Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Spanish jail was not on NZ itinerary

Shaun Johnson scores the match winning try in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final against England at Wembley Stadium. Photo / Photosport
Shaun Johnson scores the match winning try in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup semi-final against England at Wembley Stadium. Photo / Photosport

Michael Burgess looks back on some memorable moments the Kiwis have enjoyed and endured while on tour in England in the past 20 years.

2013

Johnson inspires great escape

In the modern era of New Zealand rugby league, this was surely the greatest finish the Kiwis have produced. The visitors trailed 18-14 with a minute to play and tackles running out, before a strong Sonny Bill Williams charge won a penalty. On the fourth tackle of the next set, Shaun Johnson produced his Houdini moment, beating three defenders with two huge sidesteps to level the scores. He then coolly knocked over the conversion to send the Kiwis into the World Cup final.

2011

Luke's attempted leg-breaker

The Kiwis' end-of-season campaign started ominously with a 42-6 defeat against Australia in Newcastle. Nothing improved in England, as they were comprehensively beaten by both Great Britain and Australia. Arguably the lowest point came with Issac Luke's savage tackle on cousin Rangi Chase, and his offhand remark afterwards that he was trying to break Chase's leg captured headlines around the league world.

2007

Asotasi slams coach

This tour was supposed to celebrate 100 years of New Zealand league but turned into a disaster. After a 20-14 loss in the first test, the Kiwis disintegrated, smashed 44-0 a week later in Hull to lose the series. Captain Roy Asotasi added to the bleak picture when he publicly questioned coach Gary Kemble's abilities in a remarkable outburst before the third test. "Gary hasn't been coaching at this level and has no experience at NRL or Super League level," said Asotasi. "He really has to work hard to try and make up." A 28-22 loss in Wigan sealed the whitewash and Kemble was gone early the following year.

2005

Miracle at Elland Road

This was an achievement for the ages. The 24-0 win in the Tri Nations final in Leeds was the biggest over the Kangaroos in decades and only the second time Australia had been held scoreless since 1985. Stacey Jones gave a heroic performance, after an epic dash back to New Zealand days before the game for the birth of his third child. An 18-year-old Manu Vatuvei scored two powerful tries and coach Brian McClennan showed his knack for tactical innovation with Shontayne Hape excelling in a surprise switch to lock forward.

1998

Unbeaten Kiwis make history

A great side -- with Stacey Jones, Henry Paul and Robbie Paul -- became the first Kiwis team to depart England unbeaten in a test series. "It was a special group," said coach Frank Endacott. "One of the best I've been involved with." The Kiwis won the first test 22-16 before sealing the series with a 36-16 victory in the second test, after being down 16-6 early in the second half. In Watford the following week, only an improbable Lions comeback prevented a series sweep. The hosts trailed 23-16 with two minutes left on the clock and the Kiwis hot on attack. But England scored a long-range try after an error, and from the restart progressed into Kiwis territory before Tony Smith knocked over the equalising field goal.

1993

Freeman's shock dumping

This tour was a struggle from start to finish. The squad was inexperienced, with fewer than 100 test caps, and coach Howie Tamati made several baffling decisions, culminating in axing skipper Gary Freeman for the third test. It came after the Kiwis had lost the first two tests 17-0 and 29-12, with Tamati opting for Aaron Whittaker at halfback, while 21-year-old Stephen Kearney became New Zealand's youngest test captain. It was to no avail. "I didn't believe I could win with Gary," said a defiant Tamati after the 29-10 defeat. "I had to take a chance." It was the first whitewash on British soil for almost 50 years.

1989

Ewe banished, trio jailed

Talk about drama. One player was sent home. Three others spent time in a Spanish jail. And the Kiwis lost their first series in England since 1965. The inexperienced visitors were 6-1 outsiders before the first test but scored a surprise 24-16 win, inspired by a Freeman hat-trick. The Kiwis lost the second test 26-6, with captain Hugh McGahan lamenting they were "outplayed, out-muscled and out-thought.", before they were edged 10-6 in a tight decider at Central Park. There was further ignominy for the Kiwis when David Ewe, a mid-tour replacement, was sent home after several alcohol-related incidents. And during the French leg of the tour, three players spent time in jail. On a side trip to the Spanish coast, the trio were mistakenly charged after an altercation with a local motorist. They were thrown behind bars and only released the next day when the entire Kiwis team fronted.

1985

Crooks denies Lowe's Kiwis

The first test was a thriller, decided by a 77th-minute James Leuluai try off a trademark Kurt Sorensen pass. After the hosts squared the series, Kiwis coach Graham Lowe made 10 changes for the third test. New Zealand entered the decider without a recognised goal kicker, relying on Dane Sorensen, who had last kicked for his country in 1975. It was a brutal match, with an extended second half brawl between the two forward packs that had to be broken up by policemen. Amid the tension, prop Lee Crooks kicked a late penalty from out wide (his third of the game) to level the match 6-6.

- NZ Herald

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