The Kiwis are underdogs ahead of Sunday morning's (NZT) Four Nations opener against England, but should take some heart from last year's tour of the UK.

Most local betting agencies have the home side as favourites for the game in Huddersfield, which kicks off at 2.30am NZT.

There is confidence around the English league fraternity that the return of inspirational leader Sam Burgess - after his ill-fated rugby stint - and the presence of master coach Wayne Bennett should be enough to continue England's recent dominance over the Kiwis.

But this is a stronger New Zealand team than they one which dropped the series 2-1 last year, with Shaun Johnson, Thomas Leuluai and Jason Taumalolo significant absences from that squad.

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And that series, where the Kiwis had a massively inexperienced backline, was closer than it appeared.

The Kiwis led 10-0 inside the first 20 minutes in the opening test in Hull, with Tohu Harris and Sam Moa scoring impressive tries, before fatigue and some crucial refereeing decisions brought England back into the match, after which they powered away for a deserved 26-12 victory.

And though the Kiwis were dominated in the decider at Wigan, they showed their attacking potential late in the match, with two tries in the last eight minutes (and were desperately close to a third) in the 20-14 defeat.

On Sunday morning the Kiwis need to replicate the attacking prowess from portions of those two matches, as well as the defensive resilience displayed in the 9-2 second test win at the Olympic stadium.

It should be a huge battle between the packs, with England even more forward oriented than New Zealand (they didn't score a single try through their backs in the three test series last year).

The Kiwis need to lock up the middle - England are particularly good close to the ruck - and coach David Kidwell has to get his interchange strategy right.

Issac Luke's role will be key, up against arguably the form hooker of the past NRL season in Josh Hodgson.

Presuming Luke is retained as goal kicker - he did the honours in Perth - he will also need to be precise in that area.

Shaun Johnson has to recapture some of the spark from his 2014 and 2015 displays for the Kiwis, and his kicking game will be vital to match the yardage potential of Hodgson and Gareth Widdop.

And the Kiwis edge defence needs to improve significantly on the last two outings against Australia, where they looked fragile in the outside backs.