The expectation at a full John Smith's Stadium in Huddersfield was palpable for an English winning start to their four nations campaign against a New Zealand side keen to banish all memories of a loss against Australia a fortnight ago.
England were the slight favourites with most bookies, but there was very little to choose between the two sides as Sam Burgess returned to the international rugby scene as the England captain.
Coach Bennett make a handful of changes to the side who beat France in last weeks friendly, most notably through the inclusion of Dan Sarginson and Sam Burgess, meaning that three of the Burgess brothers would be in action this afternoon.
On England's first attack the Kiwis were adjudged offside by referee Hicks and Gareth Widdop accepted the opportunity to kick a thirty metre penalty to open the afternoon's scoring.
On ten, Widdop doubled the England lead after Shaun Johnson had tackled him high twenty five metres from the New Zealand sticks.
New Zealand had their chances but as the game wore on it was England who were having the best of it, spending long periods camped deep in the Kiwis half and causing problems with the speed of the play the ball.
On twenty-two it looked like James Graham had scored but after referring the decision to the video referee as a 'No Try' the fourth official determined that Graham had been guilty of a double movement.
On the half hour Jordan Kanu got New Zealand off the mark with a twenty metre penalty after England interfered at the play the ball close to their own line. One minute later Solomone Kata looked to have grounded a Kanu grubber but video replays showed that full-back Jonny Lomax managed to ground the ball dead in goal.
On thirty-four New Zealand scored the first four-pointer of the game when a miss-out pass from Kanu found Jordan Rapana in space on the right wing to go ten metres and ground one-handed by the corner flag. Kanu failed to convert from the touchline but New Zealand led by 6-4 at the interval.
It had been an edgy and nervous first half. Both sides had their periods of pressure and position but neither really capitalised and at the interval the game was still there for either side to win.
Disaster struck in the opening minute of the second half when Johnson intercepted a Widdop pass and went seventy metres, outpacing the England defenders, to score five in from the right corner flag. Kanu added the conversion, straight between the uprights, to give New Zealand a lead cushion at 12-4.
On forty-six England shunned a simple two point penalty and ran the ball. On the fifth tackle a great pass from Elliott Whitehead put Jermaine McGillvary free wide right to duck inside his tackler and ground. Widdop added the extras and England were back within two.
McGillvary did well to thwart a New Zealand attack on fifty-four, preventing a certain try but a minute later and Lomax failed to bring down Rapana in full flight who went thirty metres to score by the uprights. When Kana hit the post with the conversion he left the door ajar for England at 16-10.
As the game hit the hour mark Ryan Hall took a half chance when a Widdop tip pass went to hand and the winger outpaced the New Zealand defence to ground in the corner. Widdop converted brilliantly from the touchline and the two sides were tied up at sixteens.
On sixty-five Johnson confused the England defence and kicked a drop goal from inside the ten, rather than put in a grubber. He edged his side a point ahead in a game where it looked like every point would matter.
Widdop slid a long range drop goal attempt wide on seventy-seven and when Sam Burgess offloaded into Kiwi hands with ninety seconds left it was game over and the narrowest of wins for the All Blacks.
It was a close but nervy game. Both sides had their chances to win it but an out-of-the-blue drop goal from Shaun Johnson was the difference between the two sides. England had the chances to level the scores with plenty of possession in the New Zealand half, but they failed to engineer a kickable drop goal opportunity.
New Zealand must now be favourites to join Australia in the final with England likely needing wins against Scotland and Australia.
England: Lomax, McGillvary (T), Watkins, Sarginson, Hall (T), Widdop (4G), Gale, Hill, Hodgson, Graham, Whitehead, Bateman, Burgess S. Subs: Burgess G, Burgess T, Cooper, Clark.
New Zealand: Kanu (2G), Nightingale, Kata, Kenny-Dowall, Rapana (2T), Leuluai, Johnson (T, DG), Bromwich, Luke, Warea-Hargreaves, Proctor, Harris, Taumalolo. Subs: Brown, Taupau, M'au, Blair.
Referee: Rob Hicks.