After three years, international rugby league was back with a bang in New Zealand – as the home side ran out comfortable winners against Tonga.
The final score was 26-6, but it really could have been more – such was the dominance of the Kiwis, with the entire second half virtually played in Tongan territory.
With no Warriors home games since the pandemic, fans at Mt Smart Stadium had been starved of rugby league for a couple of years – and you could tell from the moment the pre-game war dances started that the fans were well and truly up for its return.
AS IT HAPPENED: New Zealand too good for Tonga
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According to the NRL’s official stats, Joseph Manu ran for a staggering 398 metres, while Jahrome Hughes pulled the strings expertly in the halves.
It was Hughes who got New Zealand’s first after just three minutes, before Dylan Brown’s break was finished off by Jordan Rapana.
Sione Katoa would hit back with what turned out to be Tonga’s only score shortly afterwards.
After a penalty goal made it a two-score game once again, things got worse for the underdogs.
Tonga ran the ball on the last and it went to ground, allowing Jordan Rapana to dash away only to be tackled by Kotoni Staggs a metre out.
Christian Tuipulotu came over the top with a blatant flop and he gives referee Grant Atkins no option but to send him to the bin.
The Kiwis took full advantage with a glorious long pass from Brown finding winger Ronaldo Mulitalo, for what would be the last points before the interval.
Isaiah Papali’i put the result beyond doubt in the second half, as Tonga survived several close calls.
Despite the margin, the Tongans kept fighting, right down to the wire – some desperate defence holding Briton Nikora up over the line with a minute to go.
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