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Tonga Invitational v Great Britain: Late changes for Tonga

Tonga have never faced Great Britain in 83 international matches since 1986 so Wayne Bennett's Lions are in for a treat performing before the singing, flag-waving faithful from the Pacific kingdom.

Tonga have played England twice, most recently in the semi-finals of the 2017 World Cup. That means familiar faces like John Bateman, Ryan Hall, James Graham, Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead, Jermaine McGillvary and Gareth Widdop won't make this contest feel too strange.

After months of off-field upheaval the Tonga Invitational side will be hoping to improve on their most recent outing, a loss to the Kiwis in June.

The Rundown

Team news

The Lions are 1-17 but Tonga have made some late changes. Andrew Fifita will start the game from the bench, switching with Addin Fonua-Blake. Broncos centre Kotoni Staggs is out with Konrad Hurrell replacing him in the starting side. And Ata Hingano was also omitted in the final team submitted an hour before kick-off with Fanitesi Niu to make his Test debut at halfback.

Key match-up

Jackson Hastings has been picked at halfback in a controversial selection for the Lions alongside Dragons veteran Gareth Widdop. They'll be up against the new combo of Tuimoala Lolohea and Fanitesi Niu. Lolohea, who plays for Salford in the Super League, needs to fire for the men in red to win.

Tonga look ahead to Tests after early 9s exit

For Tonga to win 

The focus often surrounds forwards like Andrew Fifita, Jason Taumalolo and Tevita Pangai jnr, but Will Hopoate could be the game-changer at fullback. He won the Bulldogs player of the year award, and then was named in the RLPA's "Dream Team 13" for 2019. He was vital in the 2017 World Cup run and from the nine matches he's played for Tonga, he's won six. Excels in attack and defence and provides a reassuring voice from the back of the field. 

For Great Britain to win

The Canberra Raiders core of the Lions might still be smarting over the NRL grand final loss and could help them here. Don't forget James Graham and Gareth Widdop didn't have such a great time with the Dragons this season, so there could be some pent-up emotion there too. The Tongan forwards are big men but the Lions have plenty of experience and cunning.

Stat attack

Daniel Tupou is Tonga's most capped player with 12 Tests, but he's got a few on his heels with four players in double-figures (Siliva Havili, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Michael Jennings, Lolohea) and two playing their 10th in this match (Manu Ma'u and SioSiua Taukeiaho).

And another thing...

Wayne Bennett has won 10 of his 15 Tests as England coach but this will be his first being in charge of Great Britain.