CONFIDENT England coach Wayne Bennett believes his side can overcome New Zealand no matter how much their rivals may improve on Sunday.
The hosts will clinch the series – a second in just three years against the Kiwis – if they win again at Anfield.
Their rivals showed plenty of attacking threat during the first Test, scoring two sublime tries before the break.
Ultimately, though, they could not break down resilient England any further in a tense 18-16 loss.
Most people expect New Zealand to fine tune, however, ahead of the Liverpool re-match and Michael Maguire’s side do remain narrow favourites to level the series ahead of next week’s final Test in Leeds.
The Kiwis are expected to improve further so, at yesterday’s training session at Manchester National Arena, Bennett was asked how much more was still to come from his own side.
Whatever improvement they’ve got in them, we’ve got in us. It’s just game time now; that was our second game of the autumn, that was their second game, so that’ll help us a little bit.England head coach, Wayne Bennett
“I don’t know if the Kiwis can…,” he said before breaking off. “They were pretty good the other day; they won’t be disappointed with the way they played.
“We only won it by two points, and we could have lost it by two points, so that’s how close it was.
“Whatever improvement they’ve got in them, we’ve got in us. It’s just game time now; that was our second game of the autumn, that was their second game, so that’ll help us a little bit.
“And as intense as it was I expect the quality of football will definitely be there.”
Bennett, who has brought in Castleford Tigers’ Adam Milner to replace injured captain Sean O’Loughlin, continued: “We’ve got to make sure we’re still on the same page as we were last week about playing well.
“Nothing changes there. Someone said New Zealand may be a bit more desperate, but I thought they were pretty desperate last week.
“They’ll be bringing a lot of effort to the game. We just have to get in there ourselves and make sure we do the same.
“What worked for us last week will work again this week.”
Bennett is unfazed by losing O’Loughlin, the Wigan Warriors loose forward who is now a doubt for the rest of the series after suffering a recurrence of an old calf injury.
“Lockers has been one of the top-line players in your country so he’s a loss,” said the Australian about the talismanic 35-year-old.
“But we’ve just got to manage without him and we will. We lost him in the World Cup final last year in Australia and we did okay there.
“He (O’Loughlin) will be touch and go for the series. I’m not sure yet. It’s not a serious one, but the calf injuries hang around with you at this stage of your career and your life.”
Indeed, given he turns 36 later this month, if O’Loughlin does fail to recover in time for the Elland Road match-up on Sunday week there will be question marks surrounding whether his international career could, then, actually be over.
In the meantime St George-Illawarra prop Graham, 33, was an obvious replacement as captain.
Yorkshireman Sam Burgess did the job when O’Loughlin was injured for the World Cup final in December, but he, too, is injured now and Graham, who hails from Liverpool, stepped in against France last month.
Bennett said: “With Sam not here James was a pretty straightforward choice.
“There’s not many more passionate Englishmen than he his.
“You would know that.”
St Helens prop Luke Thompson will make his first Test start, but at No 13 after impressing off the bench in that role at Hull.
“He was really good; he brought lots of energy and he didn’t seem to get tired,” said Bennett about the Dream Team front-row.
“He kept turning up and he’s got good leg speed for the position he plays in.”
This means Milner comes into the match-day 17, taking Thompson’s spot among the replacements in the only change.
It will be only his second appearance after debuting in that win against France, but Bennett believes he has all the credentials to help England settle the series at the first attempt.
“I like his enthusiasm; he tries extremely hard with everything he does whether on the bench or just in the squad of 24,” added the head coach.
“I’ve watched him play a fair bit at Castleford and he’s always full of energy and never short of drive to try and inspire his team-mates.”
Milner overcame competition from Wigan second-row Joe Greenwood to claim the spot and he has long been touted as a player of international quality especially since his switch from hooker to loose forward at Wheldon Road.
Meanwhile, England Knights are looking to secure a series win of their own.
Paul Anderson’s squad complete their tour of Papua New Guinea when they face the Kumuls in Port Moresby in the early hours of tomorrow morning
They won the first international last week in a fiercely-fought contest and they are expecting the same before flying home.