A replay to last season’s Fox Memorial final kicked off the new truncated Auckland Rugby League season on Saturday at Paparoa Park.

Locals Howick Hornets hosted perennial rivals Mt Albert Lions in a duel for the Stormont Shield.

A vocal crowd made up of enthusiastic locals and a large contingent of travelling supporters provided plenty of atmosphere in the amphitheatre affectionately known as ‘The Nest.’

Mt Albert forward Preston Riki was a two-try hero in a brutal physical contest, Mt Albert was down a man early with a sin-binning and the Hornet’s took the front. The Lion’s then re-took the lead after being restored to a baker’s dozen.

An enthusiastic crowd watched on Howick Hornets v Mt Albert Lions on Saturday. Photo Jim Birchall

Both sides put plenty into defence in a ding-dong battle that briefly threatened to end in a draw, before Mt Albert pulled away late in the contest to emerge deservedly victorious 28-18.

Despite receiving plenty of encouragement and advice from the sideline, the referee and his assistants did an excellent job and allowed the game to flow.

In the wash-up, Mt Albert claimed victory by keeping the lion’s share of possession through a clever up-and -under game, quick play of the balls which tested the fitness of tiring forwards and granite-like goal-line defence.

For the Hornets’ it was a solid, but ultimately disappointing hit out to kick-start the new (normal) season. They did, however, show plenty of ability to breach defensive lines suggesting they will once again be a force to deal with in 2020.