England power past Kiwis at Denver’s Mile High
ENGLAND has claimed the honours in the historic Denver Test, overwhelming New Zealand 36-18 in front of 19,320 fans at Mile High Stadium.
The Americans were treated to a fine exhibition of attacking rugby league with nine tries scored in the entertaining fixture.
Canberra back-rower Elliott Whitehead and Hull FC debutant Jake Connor were the stars of the day.
Whitehead scored two tries, had a hand in another and got through a mountain of defensive work.
Connor totally changed the complexion on the match when he came on for Jonny Lomax at five-eighth midway through the first half.
New Zealand were up 12-0 early after tries to Esan Marsters and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, with the former looking dangerous with every touch early.
Known as an agitator in the classic English style, Connor showed his passing skills before halftime, nailing a long ball to put Ryan Hall over and then a short one to get Whitehead his first just before halftime.
After Whitehead grabbed his second try in the 52nd minute following sharp lead up work from Tommy Makinson and Gareth Widdop, Connor then put the game firmly in England's grasp with a stunning 50 metre effort.
Connor burst past Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Kodi Nikorima before selling Watene-Zelezniak a dummy the sent the Kiwi fullback halfway to the Rocky Mountains and touching down.
It was one of the finest Test debuts in recent memory.
A try to Makinson, with Whitehead again involved prominently, put the game beyond doubt despite a consolation try to Watene-Zelezniak in the final 10 minutes.
It was a composed performance from Wayne Bennett's side, who could have easily dropped their bundle after the horror opening quarter.
New Zealand showed some promise with Marsters looking every bit an international quality player, but sloppy errors and a lack of composure cost them dearly.
Three times the Kiwis sent kick offs out on the full in the thin mountain air, but their high-paced, offloading style made for an entertaining match.
Michael Maguire's side will be better for the run, as the short preparation definitely impacted their cohesion.
But England will certainly be favourites for the end of year Test series and are locked in as the second best side in the world, behind world champions Australia.
There was a carnival atmosphere before the match; as fans flooded into the ground late as tailgate parties took place around the stadium.
The naysayers who believed the match would be a flop were left looking foolish indeed - the crowd was energetic and enthusiastic, with a strong Kiwi contingent, some vocal England fans and scores of curious locals.
Rugby league is far from taking over America, but this match felt historic as it was happening and very well could be the start of something exciting for rugby league.
With the match locked in for the next two seasons there is every reason to continue rugby league's push into North America.