The NRL stars of the future put on a cracking contest as the Junior Kangaroos proved too strong for their Trans-Tasman rivals, running out 34-20 victors at Pirtek Stadium.
NRL experience proves telling
Four of Australia's tries were scored by players who had had a taste of NRL football. The game's first try scorer JJ Felise debuted in the Wests Tigers' Round 7 loss to the Storm and has played every game since. Curtis Scott was the next to score and he has played two matches for the Melbourne Storm. Connor Watson – who has played twice for the Roosters – grabbed a try in the 52nd minute while Robert Jennings –who finished off the home side's scoring – played five games for Penrith in 2015. Halfback Lachlan Croker and No.9 Jayden Nikorima have also featured in first grade this year and you could tell through their classy touches at crucial stages of the game that their time in the NRL had made them even better.
Future looks bright for Hingano
Ata Hingano was just about the best player in a losing side, with the Kiwis halfback scoring a double and setting up another on Saturday afternoon. The Junior Warriors' Rookie of the Year in 2015 scored an important try on the stroke of half-time to get his team back in the contest and grabbed a second midway through the second stanza as he chased his own kick to force an error from Kangaroos fullback Dylan Edwards. The 19-year-old scored a whopping 73 NRL Fantasy points in the Test match so keep an eye out for him if the first grade squad suffers any more injuries.
Nathan Cleary would not look out of place in the NRL
The Kangaroos maestro played with the unfamiliar No.6 on his back but it mattered little as he helped orchestrate what turned out to be a convincing 14-point win. Cleary scored a try with a customary show-and-go and played a part in two other scoring plays. The strength of his goal kicking was again on show, with the Panthers halfback nailing five goals from six attempts compared to the Kiwis who missed two of their four shots. Cleary has won 16 of his 19 NYC games for the Panthers and has developed into one of the best in the business with 12 try assists and six tries in 2016. Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward have job security for now, but following the injury to Te Maire Martin, Cleary is most likely the next in line to play in the halves.
Brandon Smith brings his club form to the big stage
The New Zealand No.9 was always going to be one of the danger men on Saturday, and the Cowboys hooker lived up to the hype. Smith ran for 128 metres and made three line breaks in just 48 minutes of action to confirm his status as one of the best youngsters coming through the grades. His performance came as no surprise given his last outing at club level where he scored a hat-trick and made four line breaks against the Sea Eagles. He's not the biggest guy running around, but he's not afraid to throw his weight around.
Kelly's titanic effort changes the momentum of the game
Kangaroos winger Brian Kelly made the most of his late call-up to change the complexion of the game midway through the first half. The Titans speedster was originally named 18th man but came into the side after teammate John Olive withdrew from the Test with a collarbone injury. The Kiwis looked set to mount an attacking raid with the game in the balance after 20 minutes via their first penalty, but thanks to Kelly they never had a chance. The Australian winger showed good game-smarts to position himself near the sideline as the Kiwis kicked for touch before balancing like an Olympic gymnast to stay in the field of play and bat the ball back all in one motion. Australia earned a penalty one play later, marched downfield and scored through Curtis Scott to open up a 10-point lead. His efforts were rewarded with a try in the 47th minute with a spin-move any figure skater would have been proud of.