JUST as the Great Britain Rugby League Lions start their tour to New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, the Great Britain Masters’ fourth tour to Australia has returned to the UK writes Paul Field.
The tour started with the players meeting up at Manchester Airport departures, with all but one player bringing the correct passport! So after a tense hour or so, the team set off on their Singapore Airlines flights to Brisbane via Singapore.
After the long flights – over 23 hours – to Brisbane, the Great Britain Masters team had a day to recover and to take a look around Southport on the Gold Coast before playing their first games of the Gold Coast Masters Festival hosted by Southport Tigers JARLFC.
They were joined on arrival by their two Australian based players, Shaun Vosper and Paul Vaughan.
Game Day One
The festival began with the formal march-past of all the teams from Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands and of course Great Britain, followed by the singing of the national anthems and the Masters Oath being taken.
This opening day saw the Great Britain Masters team play their first game against Manukau Greenlane Rugby League Masters NZ.
Tour captain Gavin Wright led the team round the park to great effect. The whole team gave a 100% performance and showed some good Rugby League skills. Not bad for team playing together for the first time!
The game was played in a gruelling 30C degrees and saw the Great Britain team score two excellent long distance tries, the first from Andy Friery who finished off a good passing movement from halfway, and the second from Siddal’s Paul Field with a great intercept from 70 yards out for a fantastic solo effort.
All in all a great game of Masters played in true Masters spirit.
Despite the heat, Great Britain had a second game on day one at the Gold Coast Masters Festival. With old friends Central Coast Bulldogs, the team played a `mix-up’ match where all the names of players from both teams were put in a hat and players for two playing teams drawn at random.
Tour captain Gavin Wright handed over the captaincy to honorary captain Gary Teeling for this game.
Central Coast presented the Great Britain team with a commemorative plaque as a Great Britain tour commemorative pennant was presented to the Bulldogs.
Blue-shorter and Bulldog Allen Stanford aka PB, at 80-plus years old scored the first try for the team in the Great Britain jerseys and Great Britain’s very own vice-captain, Freddie South, scored the game’s only other try for the team playing in the Central Coast jerseys.
The `mix-up’ game proved a great success and the winner was definitely Masters Rugby League.
The Great Britain tourists had a rest day before playing again on day two with the players spending the day recovering and visiting nearby Surfers Paradise
Game Day Two
Day two of the Gold Coast Masters festival saw the Great Britain team in double action again this time for the `halftime field swap’ day. All teams played half a game and then swapped pitches to have another half game with another team.
First up for Great Britain was Midland Masters (Aus). Tour captain, Methley’s Gavin Wright, handed over the arm band to honorary Captain for the day Ian Needham from Hull Warriors.
Relishing his role as captain, Ian put in a great shift on the pitch and posted the first score with a well worked team try.
Both teams continued to play good quality Masters Rugby League in hot conditions. The second try of the day came from Paul Field who threw an outrageous dummy to go over unopposed.
Midland Masters played their part in making this an enjoyable game of Masters and played every minute with great effort and a smile.
Next up was Whiti Te Ra Legends (NZ) who play well-organised Masters at pace with no lack of Rugby League skill.
All the Legends’ tries came from long distance with the Great Britain side struggling with speed of attacks, although there were some excellent tackling displays from the Great Britain forwards with gold shorters Dave Unsworth and Dave Hanson prominent.
Great Britain scored through Andy Friery, his second of the festival, and gold-shorter Ray Fleming who broke through from halfway for a spectacular try.
Rest day was a very social Hawaiian shirt day as Paul Vaughan organised a Surf Club day with tourists walking and taking Ubers between the Gold Coast Surf Clubs.
The tourists were joined by players from the Central Coast Bulldogs: everyone enjoyed the local beers, the beautiful coastal views and the telling of Masters Rugby League tales!
Game Day Three
The Masters International Festival in Southport Gold Coast saw Great Britain facing their stiffest challenge to date with a game against the vastly experienced Narabeen Sharks (Aus).
