England v New Zealand: Denver Test a 'step into the unknown'

Tommy Makinson in action for St Helens
Tommy Makinson is set to make his debut for England on Saturday
England v New Zealand
Venue: Broncos Stadium at Mile High, Denver Date: Saturday, 23 June Kick-off: 21:10 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, BBC Radio 5 live and live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app.

England's rugby league stars are heading into the unknown when they walk out at Denver's Mile High Stadium on Saturday.

It's a New World adventure, playing a first ever Test match in the United States. But they also come up against a new New Zealand - with seven uncapped players in the Kiwis squad as they aim to make up for a disastrous World Cup campaign last autumn.

The uniqueness of the venue, and the chance for rugby league to get a foothold in the US is what's causing the most excitement.

A crowd of at least 20,000 is expected at the home of the Denver Broncos - mostly made up of NFL fans who are more used to padding and helmets, rather than the bone on bone, muscle on muscle contact of rugby league.

"Since the World Cup, the boys have been really excited about this," said England skipper Sean O'Loughlin.

"It's got a real good feel about it. To get the opportunity we all have, to go out there and spread the word and push international rugby league, it's great to be a part of it.

"I think we're hopefully breaking new ground and getting a new audience. People who have never seen rugby league will be watching, and hopefully it generates some good publicity for the game."

The match is brainchild of sports promoter Jason Moore. He's planning on this being the first of three Tests over the next three years, before a planned World Cup in North America in 2025.

Entertaining the new audience may be the key to the contest. But England, narrow losers to Australia in the World Cup final last November, will also be hoping to build on what was otherwise an impressive tournament.

The winners will lay a marker down for this autumn's three-match series between Wayne Bennett's side and New Zealand - they meet in Liverpool, Leeds and Hull in October and November.

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Highlights from the Rugby League World Cup final

The Kiwis had a disastrous World Cup, losing to Tonga and Fiji, and failing to reach the semi-finals for the first time in the history of the tournament.

But O'Loughlin is expecting a big reaction from the men in black. As well as the seven newcomers to their squad, they also have a new coach in Aussie Michael McGuire.

He had Grand Final success with Souths in the NRL in 2014. But O'Loughin knows him best from the coach's two years at Wigan, when he led the Warriors to Grand Final and Challenge Cup glory.

"He gives them something very similar to what he did when he came over to Wigan. He came to a team that hadn't been successful, but then we managed to win a competition," says O'Loughlin.

"He'll be using some of those same tricks that he used with us with the New Zealand side. He's great at creating a team mentality and a work ethic.

"He'll make them more workmanlike. They've got some fantastic players already and what he'll bring is a steeliness to the side."

But the result will not be the most memorable aspect of this history-making Test match. Crowd size and TV audience across the US and Canada could determine whether this remains a one-off, or whether it lays the platform for a future rugby league invasion into North America.

Squads

England (from): Bateman, S Burgess, T Burgess, Connor, Graham, Hall, Hill, Lomax, Makinson, McGillvary, O'Loughlin, Percival, Ratchford, Roby, Taylor, Whitehead, Widdop.

New Zealand: Watene-Zelezniak; Isaako, Marsters, Hiku, Maumalo; Maire Martin, Nikorima; Waerea-Hargreaves, Luke, Asofa-Solomona, Faitala-Mariner, Tapine, Taupau.

Interchanges: Fisher-Harris, Griffin, Ese'ese, Ah Mau.

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