The best side in the world are the test for England as the three match series kicks off this Sunday evening at the KC stadium in Hull. It’s the first time the two sides will have met in England since their epic encounter in front of 67,545 at Wembley Stadium in the 2013 World Cup semi final in which the Kiwis won in the final seconds with a wonder try from Shaun Johnson, who will unfortunately miss the 2015 series through injury. Their meeting in the 2014 four nations was just as tight as New Zealand won by just a two point margin.
Both sides have had their preparations for the series hampered with star men missing. Fullback Sam Tomkins was ruled out of the series earlier in the week with a long standing knee problem while the Kiwis lost Shaun Johnson as mentioned earlier and captain Simon Mannering was ruled out at the start of the month with a gastric problem he picked at the back end of the NRL season, while stand off Kieran Foran is missing with an elbow injury.
Despite both sides having major injury worries, it’s looking like the series will be a cracker with warm up victories for England as they put 84 points past a French outfit who may have been lacking top class names but putting that amount of points past any side will add confidence to the Englishmen. The Kiwis travelled to Headingley as they took on the treble winners Leeds Rhinos in a club v country tour match, the first to be played in the UK since 2002. The Kiwis won the game 34-16 against an understrength Rhinos side who were missing their England players as well as retiring Jamie Peacock and talisman Kevin Sinfield as the Rhinos legend missed out on his final game before moving to Rugby Union with a hand injury picked up in the Super League Grand Final. Talking about the game v Leeds, New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney said to the NZ Herald “We understand that we are going to have to really improve in a number of areas from the performance against Leeds, we will go further ahead in our preparation over the next few days just because of that.”
Despite injuries to star players the Kiwis have brought a squad full of talent which you would expect from the number 1 ranked side in the world, one player who missed out was Benji Marshall who despite having a good season with St George-Illawarra has been left out and the star will have to watch from home. Tuimoala Lolohea seems to be the option at half back with Peta Hiku, it will be a very inexperienced partnership in the halves and will miss the experienced Johnson and Foran leading them forward.
The forwards of the Kiwi pack are their major strength. Jesse Bromwich and Sam Moa are two of the better props in the NRL and second rowers Tohu Harris and Kevin Proctor play together for the Storm and will be looking to transform club form to the international stage. Adam Blair had a storming 2015 with the Brisbane Broncos after three disappointing season with Wests Tigers, he was one of the stand out performers in the Broncos side as they just came up short in their campaign to be premiers with a extra time loss against North Queensland Cowboys.
The England pack may not have as many star names but the likes of Thomas Burgess, Mike Cooper and James Graham have had storming seasons playing in the NRL and Liam Farrell, Ben Westwood and Elliot Whitehead have had great seasons for their respective sides in the Super League.
The battle of the hookers is where the games could be won and lost with James Roby taking on Issac Luke in the battle of arguably the best two hookers in the world.
The battle in the back division will be explosive. The England side looks set to have Zak Hardaker who was voted Man of Steel starting at Full Back with Ryan Hall who scored 22 tries in 31 appearances for the Rhinos and Joe Burgess who is departing Wigan for Sydney Roosters for the 2016 season.
New Zealand will have 2015 Dally M Full back Roger Tuivasa-Sheck ahead of his move to New Zealand Warriors to replace Sam Tomkins. Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored 17 tries in 20 matches despite having a mixed season with domestic violence charges hanging above his head, but could prove to be a match winner outside. As will winger Jason Nightingale who has scored 14 tries in 24 appearances for his country.
Wherever you like there is battles all of the field and with large crowds expected in all three tests, The test series is going to massive in all senses of the word. I hesitate to pick a winner of the series but I feel it won’t be a whitewash.
19 man squads for first test
England: John Bateman, Joe Burgess, Thomas Burgess, Mike Cooper, Leroy Cudjoe, Liam Farrell, Brett Ferress, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Zak Hardaker, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby, Kallum Watkins, Ben Westwood, Elliot Whitehead, Gareth Widdop, George Williams
New Zealand: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Jason Nightingale, Jordan Kahu, Dean Whare, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Peta Hiku, Tuimoala Lolohea, Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke, Sam Moa, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Adam Blair, Kodi Nikorima, Martin Taupau, Ben Matulino, Sio Siua Takeiaho, Alex Glenn, Lewis Brown.