COACH WAYNE Bennett hailed his England side as a “pretty special” team after they kicked off the New Zealand Test series with an 18-16 win at Hull’s KCOM Stadium.
England trailed three times, but hit back to snatch a tense victory thank to Oliver Gildart’s long-range try 13 minutes from the end, leaving Bennett full of praise for his team’s spirit and attitude.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, he said: “I hope you all realise we’ve got a pretty special footy team here.
“I think you should be really proud of them, a great group of guys who work really hard. It was a great second half, a great game actually and we could not have given any more.”
New Zealand led 12-6, 14-12 and 16-14, but England came up with a quick response each time.
“We’ve not had a bad player,” Bennett added. “Everybody turned up here today to play for England and they all gave their best.
“There’s about 10 guys that played in last year’s World Cup that aren’t here, for injury reasons mainly. We are building some depth, which is really important.
“We are building a lot of young men with desire, who really want to rattle the cages of Australia and New Zealand.”
England will seal the series if they win next Sunday’s second Test at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium and Bennett reckons the scene is set for a thriller.
“It was important for both teams to play well to show it’s a full-on Test series,” he said.
“It’s the best of three games and next week will be tougher than it was today because New Zealand will want to win, they realise the importance of it.
“It is going to be important for us to continue what we’ve done and not go into the third game with a one-one score.”
Saturday was a positive day for England with the Knights and women’s team also winning their Test matches. Bennett observed: “This game was tough, but I’ve got to tell you how tough it would have been away in Papua New Guinea.
“It would have been 30 degrees-plus and there’s no one more physical than the Papuans.
“It was a great win for the Knights and the women as well.”