After defeats last weekends both the GB Lions and New Zealand were looking for a victory in the first of two tests between the two sides as the rugby league world cast its eyes to Eden Park in Auckland.
Both coaches made some changes after last week with the Lions promoting Jonny Lomax at full back and Tom Burgess at prop, while Michael McGuire shocked the home support by dropping creative half back Shaun Johnson.
The last time that the two sides met was in late 2007 when GB secured a three match whitewash on home soil, the only survivor from that last game, a 28-22 win in Wigan, being Lions skipper James Graham.
It was a conservative opening from two sides concerned about making the early mistake and handing momentum to their opponents. An early injury for Kieran Foran saw the half back helped from the field with a shoulder injury after six minutes and to settle their nerves New Zealand kicked a penalty goal a minute later with Jamayne Isaako slotting the ball between the uprights from twenty metres out.
On sixteen the Lions responded with their own penalty kick, from the boot of Gareth Widdop, to level the scores at 2-2 from fifteen metres out. Both sides were prodding and probing but neither seemed to have the confidence to give the ball air and go for the opening try. It wasn’t the fare to keep the bleary eyed supporters in the UK awake.
There was plenty of industry in the opening forty but very little entertainment from either side, the Lions probably edged the first half in terms of position and possession but almost got caught on the break in the closing seconds. There was plenty of room for offensive improvement from both sides in the second half.
On forty-eight an gap opened in the GB defence on the half way line as Roger Tuivasa-Sheck finally broke the deadlock. The Kiwi full back bust through the defensive line on the half-way line and sprinted downfield before finding Isaako in support to go over in the corner. Isaako was unable to convert his own try.
Three minutes later Nikora appeared to have scored the second New Zealand try as he dribbled the ball through the Lions defence but the video referee ruled out the four pointer for a knock-on.
On fifty-four Corey Harawira-Naera pushed his way over the line and somehoe managed to get the ball on the ground under the tackle of three Lions players. Referee Kendall used the video official who over-ruled his ‘No Try’ decision and awarded the four pointer. Isaako added the conversion for 12-2, the tourists with a mountain to climb.
Tempers flared on the hour mark with two brawls in the space of as many minutes. Both rsulted in GB penalties inside the Kiwi’s twenty but the defence held firm and kept the Lions out.
The video referee was involved again on sixty-eight. The Lions were pressing the Kiwi line with Walmsley going close before the ball was stripped before being collected by Daryl Clark who fought off three tackles to get the ball on the ground. Widdop added the conversion and the Lions were back in the game at 8-12.
Four minutes from time Jermaine McGillvary lost the ball in the act of scoring by the right corner flag, under the tackle from Kenny Bromwich. The Lions chance to win the game had slipped away as the ball slipped from McGillvary’s hands.
The Lions were defeated again in an eighty minutes of pure attrition. New Zealand sprang back from their defeat last week and despite trailing GB in terms of position and possession they took their two chances and stole the game.
Onwards to Christchurch next Saturday for the second of the two match series.
New Zealand: Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo, Nicoll-Klokstad, Manu, Isaako (T, 2G), Foran, Marshall, Tetevano, Waerea-Hargreaves, Nikora, Bromwich, Tapine, Nikorima. Subs: Hughes, Harawira-Naera (T), Ah Mau, Blair.
GB Lions: Lomax, McGillvary, Hardaker, Connor, Hall, Widdop (2G), Hastings, Hill, Hodgson, Burgess, Bateman, Whitehead, Graham. Subs: Jones, Philbin, Clark (T), Walmsley.
Referees: Chris Kendall.