Great Britain, relegated to third in the international pecking order when New Zealand beat Australia in the Tri-Nations Final last autumn, began their fight back with a record win on home soil over the dismal Kiwis at Knowsley Road.
The Leeds stand-off Danny McGuire and the St Helen's trio of James Graham, Ade Gardner and Sean Long all scored two tries, but this was a solid team performance against what was admittedly a badly depleted New Zealand side that understandably lacked cohesion but showed little of their customary passion.
Great Britain had to overcome a bad start and the loss of their captain, Paul Sculthorpe, with a knee ligament injury - although not to the knee on which he had reconstructive surgery last season. Once they had steadied themselves, they were far too good for the insipid opposition, with McGuire and Long linking smoothly at half-back and Paul Wellens bringing his outstanding club form into the international arena with a commanding display at full-back. "We had a shaky start in the first couple of minutes but from then I thought we were terrific," said the Great Britain coach, Brian Noble.
"This wasn't a bad New Zealand team. We defended really well and then put some points on them at the end. The players' attitude was exemplary and this showed what international football means to them."
Noble has been a vociferous campaigner for Great Britain to have at least one mid-season international and he believes this one will show its worth when the side heads to the Southern Hemisphere this autumn. "We've poked the bear in the ribs," he said. "New Zealand will be stronger and we'll have to be better than we were tonight."
The Kiwis, with only seven of the players who won the Tri-Nations last November, still made the most encouraging of starts, Lesley Vainikolo out-jumping Gardner to take Stacey Jones' kick and touch down. Great Britain hit back quickly when McGuire took Long's pass and dummied his way through and they looked comfortable from the moment when Graham capitalised on good work from Keith Senior and Leon Pryce to score with only his second touch of the ball.
Long scored before half-time and Wellens' break six minutes into the second half sent Senior over. Graham, McGuire, Gardner and Long then queued up to all claim a second apiece. New Zealand got one back through Iafeta Paleaasina and another in the last minute from Henry Fa'afili, but they had been comprehensively outplayed.
"We had a lot of defending to do against a Great Britain with a lot of cohesion," said their coach, Brian McClennan. "We got stitched up a bit on the scoreboard but we've still got a lot of pride in our jersey and our nation and we'll be bouncing back come Tri-Nations time."
Noble said that Sculthorpe could be playing again within the month. "I feel for Paul being the passionate man he is," he said. "He set the standard for an exemplary attitude from the side. It's disappointing for him but he'll be playing again in three to four weeks."
Noble also paid tribute to the predictably excellent performance of the man-of-the-match, Wellens, who insisted that the game had had all the intensity of a true test.
"We've been at our most cohesive for a few years," Wellens said. "The game was very intense although we managed to run away with it at the end."
Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens), Gardner (St Helens), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Pryce (St Helens), McGuire (Leeds), Long (St Helens), Fielden (Wigan), Cunningham (St Helens), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Leeds), Ellis (Leeds), Sculthorpe (St Helens). Substitutes: Newton (Bradford), Gilmour (St Helens), Graham (St Helens), O'Loughlin (Wigan).
New Zealand: Toopi (NZ Warriors), Fa'afili (Warrington), Talau (St Helens), Hape (Bradford), Vainikolo (Bradford), Roberts (Canterbury), Jones (Catalans), Chan (Catalans), Tony (Hull), Paleaasina (Wigan), Lauitiiti (Leeds), Solomona (Wakefield), Kidwell (Melbourne). Substitutes: Paul (Huddersfield), Hansen (Wigan), Anderson (St Helens), Betham (Wakefield).
Referee: S Clark (Australia).Reuse content