IT is first blood to England in the three-match Test series with New Zealand.

Wayne Bennett’s side will head to Anfield next Sunday seeking to clinch their second tournament success over New Zealand in four years thanks to an opening 18-16 victory at the KCOM Stadium in Hull.

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Pictures: Mike Boden

A long-range 66th-minute try by Wigan centre Oliver Gildart proved to be the decisive score in a fierce and sometimes brutal encounter that went down to the wire.

Hearts were in mouths in the closing stages as Kiwis stand-off Shaun Johnson, a England heartbreaker in the 2013 World Cup semi-final and 2016 Four Nations tournament, tried to produce one piece of magic again.

But England hung on.

First-half tries from Wigan’s Sam Tomkins and Hull’s Jake Connor on the stroke of half-time laid a platform that proved to be a strong one.

England were ahead inside three minutes courtesy of Tommy Makinson’s trademark fine work under a high ball.

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This Is Lancashire:

This Is Lancashire:

This Is Lancashire:

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The St Helens winger snatched the ball from the Kiwis’ grasp and kept the ball alive so that his clubmate Jonny Lomax could put Wigan’s Sam Tomkins over for a try converted by Jack Connor.

The Kiwis fired back on 12 minutes when left centre Esan Masters popped up on the opposite side of the field to take a sweet inside ball from Kodi Nikorima and touch down, with Shaun Johnson converting.

Makinson was let off the hook a few minutes later when an offload on a kick return in heavy traffic looked to have led to another try but Johnson knocked on in the ensuing scramble.

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St Helens front rower Luke Thompson arrived from the bench at this point in place of Sean O’Loughlin for his first taste of Kiwi, joined at the 25-minute mark by Warrington’s Chris Hill and George Burgess.

Martin Taupau was monstered by Thompson in the hit of the first half as England set about disrupting the dangerous attacking game of the tourists.

But a fumble by Jermaine McGillvary on his 20-metre line paved the way for Nikorima to attack the line from the scrum and send Kiwis skipper Watene-Zelezniak flying home after 31 minutes, with Johnson further extending the lead with the conversion success.

Lomax’s footwork on a nice spurt left him on the turf from a Marsters high tackle and the full-back was forced off, leaving Makinson to step in at number one among four positional changes.

England levelled matters with a penalty try on the stroke of half time.

Jake Connor, playing on his home ground, was unable to get the ball down as he went over the line due to miraculous defensive work by Johnson but Watene-Zelezniak slid in with the knees and video referee Ben Thaler judged illegally so. Connor’s extras from in front of the posts made it 12-12 at the break.

Lomax returned to the field for the start of the second half but the Kiwis edged in front on the back of a penalty for interference given away by Hill, allowing Johnson two points from 15 metres.

Hill and George Burgess departed as Graham and Tom Burgess returned to the fray.

Connor squared matters again with a penalty a few moments later, 14-14, but Johnson replied in kind after George Burgess was offside from a kick.

Wire hooker Daryl Clark joined the action on 63 minutes, with Josh Hodgson taking over at loose-forward from Thompson.

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England were looking like they needed a spark and it came from a John Bateman offload in a three-man tackle.

That allowed his Wigan teammate Oliver Gildart to hare away down the right, cut inside and out before riding the challenge of Watene-Zelezniak to finish off with 14 minutes remaining.

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England: Jonny Lomax; Jermaine McGillvary, Oliver Gildart, Jake Connor, Tommy Makinson; George Williams, Sam Tomkins; Tom Burgess, Josh Hodgson, James Graham, Elliot Whitehead, John Bateman, Sean O’Loughlin. Subs: Daryl Clark, Luke Thompson, George Burgess, Chris Hill.

New Zealand: Dallin Watene-Zelezniak; Ken Maumalo, Esen Marsters, Joey Manu, Jordan Rapana; Shaun Johnson, Kodi Nikorima, Jesse Bromwich, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Kevin Proctor, Isaac Liu, James Fisher-Harris. Subs: Kenny Bromwich, Leeson Ah Mau, Martin Taupau, Joseph Tapine.