The New Zealand Secondary Schools rugby league team were at their powerful best in the 44-4 dismantling of their New South Wales counterparts last night.
The game, played at Puketawhero Park in Rotorua, was expected to be as close and competitive as it had been in recent years. However, the Kiwi side flew out of the blocks and never looked back against a NSW Combined High Schools side left to rue a handful of missed opportunities in the first half.
It was a victory on home soil for Rotorua Boys' High School students Tom Ale, Tukimihia Simpkins and Selesitino Ravutaumada. Ale in particular was absolutely rampant against NSW, skittling defenders with ease.
NSW had the best of the try-scoring opportunities in the opening minutes, but forward passes and handling errors at crucial moments let them down.
Ten minutes into the game it was New Zealand five-eighth Sione Moala who broke the deadlock with a perfectly executed grubber into the in-goal, which he chased down himself to score. He converted his own try to give the Kiwis a 6-0 lead.
The teams spent the next 20 minutes going toe-to-toe in the middle of the field, with the NSW side enjoying the best of the opportunities. New Zealand absorbed the pressure before going on the attack and producing a well worked try to winger Kayal Iro in the left-hand corner.
Shortly before halftime NSW forward Elijah Smyth was sin-binned as a result of his side giving away too many penalties.
New Zealand immediately took advantage with a try to the other winger Awatere Kiwara who showed great pace to dot down in the right-hand corner. New Zealand took a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Immediately after the break New Zealand picked up from where they left off as halfback Samuel Nati made a break down the right-hand side. He offloaded to centre Starford Toa who galloped away to score. Moala converted the try and New Zealand led 20-0.
NSW faced an uphill battle and, sensing a wounded opponent, New Zealand piled on the pain with converted tries to Nitoa Kairau, Toa and Moala to make the score 38-0.
NSW scored a consolation try through forward Tremayne Chatfield before New Zealand extended their lead to 44-4 with a converted try to Ale.
It was an outstanding night with the boot for Moala, who converted six of his side's eight tries, including several from the sidelines.
New Zealand head coach Duane Mann was pleased with his team's performance.
"I'm really happy that our boys kept them from scoring on multiple occasions, although there was one try they managed to get in. We went out with the aim of moving the ball around a lot and that worked for our game.
"The team may have only had one-and-a-half days training together but I think the performance out there tonight provides a good foundation for when we meet them again on Saturday," Mann said.
The sides meet for the second of their two-game series at Mt Smart in Auckland on Saturday at 3.30pm.
NZ Secondary Schools 44 (Kayal Iro, Starford To'a 2, Awatere Kiwara, Sione Moala 2, Tom Ale, Nitoa Kairau tries; Sione Moala 6 goals) NSW Combined High Schools 4 (Tremayne Chatfield try)