The Junior Kiwis went close to stunning the highly-fancied Junior Kangaroos in Sundays one-off international at WIN Jubilee Oval in Kogarah, Sydney.
The Brent Gemmell-coached New Zealand side could count on just one player with NRL experience in Vodafone Warriors wing Ngani Laumape.
On top of that only two of the squad wing Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Penrith) and captain David Bhana (Vodafone Warriors) were included in the 2013 NYC Team of the Year.
In contrast the Junior Kangaroos boasted Dally M NYC Player of the Year Bryce Cartwright and a total of eight players from the 2013 NYC Team of the Year. More significantly, though, the Australians had eight players with NRL experience.
With the Australian and New Zealand Rugby League World Cup teams in attendance, the Junior Kiwis initially made light of the supposed edge their opponents may have had.
Indeed they opened with confidence to create a double for Wests Tigers fullback Kurtis Rowe inside the opening 11 minutes. Mason Lino couldnt convert either try but soon after a third Junior Kiwis try to Watene-Zelezniak together with Linos conversion made it 14-0.
The Junior Kangaroos came back at them with tries in the second quarter to close to 10-14 but a few minutes before halftime Watene-Zelezniak matched Rowes double, Lino converted and it was 20-10 to the Junior Kiwis at the break.
Soon after half time the margin grew to 16 points with a try to Vodafone Junior Warriors back rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner and another Lino conversion.
There it would stop for the Junior Kiwis, though. They werent able to add to their tally over the final half hour as the Junior Kangaroos turned the game upside down by scoring five unanswered tries, taking the lead 28-26 with 12 minutes to go and going on to win by 12.
At WIN Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
Junior Kangaroos 38 (Patrick Mago 2, Vai Toutau , Junior Paulo, David Nofoaluma, Charly Runciman, Mitch Cornish tries; Bryce Cartwright 5 conversions).
Junior Kiwis 26 (Kurtis Rowe 2, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2, Raymond Faitala-Mariner tries; Mason Lino 3 conversions).
Halftime: 20-10 Junior Kiwis.
Referee: Henry Perenara.
Junior Kiwis: Kurtis Rowe; Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jeremy Hawkins (vice captain), Ngani Laumape, David Fusitua; Tuimoala Lolohea, Mason Lino; Albert Vete, Manaia Cherrington, James Taylor; Raymond Faitala-Mariner, Joseph Tapine; David Bhana (captain). Interchange: Mitch Clark, David Minute, Zach Docker-Clay, Takai Moeakiola.