NZ Beat England to tee up a deciding third game
New Zealand kept the three-match 2015 International Series alive with an attritional 9-2 victory against England at Olympic Stadium. Canberra Raiders' Josh Hodgson and new recruit Elliot Whitehead both started the match and look set for important roles in next weekend's decider.
England, who were favourites to secure a series-clinching win after starting with a 26-12 triumph in Hull, defended heroically at times against their more enterprising opponents.
The Kiwis scored the only try through winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall two minutes into the second half and, although England thought they had drawn level with a try from James Graham controversially disallowed by the video referees.
The series will now be settled in front of a sold-out crowd at Wigan's DW Stadium next Saturday.
Coach Steve Kearney responded to his side's opening defeat by giving a full debut to half-back Kodi Nikorima and he showed a few nice early touches as the visitors dominated the first quarter.
It was a similar start to the first game as New Zealand offloaded at will in an effort to prise open their opponents' defence but this time England's defence was up to the task.
Graham, Chris Hill and Liam Farrell all came up with tremendous last-ditch tackles on their own line as England repelled wave and wave of attack, while winger Joe Burgess saved one try by knocking down Jordan Kahu's scoring pass to Jason Nightingale.
The fact that it was 2-2 at half-time, Gareth Widdop and Kiwis co-captain Issac Luke having traded penalties, was down to both teams' attacking weaknesses as much as their defence.
Having weathered the early onslaught, England once more looked more penetrative following the introduction from the bench of Tom Burgess but they continued to struggle for creativity and, apart from a side-stepping run from centre John Bateman.
New Zealand had gone more an hour and a half without breaching the England line but their wait ended two minutes into the second half when second rower Tohu Harris demonstrated finger tip control to pick up a low pass and get Kenny-Dowall over for the all-important try.
Kahu landed the touchline conversion to extend his side's lead to 8-2 and, although that stung England into their best spell of the game, they lacked the composure to make it tell.
With co-captain Adam Blair coming into the game in his second spell and Nikorima defying a touch of cramp to keep prodding away, the Kiwis grew in confidence and forced two goal-line drop-outs as the over-worked England defence began to creak.
The game might have been decided on 62 minutes when stand-off Peta Hiku went through a gap wide out and reached the line but England substitute Brett Ferres, who had scored five tries in his two previous games, stopped a try by getting his body under the ball.
Luke then had a chance to wrap it up with a penalty but he missed the target from easy range and England looked to have grabbed a draw when Graham, their most-capped player, won the race to Josh Hodgson's grubber kick to the line.
Referee Gerard Sutton thought it was a try but video referees Phil Bentham and James Child ruled Graham failed to ground the ball, to the derision of most of the 44,393 crowd.
The video referees also disallowed a try to Nikorima after slow-motion replays indicated he lost the ball short of the line but the tourists clinched their deserved victory four minutes from the end with Kahu's drop goal.
1. Zak Hardaker
2. Joe Burgess
3. Kallum Watkins
4. John Bateman
5. Ryan Hall
6. Gareth Widdop
7. George Williams
8. James Graham
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Chris Hill
11. Elliott Whitehead
12. Liam Farrell
13. Sean O'Loughlin
14. James Roby
15. Thomas Burgess
16. Mike Cooper
17. Brett Ferres
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
2 Jason Nightingale
3 Jordan Kahu
4 Dean Whare
5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
6 Peta Hiku
19 Kodi Nikorima
8 Jesse Bromwich
9 Issac Luke
10 Sam Moa
11 Kevin Proctor
12 Tohu Harris
13 Adam Blair
14 Lewis Brown
15 Martin Taupau
16 Ben Matulino
17 Alex Glenn
England 2 (G: Widdop ) New Zealand 9 (T: Kenny-Dowall; G: Luke, Kahu; DG: Kahu)
The third game between England and New Zealand is at DW Stadium on Saturday November 14 at 1pm (Sunday November 15 at 12am Australian time). Fox Sports 1 will have a live broadcast of the game.
This story first appeared on England RL.