Kiwis hooker Brandon Smith almost missed the team bus on Saturday afternoon, as the squad left from their inner city hotel for the journey to Mt Smart.

The 21-year-old had gone down to Victoria Park to watch his old club team — the Waiheke Rams — play in the local league competition.

Time slipped by as he was engrossed in the game, before he had to urgently bolt back to Sky City hotel and made the departure with only minutes to spare.

But it was his only false move all day, as Smith turned in a man of the match performance at dummy half in the Kiwis 34-14 victory over Tonga.


It was a remarkable display, given his NRL time at hooker has been limited to a handful of minutes, as he fills a utility role at the Storm, stuck behind future NRL immortal Cameron Smith.

His distribution was crisp, he took good options and was part of a Kiwis middle unit that defended with gusto.

But the highlight was his running game, as he constantly parted the red sea.

Smith beat three defenders on a 35 metre solo run for a brilliant opening try, and a similar strong burst and well judged kick led to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck's touchdown just after halftime, which seemed to break the back of the Tongan resistance.

The Waiheke Island product revealed some advice from coach Michael Maguire had guided his stunning performance.

"Madge told me I'm not Cameron Smith," said Smith. "I don't play like him so he wants me to just be me when I am out there. He said I had a good running game so just use that, of the back of the forwards play the balls.

"[It was great] for him to believe in me like that, and telling me my strengths are running. Sometimes when I am at Melbourne if I get put in hooker I feel like I try to play like Cameron Smith but that is not my game. The words that he said to me really stuck in my head during the game."

His try was a special moment, with hopefully a bonus reward for the large contingent that had made the ferry trip across the gulf to see their favourite son.

"Heaps of Waiheke Islanders probably had money on me for first try scorer..I think I owed it to them," laughed Smith. "It was an unreal moment. I don't think I've scored a try from outside the 10m line in…years. To do that, in front of home crowd and a roaring Tongan crowd, it was a long way to run. I'm not the fastest in the world. It was a surreal moment.

"I was pretty happy with my performance. Friends and family got to see it and I got a try, but that is just off the back of what all the boys did. We had a great week in training and it really showed."

In an eye catching hour on the field, Smith ran for 127 metres, made 10 tackle busts and also contributed 40 tackles.

It followed on from his compelling performance on debut against the Kangaroos last year and has sealed his status as the Kiwis top No9 option.

"He hasn't played hooker all year and he was outstanding," said Maguire. "The way he rolled the forwards onto the ball and then took his opportunities."

Smith was part of the Kiwis trip to England last year, and felt the continuity from that extended time away aided the New Zealand side on Saturday night.

"Most of the boys were on the England tour, we were already a pretty tight unit," said Smith. "Credit to the Tonga team. They didn't get a tour that we had last year; when we came into training we slotted in Benji [Marshall] like it was nothing."