England 36-18 New Zealand: Wayne Bennett's men stage comeback in Denver

England's Gareth Widdop congratulates Elliot Whitehead following his try v New Zealand
England's Gareth Widdop congratulates Elliot Whitehead following his try v New Zealand

England fought back from 12-0 down to beat New Zealand 36-18 in their ground-breaking Test match in Denver.

An encouraging crowd of 19,320 at the Mile High Stadium witnessed an impressive fightback from Wayne Bennett's men, who looked way off the pace in energy-sapping conditions in the opening quarter but finished the game in total control.

Second rower Elliott Whitehead scored two of his side's six tries while outside backs Jake Connor and Tommy Makinson also got on the scoresheet on debut as the new-look Kiwis were played off the park in the second half.

Stalwarts James Graham, on his record-extending 40th appearance, James Roby, Gareth Widdop and Sam Burgess all came to the fore but it was the introduction of the four substitutes from the bench that turned the game on its head.

New Zealand had seven new faces in the starting line-up for the first game under Michael Maguire as they began a rebuilding process following a dreadful World Cup and they could hardly have made a better start.

While England looked lethargic in the opening quarter, the Kiwis were full of energy and caused a host of problems for their opponents with their dangerous offload game.

Stand-off Kodi Nikorima shrugged off the attempted tackle of Jonny Lomax who appeared to be still feeling the effects of a late hit from Martin Tapau, to get centre Esan Marsters over for the game's first try.

Marsters was a handful on his debut and came up with two clean breaks that ought to have produced more tries as England struggled to stay in the game, although the Burgess brothers, under the watchful eye of Hollywood actor and South Sydney owner Russell Crowe, threatened to launch the comeback on their own.

Sam was held up over the line and brother Tom was unfortunate to have a try disallowed before England fell further behind as Issac Luke got full-back Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over for their second score.

Jamayne Isaako added both conversions to make it 12-0 but the introduction of substitutes Connor and Scott Taylor introduced much-needed impetus for England, with the latter coming up with two tryscoring passes to get them back into the contest.

Hall produced a trademark acrobatic finish to claim his 35th try eight minutes from the break, with Widdop adding the goal, and second rower Whitehead went through a gap for the second four minutes later.

Widdop was wide with his second conversion attempt but brought the scores level five minutes into the second half with a penalty, awarded for a cynical foul on John Bateman by Luke, who was fortunate not to be sin-binned for treading on the Wigan player's hand.

England hit the front for the first time seven minutes later when Makinson gathered Widdop's inch-perfect kick and got Whitehead over for his second try.

Widdop kicked his second conversion and added a second penalty, this time from halfway, after the Kiwis again kicked out on the full.

The fightback was complete on the hour when Connor used his strength to make the initial break and then showed his confidence with an outrageous dummy to go over for an individual try.

As the Kiwis began to suffer the effects of playing at high altitude in 30 degree temperatures, Whitehead went 70 metres before sending Makinson over and Watene-Zelezniak went over for his second before Bateman added England's sixth try just before the end.

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