Vodafone Warrior-in-waiting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck capped a sizzling individual display with two tries as the Kiwis cleared away in the second half to beat Super League champions the Leeds Rhinos 34-16 in the opening match of their England tour at Headingley this morning.
Playing in front of the Rhinos’ biggest crowd of the season – a sell-out 20,158 – the New Zealanders needed two brilliantly-finished tries by Jason Nightingale and debutant Jordan Kahu late in the first half to go to the break 10-6 ahead.
They then found themselves 10-12 behind in the opening minutes of the second half when former Vodafone Warrior Joel Moon scored his second try of the match.
The final 25 minutes belonged to the Kiwis, though, as they put together a withering spell which netted five tries in a contest delivering precisely the kind of workout Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney would have wanted ahead the three-Test series against England starting in Hull next week.
Coming off the interchange bench debutant Kodi Nikorima provided the catalyst for the second half scoring frenzy which, at one stage, netted three tries in the space of six minutes.
The Rhinos were without some of their grand final heroes who are with the England squad for a warm-up Test against France heading into the series against the Kiwis. Leeds turned the match into an occasion, celebrating a golden season in which they also won the Challenge Cup. Making guests appearances were former Leeds favourites in ex-Vodafone Warrior Ali Lauitiiti and Adrian Morley while long-time Leeds front rower Kylie Leuluai was making his farewell appearance. Also in the squad on the bench was Jordan Baldwinson, who had a stint with the Vodafone Junior Warriors last season.
Both teams fielded squads of 19 players and used 19 interchanges, the game providing a much-needed blowout for the Kiwis after arriving England only a matter of days ago and with many of their players out of football for several weeks.
Vodafone Warriors prop Ben Matulino was impressive in tandem with Melbourne’s Jesse Bromwich while the club’s new signings Issac Luke and Tuivasa-Sheck were positively electrifying. Luke’s probing runs from dummy half had Leeds on alert time and time again – one producing Kahu’s try – while Tuivasa-Sheck was dazzling in all he did. Lolohea, paired in the halves with Peta Hiku, pushed up well in support and was heavily involved as the Kiwis found their range in the second half.
There was a special touch after the match when Leuluai and Lauitiiti joined their Kiwi brothers to perform a haka for the crowd.
Match details | Headingley, Leeds
Leeds Rhinos 16 (Joel Moon 2, Tom Briscoe tries; Jordan Lilley 2 conversions).
Kiwis 34 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2, Jason Nightingale, Jordan Kahu, Jesse Bromwich, Dean Whare, Kodi Nikorima tries; Tuimoala Lolohea 2 conversions; Issac Luke conversion).
Halftime: 10-6 Kiwis.
Referee: Richard Silverwood.
Kiwis | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck; Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Dean Whare, Jordan Kahu, Jason Nightingale; Peta Hiku, Tuimoala Lolohea; Jesse Bromwich, Issac Luke (co-captain), Ben Matulino; Kevin Proctor, Tohu Harris; Martin Taupau. Interchange: Kodi Nikorima, Sam Moa, Adam Blair (co-captain), Sio Siua Taukeiaho, Alex Glenn, Lewis Brown.
Leeds Rhinos | Ashton Golding; Tom Briscoe, Jimmy Keinhorst, Joel Moon, Ash Handley; Danny McGuire (captain), Jordan Lilley; Kylie Leuluai, Robbie Ward, Adrian Morley; Ali Lauitiiti, Josh Walters; Adam Cuthbertson. Interchange: Mitch Garbutt, Anthony Mullally, Brad Singleton, Mitch Achurch, Robbie Mulhern, Jordan Baldwinson.