Kiwi Ferns 50
The Kiwi Ferns have returned with a bang.
With the Rugby League World Cup awaiting them at the end of the year, their test against Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday shaped up as a vital part of their preparations.
They showed they are well and truly on the right track, with a 50-12 decimation of the Tongan side.
The Kiwi Ferns, who were able to cap four new players in the match, had a real fluidity in their attack and used that to full effect early on as they got the backs heavily involved.
With the likes of captain Krystal Rota and lock Georgia Hale doing great work up the middle of the park, the halves pairing of Raecene McGregor and Laishon Albert-Jones able to get quick ball and make the plays that were needed to exploit the holes in the Tongan defence.
Early, it was simply a case of getting the ball wide once they worked their way inside Tongan territory. The visitors were often slow to get across and cover gaps in their defence on the edges, which were exploited constantly.
Kiwi Ferns centre Page McGregor opened the scoring inside of five minutes with a great display of composure and footballing IQ, sizing up the defensive live in front of here before selling a dummy and stepping back through a hole in the defence to score.
She turned provider on the next set, providing the final pass in a sweeping move across the line to lead left wing Madison Bartlett over.
Katelyn Vaha'akolo crossed on the right wing three minutes later and, within 10 minutes, the Kiwi Ferns held a 12-0 lead. That could have been extended further just moments later when Amy Turner looked to have scored, though her try was overturned as she fumbled the ball in trying to plant it over the try line.
Instead, the Tongan defensive line shored up a bit and fought back against the Kiwi Ferns. However, the New Zealand side were still finding easy metres with their forwards and were more often than not ending their sets in attacking position.
It took a Tongan knock on deep in their own territory to bring the Kiwi side their next try, with Raecene McGregor showing some good individual skill to dance through the defence from close range. But while the Tongan defence was much better following that opening 10 minutes, the Kiwi Ferns' was up to the test as well and the teams went set for set in the middle of the half.
However, the hosts blew the game open in the 10 minutes before half time, with Turner, Vaha'akolo and Roxy Murdoch-Masila scoring tries to give the Kiwi Ferns a 30-0 half-time lead.
The Tongan side continued to work hard in the second half with little success on attack, while they fronted up on defence to hold the Kiwi Ferns to four second-half tries.
They found reward late in the game through China Polata, who went strong into the defence from close range and got over the line with a hit and spin move, with a last-minute effort from Haylee Hifo adding to their tally, but ultimately the Kiwi Ferns were a class above.
Kiwi Ferns 50 (Madison Bartlett 2, Katelyn Vaha'akolo 2, Page McGregor, Raecene McGregor, Amy Turner, Roxy Murdoch-Masila, Kararaina Wira-Kohu, Laishon Albert-Jones, Nita Maynard tries; Albert-Jones 3 cons)
Tonga 12 (China Polata, Haylee Hifo tries; Hifo 2 cons)