It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era under Australian ‘super coach’ Wayne Bennett.
But once again England fell agonisingly short when the stakes were at their highest.
In front of a 24,070 John Smith’s Stadium crowd in a contest that could have gone either way, the hosts were left to reflect on a painful 17-16 opening Four Nations defeat to New Zealand.
It now means England will need to beat Australia in London in just under two weeks’ time to guarantee themselves a pace in the Four Nations final at Anfield on November 20.
And once again it was Kiwi half-back Shaun Johnson who broke the English hearts.
The man who clinched that last-gasp try to beat England in the 2013 World Cup semi-final at Wembley returned to haunt them in his first game back in the country.
Johnson grabbed an early second-half interception try and then landed what was to be a match-winning 65th-minute drop goal.
It was almost too tough to take for the home nation – and clearly rough justice for any of the England side who rose to the occasion on the day.
And high up on that list was Giants star Jermaine McGillvary, whose strong all-round performance on ‘home’ soil was capped by a second-half score that looked like it could tip the balance back in his side’s favour as they clawed back the deficit to 12-10 in the 46th minute.
Ultimately, however, that proved to be wishful thinking, with England not to gain any real consolation from being part of a cracking international stadium occasion.
WATCH: All the photos from England's heart-wrenching defeat to New Zealand
The first half was a classic Test encounter, with virtually nothing separating two perfectly-matched, outstanding teams.
Chances were at an absolute premium – something reflected in the 6-4 interval scoreline – with the only try coming in the 35th minute when excellent build-up play gave Jordan Rapana just enough space to touch down in the eight corner.
That try had been coming, with the Kiwis starting to gain the upper hand after England had opened the stronger.
But with the hosts restricted to just two Gareth Widdop penalties in the opening 10 minutes, the visitors’ confidence began to grow, forcing England to drop-out on four occasions, with McGillvary twice coming to his team’s rescue to force them.
As a result, it was no surprise when Jordan Kahu reduced the deficit to two points with a 30th-minute penalty before Rapana eased his side ahead before the break.
And New Zealand’s lead was extended within a minute of the restart when Widdop’s pass was intercepted by Shaun Johnson to race in from 70m for Kahu to add the touchline conversion.
But five minutes later came the moment of the match when Elliott Whitehead’s cut-out pass found McGillvary to cut inside the cover and touch down strongly under heavy pressure.
Widdop landed the conversion and it was 12-10.
McGillvary then increased his matchday status shortly after by forcing opposite number Jason Nightingale into touch to deny the men in black and white on a video refereeing call.
WATCH: The England Rugby League squad in training
Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived as New Zealand showed their class to create the ending for Rapana to race away for his second through some tired-looking tackles, although the conversion was missed.
The game was now opening up big time, and on the hour Widdop tapped-on for Ryan Hall to finish strongly in the corner for Widdop to land the touchline conversion and level the scores at 16-16.
A 65th-minute Johnson drop goal summed up how tight the contest remained.
With England failing to find a way back, they were restricted to a 77th-minute Widdop field goal attempt which was some way off the mark, and that was their last chance gone.
England: Johnny Lomax; Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Dan Sarginson, Ryan Hall; Gareth Widdop; Chris Hill, Josh Hodgson, James Graham, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, Sam Burgess. Subs: Tom Burgess, George Burgess, Mike Cooper, Daryl Clark.
New Zealand: Jordan Kahu; Jason Nightingale, Solomone Kata, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jordan Rapana; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Jesse Bromwich, Isaac Luke, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris, Jason Taumalolo. Subs: Lewis Brown, Martin Taupau, Manu Ma’u, Adam Blair.
Referee: Robert Hicks.