Great Britain started slowly conceding a try within the first two minutes but got back on track with the dogged defence and lively attacks. Right-winger Gay Teeling pulled off a number of try saving tackles as Great Britain continually repelled the Sharks attacks.
As the game progressed Great Britain started to play their best rugby of the week but were held just short on a number of occasions. Mentioned should also be made of referee Paul Webb, who had an excellent game.
Many of the players took the opportunity of the rest day to make a visit to Brisbane including a tour of Brisbane Broncos’ Suncorp Stadium. Others chilled out around Southport having a beer in the local Bar 11 which had quickly become the tourists’ Southport refreshment and meeting point!
Game Day Four
Next for the Great Britain side was the highlight of the tour, the international with Australia.
This year not only were sides picked for the Australia v New Zealand games but also for the Australia Indigenous team v NZ Maori and for Australia to play the Great Britain team.
The International game with Australia was by far the best performance of the tour by Great Britain despite a number of players carrying injuries. Captain Gav Wright led from the front in both attack and defence during a fast and furious game.
Players on both sides take internationals very seriously and the intensity was increased for this game.
Great Britain’s try can down the left from Michael `Wayne’ Tourney after good work from Shaun McPoland. In the end it was Australia’s Scotty Campbell who stole the show with a Man of the Match performance and a hat-trick of tries.
At the end of the game all the players formed the traditional Masters circle and cheered each other, referee Maxine Godinet (NZ), Masters Rugby League and the excellent 0-0 draw!
Great Britain vice-captain Freddie South made the presentation of the commemorative silver salver to Masters of Rugby League Australia CEO Malcolm Duncan.
The salver from the Great Britain Masters touring team shows the 2019 Tour and Australian Masters logos and has the names and Heritage numbers of all the tourists.
Next day the Great Britain tourist had an early morning flight to Sydney: a quiet group travelled down and booked into their apartments as they looked forward to seeing the sights of Sydney and to attending the NRL Grand Final the following day.
The NRL Grand Final at the ANZ was the highlight of the stay in Sydney with the majority of the players experiencing the event for the first time. Players took the Rivercat along the Parramatta River up to the stadium and took in the atmosphere around the ground before enjoying the Canberra v Roosters final.
Game Day Five
Narellan, an hour southwest of Sydney, was the destination for the Great Britain Masters touring team for the final game of their tour.
The Narellan Jets, who provided nine players for the 2018 Australia tour to the UK, were excellent hosts taking the game down the road to Camden as their own ground is under renovation.
Great Britain were without tour captain Gavin Wright, who succumbed to a virus, but were assisted by guest players from Narellan and Bargo Bunnies.
Ray Fleming was honorary Captain for the game which once again saw excellent Masters Rugby League from both Great Britain and the hosts.
Dave Hanson and Freddie South were tireless in defence for the tourists. Paul Vaughan, who has been with the Great Britain team throughout the tour, made a five-hour round trip to play and despite a sprained wrist made some excellent contributions – both on and off the pitch!
On attack, the tourists came very close on a few occasions before Narellan stand-off Matt Brennan slid over for a well-worked try.
In the second half, good work by the Great Britain forwards set up attacking positions which led to Paul Field dummying his way through for two lovely tries.
Both teams went back to the Narellan Hotel, where the Jets put on an excellent post-match feed. Great Britain tour captain Gavin Wright presented the Jets with a signed Masters rugby ball and each Great Britain tourist was awarded a commemorative trophy by the Jets.
Final act of the day came with Masters of League Australia CEO Malcolm Duncan presenting the coveted Australian Spirit of Masters award to Great Britain tour Manager, John Wroe, who was on his fourth tour Down Under.
On the last full day of the tour, the Great Britain Masters players held their end of tour dinner at the Blackbird Restaurant in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. A lively evening with great food and the now traditional tour presentations.
All the players departed Sydney the day after with Freddie South heading to New Zealand and Ian Needham and Deborah stopping of in Singapore whilst everyone else headed back to Manchester.
A lot of long goodbyes but another successful Great Britain Masters tour added a host of new Masters Rugby League memories.