Big moments haunt Kiwis as England tour shows there is still plenty of work ahead

NZRLMaguire hands Kiwis debut to Isaiah Papali’i

But England have already ensured they will have little to celebrate regardless of the result.

Indeed, as the Kiwis enter the dead-rubber third test in Leeds, many will be scratching their heads wondering just how it has come to this.

Michael Maguire’s side left New Zealand last month full of optimism and belief as they sought about becoming the first Kiwis team since 1998 to win a series in the UK.

Changes for Kiwis  
Warriors won’t replace Gavet 
Kiwis first for Ah Mau 

Instead, they find themselves battling to avoid suffering the same fate as the 2007 squad thumped 3-0 by Great Britain on the disastrous All Golds tour.

Maguire’s men do not deserve to be compared to that Gary Kemble-coached side. The fact they held second-half leads in the first two tests shows there has not been a great deal between them and their English counterparts.

The last two weeks have reinforced just how difficult it is to win in English conditions – just look at some of the questionable calls that have gone against them.

Michael Maguire wants to see an 80-minute performance in the Kiwis' final game of the year.
NIGEL RODDIS/GETTY IMAGESMichael Maguire wants to see an 80-minute performance in the Kiwis’ final game of the year.

But that did not decide the series.

As great as it was, last month’s stunning upset over Australia papered over New Zealand’s deficiencies and left an elevated sense of where they actually are as a team.

England have dominated the big moments while at the same time exposing the Kiwis’ lack of composure and concentration.

The signs were there against the Kangaroos. Like that match, the Kiwis conceded tries on the stroke of halftime in both tests against England before fading away in the final quarter.

But whereas they were able to withstand the late Aussie fightback, they lost their heads when it mattered against England with errors and ill-discipline.

The Kiwis gave up second-half leads in the first two tests against England.
MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGESThe Kiwis gave up second-half leads in the first two tests against England.

This is not a flashy England side, although Jake Connor and newly-crowned Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson have had a field day on the left-edge, running in five of their seven tries.

What they lack in flair is more than compensated for with grit and resilience. There was no sense of panic when the visitors edged ahead, they simply grinded away and waited for the Kiwis to crack.

And when push came to shove, Wayne Bennett’s men found another gear.

Maguire has been loath to use inexperience as an excuse. They do have a decent mix of test veterans and even some of the new faces in the squad, such as Leeson Ah Mau and Isaac Liu, have a wealth of NRL experience behind them. 

But there is no doubt a number of players are still getting to grips with the international arena.

The fresh faces Maguire has introduced has been one of the big positives this year. That and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak’s emergence as a leader, which has given the coach a welcome headache for when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returns from injury.

The coach has taken the opportunity to blood another rookie in the third test with Warriors back-rower Isaiah Papali’i named on the bench, while making the surprise decision to drop 24-test veteran Martin Taupau.

Exciting wing Jamayne Isaako is set to make his second test appearance after replacing the injured Jordan Rapana and Joseph Tapine has come onto the bench for James Fisher-Harris.

They join the likes of Brandon Smith, Joseph Manu and Esan Marsters, young players who have the potential to be in the side for years to come if they can learn from this experience.

Isaiah Papali'i has been named to make his Kiwis debut in the third test against England.
PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGESIsaiah Papali’i has been named to make his Kiwis debut in the third test against England.

A complete display on Sunday would certainly help them on the way.

“We’re well aware of what England are throwing at us now and it’s about doing that on every single play. The concentration around that has been a big part of this training week,” Maguire said.

“We’ve got to make sure we get a really strong performance. The boys are very hungry to achieve that so it’s now up to them to get an 80-minute performance.”


England v Kiwis

3rd test, 4.15am Monday (NZ time), Elland Road, Leeds

England squad: Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jake Connor, Oliver Gildart, Jermaine McGillvary, George Williams, Richie Myler, Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James Graham (c), John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Luke Thompson, Adam Milner, Tom Burgess, Joe Greenwood, Stefan Ratchford, Mark Percival, Reece Lyne.

New Zealand: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (c), Ken Maumalo, Esan Marsters, Joseph Manu, Jamayne Isaako, Shaun Johnson, Kodi Nikorima, Jesse Bromwich, Brandon Smith, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Kevin Proctor, Isaac Liu, Adam Blair. Interchange (from): Kenny Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Isaiah Papali’i, Joseph Tapine, Jahrome Hughes, James Fisher-Harris, Gerard Beale