Wayne Bennett: England came together great as a team and are going in the right direction

Tommy Makinson celebrates with George Williams
Tommy Makinson celebrates with George Williams

England coach Wayne Bennett says his team are heading in the right direction after completing a series win over New Zealand with a game to spare.

Winger Tom Makinson scored a hat-trick of tries on only his third appearance to help England to a 20-14 victory at Anfield and take a 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

After guiding England to the World Cup final last December, Bennett is delighted they have been able to continue the momentum, despite losing nine members from the team that pushed the Kangaroos all the way in Brisbane.

"I think last year's World Cup in Australia was a great moment for them," Bennett said.

"The guys got a lot of belief, we came together great as a team and they are all growing and going in the right direction.

"We're not going to get over-confident but we're doing a lot of things right and we've got a great group of men that I enjoy working with."

England were twice forced to come from behind after Kiwis captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak had threatened to win the game by scoring one try and creating one for winger Ken Maumalo.

"It was not so great in the first half but we hung in and only gave up six points so we were still in the game without playing well," Bennett said.

"We had a bit of a re-focus on a couple of things and they were a different team in the second half.

"There is a lot of self-belief and commitment in the team."

Centre Jake Connor continued his impressive start to his England career with a fourth try in as many appearances but was overshadowed by man of the match Makinson.

"I just want to know where you've been hiding him," Bennett said.

"I didn't know about Tom until we took him to America and realised he was pretty special then."

Makinson played down his contribution, insisting the win was down to a team effort.

"Three tries in my third England appearance, it means a lot but, brushing aside the tries, it was a special performance by the team," he said.

"I don't think I have ever been involved as much as that. I set myself a goal to deal with whatever came my way and, to a man, that's what we did.

"It was not just me, 17 blokes gave their all and that's why it's 2-0."

England will now head to Elland Road next Sunday hoping to achieve a clean sweep and, although hooker Daryl Clark will be missing with a fractured rib, Bennett says he will not be making changes in order to give his fringe players a run-out.

"Test jerseys are too valuable," he said. "We're not going to give away Test jerseys because you want to be nice to someone.

"These boys are earning them and I don't want to take them off them."

Less than a month after beating world champions Australia, the Kiwis have taken a major step back with a third successive defeat to England.

Coach Michael Maguire said: "There's a lot of hurt in the changing room.

"The boys have had to learn some pretty harsh lessons over the last two games about what Test football is all about.

"We conceded a try before half-time again and in the second half made seven errors, whereas England were very clinical. That's the difference in Test match footy.

"England have been performing like that for quite some time. They have a very simple game plan, they complete high and they stay there for the 80 minutes, it's something we need to pick up on."