Great Britain got their Tri-Nations campaign back on track as a 20-point second-half surge took them clear of the Kiwis in Huddersfield last night. An inspired 10-minute burst that brought two tries from the rookie winger Stuart Reardon and one from the hooker Terry Newton transformed a match that had been slipping away from the Lions, who now need just one win from their two remaining matches to qualify for the final of the tournament.
"In many respects that was a tougher game than last week," said Great Britain's coach Brian Noble, recalling the heartbreaking last minute defeat to Australia in Manchester. "At half-time, I asked the players a couple of questions about things that had troubled us and they answered those questions in the second half."
Britain achieved that turnaround despite having their captain, Andy Farrell, clearly struggling with the after-effects of a virus that swept through their camp in the week and twice having to leave the pitch. In his absence, it was two of the younger and less experienced players in the side who seized the initiative.
After Newton had gone over after 42 minutes to start chipping away at New Zealand's 12-2 half-time lead, Reardon and Danny McGuire proved to be the match-winners.
The Leeds stand-off's improvisation got the ball to Reardon for his first try when he palmed it on via his club colleague Keith Senior, and then the sort of break that has delighted Headingley all season brought his side a lead they were destined to hold. McGuire's searing pace took him into the heart of the Kiwi defence and, as the men in black closed around him, he had the presence of mind to throw out a long pass in Reardon's direction. The Bradford wing managed to scoop the ball off the wet turf and carry it over the line.
"It was a great ball from him, even to see me out there," said Reardon afterwards. "It deserved a good finish."
During a return to the action, Farrell kicked a penalty before two from Iestyn Harris on his return to international rugby league took the game beyond New Zealand. "We played very well for the first half and for the last half hour, but we put in a bad 10 minutes," said the Kiwis' coach, Daniel Anderson. "We were the architects of our own disaster."
Farrell had put Britain ahead with an early penalty and the Kiwis were slow to get going, although there were a couple of warnings from their young prodigy at loose forward, Sonny Bill Williams, of his ability to sneak a ball out of the tackle.
Britain had two good positions, one wasted by Newton's fumble as he ran from dummy-half, the other spoiled by Reardon's inability to tackle Francis Melli behind his try-line. When Newton conceded a penalty immediately after that, New Zealand went up to the other end for the game's first try, made by smart ball movement from the play-the-ball before Williams opened up play down the left. Clinton Toopi found Hape on his inside and there was Ali Lauiti'iti, the Leeds second-rower on the field as a substitute, to go over without a hand laid on him for a try duly converted by Brent Webb.
Four minutes later, the Kiwis claimed a second try. Louis Anderson was wrapped up in the last tackle of a set but hurled the ball out blind for Williams to hold off three tacklers for another converted try. To make matters worse, Farrell went down the tunnel with the British doctor after half-an-hour.
Britain badly needed to be the first side on the scoreboard in the second half. After just two minutes they were, thanks to a decision to take a tap penalty in front of the sticks. The finishing touch was applied by Newton, who showed a glimpse of his Wigan form by throwing a dummy and darting over. Paul Sculthorpe added the goal.
New Zealand almost struck back immediately but Thomas Leuluai ran out of support, and after 48 minutes Britain were level. Again choosing to run a penalty after Webb had gone high on Martin Gleeson, they found room on the left, although after McGuire's invention and Senior's link-play Reardon's try was too far out for Sculthorpe to convert.
Three minutes later they were ahead, McGuire making the killing break for Reardon to score the vital third try. With Farrell back on the field, there was a new level of self-belief about the British. They still had to defend desperately at times as the Kiwis came back at them in search of their first win of the competition, but Farrell's boot edged the hosts further ahead and when he finally left the field for good, Harris made sure that there would be no last-minute drama this time.
Great Britain: Wellens (St Helens); Carney (Wigan), Gleeson (Warrington), Senior (Leeds), Reardon (Bradford); McGuire (Leeds), Long (St Helens); Fielden (Bradford), Newton (Wigan), Morley (Sydney), Peacock (Bradford), Farrell (Wigan, capt), Sculthorpe (St Helens). Substitutes used: Ellis (Wakefield), Bayley (Leeds), Johnson (Bradford), Harris (Bradford).
New Zealand: Webb (NZ Warriors); Meli (NZ Warriors), Vagana (Canterbury), Toopi (NZ Warriors), Hape (Bradford); V Anderson (NZ Warriors), Leuluai (NZ Warriors); J Cayless (Sydney), L Anderson (NZ Warriors), Wiki (Canberra, capt), Swann (Bradford), Kidwell (Melbourne), Williams (Canterbury). Substitutes used: Paul (Bradford), N Cayless (Parramatta), Rauhihi (North Queensland), Lauiti'iti (Leeds).
Referee: T Mander (Australia).Reuse content