Shaun Johnson stars as Kiwis down Tonga in Auckland
SHAUN Johnson has made a triumphant return to Mt Smart Stadium, scoring two tries in New Zealand's emphatic 34-14 win over Tonga in the inaugural Oceania Cup Test.
The Kiwis' more accomplished spine dominated the contest on Saturday, much to the disappointment of a bumper crowd predominantly there to support Tonga and hope they could repeat their World Cup boilover of 18 months earlier.
Instead, the home side were too clinical, conjuring six tries to three in a disciplined display that featured an attacking ruthlessness their opponents couldn't match.
Johnson was the spearhead, crossing twice with carbon-copy tries in the 10 minutes before half-time to put his team 16-4 ahead.
It was a sweet double for the playmaker in his 30th Test, coming at the ground where he built his reputation with the Warriors over eight seasons before a bitter departure for Cronulla over the off-season.
Captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak said Johnson's value on and off the park could not be underestimated.
"He's a freak - it's really nice to have him in our team. We're lucky to have him," the skipper said.
Just as influential was hooker Brandon Smith, whose frustration at a lack of starts for Melbourne might have been behind his dynamic display.
Smith opened the scoring with a sensational 35m solo try from dummy half before setting up Roger Tuivasa-Sheck soon after half-time with a burst and grubber that struck the upright.
Jahrome Hughes, on debut off the bench, and Joseph Manu rounded out New Zealand's scoring.
Hughes dashed between Tevita Pangai Jr and John Asiata to score, exposing exactly the same hole Johnson sliced through twice in his Test-defining double.
Solomone Kata looked like he would bag the only try for Tonga before Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Daniel Tupou crossed in the final 10 minutes -- both greeted by a deafening roar and hymns even though the result was beyond them.
Roosters prop Taukeiaho was among the game's premier performers, his power in the middle helping Tonga dominate possession and territory, only to be foiled by a lack of finishing.
Captain Jason Taumalolo was sorry his team couldn't rise to match the passionate Tongan support, paying tribute to the resolute Kiwis pack.
"They really took us on through the middle there and moved us around," he said.
"Obviously when you've got guys like Benji Marshall or Shaun Johnson leading the team around, you can't give them too much time, which we did."
Veteran halfback Marshall, in his first Kiwis Test for seven years, was most visible in the pre-match, breaking down in tears during the national anthem before leading the haka.
Given few opportunities on attack, Marshall made his mark with three potential try-saving tackles in the first half, including holding up Taumalolo over the line.
Australia are the third team involved in the Oceania Cup and will play their Tests later this year - against New Zealand in Wollongong and Tonga at Eden Park in Auckland.