Saturday night’s international test win over New Zealand in Denver showed the progress being made by England under coach Wayne Bennett.
England beat the Kiwis 36-18 in front of 19,320 fans at the Mile High Stadium, an attendance which shows that, with more work and perseverance, there is an audience in America ready to lap up what rugby league has to offer.
However, what was equally as impressive was the performance on the field. At 12-0 down with over half an hour gone, many may have expected England to fall short against a new look Kiwis side looking to respond positively in their first game since a disappointing World Cup campaign in 2017.
But, tries from Ryan Hall and Elliot Whitehead gave England the momentum going into the break before a further four tries in the second forty through Whitehead’s second, Jake Connor, Tommy Makinson and John Bateman saw England run away with the game in convincing fashion.
The comeback win was England’s first over one of the other two ‘big teams’ in international rugby league since Wayne Bennett’s appointment, and it was arguably the most impressive performance during his reign too.
After adjusting to the conditions in Colorado and getting their second wind, Bennett’s side looked dangerous and creative in attack and were strong defensively for the final three quarters of the match.
Players such as Ryan Hall, Gareth Widdop, James Roby and James Graham all put in top performances and made their mark on the game, while fresher faces in the England set-up also more than played their part.
Jake Connor especially was superb once he came on from the bench to make his England bow, scoring once and setting up another two tries, while Tommy Makinson was also lively and deserved his four-pointer.
To see a slightly different looking England side- that was without Kallum Watkins, George Williams, Luke Gale, Alex Walmsley, George Burgess and Ben Currie through injury, as well as Kevin Brown after he recently retired from international rugby league- click so well and put on such an enjoyable display can only be taken as an encouraging sign for the future.
There is a good balance of experience and players still finding their feet at international level in the squad, and with more time together this talented group will only get better.
Their next chance to do that will be the three game series with New Zealand coming up in the autumn which promises to be an intriguing battle. Anfield, the KCOM Stadium and Elland Road will host the games as England look to repeat their 2015 achievement of beating the Kiwis over three games.
Michael Maguire will no doubt expect his side to be better by then, but the confidence England will have taken from the weekend should put them in a good position to continue the progress they have made in the last year.