On Sunday afternoon a very sunny and hot Pulman Park saw three international showdowns played out, showcasing the best under 18s rugby league talent across New Zealand and the rest of the world.
First up the New Zealand Resident 16s would face the TOA Samoa 16s, a tight contest between the two nations proved Samoa was more than prepared to take on their big brother counterpart.
New Zealand looked to be in the game after a decent first half, with tries across the field from the boys in white. Cassius Cowley and New Zealand Captain Jaedon Wellington would put the team in front going into the second half 14 – 10.
Samoa went into the sheds trailing by four, but complacency, a lack of discipline from the New Zealand team and pure passion from the Samoans lead them to take the win over the hosts in the end 26 – 20.
The French team who faced the New Zealand 18s earlier in the week, arrived ready to finish their tour of Aotearoa on a high, with only Auckland U19s standing in their way.
While the first half was a grind – with France kicking a penalty on the siren to lead 14-12 at the break – the second stanza saw 38 combined points scored.
A big second half saw Auckland U19 get past France U19 38-26 in their one-off representative clash.
Fresh off the back of their win against France on Thursday, the NZ18s were keen to finish their campaign undefeated, however, if the Toa Samoa 16s performance was anything to go by, this wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Both teams came out firing but it was NZ who capitalised on early possession to get first points on the board. That momentum, however, was short-lived as Samoa fired straight back with an overlap to the right as centre, Sam Taunga, went over for Samoa’s first points. Neither side was able to convert making the score four a piece after ten minutes
A tackle in the air from NZ put Samoa in the lead as they took the two penalty points soon followed by a try to Vaiala Tamati off a clever cross-field kick extending their lead 12 – 4.
NZ answered straight back as Semisi Sikei dived on a kick in goal to make it 12 – 8. Poor discipline from NZ gifted Samoa further field possession as hooker Jeremiah Schuster dived through the defensive line making it 18 – 8 at the break.
The Kiwis had no choice but to come out firing if they were to remain in the game, and that they did, NZ opened the second half with a try to Vaka Sikahele in corner to tighten the gap to 18 – 12. Kina Kepu then steam-rolled the Samoan defence to score a great solo try making it 18 – 16 with a kick to come. Sione Moala was having a less than ideal day with the boot missing another conversion; the Kiwis still trail by two.
The NZ forward pack were proving hard to handle breaking the Samoan defensive line two more times, yet handling errors by the Kiwis cost back to back try opportunities. NZ then caught Samoa napping and finally capitalised on their possession as Jordan Coleman scored under the posts making it 22 – 18.
Samoa gained momentum off poor discipline from the Kiwis yet a try went begging as Samoa’s chasers were caught offside. NZ went straight back on the attack as William Fakatoumafi skillfully caught a highball and offloaded to winger Semisi Sikei who extended the Kiwis’ lead to 26 – 18.
Fakatoumafi then defused Samoa’s last play option catching yet another high ball to run 100m untouched adding an extra four for NZ, Moala was unable to convert keeping the score 30 – 18. Feao Tongia crossed for the Kiwis eighth, and final try making it 36 – 18 at full time.
An impressive second-half performance by the Kiwis concluded an entertaining day of footy at Auckland’s Pulman Park. Congratulations to all involved.