Great Britain Lions’ Test comeback ended in defeat as they slipped to a surprise 14-6 loss to a Tonga Invitational XIII at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand.

The Lions were making their first appearance on the international stage since 2007, with Saturday’s clash the first of a four-match series including two Tests against New Zealand and one against Papua New Guinea.

However, Wayne Bennett’s side struggled against a bullish Tonga attack, with Michael Jennings and Sione Katoa giving new St Helens boss Kristian Woolf’s side – playing as an invitational XIII due to a dispute with their governing body – a 12-0 lead by half-time.

Suo Siua Taukeiaho added a further two points with a penalty after the restart and, though Canberra Raiders star John Bateman hauled Great Britain – captained by James Graham on his 50th Test appearance – back into contention with 10 minutes remaining.

It was not enough to spark a late comeback though, with Tonga, who lost a Rugby League World Cup semi-final to England in 2017 and are currently ranked fourth in the world, holding firm to secure a deserved victory.

Great Britain’s focus will now switch to the second Test of their series against New Zealand in Auckland on November 2.