The Great Britain Lions are a glorious anachronism that shouldn’t work in reality. But so strong is the history and prestige associated with the jersey in rugby league, you cannot write it off. Team Great Britain is something you would only connect with the Olympics. In most other team sports you have fierce contests between the home nations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Back in 2007, Rugby League also seemed to follow with this inevitable trend in UK sports, with the Great Britain Lions formally disbanded. In its place, the four nations were allowed to send their own teams to future Rugby League events including the World Cup.
But now, after several false starts over the last decade, the Great Britain Lions Team is well and truly back. The fast-approaching Southern Hemisphere tour will see them play against the Kiwis, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga.
Why Do The GB Lions Matter?
The Lions have played a key role in league history over the decades. They have played in several iconic matches, often winning at the expense of the Kangaroos, unfortunately. The earliest of these matches was way back in 1914, dubbed the Rorke’s Drift Test.
Part of the Lions tour of Australia, it was the final of a three-test series that the visitors were forced to play within a week. The injury-ravaged team played against overwhelming odds to cling on to a legendary 2-1 series win with just 10 men.
They did something similar in 1994 as well, with yet another back-to-the-walls job against the Aussies at Wembley. The team was down to 12 men, yet they prevailed thanks to a fine effort by Jonathan Davies. As for the World Cups, the team stopped competing in 1995. But they continued to be a strong outfit in tests right up until their dissolution. In the last series they ever played against New Zealand and Australiain 2006, the Lions emerged victoriously.
The 2019 Tour Schedule & Why Australia Is Missing
The biggest shock if you are an Aussie rugby league fan is the absence of the Kangaroos from the itinerary for this upcoming tour. The Lions will only be playing these three teams in October and November of 2019 –
● New Zealand (twice)
● Papua New Guinea
Fiji and Samoa were also part of a provisional itinerary released in late 2018 by the RLIF, but they could not be included in the final plans due to scheduling conflicts. As for Australia not being a part of the conversation, there are several reasons for this.
With the 2021 World Cups fast approaching, there was the issue of fixture congestion. Though the major nations all qualify automatically, several slots are still up for grabs in the Southern Hemisphere and the elimination process will only conclude on November 2019.
There was also Australia’s long-standing request for a tour to England before the World Cup that required consideration. In the end, after months of discussions, the RLIF decided to separate the two nations – Team GB will travel to Oceania in 2019 but not play Australia, who has been given a test series in England in 2020.
This is a big disappointment for Aussie fans hoping for a fierce test on their home turf. But then again, they have NRL to hold their attention for the moment, with the grand final coming up in October. Sydney Roosters are hot favourites for the final with odds of 2.75, trailed by Melbourne Storm at 3.40 and the Canberra Raiders at 7.00.
If you want to place some Rugby world cup bets, then you might want to consider the 2019 Rugby Union edition. In that format, the Kiwis are the hot favourites as usual to win the cup, with odds ranging from 6/4 to 13/10. England and South Africa look like the next two on the bookies’ shortlists, with identical odds of 9/2 being offered at many places.
How the Potential Matchups are Shaping
These are still very early days for predictions, given the current state of the Great Britain Lions. The team is in its early formative stage, with the initial 29 member squad currently meeting for the first time. The final 24-man squad only be revealed after the Super League Grand Final on October 12.
So we can only speculate about the quality of the opposition at the moment. And of the three, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea will present the most intriguing challenges to the Lions. Tonga is a totally unknown quantity for the Lions as this will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
Regardless of how it turns out, the resurrection of Team Great Britain is ultimately fantastic news for the future of rugby league. With plans underway to create a stable schedule spread over the next 4-8 years, the future of rugby league looks brighter than ever before.
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com
Feb 21, 2020 0