A stunning display from Joey Manu led the Kiwis to a 26-6 win over Tonga in front 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 ojn 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.