Great Britain Rugby League Lions lose 14-6 to Tonga Invitational XIII on return

By Phil CartwrightBBC Sport
Great Britain Rugby League Lions Tour 2019
Tonga Invitational XIII (12) 14
Tries: Jennings, Katoa Goals: Taukeiaho 3
Great Britain (0) 6
Try: Bateman Goal: Widdop

Great Britain's return to the international stage after 12 years away ended in defeat by a Tonga Invitational XIII in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Michael Jennings' opening score and a stunning Sione Katoa try just before half-time put the Tongans 12-0 up at the end of a bruising first period.

Suo Siua Taukeiaho's penalty added another two points to the lead.

John Bateman's try provided some hope, but it could not prevent the Lions' four-game tour starting with a loss.

The Great Britain side is back on the international scene after more than a decade's absence.

Since the Lions last played in 2007, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have competed under their own banners - and will continue to do so at future World Cups.

Captain James Graham, who became the fourth British player in history to reach 50 international caps, is the only player in Wayne Bennett's 24-man touring squad to have worn the iconic red and blue chevron before.

Great Britain's first opponents on their return were labelled a Tonga Invitational XIII because of a dispute involving the country's governing body, but it was a Tonga national side in all but name and the match was given official Test status by the International Rugby League.

Tonga are fourth in the world rankings and, under incoming St Helens head coach Kristian Woolf, narrowly lost a World Cup semi-final to England in 2017.

James Graham in action for Great Britain
England and Great Britain forward James Graham's 50th international cap ended in defeat

Backed by a colourful and vociferous following in Hamilton, the Tongans' aggressive approach and ferocious tackling power pushed Great Britain back into their own territory early on, leaving them struggling to make ground into the opposition half.

Just as Great Britain appeared to have weathered a prolonged spell of first-half pressure, full-back Lachlan Coote failed to cleanly gather a deflected low kick 20 metres from his own line and the loose ball eventually found its way to Jennings to score.

Their second try was full of flair, skill and inventiveness; they kept the final play of the half alive with several outstanding offloads after the half-time hooter had sounded, culminating in Katoa racing on to a low Jennings kick to score.

Salford Red Devils half-back Tui Lolohea was a constant threat with the boot for the Tongans, while the Lions lacked creativity and, when they did find themselves near the opposition try line, their kicking at the end of sets was not of the required quality to produce points.

Former Wigan forward Bateman, who starred in his debut season in Australia's National Rugby League with Canberra Raiders, powered over the line with 10 minutes to play, but the Lions could not find a way through again in the closing stages.

What's next?

Great Britain play the first of two Tests against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday, 2 November (04:00 GMT kick-off).

Every game of the tour will be shown live on BBC Two and on the BBC Sport website and app, where you can also find live text commentary of each match.


Tonga Invitational XIII: Hopoate; Fusitu'a, Jennings, Hurrell, Tupou; Lolohea, Niu; Fonua-Blake, Havili, Taukeiaho, Murdoch-Masila, Ma'u, Taumalolo.

Interchanges: Fifita, Katoa, Asiata, Topouniua.

Great Britain: Coote; McGillvary, Hardaker, Gildart, Hall; Widdop, Hastings; Hill, Hodgson, Thompson, Bateman, Whitehead, Graham (capt).

Interchanges: Jones, Burgess, Lomax, Walmsley.

Referee: Chris Kendall


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