NRL is finally back, with the long-awaited return kicking off this Thursday night. These are my tips for footy’s first week back.
New Zealand have beaten Great Britain 23-8 in their rugby league Test in Christchurch to secure a 2-0 series win.
After taking last week’s opening encounter 12-8 in Auckland, the Kiwis backed it up on Saturday night with an effort built around solid forward play and tight defence.
Points have been hard to come by in recent weeks for the Lions and their tactics had a rather familiar feel throughout the match.
Their forwards struggled to create momentum through the middle and the halves were forced to kick long on the fifth tackle and they weren’t able to put pressure on the Kiwis.
Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett said his side weren’t clinical enough.
“They played much better than we did,” Bennett said. “It’s probably the best way of summing it up.”
New Zealand’s forwards ran with greater punch and halves Benji Marshall and Shaun Johnson turned the screws on the Lions with a pinpoint long-kicking game.
Johnson, recalled to the team after Kieran Foran suffered a shoulder injury last week, only ran the ball once in the first half but his quick footwork produced a solo try.
Kiwis coach Michael Maguire said he was pleased with Johnson’s return.
“Full credit to him, how he handled that moment in time,” Maguire said. “I’m sure he’s going to learn a lot from that.”
Johnson’s try followed an earlier four-pointer from Sydney Roosters centre Joseph Manu, while Brisbane’s Jamayne Isaako added three penalty goals to keep the scoreboard moving.
Holding a 16-2 lead entering the second half, the Kiwis added another try through winger Ken Maumalo and held on during the final quarter as the Lions mounted plenty of pressure.
“(I’m) just pleased with how the boys prepared themselves and, when they first arrived in camp, they got together and worked really hard at what they wanted to achieve throughout this tour,” Maguire said.
“To see them defend the way they did at the back end, that was obviously a reflection of what we spoke about right from day one.”
A late field goal and another Isaako penalty goal iced the victory.
The result added to a miserable tour for Great Britain who also lost a fortnight ago to a Tongan Invitational XIII.
The Lions will cap off their southern hemisphere tour with a Test against Papua New Guinea next weekend in Port Moresby