Australia edged to a 16th straight victory after running down a gallant New Zealand side to secure an 30-18 win at Allianz Stadium on Friday.
Rated as no-hopers before the game, the Kiwis more than held their own and led 18-12 at halftime before being overhauled in the second half by a ruthless Kangaroos side who only iced the victory with a Cooper Cronk try seven minutes from time.
The win extended the hosts’ unbeaten record in this fixture to 16 years in front of a respectable crowd of 25,429 – and equalled the run of successive victories set by the 1979-83 Invincibles side.
However, the Kiwis can take great credit from a display that was full of character and commitment from a side containing five debutants and bereft of so many star players due to injury.
Only five who played in the humiliating 34-2 World Cup final defeat last November were included by Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney.
Despite their relative inexperience, it didn’t take long for the tourists to take the lead when Jesse Bromwich crashed over from close range following a smart play from the excellent Shaun Johnson to keep the ball alive and earn six more tackles.
But the signs looked ominous when Greg Bird hit back almost immediately as the Kangaroos took advantage of an injury to Sam Moa to scythe through a depleted Kiwi defence.
St George Illawarra winger Brett Morris then scored in the right corner to finish off a sweeping move after debutant fullback Peter Hiku had knocked on.
However, the young Kiwi side refused to collapse with Dean Whare hauling Greg Inglis over the sideline with a brilliant tackle when he looked to score, before Tohu Harris and the impressive Moa darted over before the interval.
The expected barrage of pressure from the Kangaroos didn’t reap instant rewards but Morris crossed for his second try 12 minutes after the restart with Johnathan Thurston adding the extras to level the scores.
But the Kiwis wouldn’t go away and the Kangaroos were forced back in their own half for a sustained period before Johnson botched an opportunity to give his side great field position when he failed to find touch from a penalty.
That let-off re-awoke Sheens’s side with Inglis crossing on the hour mark following a third successive set of six and Cronk added some gloss to the result late with Thurston completing a flawless night with the boot with the two-pointer.