Tonga 14-6 Great Britain: Lions beaten in tour opener
By Ben Proe
Last Updated: 26/10/19 11:56am
The Great Britain shirt may be back on the international stage after a 12-year absence - but a superb Tongan display underlined their Test class as they recorded a brutal 14-6 victory in Hamilton on Saturday.
After a minute's silence to mark the sad passing of former Tonga and St Helens coach Mike McClennan, it was new Saints boss Kristian Woolf's men who bossed the opening 40 minutes, dishing out some huge hits almost from kick-off.
Harry Sunderland winner Luke Thompson was an early casualty - and the hosts inflicted more damage on the scoreboard with half an hour gone. Sione Katoa's kick caused confusion for Gareth Widdop and debutant Lachlan Coote, as New South Wales Origin centre Michael Jennings claimed the opener.
The Lions hardly got out of their half in the first period, and conceded again in the final play of the opening stanza. It was a truly incredible Tongan try; the ball shifted through 16 pairs of hands, before Jennings kicked on brilliantly for Katoa to touch down in the corner. Sio Siua Taukeiaho nailed the touchline conversion for a 12-0 interval lead.
Wayne Bennett's men came out firing after the break, as David Fusitu'a beat Oliver Gildart to Widdop's teasing kick.
The Wigan centre left the field on the hour mark following another clash with the New Zealand Warriors winger - and just three minutes later, Taukeiaho's penalty put Tonga three scores clear.
With 11 minutes left, NRL Back Rower of the Year John Bateman powered over to give the Lions hope - but Tonga held on to avenge their World Cup semi-final defeat to England two years ago, and spoil Great Britain skipper James Graham's 50th international appearance.
Next up for the Lions, a date with New Zealand in Auckland in a week's time.