England‘s Four Nations hopes have taken a huge battering with a tense 17-16 loss to New Zealand at the John Smith’s Stadium.
A Shaun Johnson drop goal proved the difference in a see-sawing contest in Huddersfield where there was little between the two teams.
Wayne Bennett’s influence on England was evident early. They took a 2-0 lead after two minutes with a penalty goal from right in front, a noted Bennett tactic to take the easy two points whenever on offer.
The Kiwis knocked back the same opportunity four minutes later to try and score a try.
But the home side’s defence held, after Jermain McGillvary knocked the ball for a drop-out, and then Sam Burgess forced the ball loose with a hit.
England was almost in for a try after a kick to the corner of McGillvary but New Zealand scrambled well. The play was called back for a penalty in the lead-up and Gareth Widdop nailed his second attempt.
England was 4-0 in front after 11 minutes. The men in white started the game the better of the two sides as the sloppy Kiwis made a number of errors.
But McGillvary was thwarted out wide by a wall of Kiwi defenders.
But the video referee correctly called it a double movement and it was no try. It was a big let off for New Zealand who were under the pump.
The Kiwis went down the other end of the field and pressured England, forcing a drop-out, but could not crack their opponent’s line.
In the 29th minute Jordan Kahu slotted a penalty to cut the deficit to two points.
Two minutes later Solomone Kata got a hand to a grubber and a claimed a try, but Jonny Lomax just managed to ground the ball first.
But the Kiwi pressure was taking its toll and then Rapana struck out wide. New Zealand shifted it right quickly and Kahu found Rapana in space to touch down.
The conversion was missed but it was a bitter blow for England who had dominated most of the first half. The Antipodeans had their noses poked in front 6-4 at half-time.
Suddenly the Kiwis were 12-4 in front. But England responded quickly through McGillvary.
Whitehead found the winger in space and he crashed over. Widdop nailed his conversion from near the sideline and it was game on at 12-10.
The match was ebbing and flowing and New Zealand had a try ruled out after Jason Nightengale stepped into touch.
Then Rapana stepped up in style to claim his second of the afternoon. The winger grabbed an offload and stepped Luke Gale to score a sensational solo try.
Kahu’s conversion hit the post so the difference remained six points with 23 minutes left on the clock.
Widdop then atoned for his earlier error with a terrific tip-on pass to release Ryan Hall. The winger dived over on the left and then the stand-off nailed the conversion from out wide to tie it up.
The Kiwis edged in front again when Johnson drove over a drop goal in the 64th minute.
With three minutes left Widdop missed an attemped drop goal.
New Zealand held on to get the vital Four Nations win.