WELLINGTON (AFP) – New Zealand secured their berth in the final of the Four Nations rugby league tournament when they scraped home 16-14 over England in their final pool match in Dunedin on Saturday.
There were three tries apiece at Forsyth-Barr Stadium with two goals by Shaun Johnson to one by Gareth Widdop making the difference.
The Kiwis go into the final as the only unbeaten team in the tournament after earlier wins over Australia and Samoa.
England, who came up short of their initial target of needing to beat New Zealand by 10 or more points to make the final, must now wait on the outcome of the Australia-Samoa clash at Wollongong on Sunday.
Australia will make the final if they win, Samoa will qualify if they beat Australia by eight or more points, and England will sneak through if Samoa win by fewer than eight points.
“It’s out of our hands now,” a disappointed England skipper Sean O’Loughlin said.
“We wanted to come here and get that win and get there (the final) in our own right. But we knew it was going to be tough to get the win and get the 10 points we were chasing.”
England had their moments to close out the game and New Zealand captain Simon Mannering acknowledged his side were pushed to the limit.
“They played some great footy, shifted the ball and chanced their arm and defensively put us under a lot of pressure,” he said.
“I thought we scrambled pretty well but I thought we let some tries in we should have stopped.” New Zealand made a huge start to the crunch game with a try to Jason Nightingale at the end of the first set when he beat Ryan Hall in the air to score off a Johnson bomb.
Hall immediately made amends with a try in the corner and Josh Charnley then stepped around Manu Vatuvei for England’s second try as the tourists dominated play early to lead 8-6 after 24 minutes.
The negative scoreline was enough to reignite the Kiwis who found another gear to regain the lead before half-time.
Nightingale, who had been taken from the field with blood streaming from his head, returned to the battle swathed in bandages to score his second try for New Zealand and hold a 12-8 lead at the break. After Hall lost a chance to equalise when he lost the ball diving for the line when play resumed, Vatuvei extended New Zealand’s lead to 16-8 when he scored wide out.
As play swung from one end of the field to the other, Hall scored his second try and Widdop, who hit the posts with his first two goal attempts, was successful with his third to narrow the gap to 16-14.