand in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final at Wembley, one of the greatest internationals in recent memory.

The KC will host the tourists on Sunday, November 1 while the series concludes with the third international at the DW Stadium, Wigan, on Saturday November 14.

Fittingly, Hull FC have a strong Kiwi affiliation with the quartet of Gary Kemble, James Leuluai, Fred Ah Kuoi and Dane O’Hara all famously playing for the East Yorkshire club against Wigan at Wembley in 1985 during arguably the greatest Challenge Cup final history.

Furthermore, Kiwi hooker Richard Swain was captain the last time Hull won the Challenge Cup in 2005 when second-row Stephen Kearney - the current New Zealand head coach - also played.

There is already a great appetite for the three-Test calender given the stylish and attractive manner in which the Kiwis, inspired by brilliant scrum-half Shaun Johnson, stunned Australia in last autumn’s Four Nations final after England had also pushed them so close 16-14 in Dunedin.

It was Johnson, of course, who broke English hearts at Wembley in 2013, too, when New Zealand scored in the final seconds to cruelly deny the hosts a place in the World Cup final.

McNamara said: “The schedule for the Kiwi series is very exciting and it is fantastic that we have this opportunity to play an historic international at an iconic venue like the Olympic Stadium.

“Playing New Zealand always brings out the best in the England players and the chance to be involved in the match at Olympic Stadium will provide additional incentive for everyone.

“Coming from Hull, I’m also looking forward to the opening match at the KC Stadium, where the atmosphere is guaranteed to be electric, whilst we are assured of a rousing reception at Wigan in front of some of the most passionate fans in the world.”

RFL chief executive Nigel Wood added: “The Olympic Stadium provided the backdrop to some truly most memorable action at London 2012 and it is simply fantastic that we have reached an agreement for England to play New Zealand there in November.

“The world’s best rugby league players deserve to play on the biggest stages and our supporters deserve the opportunity watch rugby league in the best venues.

“The Kiwis are our oldest rivals on the international stage and the match at Olympic Stadium will provide one of the highlights of a historic year for the sport as we celebrate our 120-year anniversary in 2015.

“Two years have elapsed since we last hosted New Zealand and I am sure that everyone who witnessed that memorable semi-final at Wembley Stadium will be looking forward to experiencing a re-match at Olympic Stadium.

“Hull and Wigan have long and proud traditions as international Rugby League venues and the matches at KC Stadium and DW Stadium will be terrific occasions played out in front of bumper crowds.”

Kearney, who visited the Olympic Stadium last week, said: “I’m really excited that my players have the chance to play in the inaugural rugby league game at such an outstanding venue.

“If we can fill it full of English fans and get it full of noise, it will be a wonderful occasion.

“In our last two performances against England, there has been nothing between the two sides and I imagine this series will be no different.

“The fans should be excited about the England team, the way they have played against us and Australia recently, they have been great contests and I think they were unlucky to lose in Melbourne.

“The fans should be proud of their team, hopefully they will fill the Olympic Stadium and make it a great occasion.”

Tickets for all three matches will go on general sale on Wednesday, March 11 (9am).

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