New All Black Tupou Vaa'i produced a standout performance as his Taranaki Bulls opened their season with a win over Bay of Plenty in Inglewood today.
Scoring two tries, Vaa'i continuously showed why he was one of the latest inclusions in Ian Foster's squad.
The match also marked the first outing for Jordie Barrett in Taranaki colours, returning to his home province and taking the field with brother Beauden.
Both Barretts provided a spectacle, often linking up with each other and looking threatening in open play.
It was Vaa'i who struck first though, scoring comfortably in the third minute after winger Lewis Ormond managed to sneak an offload to the young lock on the left edge of the field.
Bay of Plenty responded straight away with a try from former Taranaki Bull, Te Toiroa Tahuiriorangi in the 11th minute, set up by a spectacular linebreak from midfielder Emoni Rarawa.
The Steamers clinched the lead 10 minutes later with a try from Keepa Mewett although it was short lived with Ricky Ricciteli picking up a try following a Taranaki lineout on the BOP five metre line.
Bay of Plenty were again quick to respond, with Rarawa featuring once more, this time the recipient of a brilliant offload from Chase Tiaita setting him up to score.
The closing minutes of the first half saw Ricky Riccitelli on track to score his second try after a Taranaki lineout drive bulldozed its way over the Bay of Plenty line.
However, in what was a dubious call, Steamers loose forward Aaron Carrol was deemed off-side as he broke off from the maul to prevent Riccitelli from grounding the ball.
Carroll was subsequently sent to the sin-bin and Taranaki awarded a penalty try, gifting them a 24-19 lead at the half.
Playing the first 10 minutes of the second half with 14-men, the Steamers managed to keep the Bulls try-less.
Carroll's return to the pitch however, was quickly followed by Vaai's second try, with the towering lock running onto a flat ball, crashing through the Bay of Plenty defense.
With a steady influence throughout the match, Jordie Barrett crossed over the line himself, extending their lead further, although failing to convert his own try.
Bay of Plenty finally got a second-half breakthrough closing the gap to be within 7 points but it was too little too late with the score remaining at 36-29 at the final whistle.