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An electric atmosphere is guaranteed in Auckland on Saturday when rugby league makes an emotional return to Mt Smart Stadium.

The Warriors' last home game before the COVID-19 pandemic on August 30, 2019, and the last Test match played at the ground was five weeks before that on June 22 when New Zealand beat Tonga 34-14.

On that occasion it was Shaun Johnson stealing the show with a hat-trick but the veteran playmaker has made way for Melbourne's Jahrome Hughes, who debuted off the bench in that Test and has gone on to establish himself as one of the game's premier No.7s.

Later that year the Tonga Invitational side produced one of the greatest upsets in the history of the international game when they stunned Australia 16-12 at Eden Park with Jason Taumalolo and Addin Fonua-Blake turning in phenomenal performances.

With those two warriors again leading from the front, Tonga are sure to provide stiff resistance for the Kiwis in a physical encounter that will whet the appetite for the World Cup later in the year in the UK.

Sportsbet Betting preview: Kiwis v Tonga

Team News 

New Zealand

The Kiwis are 1-17 with no late changes.

Parramatta duo Dylan Brown and Marata Niukore will make their Kiwis debut after being named at five-eighth and centre respectively, with Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo also set for an international debut following his inclusion. Brown will partner Jahrome Hughes in the halves with Roosters centre Joseph Manu to feature at fullback. Peta Hiku and Jordan Rapana are the other backs.

Up front, Isaiah Papali'i starts on an edge alongside Kenny Bromwich, with in-form Raiders forward Joseph Tapine named at lock. Brandon Smith has been named at hooker with Kieran Foran named on the bench to provide cover in the spine. 

Panthers forward Moses Leota is the fourth debutant named by coach Michael Maguire as he joins Foran, Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Briton Nikora on the bench. Bronco Jordan Riki is 18th Man.

Tonga

Tonga are 1-17 with no late changes on game day. Having been overlooked by NSW for Origin Two, Kotoni Staggs will wear the No.6 for Tonga alongside Dragons young gun Talatau Amone in the halves. Manly winger Christian Tuipulotu will make his Test debut on the wing, taking over from Daniel Tupou, who is with the Blues in Origin. The backline also features Parramatta's Will Penisini, Manly flyer Tolotau Koula and destructive Dragon Moses Suli.

In his 14th international for his country Jason Taumalolo will co-captain the team alongside respected Rooster Siosiua Taukeiaho, who plays his 12th Test for Tonga. They are joined in a powerhouse pack by Addin Fonua-Blake, Sitili Tupouniua and Keaon Koloamatangi while Haumole Olakau'atu, Tevita Tatola and Moeaki Fotuaika bring impact from the bench.

Tonga are coached by caretaker coach Dean Young for this match with Kristian Woolf unavailable because of English Super League duties with St Helens.

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for New Zealand is number 1 Joseph Manu
    Fullback for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 1 Tolutau Koula
  • Winger for New Zealand is number 2 Ronaldo Mulitalo
    Winger for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 2 Christian Tuipulotu
  • Centre for New Zealand is number 3 Marata Niukore
    Centre for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 3 Will Penisini
  • Centre for New Zealand is number 4 Peta Hiku
    Centre for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 4 Moses Suli
  • Winger for New Zealand is number 5 Jordan Rapana
    Winger for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 5 Sione Katoa
  • Five-Eighth for New Zealand is number 6 Dylan Brown
    Five-Eighth for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 6 Kotoni Staggs
  • Halfback for New Zealand is number 7 Jahrome Hughes
    Halfback for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 7 Talatau Amone

Forwards

  • Prop for New Zealand is number 8 Jesse Bromwich
    Prop for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
  • Hooker for New Zealand is number 9 Brandon Smith
    Hooker for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 9 Siliva Havili
  • Prop for New Zealand is number 10 James Fisher-Harris
    Prop for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho
  • 2nd Row for New Zealand is number 11 Isaiah Papali'i
    2nd Row for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 11 Sitili Tupouniua
  • 2nd Row for New Zealand is number 12 Kenneath Bromwich
    2nd Row for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 12 Keaon Koloamatangi
  • Lock for New Zealand is number 13 Joseph Tapine
    Lock for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange

  • Interchange for New Zealand is number 14 Kieran Foran
    Interchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 14 Soni Luke
  • Interchange for New Zealand is number 15 Moses Leota
    Interchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 15 Haumole Olakau'atu
  • Interchange for New Zealand is number 16 Nelson Asofa-Solomona
    Interchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 16 Tevita Tatola
  • Interchange for New Zealand is number 17 Briton Nikora
    Interchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 17 Moeaki Fotuaika

Reserves

  • Replacement for New Zealand is number 18 Jordan Riki
    Replacement for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 18 Joe Ofahengaue

Match Officials

  • Referee: Grant Atkins
  • Touch Judge: Liam Kennedy
  • Senior Review Official: Chris Butler

Last updated:

Key match-up

Jahrome Hughes v Talatau Amone

Storm star Hughes has played in a winning grand final side and been victorious at Test level so he knows what to expect on the big stage in front of a raucous crowd. Dragons prodigy Amone is 25 games into his NRL career and looking more assured with each passing week, teaming nicely with Ben Hunt in the halves for the Red V. The 20-year-old has already had eight try assists and eight line break assists in 2022 while Hughes has been typically efficient with 10 try assists and six line break assists. A classic battle of experience and youth that will go a long way to determining the winner of this international showpiece.

Stat attack

The Kiwis played four Test matches in 2019, winning three and losing one. After beating Tonga in June they went on to lose 26-4 to Australia in Wollongong in November before beating Great Britain twice - 12-8 at Eden Park in Auckland and 23-8 in Christchurch. 

The Kiwis' record at Mt Smart in Test matches is nine wins from 15 matches while Tonga have played three times here for three losses.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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