A starring performance from Joseph Manu has seen New Zealand cap their homecoming with a dominant 26-6 win over Tonga in front of a full house in Auckland.
Returning to the land of the long white cloud for their first test match since the 2019 Lions Tour, the Kiwis proved far too strong for a youthful Tongan side lacking experience in key playmaking positions.
Establishing the win from the opening minutes with Jahrome Hughes (3rd minute) managing to get the ball down in his maiden starting appearance at halfback, the Kiwis surpassed the clock to reach a 12-0 lead with Jordan Rapana (7th minute) racing underneath the posts following tremendous lead up work by Kenny Bromwich and debutant Dylan Brown.
Managing to stem the flow of points after an error inside the New Zealand half from Jesse Bromwich, appearing as captain for the first time since 2017, Tongan winger Sione Katoa (14th minute) touched down out wide for the side's sole try of the afternoon.
Putting the margin beyond a converted try with a penalty goal midway through the first half, the Kiwis took advantage of Christian Tuipulotu being sent to the sin bin for holding Rapana down close to the try line with Ronaldo Mulitalo (31st minute) capping his test debut with a spectacular put down narrowly inside the corner post.
Returning from the sheds with neither team able to capitalise on their opponent's errors, Manu - starting at fullback for the first time at test level - appeared the most dangerous player with a series of dashing runs and attacking kicks.
Taking advantage of quality field position following a superb kick from Hughes, James Fisher-Harris delivered the final pass to send Isaiah Papali'I (61st minute) over for the match-clinching try.
Cruising to victory over the final quarter with coach Michael Maguire electing to use veteran Kieran Foran at dummy half, Briton Nikora came close to giving the Mt Smart Stadium faithful a perfect send-off only to be held up over the line.
New Zealand will be buoyed by the performance heading into the end-of-season Rugby League World Cup, while Tonga will be hoping the chance to build cohesion with a longer preparation results in a much stronger showing on the international stage.