Oh England. You just had to didn’t you. After a week of positivity in building a bumper 32,186 crowd to watch the third New Zealand test, Bennett’s side, luckily with the series already wrapped up, delivered a shocker, with the Kiwis running away 34-0 winners.
You could certainly say that both injuries and suspensions finally got the better of England, but that would be rather unjust to a very good New Zealand side that have played their part in a terrific international series. They got some revenge at Elland Road in clinical fashion, a result regardless of the scenario that does take some credibility away from England’s challenge to become the best test side in the world.
The fact is top sides should not lose by 34-point margins on their own turf. It was bad. Perhaps the players were feeling the hangover effects of the victorious night out they presumably had in Liverpool the week before. Meh. We’re just looking for excuses, as that was a little embarrassing, and in perfect timing. Perfect timing that it came after Garry Schofield and several other gobshites, including our editor, were putting the rallying call out to Australia to stop bottling it and play us, and perfect timing that it came just days after Tommy Makinson was announced as the winner of the Golden Boot. Of course the result should take no credit away from Tommy, who was nothing short of brilliant in the first two games, but it’s just typical, Sod’s law really, that it gives the opportunity for retaliation on the other side of the world after their dummies went flying when England’s golden winger was announced as the winner. At least we can still crack a smile there.
And in truth we shouldn’t even be that downbeat. With the series already commendably secured, a significant intensity drop from England was naturally noticeable, and that was added to a lengthy list of absent players, with the Kiwis, who do have some stars out themselves, fully capitalising. Michael McGuire’s side scored six tries to none and completely overpowered us. Without taking credit away from them though you can’t get away from England’s missing troops, which exceeded into double figures and meant that the side had to play the likes of Richie Myler, who isn’t good enough to get into new Hull and District sensation Brownies Bulldogs team, never mind play at this level. England were both undercooked and understrength and it told. It’s the only aspect of England that’s been criticised this Autumn but the kicking game from the half backs was again abysmal, but this time it was actually horrific, and their was nothing about the side in attack. The three-quarters had no service, with centres Jake Connor and Oliver Gildart, after having their own glorious moments in games one and two, bystanders for most of the third match.
For the lack of creativity though England did manage to bring the video referee into play four times, with four try appeals all turned down by the man in the box. There wasn’t much that was dubious about them either, with each tedious video replay seeming to be the right call. It just wasn’t England’s day. Losing George Burgess to suspension, and with Daryl Clark and Sam Tomkins added to the injury list, meant the home side lost a bit of guile and mongrel about them. Meanwhile New Zealand took advantage and again pushed the physical legalities to the absolute limit and certainly tested the referee Gerard Sutton. For his urge to let the game flow and all the admiration that brings, sometimes it’s perfectly okay to blow the whistle when a player nearly takes the head off of another. There were three noticeable incidents on that front in the first five minutes. Not that Sutton was anything to do with the defeat. England were just beaten by the better team, and unlike our Southern Hemisphere counterparts who whinge and complain when they get beat, we can accept that.
New Zealand, with a boisterous forward pack containing their opposition, eased into the game, weathered the storm, and played some good stuff. Their tries, whilst some of which questioned the ability of the home defence, were well executed and mainly orchestrated by Kodi Nikorima. The little half back is not a name or to speak when compared to Shaun Johnson on these shores, but out of the two halves, Nikorima was the most influential in the series by a mile. He had a cracking game. At fullback Kiwi captain and Panthers flyer Dallin Watene-Zeleziank gave another solid performance, whereas Jamayne Isaako, a player most of the crowd would have seen in the flesh for the first time, intimidated all with his sheer size and power. He’s still a teenager. What on earth do they feed them?
However one of the names expected to make to mark in this series was Joesph Manu, the Sydney Roosters star who took the NRL by storm this season, but who was last seen in Jake Connor’s back pocket. Some testament to the Hull FC maverick, who showed his international esteem in the four tests in 2018 prior to the Elland Road outing, and whilst his last appearance was quiet, it takes nothing away from a sensational year. Us fortunate Airlie Birds are privileged to have him on our club roster for the foreseeable future.
For England this was just a really bad day at the office. No-one on the team-sheet can really be exempt from criticism and we won’t single out individuals. When we reflect on the series, we can focus on two fantastic test victories at the KCOM Stadium and at Anfield where the job was more than done. That was still an under-strength England side giving it to New Zealand and it was magical to see. More of that please. The first two tests showed what England were all about. It’s just a shame the third panned out like it did, but it was still an occasion in itself.
Played out on Sunday 11th November, exactly 100 years since the end of the First World War, the contest had deeper meaning. An emotional and proud pre-match routine saw reigning serviceman and women on the pitch for a minute silence, where both England and New Zealand players linked arm in arm together. What got us in particular though was the stadium announcer listing the names of every single Northern Union player who stopped playing rugby league in order to serve their country in the war. Hull FC’s very own Jack Harrison, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery, the highest military honour awarded to British and commonwealth forces, was one of those men and we should all be proud of him. The remembrance service before the game also carried out a spine tingling rendition of Last Post, which commemorates all those lost in conflict. It was all impeccably observed too by an atmospheric crowd, which was in itself a complete contrast to the KCOM a fortnight ago.
That set the scene really and while England gave it a go in the first half despite being a score down, ultimately two late tries right before half time sealed their fate. New Zealand scored three more in the second half and somewhat toyed with their hosts. The hope was that with more favourable video ref calls a contest could have been made, but the reality is New Zealand were just better on the day.
On the field there wasn’t much to shout about, but off the field there’s a lot to be proud about. We will remember them.
England Starting XIII: 1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Jake Connor, 4. Oliver Gildart, 5. Jermaine McGillvary, 6. George Williams, 7. Richie Myler, 15. Thomas Burgess, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. James Graham, 11. John Bateman, 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Luke Thompson. Interchange: 14. Adam Milner, 8. Chris Hill, 16. Joe Greenwood, 17. Stefan Ratchford.
England Tries: None. Goals: None
New Zealand Starting XIII: 1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2. Ken Maumalo, 3. Esan Marsters, 4. Jospeh Manu, 5. Jamayne Isaako, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Kodi Nikorima, 8. Jesse Bromwich. 9. Brandon Smith, 10. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Isaac Liu, 13. Adam Blair. Interchange: 14. Kenny Bromwich, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Isaiah Papalii, 17. Joseph Tapine.
New Zealand Tries: Maumalo 2, Liu, Nikorima, J.Bromwich, Tapine. Goals: Johnson 4/5, Papalii 1/1
Scoring System: 0-6, 0-12, 0-18, 0-22, 0-28, 0-34
Referee: Gerard Sutton