A stunning display from Joey Manu led the Kiwis to a 26-6 win over Tonga in front of 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 398 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 on 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 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.
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.
• 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 196 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 153 run metres.
Pre-Game Sellout announced
It was announced this morning that more than 26,000 tickets have been sold for the back-to-back Tests for the Kiwi Ferns and the New Zealand Kiwis against Mate Ma’a Tonga.
It has now been confirmed it will be the first time the Kiwis will play in front of a capacity crowd since the 1988 Rugby League World Cup final at Auckland’s Eden Park.
That match was a 47,363 sell-out, the biggest crowd in New Zealand Rugby League history.
“The fact this is the first time we’ve sold out a stadium in close to 34 years underlines just how significant this occasion is, even more so because it’s not a World Cup or Four Nations final,” said New Zealand Rugby League CEO Greg Peters.
“It’s a further sign of how much it means to the public to have international rugby league back in New Zealand after such a long break due to the Covid pandemic.”
While there have been big crowds for internationals since 1988, none have sold out until now.
A near-capacity crowd of 24,041 attended the 2017 Rugby League World Cup pool match between the Kiwis and Mate Ma’a Tonga at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium.
And Eden Park drew a crowd of 44,324 for the 2010 Four Nations doubleheader featuring the Kiwis against the Kangaroos and England against Papua New Guinea.
Other International Results
Samoa 42 – Cook Islands 12
Papua New Guinea 24 – Fiji 14