For an island nation that is steeped in Rugby League history, it was somewhat disappointing to learn of the Lions’ disbandment soon after their home tour with New Zealand in 2007.
Great Britain oozed success before the RFL started sending individual home nations to World Cups meaning a Lions tour became almost seemingly irrelevant, but as the Great British Lions were crowned champions three times and competed often in the Tri-Nation series against the Aussies and Kiwi’s, the news of a return was greeted with great delight.
It makes sense too as Rugby League is booming over in the British Isles right now and what better way to spread the word across the globe especially as in 2021 it is England who will host the World Cup.
The domestic game in Britain is strong with St Helen’s currently sitting proudly at the top of Super League and looking good for the Grand Final at 5/6 with Betway as of the 8th July to claim the top prize.
But before we take a look at the Lions tour in 2019, let’s recap what happened the last time they headed to the Southern Hemisphere.
Australia and New Zealand were the host nations for the last ever Rugby League Tri-Nations tournament featuring Great Britain. And much like the year before on home soil, things did not go to plan for Brian Noble’s men.
The sides met each other twice in a league table format with the top two competing in a final.
Unfortunately, come the end of the tournament it was the Lions who propped up the table just they had done the year before.
GB’s opening game against New Zealand resulted in a 18-14 defeat for the Lions in Christchurch in which Stacey Jones converted all three of New Zealand’s tries.
Victory over the Aussies
However, a trip to Sydney a week later saw Noble’s men show no signs of disappointment as tries from Paul Wellens, Jamie Peacock, Lee Gilmour and Gareth Raynor saw the Lions sweep to a now-historic 12 -23 win at the Aussie Stadium.
Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Noble’s men as the second match against New Zealand played at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium resulted in a heavy 34-4 loss.
The Kiwis ran through six tries in reply to a single British one from Gareth Ellis whilst Stacey Jones continued his fine form converting five of his six kicks.
After the Aussies had defeated New Zealand in both their games, it meant the Lions would need a big win if they were going to make the final.
Quite the opposite happened as Aussie coach Ricky Stuart got his revenge in a 33-10 home win in Brisbane to leave the Lions rock bottom of the table for successive years.
Keith Senior and Danny McGuire managed to get over the try-line for the Lions, but it was not enough as Australia topped the table.
Australia went on to make it a hat-trick of wins over New Zealand in the final winning the Tri-Nations 16-12 in a tight game back in Sydney.
Looking ahead to the 2019 tour
So, as we prepare for another tour for the first time since that 2006 tour, is the expectation is as high as ever.
After a 13-year hiatus it is safe to say the Lions will want to put on a good show, especially with the World Cup getting ever closer.
This series there is no Tri-Nations but a series of games against Tonga, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.
The Lions will take on four series games in total, facing the Kiwis twice as they look to get revenge for their 2006 defeats.
However, it will be tough as Lions veteran head coach Wayne Bennett will be well aware as an Aussie himself.
Three of the Lions games will take place in New Zealand with Tonga up first on the 26th October in Hamilton, before a double-header with the Kiwi’s first in Auckland, then a week later Christchurch.
Great Britain then take on Papa New Guinea on the 16th November at Port Moresby.
However, the tour has surprised many as Australia, Fiji and Samoa are all absent from the tour, in something of a shock.
The RFL rugby director Kevin Sinfield (and member of the Lions team in 2006) has stated it is disappointing Australia at least are not on the roster but with the Aussie’s touring Britain in 2020, the opportunity to face new opposition was a sensible one.
Expect hard-hitting intense action with an air of unpredictability as the Lions head into the unknown.
It all gets underway on Saturday 26th October and you will not want to miss it.