Rugby League is back for 2020 – and what a way to kick off the NRL season.
The New Zealand Maori have beaten the Indigenous All Stars 30-16 on Saturday night on the Gold Coast, thanks to a stirring second half comeback.
The Maori side trailed 16-12 with less than 12 minutes to play, but scored three tries in the final stages to avenge last year's defeat to the same opposition.
Storm utility and Kiwis' hooker Brandon Smith was the standout for the Maori, running for almost 150 metres from dummy half and scoring two late tries to bust the game open.
It was a genuine team effort from the Maori side, though Kalyn Ponga and Bulldogs forward Corey Harawira-Naera were exceptional.
Warriors Adam Blair and Kodi Nikorima were also strong performers, while Josh Curran was solid for the Indigenous team.
Kiwis captain and Maori wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak started well, but didn't return in the second half due to a back injury.
It was a thrilling match, a wonderful advertisement for the sport and probably a little bit of redemption for David Kidwell, in his first head coach role since the 2017 World Cup failure.
Both teams chanced their arm, resulting in some spectacular tries, but there was also plenty of scrambling defence and a tough intensity in the tackle.
The Maori made a fast start – as Kidwell had hoped – with Jesse Bromwich and Harawira-Naera punching forward to gain plenty of momentum.
Watene-Zelezniak looked fired up, with a strong hit on Josh Addo-Carr, and the Kiwis skipper opened the scoring for the Maori side, finishing off a Jahrome Hughes break after a series of offloads by the men in Green.
The Indigenous side, whose pack was extremely raw in comparison, responded with Dragons prop Josh Kerr getting his hands free to put Curran over by the posts near the end of the first quarter
The Maori had several chances in the first half but couldn't take them, often undone by handling errors.
They also did well to withstand sustained pressure after Hughes was sinbinned, for a professional foul on Addo-Carr.
But Nikorima, who constantly looked dangerous on the left edge, made their pressure count, being first to a sharp ricochet of a Dylan Walker kick.
The Maori should have extended their lead from a slashing Ponga break, after Nikorima put him into a hole, but Kenny Bromwich dropped the ball close to the line.
Right on halfime Blake Ferguson got over in the corner, after a successful one on one strip on Bryson Goodwin, which found its way to Ferguson.
The third quarter was a tighter affair – though the Maori side had more chances – but a rampaging David Fifita run sent James Roberts in under the posts to give them the lead in the 56th minute
The Maori team had dominated territory for much of the final quarter, but couldn't make it count, even making an unsuccessful captain's challenge for an alleged strip.
But they finally broke through in the 69th minute, after a strong solo burst from Smith, who dummied past Curran then beat three defenders from 10 metres out.
Smith was almost over three minutes later, as he grounded the ball by the goal posts, but it was scratched for a marginal double movement call.
But Smith sealed the contest in the 75th minute, wrapping around Adam Blair before forcing his way over under the posts, before Walker scored from a bomb with the last play of the game, while Blair given the honour of chipping over the conversion.
New Zealand Maori 30 (D Watene-Zelezniak, K Nikorima, B Smith 2, D Walker tries; K Ponga 4, A Blair goals)
Indigenous All Stars 16 (J Curran, B Ferguson, J Roberts tries; T Roberts 2 goals)