The Lions’ opening 14-6 loss to a Tonga Invitational XIII seems more respectable in light of Australia’s subsequent defeat by the same opposition.
Though Great Britain were criticised for their conservative approach against New Zealand last Saturday, coach Wayne Bennett and his players insist they are capable of overturning that 12-8 setback when the teams meet again this weekend.
The Kiwis led 12-2 in the third quarter at Auckland’s Eden Park, but Great Britain pulled back a converted try and were close to claiming victory in the closing stages as they finally adopted a more adventurous style.
“We were disappointed with the result, but I thought we played some good football at times,” said the Lions’ Halifax-born stand-off Gareth Widdop.
“I thought it was an improvement on the Tonga game. There’s still a few areas we need to fix up, but, in saying that, we got a lot of confidence from that game and it’s another big challenge this weekend in Christchurch.”
Widdop is adamant only some tweaking is needed, particularly near the opposition’s line, for Great Britain to come out on the right side of this Saturday’s result. He added: “They are always tight games. In the last five minutes, we should have scored one or two tries to get the victory, but Test matches are decided on moments like that.
“We were pleased with the first half in terms of our completions and we finished in the right areas. We just needed to improve a bit of ball movement and things like that, but certainly in the second half we created opportunities.
“It was just the last pass we couldn’t finish. We are all competitive blokes and we want to win; it’s disappointing we lost, but we are still very positive and we’ll be better for the run.”
Alex Walmsley, the St Helens prop who is originally from Dewsbury, is also painting a bright picture of the Lions’ prospects for Saturday’s rematch with New Zealand and the following weekend’s one-off Test in Papua New Guinea.
“We’ve had a couple of disappointing losses,” admitted Walmsley. “As competitive as we have been in those games, we haven’t taken our opportunities.
“We are frustrated, a little bit, but, ultimately, everyone remains positive in camp.
“We know the areas we need to work on to hopefully flip those results into wins.
“The positive sign is we are creating lots of opportunities and I think if we’d taken them we would have two wins rather than two losses.”
Of New Zealand, Walmsley noted: “We had a tough battle against them last week, they have got one up on us and we are really looking forward to hopefully equalling the scoreboard and getting a win back. They are a big side, a world-class side, but we know we’ve got the mettle to get the job done.”
Wigan Warriors’ former Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers back Zak Hardaker, having already played out of position at centre in the opening two tour games, is expected to switch to the left-wing in place of Ryan Hall, who suffered a dislocated kneecap last week.
Hall was one of just two specialist wingers in Bennett’s original squad, alongside Huddersfield Giants’ Jermaine McGillvary. Oliver Gildart, the Lions’ only out-and-out centre, suffered a tour-ending shoulder dislocation against Tonga, but Bennett has decided against calling up reinforcements, stressing: “We have every faith in the ability of the players within our squad to get the job done.”
Warrington Wolves second-row Jack Hughes is poised to step into the centres this weekend and prop Luke Thompson, man of the match in St Helens’ Grand Final win over Salford Red Devils last month, could return from a rib injury.
New Zealand: R Tuivasa-Sheck (NZ Warriors); K Maumalo (NZ Warriors), C Nicoll-Klokstad (Canberra), J Manu (Sydney Roosters), J Isaako (Brisbane); S Johnson (Cronulla), B Marshall (Wests Tigers, capt); Z Tetevano (Sydney Roosters), B Smith (Melbourne), J Waerea-Hargreaves (Sydney Roosters), B Nikora (Cronulla), C Harawira-Naera (Canterbury Bulldogs), J Tapine (Canberra). Replacements (from): K Nikorima (Brisbane), K Proctor (Gold Coast), L Ah Mau (NZ Warriors), A Blair (NZ Warriors), J Hughes (Melbourne), B Hamlin-Uele (Cronulla), K Bromwich (Melbourne), B Simonsson (Canberra), I Papal’i (NZ Warriors).
Great Britain: J Lomax (St Helens); J McGillvary (Huddersfield), J Hughes (Warrington), J Connor (Hull FC), Z Hardaker (Wigan); G Widdop (St George Illawarra), J Hastings (Salford); C Hill (Warrington), J Hodgson (Canberra), T Burgess (South Sydney), J Bateman (Canberra), E Whitehead (Canberra), J Graham (St George Illawarra, capt). Replacements (from): J Jones (Salford), J Philbin (Warrington), D Clark (Warrington), A Walmsley (St Helens), B Austin (Warrington), G Williams (Wigan), L Thompson (St Helens), L Coote (St Helens).