England put on an entertaining show to beat New Zealand in emphatic fashion in the United States.
Wayne Bennett handed England debuts to Hull FC star Jake Connor and St Helens winger Tommy Makinson.
New Zealand coach gave debuts to Ken Maumalo, Jamayne Isaako, Esan Marsters, Leeson Ah Mau, Herman Ese’ese, Slade Griffin and Raymond Faitala-Mariner.
The Kiwis opened the scoring in Denver as Kodi Nikorima burst through the England defence to assist the supporting Marsters who scored on his debut. Isaako converted to put his side 6-0 up.
Tom Burgess thought he had scored for England midway through the first half but it was ruled out by the video referee due to him losing control of the ball over the line.
New Zealand stretched their lead thanks to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, following a fine break from Issac Luke. Isaako added the extras and the Kiwis were 12-0 to the good.
England started to come into their own later on in the first half. Ryan Hall produced a superb finish in the corner to pull one back for his side on the back of a fine pass from Connor. Gareth Widdop added the conversion, New Zealand 12-6 England.
The Lions scored their second just before the break. Elliott Whitehead steamed onto a flat ball from Connor to go over. Widdop failed to convert, so New Zealand went into the locker rooms in Denver 12-10 ahead.
England levelled the score shortly after the restart. Luke gave a penalty away for intentionally stamping on John Bateman’s hand and England opted to take a shot at goal which Widdop capitalised on.
Bennett’s men went in front in the 52ndminute. Makinson raced onto a Widdop grubber before Whitehead went over for his second of the game. Widdop added the conversion, New Zealand 12-18 England.
And the ball went out on the full from New Zealand’s restart kick. England opted to take the two and Widdop nailed the penalty goal from the halfway line to edge England further in front.
England extended their lead on the hour mark. Connor made a break on the halfway line and sold Watene-Zelezniak a dummy to score on his debut.
The Lions were in good form in the second half. Whitehead picked up a loose ball and made a 50-metre break before giving it to Makinson who bagged a try on his international debut. Widdop’s boot took the score to 32-12.
New Zealand were playing some nice attacking rugby and pulled one back when Luke made another break before Watene-Zelezniak got away from a few England players to touch down. Isaako added the two points but they were still 32-18 behind.
Bateman sealed the win for England at the death as he scooted from dummy half to barge over the line. James Graham failed to convert (you read that right!), but it didn’t matter as England ran-out 36-18 winners in the United States.
England: Ratchford; McGillvary, Bateman, Percival, Hall; Lomax, Widdop; Hill, Roby, Graham, S Burgess, Whitehead, O’Loughlin. Subs: Connor, T Burgess, Makinson, Taylor.
New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak; Isaako, Marsters, Hiku, Maumalo; Martin, Nikorima; Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Asofa-Solomona, Faitala-Mariner, Tapine, Taupau. Subs: Fisher-Harris, Griffin, Ese’ese, Ah Mau.
Starman: Elliott Whitehead was outstanding in attack and defence for England. He worked insanely hard for his side.