Following his side’s 15-14 victory over the Junior Kangaroos at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night, Junior Kiwis coach Brent Gemmell said his side’s execution and poise was impressive beyond their years.
With the game tied at 14-all heading into the final minute of the match halfback Zach Dockar-Clay made a crucial line break to put New Zealand in field goal range, before Wests Tigers standoff Te Maire Martin calmly slotted a one-pointer from in front of the sticks.
The Kiwis still had to survive one final scare after Sam Lisone was ruled to have hit Ryan Matterson late on the last play of the game, but fullback Clinton Gutherson pushed the 40-metre penalty just to the left to ensure the home side’s first victory over Australia in three years.
"Ball control and execution was what this camp was all about. We strung those possession stats the right way and played in the right part of the field; we knew we would get there," Gemmell said.
"Coming out from half-time Australia turned over some ball which was great and we turned it into even more field position. I was very pleased with the execution."
The hosts’ start to the match was far from ideal, allowing winger Valentine Holmes – who only 12 months ago had been included in the Junior Kiwis train-on squad – to score out wide before Manly’s Gutherson added the extras.
The Kiwis eventually found their way back into the game, with Gemmell admitting his side had been distracted by a fiery exchange with the Australians during the pre-match haka.
"I thought the boys got a little bit excited to start the game and our tackle technique was out the window," he said.
"They were all trying to do too much damage in the tackle and were knocking each other off.
"We were losing that ruck quite badly, but the game settled down, we got our fair share of possession and we converted that into field position which eventually got us some points.
"That [Australia advancing on the haka] was interesting viewing for sure, when I saw them advance and cross half way and I knew our boys were still to walk forward I thought it could potentially turn quite sour.
"All it did was fire us up more. It probably put us off our game a little bit at the start to be fair, but it settled down and we got on with it."
Meanwhile interchange forward Branden Uele described the swarm of emotions he went through in the final two minutes, following Martin’s field goal and Gutherson’s chance to win the game after the siren.
"His field goal was a very clutch play, we had faith in him and he pulled through for us," Uele said. "We talked this week about turning up for each other and we didn't stop tonight.