England overcome Kiwis 18-16 in rugby league
HULL, England (AP) — A 60-meter try by center Oliver Gildart on debut helped England overcome New Zealand 18-16 in the opening match of the three-test rugby league series on Saturday.
England was trailing 16-14 with 14 minutes to go when Gildart, a late call-up for the series, lit up a dour, at-times ferocious match to get the post-Rugby League World Cup era under Wayne Bennett off to a dream start.
Bennett could call on just seven survivors from the World Cup final last December, but newcomers Gildart, Jake Connor, Luke Thompson, and Tom Makinson all looked comfortable at international level.
There was also a welcome return for Sam Tomkins, playing under Bennett for the first time, who opened the scoring on his first appearance for England in four years.
Yet, England was never comfortable against a Kiwis side fresh from an impressive 26-24 win over Australia but lost in Hull on a third consecutive visit.
England lost captain Sean O'Loughlin to injury after only 14 minutes while up 6-0, and was constantly kept on guard by the prancing feet of their scourge over the years, standoff Shaun Johnson.
They made a fine start with a try from Tomkins in the second minute after winger Makinson regathered George Williams' towering kick and Connor added the conversion.
However, the Kiwis equalized through center Esan Marsters after halfbacks Kodi Nikorima and Johnson opened up the England defense in ominously easy fashion.
New Zealand had a second try from winger Jordan Rapana disallowed by video referee Ben Thaler for a knock-on but they went in front nine minutes before halftime when Nikorima made the running for fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to score straight from a scrum 40 meters out.
Johnson's second goal made it 12-6 but England drew level in controversial fashion on the stroke of halftime.
Connor forced his way over the line wide out only to be held up by Johnson, but captain Watene-Zelezniak was pulled up for going into the tackle with his knees and referee Robert Hicks awarded a penalty try, to the Kiwis' dismay.
Connor converted for 12-12, and traded penalties with Johnson in the third quarter before the latter edged his side back in front in the 61st minute with a second penalty, awarded after Tom Burgess caught a ricochet in an offside position.
The pivotal moment came five minutes later when second-rower John Bateman squeezed out a pass, while being tackled by three defenders, to Gildart, who was unmarked on the right edge and beat the last defender for a rousing try.
England 18 (Sam Tomkins, Oliver Gildart tries; penalty try; Jake Connor 3 goals), New Zealand 16 (Esan Marsters, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak tries; Shaun Johnson 4 goals). HT: 12-12