The iconic Great Britain jersey will return to the international stage this autumn.
The recent meeting of the Rugby League International Federation confirmed a four-match tour of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea for the Great Britain Rugby League Lions – with full details of the schedule to be released in Auckland tonight.
It will be the first time Great Britain have played since the home series against New Zealand in the autumn of 2007, and their first appearance in the southern hemisphere since the 2006 Tri-Series – reviving a tradition which dates back to 1910, when the first touring team after the 1895 Northern Union breakaway were known as the Lions.
In addition to two Tests against the Kiwis and one against the Kumuls – the latter a first in Papua New Guinea since 1996 – Great Britain will play their first ever Test against the Tonga team who made such an impact in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, including in a stirring semi final against England in Auckland.
Wayne Bennett, who has been the England coach since 2016, will be the head coach of the 2019 Rugby League Lions, with further details of his support staff, the composition of the squad and the selection process, the kit design, and kick-off times and travel packages for the tour to follow in coming weeks.
“It’s an honour to be involved in the revival of the Great Britain team as head coach,” said Bennett.
“I’ve coached against them in the past with Australia, and wherever you’re from in the world of Rugby League, that Great Britain jersey is a famous one – and I’m sure the current generation of players will be excited by the prospect of wearing it and representing their country in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
“It’s an exciting prospect for international Rugby League, and good to have that Great Britain tradition back.”
Ralph Rimmer, the chief executive of the Rugby Football League, said: “The return of the famous Great Britain jersey is something people have been talking about for a long time – so this is an exciting announcement for us.
“It’s 12 years since Great Britain last played a Test, and 13 since they last travelled to the southern hemisphere, for the Tri-Nations series of 2006.
“While the development of the England Performance Unit has been a priority and a success for the RFL, across Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair Rugby League – and will continue to be as we build towards the 2021 Rugby League World Cup – there is such history and tradition around that Great Britain shirt.
“It’s great for the game to have it back, as part of the schedule drawn up by the RLIF also including the Oceania Cup. We’ll be committed to respecting and honouring that tradition as we build up to the tour through 2019.”
The announcement has also been welcomed by senior figures from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Barry Coade, Chairman of Rugby League Ireland, said: “We are delighted that Great Britain & Ireland will tour again this Autumn. The tour looks like a real challenge given the rise of the Pacific nations and we think this is a big step forward for international Rugby League.”
Keith Hogg, the Chair of Scotland Rugby League, said: “Having the Great Britain team back is a boost for all of the home nations. We are proud of the contribution made by Scots to Great Britain Rugby League in the past, most obviously when Dave Valentine lifted the World Cup in 1954, and this announcement is a great incentive for young Scottish players to maintain that tradition in the future.”
Paul Chambers, General Manager of Wales Rugby League, said: “Wales Rugby League fully embrace and support the first Great Britain Rugby League tour to the Southern Hemisphere for many years. The whole concept of the Rugby League Lions adds another dimension to the ambitions of players and staff involved with all Home Nations and Wales Rugby League are looking forward to promoting and being involved in the process.”
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