TEAMS: NSWRL Sydney Shield - 2020 Round 1
7 hours ago | New South Wales Rugby League
A Shaun Johnson hat-trick stole the show but Brandon Smith continues to quell concerns over life after Cameron Smith with an energetic performance in New Zealand's 34-14 win over Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium.
The 23-year old was a constant threat through the middle in the 54 minutes he was on the field, scoring a try, setting up one and busting 10 tackles.
And that was on top of the usual 35 tackles and tireless work in defence.
He helped New Zealand's big men roll upfield with ease and five-eighth Johnson reaped the rewards, scoring a hattrick of tries.
Despite the score line, the Tongan supporters made their voices heard throughout the entire eighty minutes.
Along with Benji Marshall being reduced to tears during the New Zealand anthem, it was yet another clear sign that international football is a rare product that needs to be celebrated as much as possible.
A brilliant individual effort from Smith got the scoring underway.
The Kiwis hooker raced past Manu Ma'u and Siosiua Taukeiaho before muscling his way past Will Hopoate to surge over under the posts.
Tonga eventually hit back in the 21st minute when John Asiata kicked to the towering Daniel Tupou's wing, who batted the ball back for Solomone Kata in the corner.
But it was the class of Johnson that inspired the home side to a 16-4 lead at the break.
The New Zealand five-eighth fooled Asiata twice in the space of 10 minutes, throwing the dummy on both occasions after appearing to look to link with his outside men.
It saw Asiata slide while Johnson stepped back inside, the space created seeing him score two late tries to sink Tonga heading into the sheds.
Five minutes into the second half and Smith was at it again - this time slicing through the middle, fending away defenders before kicking ahead for Johnson who claimed his third of the night.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck looked to have also grounded it but the officials awarded it to Johnson, despite RTS winning the scissors-paper-rock challenge between the pair to decide.
Jahrome Hughes and Joseph Manu then took advantage of some uncommitted Tongan defenders to score relatively simple tries as the Kiwis raced away with it.
But the Tongan faithful were rewarded late with a pair of tries.
The first came when a Sitili Tupouniua line break brought them inside the New Zealand half. And Jason Taumalolo then played it short for Taukeiaho who strolled under the posts.
Taukeiaho then turned creator when he kicked to Tupou's corner and the winger did extremely well to ground the ball and score the final try of the night.
New Zealand 34 - Tonga 14
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
Halftime Score: New Zealand 16 Tonga 4
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Brandon Smith
2 points - Shaun Johnson
1 points - Siosiua Taukeiaho
NEW ZEALAND (34)
Tries: Brandon Smith, Shaun Johnson (3), Jahrome Hughes, Joseph Manu
Conversions: Esan Marsters (5/6)
Tries: Solomone Kata, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Daniel Tupou
Conversions: Kotoni Staggs (0/1), Siosiua Taukeiaho (1/2)