ENGLAND HAVE made impressive progress under coach Wayne Bennett, but they were brought back down to earth with a thud at Elland Road.
A whitewash was the pre-game objective, but not of this nature. Rather than winning the Test series 3-0, England were crushed 34-0 by a New Zealand side who are also emerging from the doldrums following their disastrous 2017 World Cup.
With the Kiwis having beaten Australia earlier this autumn the immediate future for the international game looks bright and the excellent crowd of 32,186 – at what was a dead rubber – proved there is an appetite for it among rugby league fans.
Three Kiwi tries in 12 minutes either side of the break ensured it was not going to be England’s day, but the third Test was more competitive than the one-sided scoreline suggests.
The Kiwis took full control late on, scoring two tries against 12 men, but England, who were well below full-strength, had three touchdowns ruled out and did play some good rugby in spells, without applying the finishing touch.
Elliott Whitehead and man of the series Tommy Makinson have both proved during this series they are world class and the reputation of others – including Jonny Lomax and Luke Thompson – has also been enhanced.
On the day, the Kiwis – inspired by half-back Kodi Nikorima – were too good. They scored six tries, four of them converted by Shaun Johnson and Isiah Papali adding the extras to the final touchdown.
The 18-0 half-time scoreline did not reflect an opening period which England dominated for long spells.
What it did indicate was a ruthless performance from the Kiwis who rode their luck at times, but proved utterly clinical close to England’s line. They were on the back foot after taking a fifth-minute lead through Ken Maumalo’s try after Brandon Smith’s pass had been batted on by Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
England had two touchdowns ruled out by video referee Phil Bentham. He overturned man in the middle Gerard Sutton’s initial ruling – owing to an obstruction by Tom Burgess – after Makinson had dived over.
Later Oliver Gildart crossed, but the officials decided Jermaine McGillvary had knocked-on first. In between times, Bentham confirmed Sutton’s indication of no try when Makinson forced Jamayne Isaako to put a foot in touch.
It was 6-0 until the 32nd minute, but then Nikorima sent Isaac Liu powering over and – on the stroke of half-time – scored himself after a brilliant one-two with Johnson.
Maumalo’s second try – a superb catch from Nikorima’s cross-kick – ended any realistic prospect of an England fightback after just 44 minutes. England should have made more of a huge advantage in the penalty count. It finished nine-five, but was eight-two midway through the second period.
Sixteen minutes after the break Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was sin-binned for a flop after Watene-Zelezniak’s try-saving tackle on Josh Hodgson.
That was England’s third penalty in rapid succession and led to their third disallowed try, the officials spotting Makinson had put a foot in touch from George Williams’ looping pass. McGillvary was sin-binned for a professional foul seconds after Waerea-Hargreaves returned and Jesse Bromwich went over from Nikorima’s pass in the next set.
Then Joseph Tapine completed the rout with eight minutes left. Disappointing as the result was, it was about more than rugby. At times it seems rugby league doesn’t get a lot right, but it did on this occasion.
The centenary of the armistice gave the sport an opportunity to pay its respects and the tone of the commemoration was spot on.
Both coaches laid a wreath before the two teams stood shoulder to shoulder for a minute’s silence, but most moving was the video tribute from the current England team, who read out the names of all 69 Northern Union players to die in the conflict.
England: Lomax, Makinson, Connor, Gildart, McGillvary, Williams, Myler, T Burgess, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, Thompson. Subs Hill, Milner, Greenwood, Ratchford.
New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak, Maumalo, Marsters, Manu, Isaako, Johnson, Nikorima, J Bromwich, Smith, Waerea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Liu, Blair. Subs K Bromwich, Ah Mau, Papalii, Tapine.
Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia).