ON PLENTY of occasions during this Test series, New Zealand have shown flashes of being a truly world-class side.
Yesterday, they showed more than flashes; Michael Maguire’s tourists delivered for the best part of a full 80 minutes and the result was highly embarrassing for England.
Wayne Bennett’s side wanted to round off the series with a 3-0 whitewash. Indeed, England rugby director Kevin Sinfield demanded they did to show they are serious about becoming 2021 world champions.
However, as demonstrated in front of a crowd of 32,187 at Elland Road, they still have some way to go.
Destroyed by the class of Kodi Nikorima, the brilliant scrum-half Bennett knows so well from his club side Brisbane Broncos, they were picked apart with regular precision, much like the great Australian sides have done to them over the years.
It was their heaviest Test defeat since a 52-4 World Cup loss to Australia in 2008 but, in mitigation, it was not all doom and gloom for the hosts.
There were already missing a raft of senior players when edging victories in the opening two Tests but the further loss of Sam Tomkins, George Burgess and Daryl Clark ultimately left them too short.
Leeds Rhinos’ Richie Myler came in and showed some neat touches at scrum-half but the game was all but over by the time other replacements Joe Greenwood and Stefan Ratchford came into the action.
England lifted the Baskerville Shield as series winners and St Helens winger Tommy Makinson, fresh from his Golden Boot success this week, claimed man of the series.
However, New Zealand, who defended with such zeal and energy throughout, led 18-0 at half-time following a true example of clinical efficiency.
They scored within five minutes after winger Ken Maumalo, with a fortuitous pass finding its way to him, leaving the wrong-footed Jermaine McGillvary and Jonny Lomax with little hope.
Shaun Johnson slotted the first of his four goals but, thereafter, England had the better chances of the first period.
That was, however, until the tourists emerged from nowhere to hit with them two late strikes just before the break.
The first, especially, came out of nowhere and on their first genuine attack for some time.
A simple missed tackle from Elliott Whitehead, the Golden Boot nominee who has otherwise been excellent this term, saw Isaac Liu plough through off Nikorima’s short pass.
It was the effusive Nikorima who then shrugged off prop Chris Hill 40m out to sprint clear and exchange passes with Johnson for their third try with the final act of the half.
If that was not the killer blow for Bennett’s side, Maumalo’s second try just four minutes into the second period certainly was.
England had to score first but the Kiwis, with Johnson attacking the line and the shackles off, were in no mood to offer them any way back in.
Instead, Nikorima hoisted another kick and McGillvary was unable to get off the ground as Maumalo soared above the Huddersfield Giants winger to claim.
Johnson’s conversion attempt from wide out struck an upright but it was about the only thing they did wrong in a blistering spell that reaped three tries in just 11 minutes either side of the interval.
What has been proven time and again, though, by this England side under Bennett’s command is that they refuse to capitulate at any point.
With Luke Thompson and James Graham marauding around, they were able to create some more opportunities to pierce the Kiwis.
Unfortunately, just like in the first period when both Makinson and Oliver Gildart had efforts chalked off by the video referee, they could not make the most of them. A brilliant pass from George Williams saw Makinson tip-toeing down into the corner but he brushed the whitewash in doing so.
Josh Hodgson dummied through from acting-half only to be dragged down inches short.
Yet even when Kiwi prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was sin-binned for a woefully late flop on the England hooker, the hosts could not make the most of the extra-man.
In contrast, when McGillvary was yellow-carded for interference 11 minutes from time, their opponents scored in the very next set, Nikorima once more teasing the defence before Jesse Bromwich stepped past Hodgson all too easily.
When Lomax’s desperate short drop-out failed to go 10m, Joseph Tapine proved too strong as he rounded off the scoring on a sobering day for the hosts. Still, they did lift some much-deserved silverware at the end of it all.
England: Lomax; McGillvary, Gildart, Connor, Makinson; Williams, Myler; T Burgess, Hodgson, Graham, Bateman, Whitehead, Thompson. Substitutes: Hill, Milner, Greenwood, Ratchford.
New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak; Isaako, Manu, Marsters, Maumalo; Johnson, Nikorima; J Bromwich, Smith, Waerea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Liu, Blair. Substitutes: K Bromwich, Ah Mau, Papalii, Tapine.