A stunning display from Joey Manu led the Kiwis to a 26-6 win over Tonga in front a sellout crowd at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday.
Carrying on the form that has made him a standout for the Roosters in 2022, Manu ran for 404 metres and had seven tackle breaks as New Zealand made a strong statement ahead of this year's World Cup.
The emotion of the pre-game Haka and Sipi Tau had barely subsided when Kiwi playmaker Jahrome Hughes stepped ojn the gas from 10 metres out and carried three defenders over with him for the game's opening try.
Four minutes later the Kiwis were out to a 12-0 advantage after veteran winger Jordan Rapana finished off great lead-up work by Kenny Bromwich and Test debutant Dylan Brown.
A mistake from Jesse Bromwich handed Tonga field position and they capitalised in the 15th minute when young halfback Talatau Amone found Kotoni Staggs who delivered to Sione Katoa to cross for his first Test try.
The Kiwis breaks through and Rapana finishes it off
The Kiwis extended their lead in the 23rd minute when Sitili Tupouniua was pinged for a strip and Rapana knocked over the penalty goal to make it 14-6.
Rapana then broke clear and looked set to snare his second try before Staggs cut him down with a classic cover tackle but Christian Tuipulotu slid in and prevented Rapana from rising to his feet and was sin binned by referee Grant Atkins.
The Kiwis were quick to capitalise on the one-man advantage when Brown put Ronaldo Mulitalo over in the left corner with a long cut-out pass.
Katoa opens the scoring for Mate Ma'a Tonga
After a tense struggle to start the second half Hughes stamped his class on the match with an inch perfect kick from 50 metres out that pulled up on the dead ball line.
From the ensuing line dropout the Kiwis grabbed their fourth try when James Fisher-Harris put Isaiah Papali'i over from close range to make it 26-6 and that's how the score remained.
Papali'i stretches out to score
- Jesse Bromwich played his 30th Test for the Kiwis, making him the most experienced player in the New Zealand team.
- Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana scored the seventh try of his 12-Test career and ran for 204 metres in a fine display.
- Tonga winger Christian Tuipulotu was sin binned in the 29th minute for a professional foul. Despite the infringement the Manly flyer had a strong Test debut with 163 run metres.
Match: New Zealand v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
- Addin Fonua-Blake led from the front in the heavy exchanges with 131 running metres for Tonga. He was ably supported by Siosiua Taekeiaho (144 metres).
- Tonga youngster Talatau Amone was forced from the field in the 67th minute for a HIA.
- The match was played in front of a sold out crowd of 26,000, the first time since the 1988 World Cup final at Eden Park that the Kiwis have played in front of a capacity crowd.
Manu creates something from nothing
Play of the Game
If Test debutants Dylan Brown and Ronaldo Mulitalo were feeling any nerves they certainly didn't show it! On the half hour mark the Eels playmaker lofted a 20-metre 'harbour bridge' pass out to the Sharks flyer who soared through the air to plant the ball down in the left hand corner. At just 22, Brown displayed maturity beyond his years with two try assists in the first half while Mulitalo continues to defy gravity with his freakish finishing ability.
Mulitalo goes the aerial route
What They Said
"Madge [Michael Maguire] put a challenge to us about being the best defensive international team in the world and we went out there and really got stuck in. Tonga are not a small pack or a small team, it was really physical out there, but I'm really happy with the effort towards our defence. Our spine players are playing really confidently at their clubs, they are back at their clubs being the best NRL players in the competition and we just wanted them to come in and do what they do." - Kiwis captain Jesse Bromwich
"We had nine guys make their debuts tonight so it's exciting times for Tonga. If you look at the average age of our backs they were just under 21 so they are going to learn plenty from this game and this experience and moving forward it's exciting times for Tonga in the World Cup and years to come. If I was going to pick out two young players I thought Christian [Tuipulotu] and Tolu [Koula] at the back were outstanding. They attacked the game all night, they were brave and they went after everything." - Tonga coach Dean Young
Mate Ma'a Tonga