The Tongan Invitational XIII turned in a hugely impressive performance to beat Great Britain 14-6 in the opening Test of the Lions tour.
Tonga’s performance was oozing with passion and desire from the opening whistle and they physically dominated the Lions for long periods in front of a vocal sea of red crowd in Hamilton.
Kristian Woolf’s men overcame the loss of half back Ata Hingano at the eleventh hour, with 18 year old Tesi Niu impressing in his senior rugby league debut at fullback alongside Salford stand off Tui Lolohea, who controlled the game well for the Mate Ma’a.
After a brutal opening half an hour, in which Luke Thompson left the field injured, Tonga dominated field position and Michael Jennings eventually broke the deadlock on the back of a Lachlan Coote error.
On the stroke of half time Great Britain were powerless to stop the offloading ability of Tonga, with the ball going through numerous pairs of hands before Jennings provided the kick through for Siona Katoa to score after the siren, Sio Siua Taukeiaho converted both scores to give Tonga a 12-0 lead at the break.
The Lions display had been hampered by a number of poor errors and their frustrations continued when Alex Walmsley was pinged for taking Niu out on a kick chase close to the posts and Taukeiaho added a penalty to make it 14-0 with quarter of an hour remaining.
John Bateman caught the Tongan defence out on the right for a converted try with ten minutes to play to give Wayne Bennett’s men hope but the Lions lack of fluency with the ball continued and Tonga closed the game out to secure a historic and well deserved win.
Great Britain are back in action for the second Test of the tour next Saturday for the first of two clashes against New Zealand.