Sydney Roosters-bound Australian Schoolboys half Sam Walker had a blinder to inspire his side to a 36-20 win over the Junior Kiwis in an often brutal encounter at Dolphin Oval on Sunday.
Walker, who scored late to cap a brilliant game, had plenty of mates as the Australians exploited the Kiwis on the edges with Melbourne Storm-contracted back-rower Jack Howarth, the official man of the match, a constant menace.
Walker's three try assists and constant threat with the ball while running, passing and kicking capped a brave display by the Ipswich Grammar School student who was playing with an injured shoulder. Walker will have reconstructive surgery in Sydney on Monday and will be in rehab at the Roosters in the off-season in what is expected to be a five-month recovery.
"I get surgery tomorrow so it is awesome to get the win here," Walker said after the win.
"It was an awesome experience to play with the best players in Australia against the best from New Zealand.
"Jack Howarth is a freak and he is only 16 still. He has a massive future ahead of him so it was awesome to play with him.
"He is a special player and it has been an awesome experience to play with him. He has a massive future ahead of him."
Walker directs play down the blindside for Tabuai
A face ball from Walker to a flying centre Habiso Tabuai-Fidow, the joint Mal Meninga Cup player of the year in 2019 while playing with the Townsville Blackhawks, opened the scoring for the Australian Schoolboys.
It was rugged early with Howarth put on report for a dangerous throw and the defence of fellow back-rower Brendan Piakura rattling cages. Kiwi prop Etuale Junior Lui Toeava hard to handle early with the Kiwis side well led by Broncos-contracted lock Jordan Riki.
An error by Australian fullback Reece Walsh gave the Kiwis possession and it was all too easy for fullback Starford Toa from the ensuing scrum to score untouched.
A brilliant short kick in behind the line by Walker found his fellow Queensland under 18s teammate Walsh racing through to score in the 29th minute to break the deadlock.
Walker then schemed down the left to almost put Mathew Feagai away to score. Minutes later Walsh injected himself and put the after burners on to find skipper Jackson Topine in support. Australia took an 18-6 lead into the break with Walsh converting from wide out.
The Australian Schoolboys received plenty of clout from their bench at the back end of the first half with Tyler Field and Trey Mooney both involved in getting their side on the front foot.
The Kiwis started the second half full of running and centre Kayal Iro, son of former Kiwi international Kevin Iro, soon crashed over to reduce the margin to eight.
Junior Kiwis deliver stirring Haka
The Australian Schoolboys hit back in brilliant fashion. After a burst by Tabuai-Fidow the ball went through the hands to wide-running Howarth whose brilliant one-handed overhead offload sent Feagai over.
Howarth then showed great presence of mind to follow a slick Walker grubber to reach out and give the Australian Schoolboys a 30-10 lead in the 53rd minute.
Kiwi winger Selestino Ravutaumada scored wide out to cut the hosts lead to 30-14. Then a length of the field try by Kiwi fullback Toa cut the margin to 10 points with 14 minutes to go.
It was then Walker who stood up at the death to put the result beyond doubt with a try from close range.
Howarth, just 16 and still in Year 11 at Brisbane Boys College, had plenty of motivation to fire.
"I am just over the moon. It was an awesome way to finish the year. It was intense. I felt like I was dying out there," Howarth said.
"We held them out on our tryline for set after set. It is so important to me to win this. I have family who flew across from New Zealand and family who came down from up north in Queensland. So to play in front of them and get the win means everything to me."
Howarth rewarded for chase