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Elliott Whitehead insists England are ready for New Zealand fightback

Elliott Whitehead insists England are ready for New Zealand fightback

Man of the match Elliott Whitehead says England will be prepared for a New Zealand backlash after helping his side draw first blood in the three-match series.

An 18-16 victory in a brutal first Test in Hull sets up the series nicely as attention turns to Anfield for the second encounter next Sunday.

“We knew what they were going to bring, they had a great performance against Australia two weeks ago,” said Whitehead, the former Bradford and Catalans Dragons second rower who now plays for Canberra.

Forward Elliott Whitehead was man of the match in England’s opening Test win over New Zealand (PA Images/Dave Howarth)

“But we trained really well and it showed. Our forward pack did really well to get on top and we got some metres down the middle.

“They didn’t play bad and they’re going to want to get a win to make it one-all so we’ve going to have to step it up this week.”

Without 10 members of his World Cup final team because of injury and retirements, England head coach Wayne Bennett was delighted with the performances of the newcomers which he says demonstrates the strength in depth at his disposal.

Sam Tomkins caught the eye and was a tryscorer on his return from a four-year absence but more encouraging were the displays of debutant Oliver Gildart and the three other newcomers in 2018, Luke Thompson, Jake Connor and Tom Makinson.

Bennett singled out Makinson, who was chosen as the players’ player of the match, but the St Helens winger insisted it was a team effort.

“It’s not about individuals,” he said. “We play for our country because we want to put our best foot forward and get the win.

England v New Zealand – International Friendly – KCOM Stadium
England centre Oliver Gildart races over for the match-winning try on debut (PA Images/Dave Howarth)

“That’s what it’s all about, the passion and courage each one of us takes into the game. Team work and togetherness got us over the line.

“We spoke about getting the series off to a good start and it was a pretty special team performance.

“But we won’t get ahead of ourselves. It’s a three-match series and they will improve, as hopefully will we.

“I’m not really a Liverpool fan but Anfield is a special place. Liverpool is full of real passionate people and I’m sure they will buy into it and we can show everybody what international rugby league is all about.”

England got off to a perfect start with Tomkins’ third-minute try, his 18th for his country, but they trailed 12-6 until being controversially awarded a penalty try on the stroke of half-time.

They were still behind after an hour but clinched victory with a breathtaking long-range try from Gildart,

England v New Zealand – International Friendly – KCOM Stadium
New Zealand players perform the Hakka before the first Test at the KCOM Stadium, Hull (PA Images/Dave Howarth).

“Olly is a talented lad,” Makinson said. “I’ve seen him do that so many times at club level and, when he broke through, I had the confidence that he would finish it.”

The only disappointment for England was the loss of captain Sean O’Loughlin with a recurrence of a long-standing calf injury just 14 minutes into the match which will almost certainly rule him out of the Anfield Test.

That is set to pave the way for former St Helens prop James Graham to lead his country on his record-extending 43rd appearance in his home city.

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