Auckland won the inaugural Upright Access Mann Cup on Saturday, running riot to beat the Tonga New Zealand Residents 40-12 at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.
Down 10-12 at the break, Auckland blew their opponents off the park with five unanswered tries in the second stanza, with co-captains Jordan Tuarae and Jethro Friend the key figures in the comeback.
The match was just the third time the Auckland premier side has taken the field since 2009, and was their first win in that period as well.
Playing in front of a crowd of more than 1200, the Tongan side flew out of the gates, scoring via Sione Tongia and captain Daniel Palavi to lead by 12 after as many minutes.
But the Auckland reply was swift. Helped by the introduction of Abraham Papali’i off the bench, they scored twice via Tuarae, who grubbered for himself before barging over from close range, to trail by just two after halfback Howard Brown added a conversion.
The Tongan New Zealand Residents couldn’t come close to matching Auckland in the second 40, with the hosts taking the lead three minutes after the break thanks to a try to former Junior Warrior Lafu Feagaiga.
The sin-binning of Tonga’s Saimone Makahili for repeated infringements marked the opening of the floodgates, with Auckland scoring via Cole Waaka and Corey Seator in the 10 minutes which followed, before Feagaiga grabbed his second and Papali’i scored a rampaging effort from 30 metres out.
Glenora Bears speedster Simon Luafalealo finished the scoring at an even 40 with five minutes left on the clock.
Auckland coach Grant Pocklington said despite his side’s sluggish opening few minutes, confidence had remained high.
“We knew Tonga had enjoyed all the ball early on. We had one set in the first 12 minutes. In the first half we had just six sets. So all we needed was possession,” Pocklington said.
“Tonga were always going to come out pretty hard. They had a lot of passion and pride. But to go 12-0 down and get ourselves back into the game was pleasing.”
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Auckland 40 (Jordan Tuarae 2, Lafu Feagaiga 2, Cole Waaka, Corey Seator, Abraham Papali’i, Simon Luafalealo tries; Howard Brown 4 goals).
Tonga NZ Residents 12 (Sione Tongia, Daniel Palavi tries; Willie Stowers 2 goals).
Halftime: 12-10 Tonga.
Maori and Toa Samoa draw under-10 thriller
A last-minute penalty rescued a draw for the Auckland Maori against Toa Samoa Invitational in the under-20 curtain-raiser at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday.
Samoa opened the scoring on six minutes, via powerful prop forward Lene Neemia, but found themselves down 6-16 at the break as the local side struck three times, through fleet-footed half Taane Paki, centre Iloa Ma’afu-Roberts and forward Isaiah Vagana.
Three minutes into the second period the Samoans had a golden chance to claw their way back, after winger Setu Tu burst 70 metres down field, but they couldn’t execute and the gap remained 10 at the final 20 minutes approached.
At that point Toa captain Dylan Tavita took matters into his own hands, stepping his way through for a try, although it was quickly cancelled out by Casey Smith’s four-pointer at the other end.
Tries to Johnny Falelua-Malio and Jachim Tumu-Makara – both of which were converted by Tavita – gave the Samoans a 24-22 lead, which they looked set to win the game on, before a penalty with a minute left gifted Smith with a kick in front of the posts to tie the game.
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Toa Samoa Invitational 24 (Lene Neemia, Dylan Tavita, Johnny Falelua-Malio, Jachim Tumu-Makara tries; Dylan Tavita 4 goals),.
Auckland Maori 24 (Taane Paki, Illoa Ma’afu-Roberts, William Pompey, Casey Smith tries; Casey Smith 4 goals).
Halftime: 16-6 Auckland Maori.