Bennett sees England win and then asks RLIF to ‘stand up for the sport’
ENGLAND coach Wayne Bennett watched his side complete a series victory over New Zealand in a thrilling Test match and then urged international rugby league chiefs to “stand up for the sport.”
The hosts trailed by eight points early in the second period of yesterday’s brutal and compelling second Test at Anfield, but hit back with St Helens winger Tommy Makinson completing a stunning hat-trick to win 20-14.
Having also won the opener in Hull it means England already have the series sewn up ahead of next Sunday’s third and final Test at Elland Road.
However, the intensity, drama and quality of the games so far has only served as a reminder of what international rugby league can achieve.
As yet England’s itinerary for 2019 is still to be confirmed although it is planned that Great Britain will reconvene for the first time since 2007 for a tour of the southern hemisphere.
It remains to be seen if Australia will be the opponents, but the Rugby League International Federation is meeting in Yorkshire this week to discuss the way forward.
Bennett, a long-term international advocate who has coached Australia and assisted the Kiwis during their World Cup 2008 win, wants to see some positive progress after an encouraging crowd of 26,234 witnessed a classic contest in Liverpool.
“Australia do what they want to do, but we will be in that part of the world next year and we will be playing Test matches,” he said. “We might not be playing Australia, but we will be over there somewhere and we will be playing Test matches, and I’m very confident about that.
“There was a great crowd [at Anfield] and they got right behind the boys.
“Tonga and Samoa have done wonderful things on the international front recently and we have just got to keep building on it now and try to get the politics out of it.
“The players want to play international football, us and New Zealand have given so much and it is a great three-match series.
“The RLIF are meeting in York this week aren’t they?
“I hope they have a strong meeting, stand up for the game and give us a product that we all want to see, which is international football played by the very best.”
Bennett completed his first series success since taking over from Steve McNamara at the end of 2015.
Makinson, 26, only made his Test debut in June, but in just his third appearance made a stunning contribution.
Bennett said: “I just want to know where you’ve been hiding him.
“I didn’t know about Tom until we took him to America and realised he was pretty special then.”
England were under intense pressure in the first period, but went into half-time at 6-6.
“We weren’t getting too much ball, nothing was going for us and we were hanging in there,” admitted Bennett.
“Tommy defended great out there and so did Jake Connor. They played great together, the tide turned for us turned for us because we didn’t let the scoreboard get away and we won the Test match.”
Bennett is not expected to make too many changes in Leeds, despite the series being secured.
“Test jerseys are too valuable,” he said. “I’m not just going to give away Test jerseys because I want to be nice to someone. It is not going to happen. The boys earn their right to wear them and I don’t want to take it off them.”
ENGLAND 20 NEW ZEALAND 14
SECOND TEST MATCH
SOME people may have wondered if England had much chance against New Zealand when their record try-scorer Ryan Hall was, like so many leading players, ruled out of this series due to major knee surgery in August.
They need not have worried. His replacement Tommy Makinson, the St Helens winger who only debuted in Denver in June, scored a dream hat-trick to deliver his country a stunning victory in a fascinating second Test at Anfield and clinch the series.
The 27-year-old has had to bide his time to make it on the biggest stage of all but, in a pulsating contest, he certainly delivered here.
Makinson’s brilliant solo try in the 74th minute that completed his treble was worthy of winning any series, let alone any game, as he leant backwards to collect Jake Connor’s pass and then slalomed infield with a remarkable run to pierce the stunned Kiwis.
It capped a great comeback from Wayne Bennett’s side who trailed 14-6 early in the second period but now head to Elland Road on Sunday with the Baskerville Shield already secured looking to complete a 3-0 whitewash.
A melee sparked, by Kiwi James Fisher-Harris’s late hit on Sam Tomkins, fired up the hosts and proved the catalyst for their resurgence in a fiercely-contested Test match.
Connor, the Hull FC centre, provided a lovely assist with an overhead, no-look pass for Makinson – long-listed for Wednesday’s Golden Boot – to scamper in for his second try in the 57th minute.
From thereon in, Bennett’s side looked the most dangerous, much like the previous week in Hull.
Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana spilled a simple Tomkins kick behind his own line to gift England another set of six which saw Tom Burgess storm over only to be held up between the posts.
But the hosts pressed further and, after Rapana dropped possession on halfway, Connor came to the fore again to level the game.
It was a smart blindside move initiated by Josh Hodgson that saw Elliott Whitehead give Connor space and the 24-year-old twisted through Joseph Manu to finish.
Unfortunately, his conversion attempt hit a post but the home side had, after a difficult opening, found their rhythm at the critical time.
Indeed, they almost pressed ahead when Jonny Lomax, the impressive St Helens full-back, sent Makinson clear again only to see the ball bounce forward. It was his only error in the game.
Luke Thompson and John Bateman were colossal up front for England and Hodgson impressed, too, while Castleford Tigers’ Adam Milner made a brief debut off the bench.
Yet, for all the end result, England will have been happy to have gone in at 6-6 having had little decent attacking ball and spent most of the first period dealing with a ferocious Kiwi pack that truly looked in the mood to cause some damage.
It was not just their forwards either; robust winger Ken Maumalo came infield and sent Oliver Gildart flying backwards, fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak returned a kick directly at Elliott Whitehead that had the England second-row marching backwards and so it went on.
To their credit, however, Bennett’s side rarely buckled, a trait that is becoming increasingly common with this squad.
Their line was only breached once and that was down to a simple one-on-one miss from Sam Tomkins, the half-back who seemed surprised as Watene-Zelezniak entered the line and pressed on the accelerators to comfortably arc past him from 10 metres out in the ninth minute.
Shaun Johnson converted and it came in response to Connor’s early penalty after Jesse Bromwich hit Tomkins late after the pass, sparking the first of a number of melees.
Thereafter, though, England fiercely protected their line.
Makinson, in particular, was put under pressure but not once, not twice but three times denied Kiwi thrusts.
Part of the reason England were under almost persistance pressure, though, was their own ball control or, more precisley, lack of it.
Gildart twice spilled under little pressure while, on the opposite side, Connor was forced into mistakes as he diced with the touchline.
The Hull FC centre also had a kick charged down while George Williams gave away a needless penalty when blocking Johnson.
England did score, though, after 39 minutes with their best move of the half after Williams’s grubber forced a drop-out.
It was the Wigan half-back who sent a long, looping cut-out pass that was so well-executed Makin- son did not have to check his stride before jubilantly diving in at the corner to level the contest.
New Zealand went 12-6 ahead when Watene-Zelezniak, their inspirational captain, made a scintillating break to send Ken Maumalo over in the 45th minute for Johnson to convert.
Johnson added a penalty soon after but Bennett’s side showed no signs of cowing even after the loss of Daryl Clark to a painful rib injury.
MORE TO COME: Tommy Makinson celebrates scoring his and England’s first try before going on to complete a hat-trick as they beat New Zealand at Anfield yesterday. The win assured England of victory in the three-Test series.
VICTORY SMILES: England’s Chris Hill and John Bateman celebrate victory over New Zealand at Anfield yesterday, which clinched a Test series win ahead of the third and final match at Elland Road on Sunday.