The NRL’s international round started with a bang as New Zealand defeated their Pacific neighbours Tonga 26-6 in front of a sold-out crowd in Auckland.
More than 26,000 tickets were sold for the double-header between New Zealand and Tonga in the men’s and women’s test matches.
It was the first time the Kiwis have played in front of a capacity crowd since the 1988 World Cup final at Auckland’s Eden Park.
This weekend’s clash marked New Zealand’s return to action after more than two years. It was the first rugby league game at Mt Smart Stadium since New Zealand Warriors’ last home game in August 30, 2019.
Michael Maguire’s Kiwis got off to the perfect start as Jahrome Hughes and Jordan Rapana went over inside the opening 10 minutes.
Tonga’s sea of red
Tonga hit back in front of a sea of red when winger Sione Katoa stormed over the line out wide, with Kotoni Staggs converting.
Rapana added a penalty goal for the Kiwis. Tonga were dealt a blow when Christian Tuipulotu was sin-binned for preventing Rapana from playing the ball.
New Zealand capitalised on having the extra man on the field. They stretched the Tonga team, with Ronaldo Mulitalo scoring on his debut. The Kiwis were 20-6 to the good at half-time.
The rain poured in Auckland throughout the game and the second half saw only one try scored, which came through New Zealand forward Isaiah Papali’i.
It was an excellent performance from Joseph Manu at full-back for the Kiwis. He will be key for Maguire’s men at the upcoming World Cup.
It was an amazing atmosphere in Auckland, with New Zealand finished 26-6 victors on home soil. The Kiwis and Tongans will be ones to watch come the World Cup in England this autumn.
New Zealand: Manu; Mulitalo, Niukore, Hiku, Rapana; Brown, Hughes; J Bromwich, Smith, Fisher-Harris, Papali’i, K Bromwich, Tapine. Subs: Foran, Leota, Asofa-Solomona, Nikora.
Tries: Hughes, Rapana, Mulitalo Papali’i Goals: Rapana 5
Tonga: Koula, Tuipulotu, Penisini, Suli, Katoa; Staggs, Amone; Fonua-Blake, Havili, Taukeiaho, Tupouniua, Koloamatangi, Taumalolo. Subs: Luke, Olakau’atu, Tatola, Fotuaika.
Tries: Katoa Goals: Staggs 1