IN years to come, Jake Connor’s exquisite pass may get replayed more than Tommy Makinson’s actual hat-trick when people recollect England’s 2018 second Test victory over New Zealand.
Quite rightly, St Helens winger Makinson secured all the headlines at Anfield on Sunday following a remarkable display, not just in attack but crucially in defence as well.
However, there was so many other positives sprinkled throughout Wayne Bennett’s side as they secured the series with one game to spare.
Hull FC’s Connor once more demonstrated his international quality with his brilliant assist for Makinson’s second try as England began their comeback from 14-6 down to win 20-14.
The left centre gathered the ball from Jonny Lomax on the run but, in an instant, and with an ambitious ‘no-look’ pass that fooled the Kiwi defence, caressed it straight on to his unmarked winger. World-class.
The more you watch it, the better it gets and Makinson certainly appreciated the quality, instantly making a beeline for his centre partner to acknowledge the sublime assist.
It’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. We’ve all seen what he can do in the NRL. He’s one of their star men. But the guys on my inside were great and cut his space down again.Jake Connor
Yet, to listen to Connor, it did not seem out of the ordinary.
“Every day I work hard at training on those two-on-ones,” he explained. “As soon as I’ve got that winger dipped in I know he’s gone. “It’s about getting Tommy in space. He’ll finish it. In my head I just know that if he’s got space he’ll take advantage of that.”
Connor then muscled his way over for a try of his own and supplied the swift pass that allowed Makinson chance to complete his treble yet the first half had been a different story altogether.
“Wayne gave me a bit of a kick up the backside at half-time and it was something that I needed,” revealed the 24-year-old, who had twice been bundled into touch.
“I was a bit off my game in the first half but it’s something I need to do. I reacted to it. I just needed to focus - and stop running into touch basically! It worked.”
Bennett clearly has faith in the former Huddersfield Giants player who has been a revelation this autumn.
Let us not forget, there was some puzzled looks when the Australian coach opted for Connor at left centre in the first Test and overlooked St Helens’ Dream Team star Mark Percival.
Everyone presumed Connor would get a chance in his favoured half-back role but Sam Tomkins, who played full-back all season, was selected there. More puzzled looks.
Yet both picks have paid off handsomely, underlining why it is foolish to question the decorated coach on such matters.
Bennett said one of the reasons he wanted Connor at left centre - he predominantly plays right for Hull - was for his defensive strength.
Joseph Manu, a rising star who had just won a Grand Final with Sydney Roosters, is on the right for the Kiwis but he has hardly had a look-in yet during the first two Tests, Connor proving more than his match.
“It’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced,” he admitted.
“We’ve all seen what he can do in the NRL. He’s one of their star men. But the guys on my inside were great and cut his space down again.
“It’s a great feeling to win and seal the series with a game to go. I’m really happy. It’s massive that we go on and finish the job at Elland Road on Sunday now.
“You want to give them a whitewash. They’ve come over here to our home patch and we don’t want to give them a sniff at all so hopefully we’ll get that done.”
Connor scored on his debut against the Kiwis in Denver and did likewise versus France last month while he was awarded a penalty try in the first Test.
“I’m classing that as mine,” insisted the Halifax-born player.
“If he (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak) hadn’t have kneed me in the head I’d have probably got it down.
“Hopefully I’m four in four so that’s a good stat to have.”
As for playing on the left side, instead of the right, Connor admits it has its pros and cons but he is happy either way.
“It’s a bit different when I’m on the left side,” he added.
“Like you’ve seen, I like to have quick hands and I’m more passing when it comes to the left.
“But when I’m on the right I’m more holding it with one hand and fending with the other.
“It’s good that I can change my game.”
It is good. For Connor. For England. He has certainly made his mark on the international scene these last few weeks and remains one of the most gifted English players to emerge in recent times.