England and New Zealand pass screen test in Denver ahead of World Cup
WHAT A fine Test match we saw in Denver.
England v New Zealand looked a great occasion even if there wasn’t quite 20,000 there.
It would always be hard to fill a stadium that size and I don’t think anyone expected 80,000.
But I’m sure people who have never seen rugby league before who came to watch Saturday’s game will have loved it.
You could hear when the big hits were going in that there was lots of whooping from the fans and it sounded like they were genuinely surprised by the physicality of it all.
And it was physical, certainly early on. I spoke to Scott Taylor after the match and he did say the conditions were very tough especially that first 10 or 15 minutes which is the hardest part of the game. People get their second wind and I know I used to think that first 15 or so was always tough as everyone is running at 100 miles per hour.
I’ve done it before where I’ve looked up at the clock thinking about half an hour had gone and then seen it said just 10 minutes. You suddenly realise there’s a lot of work still to be done!
But I thought it was a quality Test match and England were absolutely superb.
I echo what Wayne Bennett said post-match about now making sure we build on it and we do go back, as agreed, for these next two years to give the Americans three successive Tests; it has to have the chance to grow. It’s similar to Robert Elstone with Super League; he needs time to put plans into place and it won’t happen overnight.
But for the greater good of the game, this fixture has to go back to America again or otherwise what’s the point?
In terms of the match, that first half was really competitive and the Kiwis looked like the Kiwis of old; they were offloading all the time, spreading the ball and keeping it alive. Brilliant.
Esan Marsters was great on debut at centre and I wrote here last week about the absence of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck being a loss but Dallin Watene-Zelezniak came in at full-back and was superb. But talking about being tired and those conditions at altitude... I think prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona did 50 minutes straight and was outstanding.
Of England’s debutants, it was great to see Tommy Makinson cut loose a little bit and obviously Jake Connor did brilliantly.
It was just typical of him. If it had been me, I’d have gone on and just wanted to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes and did my job. But Jake enters the field and throws a double cut-out pass to give Ryan Hall enough space to score and then puts Elliott Whitehead over with another shorter pass before breaking away to score himself.
I’m really pleased for him. Obviously he’s been outstanding for us at Hull and I really hope that’s whetted his appetite to make sure he’s in that Test side at the end of the season as well.
As well as Jake did, though, I thought Whitehead was the best player on the field.
It might be my back-row bias but he was brilliant. He does all the hard work – 30 or 40 tackles – but is such a threat with the ball as well and runs such great lines.
For me, he’s been the best back-row in England – if not the world – for some time and is outstanding for club and country.