VICTORIOUS England coach Steve McNamara believes his side will only get better after defeating Four Nations champions New Zealand in last night’s opening Test.
The hosts ran out 26-12 winners against the world’s No 1 ranked team with a professional performance against the Kiwis at Hull’s KC Stadium.
England had been 10-0 down early on but surged back in impressive style with Huddersfield Giants’ Brett Ferres scoring two of their four tries, adding to the hat-trick he scored against France the previous week.
It was the first time they had defeated New Zealand – or Australia – since 2011 when they also prospered at the same ground in East Yorkshire.
It is certainly a notable success for McNamara, who took over in 2010 but sees his contract up for renewal after this series, and leaves the hosts in an enviable position heading into the second Test, the maiden rugby league game at London’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
They could secure the series there, a first major success since Great Britain defeated the Kiwis here in 2007, and the Yorkshireman is convinced there is more to come from his squad.
“I am pleased with the result; it’s nice to go 1-0 up in a three-Test series,” said McNamara, with the final test due at Wigan’s DW Stadium.
“There’s a lot of improvement left in us but I’m pleased to get up and running and on the board.
“To show the resilience to come from 10-0 down to post four tries and win the game was impressive.”
More impressive was the fact England starved New Zealand, who are admittedly missing some key players, of any decent ball in the second period and kept them scoreless from the 26th minute.
“I thought it was a huge improvement in the second half,” admitted McNamara, whose side were powered by some immense showings from their front-rows James Graham and Chris Hill plus some notable impacts from their bench.
“But the reality of it is there’s lots of areas we need to work on.
“The start certainly wasn’t what we expected; I’m not sure why that is.
“We need to look into that for a number of reasons.
“At the start New Zealand dominated us physically but we got a foothold back in it for the last 10 minutes which created a platform for us in the second half.”
Outstanding hooker James Roby, in-form Ferres, St George-Illawarra prop Mike Cooper and, in particular, South Sydney’s Tom Burgess, all gave colossal efforts as replacements.
“I thought the four players on the bench turned the game,” admitted McNamara.
“They did a great job so huge credit to them; they got us going forward and that’s what benches are there for, to add to your team, not to just make sure you survive.
“I felt Tom was incredible; he should be one of the stories of the night.
“I wouldn’t say he was unstoppable but they found him tough to deal with in attack.”
With speculation intensifying that Sam Burgess is set to return to rugby league, it was fitting that his younger brother should flourish so well.
On Burgess senior’s likely comeback after his troubled 12 months in union and abject treatment following England’s World Cup disaster, that could happen in a matter of days.
Shane Richardson, who as South Sydney chief executive finalised the team’s signing of the forward from Bradford Bulls six years ago, has flown over for this Test series but will also seek to negotiate a deal for his former club to buy the dual-code international back from Bath.
Richardson, a previous Hull FC chief executive who left Souths at the same time as Burgess to take up the role of head of strategy at the NRL, was a guest of RFL chief executive Nigel Wood at Twickenham for Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final and also present at last night’s game.
Burgess, a controversial selection for England’s World Cup squad ahead of more established players, has two years left of his contract with Bath, who, before releasing him, will no doubt demand the majority of the £500,000 fee they paid Souths just 12 months ago.
The 26-year-old is due to return to the Aviva Premiership club for training today after being given time off to consider his future. However, Bath coach Mike Ford admitted the player “didn’t quite feel right” when he initially returned from his unhappy stint with England during their failed World Cup campaign.
England report: Page 5