War dances and warning shots as New Zealand defeats Tonga in Pacific tests
- New Zealand 26-6 Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland
- Kiwi Ferns 50-12 Tonga in women’s rugby league test
New Zealand have returned to international rugby league action in fine style, downing Tonga 26-6, and sending a warning shot to Australia ahead of the 2022 Rugby League World Cup in October.
A capacity 27,000 crowd jammed themselves into at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium to watch one of the most-anticipated league match-ups of the year. But given the vast majority were from New Zealand’s huge Tongan community, they would have been disappointed as the Kiwis raced to a 12-0 lead after only seven minutes.
First Jahrome Hughes bundled his way over from close to the line, before Jordan Rapana finished off a long-range move to dive in under the posts. To their credit, the Tongans took the only real opportunity in the half, with Sione Katoa crossing in the corner after some lovely build-up work by Viliami Penisini.
But that simply inspired the Kiwis to slam the door shut, with aggressive defence by the middle forwards barely allowing the Tongans out of their half.
The break saw the Kiwis take a commanding 20-6 lead after Rapana kicked a penalty goal before Dylan Brown floated a beautiful ball out wide for Ronaldo Mulitalo to score the try of the match. Both debutants had solid games, but the real standouts were Jesse Bromwich and Joseph Manu, who dictated play on both attack and defence.
By the time Isiah Papali’I stretched out to score in the 62nd minute, the game was already won, but the Kiwis kept pressing their advantage right until the end.
Despite the unusually flat Tongan performance, the crowd was in full voice, with Mt Smart once again becoming a sea of red Tongan flags. That really was the only highlight from their perspective, with stars like Jason Taumalolo and Addin Fonua-Blake well contained and Kotoni Staggs and Talatau Amone having a hard time getting anything going in the halves, with Tonga unable to force even one goal-line drop-out.
The Kiwis came into the game ranked world No 1, a status they backed up with a professional win.
Earlier, the Kiwi Ferns picked up where they left off with a dominant 50-12 win over Tonga in their women’s rugby league Test.
Led by the halves pairing of Raecene McGregor and Laishon Jones, the Kiwi Ferns were going at a point a minute after the first 15 minutes, then launched a three try blitz before halftime to kill the game off as a contest despite Jones landing only three conversions from her eventual 11 attempts.
Centre Page McGregor, the younger sister of Raecene, crossed after only four minutes after she found a big hole on the Tongan edge defence. Madison Bartlett and Katelyn Vaha’akolo followed in quick succession, as the NRLW experience in the Kiwi Ferns became evident at Mt Smart Stadium.
Most of the side have played in the fast-growing NRLW, and their superior physicality was always going to make this an uphill battle for the Tongan side that was mostly drawn from the local Auckland club competition.
After the halftime deficit stood at 30-0, the onslaught continued from the Kiwi Ferns in the second half. Kararaina Wira-Kohu crossed after only a couple of minutes of the restart, then Bartlett got her second only three minutes later.
However, the biggest cheer were for the two Tongan tries, with China Polata barging over from close range and then Haylee Hifo streaking away just before fulltime. The rapturous reception made by the big crowd saw Tongan flags flying and was the perfect way to usher in the men’s game that followed.