New Zealand rugby league's new breed of talent produced a powerhouse second half performance to guide the Junior Kiwis to an emphatic 28-16 victory over the Junior Kangaroos at Ausgrid Stadium in Newcastle on Sunday.
Boasting 10 players from the NYC premiership-winning Junior Warriors, the David Kidwell-coached side ultimately had too much size and power for the home side to cope with.
The Junior Kangaroos were game in the first half, taking a 12-10 lead into the break after trailing 0-10 inside the opening 16 minutes.
But once the Junior Kiwis opened the second spell with two tries in the first four minutes to leap to a 22-12 lead there was a sense they'd prevail in this one-off contest, backing up last year's success in Rotorua in the second of a two-game series.
An illustration of the flow of the encounter came with 10 minutes to play when the Junior Kangaroos had already used all 12 of their interchanges while the Junior Kiwis still had four in hand despite having players out of commission with injuries. Fullback Omar Slaimankhel lasted only 28 minutes before succumbing to an ongoing hamstring problem and the impressive big man Jason Taumalolo had to leave the field after 52 minutes with a serious facial injury. By the final stages of the match, Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Sam Lousi were also out of action.
By then, though, the Junior Kiwis were in control on a hot afternoon, helped by the fact both sides had agreed they could use their 18th men if required. By the time Kidwell called on his - Junior Warriors prop Aganatius Paasi - in the 77th minute, the Junior Kangaroos had long since used theirs.
Earlier two almost identical passages of play exemplified the Junior Kiwis' real quality. In the 14thminute, hooker Siliva Havili went to the line before picking out his club-mate John Palavi with a flat ball for the opening try just after Palavi had come off the bench. From the restart, the Junior Kiwis went straight to their right edge, winger Wayne Ulugia making a long break before drawing the cover to put his club-mate and halfback Michael Parker-Walshe over in a raid that had covered the best part of 70 metres.
There was a repeat in the opening minutes of the second half. After the home side had turned the ball over from the kick-off, the Junior Kiwis came right at the Australians up the middle, Havili again the provider when he picked out loose forward Sebastine Ikahihifo for the go-ahead try. From the restart they again went wide, this time to their left edge where centre Sosaia Feki made a searing break deep into the Junior Kangaroos' territory before finding Ulugia in support for another fantastic try.
While the Australians threatened a comeback with their third try it was cancelled out almost immediately when, for the third time in the match, the Junior Kiwis broke the Junior Kangaroos' defence open near their posts, Ikahihifo timing his run to perfection once more to score his second try off a flat ball.
Second year Junior Kiwi Ikahihifo was possessed as he put together a relentless performance before being deservedly taken off in the 75th minute. He was rated by most as the side's best on the day - decisively so - but he wasn't on his own on a day when the Junior Kiwis again proved there is talent aplenty around.
Junior Kiwis 28 defeated the
Tries: Sebastine Ikahihifo 2, John Palavi, Michael Parker-Walshe, Wayne Ulugia
Goals: Siliva Havili 3; Sio Siua Taukeiaho 1
Junior Kangaroos 16
Tries: Dane Gagai, Stewart Mills, Kane Evans
Goals: Chad Townsend 2 from 3
Referee: Adam Gee (Australia).