New Zealand made it 1-1 in the Test Series as they defeated England 9-2 at the Olympic Stadium, London in what was a very defence-orientated match.
A Shaun Kenny-Dowall try early in the second half was the difference between the sides and the only try in the game. Jordan Kahu also slotted a late drop-goal to seal the victory. The sides had gone into half-time level following penalty conversion from Gareth Widdop and Issac Luke.
Video referee Phil Bentham did have a big decision with ten minutes remaining. James Graham looked to have scored on the back of a Gareth Widdop grubber kick but on further viewing the Bulldogs forward didn’t have enough downward pressure. Bentham also ruled out a Kodi Nikorima effort a few moments later.
New Zealand’s victory means that the series now goes down to the third, and final, match next week at Wigan’s DW Stadium. England had the opportunity to win their first series since 2008, also against the Kiwi’s, but they will now have to wait until next week to try and repeat the feat.
Steve McNamara named an unchanged side following the 26-12 victory in the opening game last week in Hull. However Stephen Kearney did make one change to his New Zealand side dropping Tuimoala Lolahea, who struggled in the first game, replacing him with Jordan Kahu in the halves.
It was the first Rugby League match to be played at the Olympic Stadium pulling in a crowd of 44,393. The game was also Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney’s 40th test match in charge.
Kiwi captain Adam Blair said: “It was a good win today but we go into the game next week knowing anything can happen and we need to get ready for a big game.”
England captain Sean O’Loughlin said: “It was a very tough game that’s what you expect at International level, we have a lot of work to do before next week if we want to win the series.”
Issac Luke, who’s kicking game was a real difference, said: “The boys worked hard and did the groundwork for me and my kicks and its paid off but we know we need to improve again for next week.”
It was a cagey opening to the game with New Zealand having the early chances as Zak Hardaker had to palm a grubber kick out for an early goal line drop-out. However it would be the home side who were on the scoreboard first. Sam Moa was penalised and Widdop kicked the penalty to give England a 2-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long though as James Graham would also be penalised and the Kiwi’s also opted to go for goal. Hooker Issac Luke’s penalty was also successful and levelled the scores just after ten minutes.
Kearney’s side did ease their way into the game and started to apply a lot of pressure on England. The Kiwi’s earned themselves multiple sets on the England line after forcing a drop-out and a couple of knock-ons from interception attempts.
New Zealand came close as Blair managed to offload the ball on the last tackle but James Graham was quickest to react and dove on the ball to relinquish the pressure. England soon turned it around and started to get into the ascendancy with Roger Tuivasi-Sheck knocking a James Roby grubber out for a goal line drop-out.
The visitors did have a late opportunity as Kevin Proctor hit the ball at pace from deep and went through a gap in the England defence but was held up following a fantastic last ditch effort from opposite number Liam Farrell. This meant the sides went into the break level; with no tries being scored.
However following forty minutes with no tries there was a score within the first three minutes of the second half. Half-back Nikorima jinked his way through a small gap in the England line and managed to offload to Harris who pulled off a wonderful catch to keep the move alive. Harris then found winger Kenny-Dowall who tunnelled his way over in the corner to give New Zealand the lead. Jordan Kahu took the conversion as oppose to Issac Luke and give the Kiwi’s six-point lead.
Despite knocking on from the immediate kick-off Kearney’s team stayed on top. A deep kick from Luke was retrieved by Ryan Hall but the Leeds winger was tackled in-goal. New Zealand came close to scoring a second when Nikorima’s grubber was chase by fellow half-back Peta Hiku but Widdop managed to bundle the ball out with his knee in slightly unconventional fashion.
Hiku came close again moments later when he went to power his way over but Brett Ferres and Joe Burgess combined to force him to knock-on as he crossed the line. With ten minutes remaining Luke had an opportunity to finish the game as England conceded another penalty in kicking range. However Luke put, what seemed a relatively straight-forward kick, wide.
It almost came to haunt him as moments later Graham dove on a low Widdop kick to score; also looking to knock himself out in the process. However after re-evaluation from the video referee Graham didn’t get the necessary downward pressure and the try was ruled out.
New Zealand broke following this and Nikorima’s kick bounced off an England leg before finding it’s way back to the half-back who dove for the line but again the video referee ruled it out as he knocked the ball on before the line. However the game would be settled a few minutes later as Kahu floated over a late drop-goal from 25 metres out to level the series at 1-1.
England: Hardaker, J.Burgess, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Williams; Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
Interchanges: Roby, T.Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.
New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Nightingale, Kahu, Whare, Kenny-Dowall; Hiku, Nikorima; Bromwich, Luke, Moa, Proctor, Harris, Blair.
Interchanges: Brown, Taupau, Matulino, Glenn.
Referee: Gerard Sutton (Australia) Attendance: 44,393