The Great Britain Rugby League Lions returned to International Rugby League for the first time in 12 years, but it was the Tongan Invitational XIII who won 14-6 in front of a passionate crowd in Hamilton.
Roared on by a vocal, parochial crowd at FMG Stadium Waikato, the Tongan XIII took the lead in a brutal first half thanks to tries from Michael Jennings and Sione Katoa. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead thanks to some ferocious defence.
The occasion was another great advertisement for International Rugby League and sets the stage for the rest of the historic tour by the Great Britain Rugby League Lions - who will get the chance to bounce back when they face the Kiwis twice and the Papua New Guinea Kumuls.
The tour runs simultaneously with the continuation of the inaugural Oceania Cup, which reaches a pinnacle next weekend with the Eden Park Triple Header.
International Rugby League Southern Hemisphere General Manager Jeremy Edwards said: “This night showcased everything that is great about International Rugby League with a passionate crowd playing a key role in a huge victory for the Tonga Invitational XIII.”
“The Tongan side’s win shows the competitiveness of International Rugby League and we can’t wait to see the Tongan Invitational XIII in action again next week as well as the Kiwis, Toa Samoa and Fiji Bati.”
“The Great Britain Rugby League Lions are one of Rugby League’s iconic brands and the modern-day side will get the chance to bounce back in two Tests against the Kiwis and then a Test against the Kumuls in Papua New Guinea.”
Next weekend will see the invigorated Tonga XIII take on a buoyant Australian team fresh after a dominant performance over the Kiwis in Wollongong last night. Fiji take on Pacific rivals Samoa following a bumper International Nines tournament and The GBRL Lions and New Zealand will not be lacking in motivation following a sore loss.