The Kiwis clung to their claim to be the world’s best rugby league team, levelling this three-match series in a grinding first game for the code at the Olympic Stadium.
It was an attritional contest of only one try, scored by Shaun Kenny-Dowall early in the second half, but New Zealand were clearly the better side in most respects, particularly their kicking game and their control of the ball in tight situations.
The Lions were generally toothless and must now regroup for the already sold-out decider at Wigan next Saturday.
“The result was disappointing,” said Steve McNamara, their coach. “There was nothing to choose between the two sides and I was proud of the way we defended. The trouble was that we had to do too much of it and too much near our line, which affected our attack.”
The only points in the first half came from a penalty apiece, both awarded for holding on excessively in the tackle. England had most of the defending to do and did it well, but their own options were poor, especially when they put boot to ball in conditions that were ideal for forcing mistakes.
The second 40 minutes were immediately cut from a slightly different cloth. Just three minutes in, the Kiwis scored the all-important try, keeping the ball alive on the last tackle for Tohu Harris to scoop it up off his bootlaces and put Kenny-Dowall in at the corner. Jordan Kahu kicked the difficult conversion.
England thought they had equalised in the 67th minute, when James Graham dived on to Gareth Widdop’s grubber-kick. The referee, Gerard Sutton, sent it upstairs as a try, but the two video referees on duty overruled him. That left McNamara surprised, to say the least. “James is confident he scored it and the referee thought he’d scored it,” he pointed out.
England were still in with a chance of the draw that would have retained the Baskerville Shield, but even that was dashed from them when Kahu put over a drop goal four minutes from time.
They now go to Wigan, with McNamara hinting at the possibility of changes to give his pedestrian side some much-needed attacking spark. He did, however, flatly reject any idea of a quick recall for Sam Burgess, now that he is back again in the rugby league fold.
England Hardaker; J Burgess, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Wiliams; Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Replacements Roby, T Burgess, Ferres, Cooper.
New Zealand Tuivasa-Sheck; Nightingale, Kahu, Whare, Kenny-Dowall; Hiku, Nikorima; Bromwich, Luke, Moa, Proctor, Harris, Blair. Replacements Matulino, Brown, Glenn, Taupau.
Referee G Sutton (Aus).
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