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The Kiwis have scratched and clawed their way to a tough, ugly 12-8 win over Great Britain at Eden Park in Auckland, adding to the woes of the Lions in what has so far been a fruitless tour.
The first half was a chess match – one for the rugby league purists. The Kiwis drew first blood with a penalty goal to Jamayne Isaako in the 7th minute.
Great Britain hit back in kind with one to Gareth Widdop several minutes later to make the scores 2-2.
With no tries scored in the first half, 2-all would remain the score at halftime, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the only player from either side looking even remotely dangerous with ball in hand.
The second half started off in similar fashion to the first, descending into an arm-wrestle pretty quickly. However it was the magic man RTS who was able to break the deadlock, busting through the tackles of Alex Walmsley and Elliot Whitehead to set up Jamayne Isaako with a beautiful flick pass for the first try of the game in the 48th minute.
The Kiwis then extended their lead with a try to Corey Harawira-Naera in the 55th minute.
The middle of the second half was marred by poor discipline from both sides. A late hit from Joe Tapine on Lions skipper James Graham sparked the first all-in of the game, before John Bateman and Tuivasa-Sheck found themselves pushing and shoving just a few minutes later.
However a stern warning to both captains from the officials saw things cool from boiling point.
The Lions were clearly frustrated at their inability to threaten the Kiwi line. Everything they tried, the Kiwis had an answer for.
It would be surprising not to see either George Williams or Blake Austin come into the side for next week’s game in a bit to spark the Lions’ attack.
The British were able to find the stripe eventually through Daryl Clark, who pounced on a loose ball and dived over the line after Alex Walmsley was stripped of possession when trying to barge over.
Widdop converted, setting up a tense final 10 minutes with the scores 12-8 in favour of New Zealand.
The scores would remain this way till fulltime. The Lions had several chances to level up and potentially take the lead.
But a mixture of great Kiwi defence and poor execution from the Lions meant that the 4-point deficit was too much for Great Britain to overcome.
Wayne Bennett will be extremely disappointed with his side’s attack.
For two games in a row now they’ve struggled to threaten, with Widdop and Hastings not able to set up their outside men.
Expect changes for next week’s second Test against the Kiwis.
New Zealand 12
Great Britain 8
The second match of Great Britain’s tour (and first of two against the Kiwis) takes place as part of an international rugby league triple-header at Eden Park in Auckland. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the game from 3pm (AEDT).
Both coaches have rung in the changes after disappointing performances last week. Kieran Foran has been recalled to the Kiwis side to replace Shaun Johnson who had a shocker against the Kangaroos last week.
The Kiwis were guilty of playing too laterally last week against Australia. This led to a Latrell Mitchell intercept and a try on debut for Josh Addo-Carr.
Foran has been brought in by coach Michael Maguire to straighten up the Kiwis attack, and direct the team around the park.
New Zealand also welcome Joe Tapine back from suspension. He comes in at lock, pushing Adam Blair back to the bench.
For Great Brittain, Lachlan Coote has been replaced by St Helens teammate Johnny Lomax after a lacklustre outing against Tonga last week.
Lomax has spent most of the year playing in the halves for St Helens with Coote having a lock on the fullback position.
However, Lomax is no stranger to the custodian’s role, having played there for most of his career at club level and for England too.
The other change for Great Britain is the inclusion in the centres of Hull FC utility back Jake Connor for the injured Oliver Gildart.
The pressure will be on Jackson Hastings to perform in this game after a poor showing against Tonga last week.
It certainly looked like it was his first time playing with Gareth Widdop (who should be in no danger of being dropped), and with both Canberra-bound George Williams and Blake Austin in the extended squad, Great Britain have more-than-capable replacements if the reigning Man of Steele Hastings doesn’t perform.
I’m expecting a close, but open game. Both sides have plenty of strike out wide – it’s up to the respective halves pairings to unleash the likes of Jermaine McGillvary, Zak Hardaker and Ryan Hall for the Lions, and Joseph Manu, Jamayne Isaako and Ken Maumalo for the Kiwis.
That said, I think New Zealand have the edge. The inclusion of Kieran Foran is a huge boost and should fix a lot of their problems from last week.
Kiwis by 6.
Don’t forget to join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the game from 3pm AEDT.
Where: Eden Park, Auckland
When: 3pm AEDT
TV: Gem, Fox League
Streaming: NRL Live Pass, Kayo Sports
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 Ken Maumalo, 3 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Jamayne Isaako, 6 Kieran Foran, 7 Benji Marshall, 8 Zane Tetevano, 9 Brandon Smith, 10 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 11 Briton Nikora, 12 Kenneath Bromwich, 13 Joseph Tapine
Interchange: 14 Jahrome Hughes, 15 Corey Harawira-Naera, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Adam Blair
Reserves: 18 Kevin Proctor, 19 Bailey Simonsson
1 Johnny Lomax, 2 Jermaine McGillvary, 3 Zak Hardaker, 4 Jake Connor, 5 Ryan Hall, 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Jackson Hastings, 8 Chris Hill, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Thomas Burgess, 11 John Bateman, 12 Elliot Whitehead, 13 James Graham
Interchange: 14 Josh Jones, 15 Joe Philbin, 16 Daryl Clark, 17 Alex Walmsley
Reserves: 18 Jack Hughes, 19 George Williams, 20 Jacob Trueman, 21 Blake Austin