Brett Ferres’s try double helped England claim their first win over New Zealand in four years with a 26-12 victory on Sunday that put them 1-0 up in their three-Test series.
Steve McNamara’s side – beaten by the Kiwis in the 2013 World Cup semi-finals, as well as last year’s Four Nations – trailed 10-0, but came roaring back to seal a rousing win at the KC Stadium in Hull.
Tohu Harris and Sam Moa both crossed early on for New Zealand, but Josh Hodgson and Ferres touched down before the break to send the two sides in level at 12-12.
A Gareth Widdop penalty put the hosts in front for the first time soon after the break and Ferres — fresh from a hat-trick last weekend against France — went over for his second to create an eight-point lead.
After agonising defeats in their last two meetings, England would have feared a late Kiwi fightback, but captain Sean O’Loughlin iced the victory with a late score.
Stephen Kearney’s Kiwis are currently ranked No.1 in the world on the back of their Four Nations and Anzac Test wins against Australia.
But with the likes of Shaun Johnson, Kieran Foran and Simon Mannering out injured, this series was always going to be a great chance for England to end their poor recent run.
The visitors started more brightly, with the new half-back pairing of Peta Hiku and Tui Lolohea appearing to have bedded in well, and Harris crossed for the game’s first try after being fed by Hiku.
With talisman. and goal-kicker. Johnson absent, hooker Isaac Luke took on the kicking duties, but he failed to add the extras.
However, when Moa barged and stretched his way over for a second try by the posts, Luke could not miss and England were struggling, 10-0 down and not yet out of first gear.
It was the hooker Hodgson who sparked England’s response, darting over for a crucial try when the Kiwi defence stopped, wrongly thinking that Zak Hardaker had knocked the ball on in the build-up.
Widdop added the extras, only for Luke’s penalty to give New Zealand a six-point lead at 12-6 with the interval approaching.
However, before the break the game’s major turning point came, with the Kiwis astonished when the video referee ruled out Jordan Kahu’s try for an off-the-ball obstruction on George Williams by Harris.
Compounding their frustration, the hosts went right up to the other end and levelled proceedings, Williams’s flat pass on the line releasing Ferres, who cut back to go under the posts.
Widdop slotted the extras and added a penalty soon after the interval to put McNamara’s side 14-12 to the good while still playing well below their best.
As the second half wore on there was no doubting England were the team on top and eventually the pressure told.
Ferres got the key score, the interchange rolling out of a tackle to ground the ball by the posts.
And with the clock ticking down there was time for O’Loughlin to burst through and seal a huge victory ahead of the second Test next weekend at London’s Olympic Stadium.