The Lions Tour of Oceania was in danger of turning into a whitewash after last weekends 12-8 loss to New Zealand. This week the rugby league world turned its eyes to Christchurch for the second contest with the Kiwis, the Lions desperate for the win to regain some pride.
Great Britain lost the services of Ryan Hall and Zak Hardaker with Blake Austin being selected on the wing by coach Bennett. Shaun Johnson was recalled for the Kiwi’s after being dropped for last weeks match and was certain to be looking to prove a point.
Conditions were oppressively hot at the OrangeTheory Stadium as the sides took the field for another bruising encounter.
After defeats last weekends both the GB Lions and New Zealand were looking for a victory in the first of two tests between the two sides as the rugby league world cast its eyes to Eden Park in Auckland.
Both coaches made some changes after last week with the Lions promoting Jonny Lomax at full back and Tom Burgess at prop, while Michael McGuire shocked the home support by dropping creative half back Shaun Johnson.
The last time that the two sides met was in late 2007 when GB secured a three match whitewash on home soil, the only survivor from that last game, a 28-22 win in Wigan, being Lions skipper James Graham.
Nothing sets the pulse of a rugby league fan racing like a Great Britain Lions Tour down under, and after a twelve year absence the Lions opened their four match odyssey with a visit to the FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton City, New Zealand, to take on a Tongan Invitational XIII.
There was only one survivor in the GB squad from the side which whitewashed New Zealand in 2007, the skipper James Graham who had been a substitute in Tony Smith’s side in all three matches during the last UK test series.
There was a strong and passionate Tongan support in Hamilton for the game (despite the recent issues and some requests for Tongan supporters to stay away), a good contingent of tourist supporters who had made the long trip, and plenty of neutrals who were getting a look at the Lions side ahead of the two match series against New Zealand.
This was the night. The culmination of a year’s rugby league encapsulated in eighty minutes as the nailed-on favourites, almost since anyone can remember in 2019, took on the suprrise package, the Salford Red Devils at the theatre of dreams.
Everyone except the Saints fans were ‘Salford for a day’ as the fans from just down the road and all of the neutrals at this grandest of occasions, opened their vocal chords in support of the underdogs.
Salford had earned their Grand Final berth as justifiably as the Saints with defeats of Castleford and Wigan on the road to their first ever Grand Final appearance and they were there to enjoy themselves but also to spring one of the biggest surprises in Super League history and become the fifth name on the famous trophy.
It was the League Leaders versus the Challenge Cup winners at the Totally Wicked Stadium as Grand Final glory was up for grabs in the Betfred Women’s Super League. Castleford were unchanged from their semi-final victory over Wigan while the Rhinos were forced into a change when Shannon Lacey was ruled out with a head injury picked up in their dramatic win at the same venue against Saints five days earlier.
A place in the Betfred Championship would be decided over eighty minutes of frenetic action at the Vestacare Stadium. Oldham and Newcastle went into battle with the home side the favourites by virtue of their higher league place in the regular season.
Oldham were unchanged from the side which defeated Doncaster a fortnight ago. Thunder made just one change from the side which beat Doncaster last weekend to set up todays clash with Carne Doyle-Magna named on the bench in place of Alex Rowe, who broke his arm in that semi-final.
It’s been honours shared in 2019, and there was just one point between them on the league ladder, with close encounters giving little indication of who may emerge victorious ahead of the clash.
There was muchmore than passing British interest in the 2019 Australian NRL Grand Final as three former greats of Super League; John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson were looking to win the ultimate prize wearing the lime green of the Raiders.
These two sides finished second and fourth during the regular season with both sides beating the side one place above them in last weekends semi-finals.
The Roosters were looking to retain their title, and were the favourites with the bookies for the win at the ANZ Stadium, fifteen miles up the road from their base in the eastern suburbs. But the Grand Final is a strange beast and the Canberra supporters who’d made the 170 mile trip north were full of hope and expectation that they would win their first grand final since 1994.
After a long Betfred Championship season everything had come down to one final game. Eighty minutes stood between either the Toronto Wolfpack or Featherstone Rovers and a place in Super League in 2020.
Toronto, who have been nigh on unstoppable all season, had the home advantage as Rovers made their second international journey inside a week, having defeated Toulouse Olympique last weekend to earn their shot at the big time.
Toronto have won both encounters between the two sides in 2019 and came into the game on the back of a twenty-two match winning run which went back all the way to a loss in Toulouse in March. The bookies couldn’t see beyond a home win, but neither could they last season when the London Broncos upset the odds and secured promotion.
There was just six points between the Wigan Warriors and the Salford Red Devils when the two sides met at the same venue just a fortnight ago, in the opening round of the play-offs. The prize tonight was a trip to Old Trafford next Saturday for the game's flagship event, and a chance at picking up the Super League trophy from the grasp of St Helens.
Adrian Lam juggled his side with Ben Flower and Sean O’Loughlin promoted from the bench to the starting line-up compared to a fortnight ago. Ian Watson’s Salford made just one change from the last game, with Greg Burke being brought into the seventeen.
Everyone, including the bookies, expected Wigan to make their eleventh Grand Final, and their sixth in the last seven years. Salford were seeking their first ever appearance at a stadium just five miles over the River Irwell from their base. Momentum, however, was with the Red Devils.
Eighty minutes stood between two sides and a trip to Toronto to face the Wolfpack next Sunday in the Million Pound Game for the right to play in Super League in 2020.
Toulouse Olympique XIII had the home advantage as they looked to secure the trip but they were up against a Featherstone Rovers side who were high on confidence after defeating both Leigh Centurions and the York City Knights in the play-off series so far.
Toulouse emerged victorious from both league matched in 2019 but the largest winning margin was just six points. The outcome when the two sides met on the 7th September was a narrow two point win to the French side. It promised to be a close game.