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Niu sensation: Test debutant Tesi terrific in Tonga triumph

A little more than a week ago Tesi Niu wasn't even meant to travel to New Zealand with the Tongan squad but the teenage livewire emerged as one of the shining lights of a famous victory over Great Britain.

The 18-year-old was drafted into coach Kristian Woolf's squad at the insistence of the senior playing group, following a string of eye-catching performance from Niu at the World Cup 9s last weekend.

When Ata Hingano suffered a shoulder injury at training this week, Tonga turned to Niu, with Will Hopoate jumping into the halves and the rookie taking over at fullback in the 14-6 victory over Great Britain at Waikato Stadium.

Niu, who spent 2019 playing for the Brisbane Broncos' Intrust Super Cup feeder club Souths Logan Magpies, finished the game with 181 run metres – including a couple of long-range kick returns – and handled everything thrown at him by the Great Britain playmakers on last-tackle plays.

"We only brought him into camp real late because of his performance at the Nines and basically because all these senior blokes wanted to bring him in, because they were impressed with him as a bloke and impressed with him as a player," Woolf side.

"After the Nines a couple of the blokes were willing to pay for him to come over with us, they were that keen to have him.

Match Highlights: Tonga Invitational v Great Britain

"I don't think he came away thinking he'd ever play, but he was outstanding tonight and has certainly shown he is going to play a lot of NRL I think in the very near future, and he's going to play a lot more games for us as well."

Tonga co-captain Siosiua Taukeiaho – who kicked a pair of conversions and a penalty – said the victory ranked up there with the history-making win over New Zealand two years ago, but warned improvement was needed before facing Australia next Saturday.

"It's up there together with the Kiwis game at the World Cup," Taukeiaho said.

"I thought we had a good mindset, we set up our defence pretty well in that first half but gave away a few penalties and errors, but I thought we showed a bit of character.

"I am pretty proud of the boys, but we have got to step it up if we are going to beat the Australians."

After Michael Jennings opened the scoring on the half hour, the veteran centre turned provider for Tonga's second four-pointer which Sione Katoa notched after the half-time siren.

But after dominating much of the first stanza Tonga had to survive long periods camped on their own line in the second 40 minutes, with Taukeiaho's penalty with 16 to go their only points after the break.

Tonga Invitational press conference

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Woolf said his side showed they wanted it more than the touring Lions, who were playing their first game in 12 years.

"Neither of our tries in the first half came off any set play or anything pretty, but what they showed is we were willing to compete and probably compete a little bit harder than the opposition," Woolf said.

"If you want to compete hard and you want to defend well then you give yourself a real chance.

"We had to be really resilient in that second half – they had a lot of possession and a lot of opportunity – and we had to be good to hold them out.

"I thought we were outstanding. I couldn't be prouder of the blokes.

Woolf said he expected Hingano and centre Kotoni Staggs – who missed the match following a death in the family – to be available for selection for the match against the Kangaroos at Eden Park.