Australia won the battle, but Tonga may yet win the war. They certainly would have gained thousands more admirers across the league world, with a spirited but error ridden display as they went down 34-16 to the world champions.

And the Island nation have surely strengthened their case for more matches; how can league's administrators ignore this juggernaut?

More than 26,000 Tongan fans created an unbelievable atmosphere at Mt Smart, the like of which has rarely been seen in this city.

At times it was a surreal occasion; alternating between the blood and thunder of some huge hits, to the feeling of a Sunday service as the crowd belted out church hymns.


The Kangaroos, as widely predicted, were too slick, skillful and polished, and also defended superbly under immense pressure at times.

[Atmosphere at Tonga's clash against Kangaroos unlikely to be felt in NZ again]

Just like last year's World Cup semifinal against England at the same ground, the match was decided in the first half. Tonga couldn't get going – cruelled by constant mistakes and poor options – and Australia took advantage, scoring five converted tries.

Tonga looked dangerous all night, but their lack of recent match practice showed and they struggled to deal with the Kangaroos' threats out wide.

Who knows how significant this game will turn out to be in the future of international league – it seems like a pivotal moment for the code – but what an occasion.

Tongan fans were waiting outside the gates from 9am on Saturday, and thousands had gathered a full two hours before kickoff. As much as a football match, it was a national gathering, as Tongans from the United States, Australia and planeloads from Nuku'alofa joined the tens of thousands from across Auckland.

"Little can be huge," read one banner, while another announced that 'God is with Tonga'. Fans stood six or seven deep at either end of the field – reminding of the 1980s at Carlaw Park – and the Sipi Tau was spine tingling.

Unfortunately, Tonga struggled to deal with the emotion and made a nervous start. A wobbly kick completed their first set, before mistakes in their next two sets, the second of which gifted the Kangaroos a try, with Daly Cherry-Evans scooping up an errant Andrew Fifita pass to score under the posts.


Soon afterwards a simple missed tackle near halfway led to James Tedesco slashing into space, before putting centre Tom Trbojevic across.

Giant second rower Tevita Pangai Junior – who turned down State of Origin to stick with his country of heritage – made history in the 24th minute, running off a Ata Hingano pass to score Tonga's first ever try against the Kangaroos.

But that was the high point of the first half for Tonga, as errors and indiscipline killed any momentum they had.

If there was a poor decision to make, the men in red did. Whether it was rushing out of the line, knocking on from the first tackle after a penalty, or ill judged offloads or passes, Tonga kept handing the initiative back to the Kangaroos.

Valentine Holmes crossed in the 25th minute, beating four would be tacklers, then Tom Trbojevic scored his second from the next set after the kickoff.

Daniel Tupou's spectacular try stemmed the bleeding, but, just as they looked to finish the half well, another poor option opened the door for the Kangaroos, and Holmes crossed right on the hooter.

Tonga rediscovered their poise at the start of the second half, forcing four consecutive goal line drop outs, directly in front of their increasingly delirious fans, with Solomone Kata eventually crossing.

But that was as close as they got. Tedesco extended Australia's lead in the 63rd minute – again exposing Tonga's right edge, and there was no coming back from there.

Australia 34 (D Cherry Evans, T Trbojevic 2, V Holmes 2, J Tedesco tries; V Holmes 5 goals)
Tonga 16 (T Pangai Junior, D Tupou, S Kata tries; S Taukeiaho, T Lolohea goal)
Halftime: 30-10