GREAT BRITAIN will be sharper and more cohesive when they face New Zealand in Auckland tomorrow, coach Wayne Bennett believes.
The Lions’ four-match tour got off to a disappointing start six days ago when they were beaten 14-6 by a Tonga Invitational XIII, but Bennett is upbeat about what they can achieve against the Kiwis in tomorrow’s game – which kicks off at 4am UK time.
England beat New Zealand three times in four meetings last year, but neither they nor Great Britain – played a mid-season Test in 2019.
“We have got a game behind us,” said Bennett, who has drawn the majority of his Lions squad from the England set-up.
“I think we needed that game, we hadn’t been together for 12 months. I think that’s the key thing for us, having that game behind us, a bit more combination.
“Our half-back and five-eight hadn’t played together before so that will all help.”
Bennett insisted there was “nothing wrong with their effort last week”, but admitted: “We just didn’t nail a couple of things we should have. The Tongans played really well, but another week’s training together and with a game behind us, some of those things should be better.”
Jackson Hastings will again team up with Gareth Widdop in the halves and Bennett described the Man of Steel’s performance against Tonga as “pretty good, without blowing everybody off the park”.
He said: “We’ve suffered at half-back for the last 12-18 months, since Luke Gale got injured. We’ve got to find one in the next 12 months or so before the World Cup so he has got an opportunity there. I just hope he grabs it.”
New Zealand will field a new half-back combination as Kieran Foran, now fully fit after a long-term injury battle, comes in to partner captain Benji Marshall.
Kiwi boss Michael Maguire has taken a gamble by dropping his superstar stand-off Shaun Johnson, but Bennett warned: “I have coached against him [Foran] a lot of times in the competition [NRL]. He is a very good player. “He has been in a tough place the last three or four years, so it’s good to see him back. He has always been a quality player.”
McGuire is enthusiastic about what Foran will bring to his side. He said: “Kieran has got a lot of experience, he has got his body into really good shape and I admire the way he plays football.
“I am looking forward to seeing how he goes.”
Marshall has also given his new partner a vote of confidence.
“He is so determined and we complement the way each other plays,” he said.