England Knights head coach Paul Anderson saluted his team’s resilience after they battled to a 16-12 win in the first of their two internationals against Papua New Guinea in Lae today.
The Knights took a 16-8 half-time lead through tries from Leeds’s Liam Sutcliffe, Warrington’s Tom Lineham and Wigan’s Tom Davies, but ultimately it was two conversions from Lineham’s Wolves team-mate Dec Patton that allowed them to hold off a Kumuls team who also scored three tries.
“We probably made it hard work for ourselves,” said Anderson. “But credit to the boys, they found a way to win the game. We were on the back foot for probably 90% of that second half, and they found a way to grind themselves out.
“The way we competed and the effort was second to none. We missed a lot of opportunities, but there’s some mitigating factors in that. The heat, the humidity, everything that goes around playing in PNG – which is everything we wanted from this.
“I’ve had two of the older players today who’ve thanked me for bringing us, for this experience – that’s more than the football side of things, it’s life experience. We kept talking about it, and it’s definitely there – Lae has delivered everything we expected.”
Anderson praised Jack Hughes, the Warrington forward who is captaining the squad, and also Matty Lees, the St Helens prop who was one of the nominees for Super League’s Young Player of the Year.
“The captain led from the front, that’s one of the big things,” he added.
“But Matty Lees has taken out the players’ player award. He gave a couple of penalties away but I don’t mind that, he did that in the right way, because he’s got a level of intimidation about him.
“He’s only 20 and he’s just got man of the match in an England Knights international against a near-enough full strength Papua New Guinea team. He’s a champion player and I like what he brings. He’s still got some things to fix up, but this trip is going to do him a lot of good.”
The Knights were the first of three England teams playing in three different countries today, with England women taking on France at Carcassonne at 2pm, and the men facing New Zealand in the first of their three-Test series at Hull’s KCOM Stadium from 230pm.
The Knights play a second match against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby next weekend.