After the good vibes of Aotearoa Kiwis win over Australia, we move into an intriguing series against England where the English most likely start as favourites to grab a series win. This start with the first of three Tests, which will go down in Hull early Sunday morning NZT and Kiwis coach Michael Maguire has kept things simple with the same team of 17 that beat Australia, set to play against England.
That's a fairly logical move from coach Maguire and you can't find fault in rolling out the same winning group. Ahead of the Australia Test, I was curious to see how the team lined up on the field, given the abundance of right-sided players and based on that game, expect to see the right edge of Kevin Proctor, Joseph Manu and Jordan Rapana in action again. As for the left, Isaac Liu will be the edge forward with Esan Marsters and Ken Maumalo outside him.
The same applied to Shaun Johnson and Kodi Nikorima, both of whom primarily operate on the right side for their respective NRL teams. After the win over Australia, I broke down the combination between Johnson and Nikorima, which ultimately saw they two halves working together as though they were connect by a rope. There wasn't as much left-right halves work and more of Nikorima and Johnson combining where they saw fit, mainly with Nikorima playing at first-receiver which pushes Johnson out wider where he can work his magic.
We don't know how England will line up, other than coach Wayne Bennett confirming that Sam Tomkins will play in the halves - as well Oliver Gildart making his debut at centre and two-Test utility Jake Connor starting in the other centre spot. This will likely mean that Jonny Lomax will start at fullback and George Williams partnering Tomkins in the halves. Most intriguing though, is the fact that with Gildart and Connor in the centres, England will likely play with Elliott Whitehead and Luke Bateman as their edge forwards.
I highlight that because Aotearoa were torn to shreds on their edges by Australia, although Australia's attacking raids most came from their centres Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic. England don't have such weaponry at centre, but do have they all-round ability at edge forward to ask questions of the Kiwis defensive schemes out on the edges. As always, this flows on from what happens in the middle and England's strength is definitely up the guts where George and Tom Burgess, James Graham, Chris HIll and the ever-slick Sean O'Loughlin will be in action.
Maybe that's a better forward pack than Australia's. I don't know, it simply feels more battle-hardened at this level and with an immense play-making presence at hooker in Josh Hodgson, England have what Australia lacked as Hodgson's far more nifty in pulling the strings, than Damien Cook; Cook relies darting out of dummy half and if there's no go-forward, he isn't as threatening.
This provides a different challenge for the Kiwis forward pack after they were able to control the middle against Australia. With the footy, they enjoyed plenty of help from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Ken Maumalo and Jordan Rapana which should be present again, however without the footy it was all thanks to the aggressive work of the forwards to keep Australia on the back foot. I doubt it will be as easy as it was against Australia, not with England's ball movement through O'Loughlin and the different styles between their middle forwards.
I'm cautious and excited about that battle up the guts. The grizzly presence of Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Martin Taupau and Adam Blair will help out immensely. Even James Fisher-Harris, who doesn't have the experience of the others, plays a certain style that lends itself well to this contest.
There isn't much to fear in this England team and is usually the case with a three-Test series, the first Test allows a chance to see what each team offers in their respective systems. A lot has been made about the young Kiwis group, however when you run through the forward pack, the rugged experience to take on England, in England is there. As we saw against Australia, the Kiwis have enough skill and class to make the most of any ascendancy through the middle, which is going to trouble those new England centres.
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Peace and love 27.