The Lions – who last week lost to New Zealand – played for the full eighty minutes against Australia; and that, along with the sterling defence that kept the Kangaroos at bay for most of the game, was the reason for their victory.
Sean Long was surely the British man of the match after an exemplary display, kicking three goals, a drop goal and, crucially, setting up two of the tourists’ four tries.
The opening half was a gripping, if low-scoring, affair with both teams unable to find a way over their opponents’ try-line the first 28 minutes of the encounter.
But the game was far from incident-free, with Willie Mason squaring up to Stuart Fielden and knocking the Wigan forward to the floor with an obvious right hook before, even worse, launching himself into a disgusting late hit on Long leaving the Saints scrum-half nursing a cut over his eye.
It was stunning that Mason was able to stay on the pitch, with referee Ashley Klien typically placing both incidents of report; Mason could, however, miss out on the remainder of the tournament.
Great Britain had held the most possession and placed their opponents under the most pressure, so it was only to be expected that the Kangaroos touched down for the first try.
Ben Hornby took a sublime interception as the Lions were looking to find away through the solid Kangaroos defence, and fed Greg Inglis who raced sixty metres and finished superbly, Darren Lockyer converting.
But the visitors were not going to crumble, and Long inspired the first score with an amazing dummy that perplexed Lockyer and Luke O’Donnell, giving him the space to make a break and feed the superbly positioned Paul Wellens.
Long added the two points to draw level and bring the first half scoring to a close, although some sterling defence was required in the closing seconds to prevent the Kangaroos from taking the initiative.
The second half started well for Great Britain, a penalty allowing them to make ground up the field from the kick off, and Jamie Peacock taking advantage of this new found field position to charge over the line and score, Long adding the extras.
But just ten minutes later Inglis opened up the Lions defence made a break down the wing before passing inside for Lockyer to touch down beneath the posts, Lockyer adding the two for the Australians to draw level.
The Kangaroos spurned several chances to score – including Lockyer having the ball knocked from his grasp in the in-goal area in a collision with Gareth Raynor – and Great Britain grabbed the momentum once more with Lee Gilmour slicing through the Kangaroos defence to score, Long converting.
Long then missed a penalty kick at goal and the chance for a drop goal, but made up for it with a fantastic move where he chipped forward a loose ball, re-gathered and raced up-field to win Great Britain field position.
From there the ball was sent left through five sets of hands for Raynor to finish superbly at the corner and seal the game, Long’s attempt at a conversion striking the post.
But Long added a drop goal towards the end to bring this pulsating encounter to a close, and ensure that the Australian media would be eating their words for seven days at least.
Report by Tony Williams