IT WAS a brutal game that has become so legendary but Gareth Ellis says he was never “surprised” by what happened in Great Britain’s famous 2006 win over Australia – or the infamous actions of “best mate” Willie Mason.
The Lions are back on tour again for the first time since the year of that glorious 23-12 Tri-Nations victory in Sydney.
Neither Great Britain nor England have beaten the Kangaroos since and, of course, Australia are the obvious absentees on this current trip given Tonga, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are the opponents.
Ellis, a 25-year-old back-row playing with Leeds Rhinos at the time, is one of only four representatives that night still playing today, Sean O’Loughlin, James Roby and Jon Wilkin being the others.
At the age of 38, the ex-Wakefield Trinity centre will play on again with Hull FC in 2020 but now as a prop.
Still, Ellis – who became renowned as one of the world’s best forwards – can look back fondly on that night in Sydney.
The Lions, who had not won in Australia for 14 years, had been pilloried in the press all week and then saw Mason, the combustible Canterbury Bulldogs forward, floor Stuart Fielden with an early punch and then lay out Sean Long with an elbow in a late challenge.
“That ’06 win is one of the best wins I’ve ever played in, either in club football or international,” said Ellis, who finished with a combined total of 33 caps when he retired from representative action in 2012.
“It stands out a million miles over the majority of my international games. The needle that was in the game, the press being all over us and the fact I don’t think anyone gave us a chance.
“So, to win it in the manner that we did was brilliant.
“Fielden getting knocked out early doors; Willie Mason – who stayed on the field – spent all the game chasing Longy, copping him with an elbow as well. But we still came out the other side with a win.
“It’s a game that really stands out for me where a team really stood up and came together to get a famous, famous victory.”
But was Ellis – who later moved to Sydney with four quality years at Wests Tigers – surprised at how volatile New South Wales State of Origin enforcer Mason did go after them like he did early on?
He said: “Back then, I’d probably know as much as I do now about Willie Mason. When I first went to the NRL (in 2009) I was up against Willie Mason then and he absolutely verbally hammered me the whole game.
“But I just thought I’ll let my actions do the talking. I’d like to think I got the better of him that day as well.
“He came up to me afterwards, shook my hand and said ‘welcome to the NRL, I’m really pleased you’re here’.
“So he turned from sledging to be wanting my best mate in 80 minutes so I must have done something right!
“When you put on that international jumper, playing for your country, I think your emotions are heightened even further.
“It’s the top of the game, the best players versus the best players, the biggest stadiums in front of awesome crowds.
“I think someone like him on that stage is going to be worse than what he already is so I’m not surprised he went the way he did.
“But what was the best thing about it for me was the way the Great Britain team that day responded like it did.
“JP (Jamie Peacock) probably set the tone by flying in and giving him (Mason) a few, showing we wouldn’t stand for any nonsense from these lot. Let’s go for it.
“The way the players stood up that day - Longy was just outstanding - was testament to a side that was under the pump, playing in Australia and playing against a side they’d not beaten for many years.
“It was really, really pleasing.”