New Zealand v England: Denver Test preview
While no-one argues Australia's place at the top of the RLIF World Rankings, the same can't be said about the next two spots.
New Zealand occupy the No.2 spot, with England ranked in third position. That's what the rankings say at least.
Based on their respective performances at last year's World Cup, it would seem England have gone past the Kiwis, who didn't even reach the semi-final stage.
New Zealand were so underwhelming that some observers believe they are no better than rapidly improving Tonga and Fiji, both of whom had World Cup wins over the Kiwis. First-year coach Michael Maguire has a job on his hands, especially with seven debutants in his 19-man squad.
After falling back a little with the pack in recent years, England's performance at the World Cup – they pushed the Aussies all the way in a 6-0 loss in the final – would indicate they are on the rise again.
Despite having to replace injured prop George Burgess, coach Wayne Bennett has a team with a liberal sprinkling of NRL players that looks a little stronger on paper than a Kiwis side missing Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Match: New Zealand v England
Round 1 -
Venue: Mile High Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: American football fans have always marvelled at the big hits in rugby league and how the players don't have protective padding, etc. Well they should enjoy the thunderous clashes between Kiwi forwards Marty Taupau, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and England's James Graham and the Burgess brothers. The battle up front is likely to be a decisive factor in the result.
For New Zealand to win: With a host of new faces it'll be up to the more experienced members of the side to calm any nerves. A lot rests on the shoulders of halfback Kodi Nikorima and talented five-eighth Te Maire Martin, while the Kiwis will be relying on hooker Issac Luke to maintain his superb NRL form.
For England to win: Holding Australia to six points in the World Cup final and 18 points in an early Group A loss showed that the Poms have knuckled down defensively, which is probably the influence of coach Wayne Bennett. They might miss dynamic hooker Josh Hodgson on Wednesday, but if Graham and the Burgess boys see to it that defensive detail is a big focus it will help free up Gareth Widdop to push the right buttons in attack.
And another thing: The Kiwis have won eight of their past 12 meetings with England, including their most recent clash in the 2016 Four Nations tournament. However both teams are in somewhat of a transitional period right now, with England on a steady incline over the past 18 months and New Zealand trying to ward off recent decline in the shape of 2017 World Cup losses to Fiji and Tonga. Michael Maguire steered the Rabbitohs to their first premiership in 43 years in 2014 and has embraced his new challenge to get the Kiwis snapping at Australia's heels like they were just a few short years ago.
England v New Zealand, Saturday 2pm (Sunday 6am AEST) at Mile High Stadium, Denver
England squad: John Bateman, Sam Burgess, Tom Burgess, Jake Connor, James Graham, Ryan Hall, Chris Hill, Jonny Lomax, Tommy Makinson, Jermaine McGillvary, Sean O'Loughlin, Mark Percival, Stefan Ratchford, James Roby, Scott Taylor, Luke Thompson, Gareth Widdop, George Williams, Elliott Whitehead
New Zealand: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Jamayne Isaako, 3 Esan Marsters, 4 Peta Hiku, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Kodi Nikorima, 8 Jared Waerea-Hargeaves, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 15 Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 12 Joseph Tapine, 13 Martin Taupau
Interchange: 11 James Fisher-Harris, 14 Slade Griffin, 16 Herman Ese'ese, 17 Leeson Ah Mau
Reserves: 18 Jordan Kahu, 19 Isaac Lui
Steve Turner's prediction: It's a new-look New Zealand side with a new coach and seven debutants named for the Denver Test against England. The Kiwis will be wanting to make a statement after a disappointing World Cup, while England will go into the game with plenty of confidence following last year's result at the Word Cup. Wayne Bennett has selected plenty of experience and this will favour his side. It is a one-off Test, but there will be plenty of feeling between the two sides. TIP: England by 6