Shaun Johnson admits the Kiwis had a point to prove last night and they buried some demons in a big way.

The ghosts of the 2017 World Cup were all around before kickoff, where as a rapturous crowd welcomed their Tongan heroes.

The vast majority of the 23,624 in attendance were behind the men in red, but New Zealand gradually took them out of the game with a controlled, dominant performance.

There was to be no repeat of that unforgettable afternoon in Hamilton two years ago, where the Pacific team overturned a large halftime deficit to finish over the top of a shocked Kiwis side.


Johnson, who scored two tries in the 34-14 win last night, admitted there was a lot at stake.

"I was really nervous about playing this game because I have still got memories of what happened in the World Cup," said Johnson. "It wasn't a grudge match but in my mind we needed this. This was a big game."

Johnson copped a lot of the blame for the Kiwis limp Cup effort two years ago but has been a key part of the revival since, with wins at Mt Smart over the Kangaroos and Tonga.

"Thinking back to 2017 and what a lot of us had to go through and how disappointed a lot of us were, people will never understand what was going on behind the scenes and how we felt after we let our nation down.

"We copped a lot, and deservedly too, so to be a part of trying to put this jersey in a better place since then and having the leadership from Madge [coach Michael Maguire], Dallin [Watene Zelezniak] and the senior players really driving that is pretty special."

Johnson paid tribute to a solid team performance, where the Kiwis pack dominated their opposites.

"I thought our forwards did a great job giving us a platform, Benji [Marshall] on ball controlling things and getting me a bit wider and we were able to ice a couple of opportunities. Collectively we had a great week and it showed out there."

Despite not having played together for seven years, Marshall and Johnson clicked superbly in the halves.


"You have got two experienced halves out there and I am not that boy any more. We were feeding off each other, with Roger [Tuivasa-Sheck] hanging around and Brandon Smith doing his thing in the middle."

Johnson also confirmed Tuivasa-Sheck narrowly beat him to the ball for the Kiwis fourth try [credited to Johnson] just after halftime, as both chased a Brandon Smith grubber.

"I grounded his leg, it was Rog's try for sure," Johnson said with a laugh.