Great Britain lost on their return Test as they fell short to a 14-6 defeat by Tonga in Hamilton.
There were four Super League players involved in the Tonga side – Leeds’ Konrad Hurrell, Salford’s Tui Lolohea, Warrington’s Ben Murdoch-Masila and Hull-bound Manu Ma’u.
James Graham captained Great Britain in what was his 50th cap. Lachlan Coote, Jackson Hastings and Josh Jones also earned their first caps.
A mix-up between Gareth Widdop and Coote saw Michael Jennings capitalise on Great Britain’s error to score the game’s first try on the half hour mark.
And with just seconds of the first half remaining, Tonga scored an incredible try thanks to Sione Katoa. They led 12-0 at the break.
Sio Siua Taukeiaho added a penalty goal for Tonga on the hour to put the game out of reach for the Lions.
John Bateman went over to give the Lions a bit of hope late on but it wasn’t to be as the Tongan powerhouses finished 14-6 winners.
Three talking points
Tonga pack too strong
Kristian Woolf’s Tonga side were absolutely ferocious in the middle. The likes of Addin Fonua-Blake and Jason Taumalolo laid down the marker from the start and they bruised the Lions.
Nobody in the Tonga forwards had a bad game. Murdoch-Masila worked tirelessly in defence, while Ma’u looks to be a real shrewd signing for Hull FC.
Andrew Fifita and Katoa added a lot of fire power when coming off the bench. As a team, Tonga were really good to watch, which is expected because their squad is stacked with NRL talent.
Great Britain’s poor first half
The Lions weren’t too far away from their Tongan counterparts in terms of their performances in attack and defence – but Tonga were just simply too strong through the middle.
Great Britain’s display in the second half was much better than the first. Tonga completely rolled them in the first 40 – but they matched Tonga in the second half and could have had a few more tries if they took their chances.
The Lions can’t really be too disheartened by their performance in Hamilton. There is plenty of improvement to be made for the Tests against New Zealand and Papua New Guinea – but it wasn’t as bad a start than some are making out.
International game vital
The Tonga-Great Britain match just proved how important the international game is to the sport of rugby league.
It was incredible to witness the sea of red in the stands again, with the beautiful Tongan hymns being belted out by the passionate home crowd.
Playing for your country and your heritage is the absolute pinnacle in any sport and that was easy to see in the match. International rugby league continues to rise above.
Line-ups and player ratings
Tonga: Niu (8); Fusitu’a (8), Jennings (9), Hurrell (8), Tupou (8); Lolohea (9), Hopoate (7); Taukeiaho (8), Havili (7), Fonua-Blake (7); Murdoch-Masila (8), Ma’u (8), Taumalolo (8). Subs: Fifita (8), Katoa (8), Asiata (7), Tupouniua (7).
Tries: Jennings, Katoa Goals: Taukeiaho 3/3
Great Britain: Coote (7); McGillvary (7), Hardaker (6), Gildart (6), Hall (6); Widdop (7), Hastings (7); Hill (7), Hodgson (8), Thompson (6), Bateman (8), Whitehead (8), Graham (8). Subs: Jones (7), T Burgess (8), Lomax (6), Walmsley (8).
Tries: Bateman Goals: Widdop 1/1
As a lover of international rugby league, I was truly enthralled with the amount of talent and passion on show by both Tonga and Great Britain.
You can see that players naturally give an extra 10% when playing for their country and heritage. Playing for your country means much more than playing for a club – it’s playing for your family, your name, the people of your motherland and your heritage.
Tonga have helped bring international rugby league to the next level. Although it is a disappointing result for Great Britain, it is good for world rugby league that a tier-two nation has beaten a tier-one giant.