England will contest the final of the Four Nations with Australia at Elland Road next Saturday after a victory over the Kiwis that did much to banish the bad taste from last year's World Cup. Two tries before half-time from the Hull KR winger Peter Fox, in his first game of the tournament, were crucial, but it took a mighty effort from the pack to beat the world champions in what was otherwise a forward-orientated match – and none the less compelling for that.
The England coach, Tony Smith, came up with a surprise by starting with Kevin Sinfield at hooker and Sam Burgess at loose-forward – a move that smacked of getting into the Kiwis' faces from the start.
That approach was vindicated in the 10th minute when Sinfield burst away from dummy-half, Burgess carried the ball athletically past two tacklers and found Kyle Eastmond in support to dive over for a try which Sinfield converted. "Sometimes you get it right," said Smith of a ploy that he settled upon only in the last couple of training sessions.
The lead did not last long. England conceded a penalty for stealing the ball, Lance Hohaia opened them up with one of his trademark looping passes and Kieran Foran was able to exploit Fox coming off his wing with the scoring pass to Bryson Goodwin.
Goodwin was not able to convert, but levelled the scores with a penalty after Eorl Crabtree was adjudged to be hanging on in the tackle.
Fox more than made up for his defensive error in the five minutes before half-time. He was alert when Sam Tomkins improvised a lovely cross-field kick on the last tackle of a set, to claim one converted try.
Better still, he was there again in the last minute before the interval to make the lead a convincing one. Given an extra set by a Kiwi knock-on, England had the presence of mind to strike swiftly down the right, Eastmond and the debutant Chris Bridge opening the way for a comfortable touchdown.
Any thoughts that the job was done disappeared three minutes into the second half when Isaac Luke's sinuous run created the confusion that led to Ben Matulino scoring.
That left the lead looking precarious, despite there being so much to like about England's effort. Their forwards were putting in a particularly good shift and blunting the potentially destructive Kiwi pack.
The Kiwis were still in with a chance until Sinfield, a worthy man of the match, had a drop-goal attempt charged down. A ricochet gave England the ball back, and a penalty for holding on under the sticks left Sinfield in no doubt about claiming the two points and effectively clinching the precious win.
Now Australia await. "That was part of our motivation," said Smith. "We didn't do ourselves justice last time and we wanted another crack at them."
England Briscoe; Fox, Bridge, Shenton, Hall; Tomkins, Eastmond; Morley, Sinfield, Graham, Peacock, Ellis, Burgess. Substitutes used: Crabtree, Roby, Westwood, Wilkin.
New Zealand Hohaia; Perrett, Sau, Foran, Goodwin; Marshall, Fien; Nuuausala, Leuluai, Moimoi, Soliola, Pritchard, Blair. Substitutes used: Luke, Lima, Matulino, Waerea-Hargreaves.
Referee: T Alibert (France).