Rugby League World Cup: England stand-off Gareth Widdop laments missed opportunity after gut-wrenching semi-final defeat to New Zealand

New Zealand's Shaun Johnson scored with 21 seconds left on the clock before converting his try to send the defending World Champions through to the final and eliminate the hosts

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The Independent Online

England's gut-wrenching World Cup defeat was tough on all 17 players, but for Gareth Widdop it was especially cruel.

The 24-year-old was forced to bide his time throughout the preliminary stages of the five-week tournament as coach Steve McNamara persevered with Rangi Chase but he got his big chance in Saturday's semi-final against holders New Zealand at Wembley.

The Halifax-born NRL stand-off seized his opportunity, too, but it was all in vain after Shaun Johnson's try 21 seconds from the end condemned England to a 20-18 defeat and cut short Widdop's run in the team.

"It's been tough the last few weeks, being in and out of the team," Widdop said. "It was great to play at Wembley against the Kiwis but it's disappointing.

"We worked really hard and to get beat the way we did was really disappointing. I haven't played much footie over the last few weeks but I was happy with the way the team and I played.

"It just wasn't good enough in the end. Everyone is absolutely gutted because our World Cup dream is over. It was our game there. In these big games, you can't switch off. We played really well, tried hard and we deserved to get the win.

"This was a massive opportunity and it's been and gone."

England led 8-0 thanks to Sean O'Loughlin's early try and, after winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck struck twice to nudge New Zealand in front, they stormed back with their best rugby of the tournament, scoring tries through Kallum Watkins and man of the match Sam Burgess.

But the Kiwis had the final say when Johnson went over for his side's third try in the last move of the match to tie the scores and added the conversion to break England hearts.

New Zealand's third consecutive semi-final win over England sets up the predicted showdown with Australia at Old Trafford on Saturday. All general tickets have been snapped up but the Rugby Football League says hospitality packages are still available.

Meanwhile, the RFL is to launch a detailed review of every element of England's operation and performance, including the position of head coach Steve McNamara who is now considering his future after his contract ran out following Saturday's defeat.

"When you are a coach of a national team it is a huge privilege and honour and I have really, really enjoyed the time," McNamara said.

"It would be very difficult to relinquish it, but at the same time, I have to sit back and reflect and decide which way my career is going to go from now on.

"The England job is a very prestigious one and one I'm really thankful I've had the opportunity to do. We'll see."