The New Zealand Kiwis have snatched a 14-12 victory over Toa Samoa in front of a Whangarei crowd of 16,912 for the first Test match played at Toll Stadium.
Issac Luke, playing his 30th Test for New Zealand, was instrumental in the Kiwis’ victory, laying on an offload that led to the final try which stole the win.
Stirring war cries from both nations set the scene for the game, with Issac Luke leading the New Zealand Haka as has become customary in the build-up to kick off in Kiwi Test matches.
The Kiwis were on top early with Jason Nightingale going close to scoring in the third minute. However it was Toa Samoa that would score first in the sixth minute when Tautau Moga snapped up an intercept from Peta Hika to race 80 metres down the right hand touch line to score.
The Kiwis struck back four minutes later when Kieran Foran spun in a tackle to reach out and plant the ball down over the line. Shaun Johnson converted from next to the posts to give New Zealand a 6-4 lead.
The Samoans were the next to cross for a four-pointer, after peppering the left side of New Zealand’s defensive line. This created space on the other side, with Ben Roberts grubber-kicking in behind the line towards the left corner, with Daniel Vidot winning the chase of the ball for the try.
The Kiwis were slightly on top for the rest of the half despite trailing 8-6 at half time on the scoreboard, with Jesse Bromwich laying the platform for New Zealand and Issac Luke controlling the direction of play in attack and the line speed in defence.
The Samoans were the first to cross in the second half with Joey Leilua producing a Greg Inglis-style fend to palm off Shaun Kenny-Dowall and touch down in the right hand corner in the 44th minute.
Toa Samoa were completely dominant in the third quarter, led by centre Leilua who was making metres at will and putting pressure on New Zealand’s left side of Foran, Kenny-Dowall and Vatuvei at every opportunity. Issac Luke went off in the 49th minute and his re-introduction to the match in 59th minute seemed to spark the Kiwis.
The Kiwis were on the attack from the time Luke came back out to the battle, and it only took four minutes for them to cross the line, with the video referee awarding Jason Nightingale a try in the right hand corner to take the score to 12-10 in favour of Samoa with 15 minutes left in the match.
New Zealand halfback Shaun Johnson started to pepper Samoan fullback Tim Simona with his hellish high balls, and Simona caould not handle the height and floatation of the ball in the air. But some desperate Samoan goal line defence kept the Kiwis out, allowing the men in blue to maintain their two point advantage inside the final ten minutes.
The Kiwis snatched the lead in the 76th minute when an Issac Luke offload led to a Shaun Kenny-Dowall try in the left corner, giving the home side a 14-12 lead with a few minutes left on the clock.
The crowd were on their feet in the final 15 seconds of the match when Leilua snatched an intercept and charged 50 metres down field. He tried to offload in traffic and the pass was called forward despite it looking like it was passed backwards. The infringement brought on the full time whistle and New Zealand had escaped with a two point victory, a lone Shaun Johnson conversion being the difference, from a total of six attempts from both teams throughout the match in blustery conditions.
The victory puts the Kiwis in the box seat to claim a spot in the Four Nations Final with Samoa now relying a on a number of results and scorelines to go their way for them to be a chance of qualifying.
The win also signalled a successful return to the football field for Issac Luke who missed the Rabbitohs’ Grand Final victory and last week’s win for New Zealand over Australia due to suspension. His efforts in the second half helped spark the Kiwis’ attack as he turned in a quality 70-minute performance in his comeback game.
New Zealand 14 (Kieran Foran, Jason Nightingale, Shaun Kenny-Dowall tries; Shaun Johnson goal)
Toa Samoa 12 (Tautau Moga, Daniel Vidot, Joey Leilua tries)