A hat-trick from centre Abigail Roache led the Kiwi Ferns to a 28-10 victory over a Tonga side who played the final half hour a player down following a send off.
Interchange forward Ilaisaane Taufa was marched by referee Wyatt Raymond following a hip-drop style tackle, which saw Roosters and Kiwi Ferns forward Amelia Pasikala taken from the field at Eden Park with a suspected broken leg.
While New Zealand were up 16-6 at the time and looking in control, the incident ended Tonga’s faint hopes of getting up for an upset victory, after they had trailed just 10-6 at half-time.
From there the Kiwi Ferns ran away with it, running in another three tries to claim a comfortable win, although Tonga will take heart from a drastically improved performance compared to past showings.
After Roache dotted down twice in the opening 11 minutes, it was looking like being a cake walk for the home side, before a spate of errors and penalties allowed Tonga back into the game.
It was one of those errors on 26 minutes – with Shanice Parker clean missing a loose ball when she attempted to kick it clear of the in-goal area – that gifted Tiana Penitani a try, which after Cassey Tohi-Hiku’s conversion reduced the gap to four at the break.
But New Zealand made a commanding start to the second period, with Pasikala scoring a try just after the restart of play, before her injury minutes later saw proceedings stopped for several minutes.
Another for Roache, followed by Annessa Biddle’s second try in as many games, and a Mele Hufanga try out wide stretched the gap to 18, with only Penitani’s try in the middle of it halting the Kiwi Ferns’ momentum.
If not for poor goalkicking – with Raecene McGregor converting just two of her side’s six tries – the final scoreline would have looked even better for Ricky Henry’s side.
After a torrid run with injuries, this was arguably Abigail Roache’s best performance in top-flight rugby league. Her unique mix of pace and power was on full display in this try, in which she made light work of the would-be Tongan defenders.
The Kiwi Ferns now prepare to face the Jillaroos in Melbourne, having lost to them by six points when they met earlier this month. Tonga don’t have another game scheduled in 2023, but will now look to build on what was a mostly positive match from their point of view, with Tiana Penitani and co no doubt having their eyes set on bringing a few more Tongan eligible players into the red jersey going forward.