Foundation Vodafone Warrior Duane Mann coached the New Zealand Seconday Schools to a rampaging 44-4 victory over the New South Wales Combined High Schools in Rotorua yesterday.
In the first of two matches - the second is in Auckland on Saturday - the New Zealanders worked their way to a 14-0 halftime lead before taking complete control in the second spell.
Several players in the side are in the Vodafone Warriors' system including Mount Albert Grammar School's Kayal Iro and Javvier Pitovao plus Lewis Sio (St Paul's College), who made their NYC debuts for the Vodafone Junior Warriors this year.
Other players from the club's NYC or development squads in the New Zealand line-up were fullback William Fakatoumafi (Southern Cross Campus and Mangere East Hawks), centre Patrick Elia (St Thomas of Canterbury College and Hornby Panthers), standoff Sione Moala (St Paul's College and Manurewa Marlins) and second rower Christian Tuipolotu (St Paul's College and Ellerslie Eagles) and interchange player Nitoa Kairau (Southern Cross Campus and Otahuhu Leopards).
Vodafone Warriors recruit Hayze Perham, a stand-out for the New Zealand Residents 18s last week, picked up an injury playing for the New Zealand 18s on the weekend and had to withdraw from the New Zealand Secondary Schools. This provided an opportunity for Vodafone Warriors development squad member Fakatoumafi to play in his preferred position of fullback.
Joy was plastered across the faces of the New Zealand players after their triumh at Puketawhero Park yesterday.
The home side included three players from last year’s team (Jonathan Aumua-Falelua-Malio, Awatere Kiwara and Lotu Inisi).
Local Rotorua Boys’ High School pupils Tom Ale, Tukimihia Simpkins and Selesitino Ravutaumada had extra incentive playing on their home turf in front of family and friends.
Try number one for the home side came in the first 10 minutes, Sione Moala getting the first taste of a four-pointer hunting out the gaps in the NSW defence. The St Paul’s College player then converted his own try taking his team out to a 6-0 lead.
After the New Zealanders denied the NSW Combined High Schools players getting their first points on the board, they gained impressive metres through prop Lotu Inisi, winger Kayal Iro crossed the line to extend their lead to 10-0.
An ability to transition quickly from defence to attack and the great footwork of Awatere Kiwara had the second-year NZ Secondary Schools player add another four points to their score, taking them into halftime up by 14-0.
The home side lifted the intensity up a notch further just minutes into the second half when vice-captain Starford To’a identified a gap and breezed through a scrambling NSW defence scoring his side’s fourth try. Moala made it 20-0 with another successful conversion.
An aggressive run from Samuel Nati, the Southern Cross Campus player who captained his side to win the 2017 National Secondary Schools title, was then topped off by Kairau who muscled his way through several NSW players to score in the left-hand corner. Moala’s boot came to the party, pushing the lead out to 26-0.
Inisi once again put his hand up to gain metres on the opposition leaving nothing but a pile of destruction in his path as NSW Combined High Schools players struggled to stop him. New Zealand capitalised on the forward momentum, sending Starford To’a over the line for his second try of the match and the lead was 32-0.
Despite having an already extensive lead, the locals showed no signs of slowing down. A beautiful grubber from half Samuel Nati saw Moala plant his second try of the night, once again converting for a 38-0 lead.
Then came a full field run from NSW that, paired with smart play from his team-mates, had Tremayne Chatfield go over for the team’s first and only four points of the match.
The Australians' struggling defensive line was tested one last time by Ale who had his local supporters in raptures as he added the final try of the match converted by Moala.
Coach Mann had every right to be pleased with his team’s performance.
“I’m really happy that our boys kept them from scoring on multiple occasions although there was one try they managed to get in,” he said.
“We went out with the aim of moving the ball around a lot and that worked for us.
“The team may have only had one and a half days together but I think the performance out there tonight provides a good foundation for when we meet them again on Saturday.”
Despite recording one of the team’s biggest losses, NSW Combined High Schools coach Andrew Johnson took many positives from the match.
“It was a red hot New Zealand side that we faced tonight and when it’s all said and done, they executed well and we didn’t,” he said.
“There were many opportunities that presented themselves but we just couldn’t capitalise which led to tonight’s result.”
The teams meet again at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, the first game of a tripleheader that will be the pre-cursor to the NZRL National Premiership grand final and promotion/relegation games.
Puketawhero Park, Rotorua
New Zealand Secondary Schools 44 (Starford To’a 2, Sione Moala 2, Kayal Iro, Awatere Kiwara, Tom Ale, Nitoa Kairau tries; Sione Moala 6 goals).
NSW Combined High Schools 4 (Tremayne Chatfield try).
Halftime: 14-0 New Zealand Secondary Schools.