Benji's back, Shaun Johnson with a hat trick as Kiwis smash Tonga

By Jamie Wall

The Kiwis have avenged their Rugby League World Cup loss two years ago with a thumping 34-14 win over Mate Ma’a Tonga at Mt Smart Stadium tonight.

It was an arm wrestle for the first 20 minutes, and Solomone Kata got the mostly Tongan crowd on their feet after 22 minutes when he scored in the corner, which answered Brandon Smith's brilliant opening score for the Kiwis.

In a game that was thought to be all about the heavyweights, it was the little men that did the damage. Melbourne Storm duo Smith and Jahrome Hughes both got on the scoresheet, but it was a familiar face to Warriors fans that was the difference between the sides.

Shaun Johnson, back on Mt Smart for the first time since leaving the club last year, scored three tries and reminded everyone in attendance of just how good he is when he has a good pack in front of him.

His first two were trademark Johnson tries, hitting the line and stepping his way through to score in the same spot in the right hand corner. 

The third was an odd one, after Smith put in another fantastic run and put a kick through. The ball hit the upright and bounced away from the Tongan defender, then Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck grounded the ball at the same time. The two appeared to do a game of scissors, paper, rock to decide who the try was awarded to.

After Hughes’ try effectively settled the matter, Joseph Manu tacked on another try to make sure the Tongans knew that the memories of 2017 had been put to rest.

Sio Suia Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou scored late for the Tongans, which again made the crowd erupt, but it was all academic.

The game marked a successful return to test football for veteran Benji Marshall, who linked well with Johnson in the halves. Esan Marsters had a fine evening with the boot, landing five from six conversions.

Kiwis 38 (S Johnson 3, B Smith, J Hughes, J Manu tries; E Marsters 5 goals)

Mate Ma’a Tonga 14 (S Kata, S Taukeiaho, D Tupou tries; Taukeiaho 2 goals)

HT: 16-4 Kiwis