Johnson the hero as Kiwis pip England again

By Christopher Devine 29 October 2016
Johnson the hero as Kiwis pip England again

Shaun Johnson broke England hearts once again as Four Nations holders New Zealand condemned the tournament hosts to a painful 17-16 defeat in Huddersfield.

Half-back Johnson claimed the match-winning try and conversion three years ago as the Kiwis edged out England in a thrilling Rugby League World Cup semi-final at Wembley.

On this occasion, a 65th-minute drop goal from the playmaker, who also scored a try and caused problems throughout with his kicking game, ensured England suffered an all-too familiar narrow defeat in their first major game under Wayne Bennett - severely hampering the hosts' chances of reaching the final.

Jordan Rapana claimed two tries for the Kiwis on Saturday, either side of Johnson's intercept score, while efforts from wingers Jermaine McGillvary and Ryan Hall were in vain for England.

Bennett's men started the brighter, but some fine last-ditch defending ensured they only had two Gareth Widdop penalties to show for their initial superiority.

The momentum was very much with the Kiwis in the second quarter and, after Jordan Kahu had reduced their arrears with a penalty, only a diving intervention from Jonny Lomax prevented Solomone Kata from scoring.

New Zealand did not have to wait much longer to register the game's first try, Rapana finishing a flowing cross-field move in the right corner, and things got worse for England at the start of the second half when Johnson telegraphed a Widdop pass and raced over from 70 metres for a score that Kahu converted.

The Kiwis' lead was reduced to two as McGillvary, playing on his home ground, went over on the right after England had refused a routine two-pointer, with Widdop adding the extras.

After New Zealand had lost Thomas Leuluai to a head injury, McGillvary then made a crucial try-saving tackle at the other end, but the Kiwis were in again when the rapid Rapana broke clear from an offload and evaded a weak Lomax tackle to grab his second try of the game.

Kahu hit the post with his conversion attempt and England duly hit back again, a speculative flick-on from Widdop setting up Hall for a score in the left corner.

Widdop held his nerve to convert and level the scores, but the home team could not find a reply after Johnson had edged his side back in front with a one-pointer from close range.

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Christopher Devine