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
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 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.
Match: New Zealand v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Fullback for New Zealand is number 1 Joseph ManuFullback for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 1 Tolutau Koula
Winger for New Zealand is number 2 Ronaldo MulitaloWinger for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 2 Christian Tuipulotu
Centre for New Zealand is number 3 Marata NiukoreCentre for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 3 Will Penisini
Centre for New Zealand is number 4 Peta HikuCentre for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 4 Moses Suli
Winger for New Zealand is number 5 Jordan RapanaWinger for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 5 Sione Katoa
Five-Eighth for New Zealand is number 6 Dylan BrownFive-Eighth for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 6 Kotoni Staggs
Halfback for New Zealand is number 7 Jahrome HughesHalfback for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 7 Talatau Amone
Prop for New Zealand is number 8 Jesse BromwichProp for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 8 Addin Fonua-Blake
Hooker for New Zealand is number 9 Brandon SmithHooker for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 9 Siliva Havili
Prop for New Zealand is number 10 James Fisher-HarrisProp for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho
2nd Row for New Zealand is number 11 Isaiah Papali'i2nd Row for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 11 Sitili Tupouniua
2nd Row for New Zealand is number 12 Kenneath Bromwich2nd Row for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 12 Keaon Koloamatangi
Lock for New Zealand is number 13 Joseph TapineLock for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange for New Zealand is number 14 Kieran ForanInterchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 14 Soni Luke
Interchange for New Zealand is number 15 Moses LeotaInterchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 15 Haumole Olakau'atu
Interchange for New Zealand is number 16 Nelson Asofa-SolomonaInterchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 16 Tevita Tatola
Interchange for New Zealand is number 17 Briton NikoraInterchange for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 17 Moeaki Fotuaika
Replacement for New Zealand is number 18 Jordan RikiReplacement for Mate Ma'a Tonga is number 18 Joe Ofahengaue
- Referee: Grant Atkins
- Touch Judge: Liam Kennedy
- Senior Review Official: Chris Butler
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.
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.
Match: New Zealand v Mate Ma'a Tonga
Round 1 -
Mate Ma'a Tonga
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland