War dances and warning shots as New Zealand beat Tonga in Pacific Tests | sport

New Zealand returned to international rugby league action in style, beating Tonga 26-6 and sending Australia a warning shot ahead of the 2022 Rugby League World Cup in October.

A crowd of 27,000 packed into Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium to watch one of the most anticipated league games of the year. But given that the vast majority were from New Zealand’s huge Tongan community, they would have been disappointed as the Kiwis took a 12-0 lead after just seven minutes.

Kiwis coach Michael Maguire was a happy full-time man, describing the performance as “really impressive”.

“It took three or four years, I know we had a two-year break, but to see the boys come right back and take control… they were able to be very strong.”

Jahrome Hughes broke in close to the line first, before Jordan Rapana completed a long-range move to dive under the posts.

To their credit, the Tongans seized the only real half-time opportunity, with Sione Katoa crossing into the corner after some fine set-up work from Viliami Penisini. But that simply inspired the Kiwis to slam the door, with the centre-forward’s aggressive defending barely allowing the Tongans to get out of their own half.

Captain Jesse Bromwich said he was not surprised at the fast start. “We went there with a game plan and wanted to put a lot of energy into our defense. We put a lot of pressure on early, keep building and we ran away with it.

The break saw the Kiwis take a 20-6 lead after Rapana scored from the penalty spot before Dylan Brown fired a fine wide ball for Ronaldo Mulitalo to score the game try. Both debutants had solid games, but the real stars were Jesse Bromwich and Joseph Manu, who dictated the game in both attack and defence.

By the time Isiah Papali’I stretched to score in the 62nd minute, the game was already won, but the Kiwis held their advantage until the end.

Despite Tonga’s unusually flat performance, the crowd was in full swing as Mt Smart once again became a sea of ​​red Tonga flags. It was really the only highlight from their perspective, with stars like Jason Taumalolo and Addin Fonua-Blake well contained and Kotoni Staggs and Talatau Amone struggling to do anything in the half times, Tonga being unable to even force a drop from the goal line. -out.

Fullback Joseph Manu’s 398 yards ran was a statistical highlight of the match, but Maguire was quick to praise the efforts of the entire squad.

“Throughout the park the forwards have laid down a very strong foundation. (The Tongans) are not a small team, they come at you hard in contact. All the players were aiming for each other… and I know that There are a lot of things we can improve on so I’m really looking forward to the World Cup.

Bromwich spoke of the past two years of inaction in Rugby Test league, saying it was a real honor to play New Zealand’s first game. “Many of us have not been able to go home for the past two years. But to go out in this atmosphere, there is nothing like it,” he said.

Earlier, the Kiwi Ferns picked up where they left off with a dominating 50-12 win over Tonga in their women’s rugby league test.

Led by the halves of Raecene McGregor and Laishon Jones, the Kiwi Ferns went to a point a minute into the first 15 minutes, then launched a three-try blitz before half-time to kill the game as a contest despite Jones only got three conversions. of his 11 possible attempts.

Center Page McGregor, Raecene’s younger sister, crossed after just four minutes after finding a big hole in Tonga’s edge defence. Madison Bartlett and Katelyn Vaha’akolo followed in quick succession, as NRLW experience in the Kiwi Ferns became evident at Mt Smart Stadium.

Most of the teams played in the fast-growing NRLW, and their superior physicality was always going to make it an uphill battle for the Tongan side who were mostly drawn from Auckland’s local club competition.

After the half-time deficit settled at 30-0, the onslaught continued from the Kiwi Ferns in the second half. Kararaina Wira-Kohu crossed after just a few minutes of restarting, then Bartlett got his second just three minutes later.

However, the biggest applause was for the two Tongan tries, with China Polata bursting in from close range and then Haylee Hifo running away just before full time. The enthusiastic reception by the large crowd saw Tongan flags flying and was the perfect way to open the men’s game that followed.

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