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Kiwis and Storm hooker Brandon Smith

A reminder this to week to play the game how he sees it, rather than how Cameron Smith would, was the catalyst for Brandon Smith producing one of the best performances of his career on Saturday for the Kiwis.

Smith played a starring role in New Zealand's 34-14 win over Mate Ma'a at Mt Smart Stadium, scoring a try, setting another one up and slicing the opposition to pieces with his running game.

Post-match the Melbourne Storm player revealed a chat with Kiwis coach Michael Maguire had inspired him to play his natural game and start running the ball more often, even if that's not what his mentor would be doing.

"'Madge' told me that I'm not Cameron Smith, I don't play like him, and he wants me to just be me out there," Smith said.

"It really made me think that he believes in me.

"Not only believing in me and picking me in the team, but telling me my strengths are running and that that's what I need to get back to.

Match Highlights: NZ Kiwis v Mate Ma'a Tonga

"Sometimes when I'm playing for Melbourne if I get put at hooker I feel like I try to play like Cameron Smith, but that's not my game.

"The words that Madge said to me before the game really stuck in my head throughout the game.

"I was just running off the back of my forwards getting quick play-the-balls, and that's what Madge told me to do."

Maguire said Smith's performance, which included 126 metres off six runs, two line breaks, 10 tackle breaks and 40 tackles, was made all the most impressive when you consider he's hardly played any dummy half this year.

Smith has been used almost exclusively as a middle forward off the interchange by Storm coach Craig Bellamy in 2019, with no room at hooker due to Cameron Smith playing close to 80 minutes most weeks.

"Brandon Smith hasn't played hooker pretty well all year and he was outstanding," Maguire said.

"Just the way he rolled the forwards onto the ball and then took his opportunities.

"I spoke to Brandon about 'don't forget your running game', and sometimes you can get caught behind someone like a Cameron Smith and you see the way he plays [and try to copy it].

"Brandon's probably got a bit more running in his game and it's one thing I spoke to him about before the game, that he's got to remember that, and he did.

"I watched him right through from a young bloke and he was doing that as he was coming through into grade."

Kiwis respond with spine-tingling Haka

 Another strong performer for the Kiwis was rookie back-rower Briton Nikora, who made his Test debut after playing just 12 Telstra Premiership games for the Cronulla Sharks this year.

Nikora played 80 minutes and ran for over 100 metres in the win, and credited Sharks teammate and edge partner Shaun Johnson for guiding him through his first game at international level.

"It did feel just like a Sharks game with the combination we had," Nikora said.

"Just him talking to me throughout the whole game makes my job easier.

"Whatever Shaun does or whatever he wants, I just go with the flow.

"The first 20 minutes was a bit faster than the NRL games, but as the game went on it eased down a little bit.  

"The first 20 was bit tough but as the game went on I slowly got into it."  

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.