The Great Britain Rugby League Lions were forced to flee their Auckland inner-city hotel on Tuesday, shortly after a devastating fire broke out on the roof of the SkyCity International Convention Centre.

Speaking to Radio Sport Breakfast, prop forward Tom Burgess revealed how panicked players were given 20 minutes to evacuate from the Sky City Grand Hotel, where they were staying in preparation for Saturday's test against Tonga in Hamilton.

The blaze, which was only brought under control late yesterday, is believed to have burnt through 85 per cent of the rooftop of the $700 million convention centre's rooftop.

At its peak, 150 firefighters and 30 fire appliances battled the inferno.


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The team were staying at the Grand Hotel, across the road from the convention centre.

Burgess had been out for a stroll around the CBD, and returned to the hotel precinct just in time.

"We were there when it was all kicking off," Burgess told Radio Sport Breakfast.

"I was walking around the city and saw big groups of people gathered around, looked up and saw big bellows of smoke coming out."

The Rabbitohs forward said the scene was more surreal once he returned to the hotel.

"From my room — we were on the 15th floor — you could see the flames and everything."

Burgess admits it was an uneasy feeling, and there was plenty of alarm among the various guests inside the hotel.

"It was pretty full-on and there was a fair bit of panic," said Burgess. "But fair play to SkyCity, they handled it pretty well, they evacuated everyone from the rooms and we ended up jumping on the bus and coming down to Hamilton. It was pretty quick, I literally smashed all the stuff into my bag."


It was also a major logistical challenge.

Training venues had to be rearranged, the selection of the team for Saturday's test was delayed and there was an urgent hunt for accommodation at short notice.

The Lions ended up staying one night at the same hotel as the Tonga Invitational side, and also shared the same restaurant on Tuesday night, leading to some interesting scenes.

"We were on one side of the restaurant, they were on the other," laughed Burgess. "I was worried, I thought they were going to start doing a haka."

Aside from unexpected drama in Auckland, Burgess said the buildup has gone smoothly.

The teams haven't met since the 2017 World Cup, with that unforgettable semifinal at Mt Smart, that ended 20-18 to England, after the Northern Hemisphere side had led 20-0 with seven minutes to play.

"We have got a bit of history with Tonga and they might have that in the back of their mind," said Burgess.

Great Britain prop forward Tom Burgess on the charge. Copyright photo: David Neilson /
Great Britain prop forward Tom Burgess on the charge. Copyright photo: David Neilson /

Tonga have a near full-strength side.

Halfback Ata Hingano is back, after missing the June test against the Kiwis with injury, and adds some playmaking nous in an area that tends to be their Achilles heel.

Michael Jennings is another to return, adding experience in the backline, while the Pacific team has a typically imposing pack, led by Andrew Fifita, Jason Taumalolo and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

But the British team are well balanced, with a lot of players coming off successful seasons in the NRL or Super League.

They have a superior spine, and that, combined with their defensive organisation makes them favourites for Saturday's game.

They'll also have extra motivation, as popular captain James Graham becomes just the eighth player in test history to gain 50 caps.

Great Britain Lions: 1. Lachlan Coote, 2. Jermaine McGillvary, 3. Zak Hardaker, 4. Oliver Gildart, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Jackson Hastings, 8. Chris Hill, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. Luke Thompson, 11. John Bateman, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. James Graham (c). Interchange: Josh Jones, Tom Burgess, Jonny Lomax, Alex Walmsley, Jake Connor, Jack Hughes, George Williams, Daryl Clark.

Tonga Invitational XIII: 1. Will Hopoate, 2. David Fusitu'a, 3. Michael Jennings, 4. Kotoni Staggs, 5. Daniel Tupou, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Ata Hingano, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Sio Siua Taukeiaho (co-captain), 11. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 12. Manu Ma'u, 13. Jason Taumalolo (co-captain). Interchange: Sione Katoa, Addin Fonua-Blake, John Asiata, Sitili Tupouniua, Junior Tatola, Konrad Hurrell, Tesi Niu.