By John Davidson,
Tonga Invitational XIII have upset Great Britain on their return to the rugby league stage, recording an impressive 14-6 win in Hamilton.
Tries to Michael Jennings and Sione Katoa, followed by a late response from John Bateman, was enough at the FMG Stadium Waikato were enough to secure a great win for Tonga.
The Lions had not played until 2007 and it showed.
Great Britain were out-matched and out-gunned by a physical Pacific island side.
Tonga put themselves on the back foot early when Tui Lolohea kicked the ball straight out from the kick-off.
But the Pacific country weathered the Lions’ early barrage and wrestled back control with some stinging hits in defence.
Tonga were winning the yardage battle in the first 18 minutes and causing Great Britain problems.
Twice they forced drop-outs as they effectively build pressure on their opponent’s try-line.
The Lions made things harder for themselves with forced passes and simple errors.
Spurred by a vocal sea of red support in the stands, Tonga maintained their composure and broke the deadlock on 29 minutes.
Jennings crossed after Gareth Widdop failed to clean up a kick in behind the line.
The Tongans picked up the scraps, the ball was recycled quickly to Jennings and the centre scooted over out wide.
Sio Sua Taukeiaho added the extras to give them a deserved 6-0 lead.
With six minutes left in the first half Manu Ma’u should have extended the lead, but he lost the ball as he fell over the line.
But it mattered not as right on the siren the magnificent Mate Ma’a struck again.
The increasingly confident Tongans threw the ball around at will and finally ended with Jennings putting Katoa in for a try in the corner with a perfect grubber.
Down 12-0 and half-time came as a relief to a battered Great Britain.
They were simply unable to match the energy and power of the tenacious Tongans.
In the second half the Lions regrouped and tried to fight their way back into the contest.
Oliver Gildart almost scored five minutes in, but his effort was ruled out by the video referee.
Tonga’s defence held firm and again basic errors were Great Britain’s downfall.
In the 59th minute it got worse when Gildart was taken off with a worrying shoulder injury.
Three minutes later Tonga went further ahead with Taukeiaho penalty goal from right in front.
Great Britain managed to hit back in the 69th minute when John Bateman barged over.
Widdop converted the try but it wasn’t enough on a dismal comeback for the Lions.
Great Britain face New Zealand in their second tour match next weekend at Eden Park.