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Junior Roos go down to Papua New
Papua New Guinea was celebrating after the national side scored a stunning win over the cream of the NRL's emerging talent in Darwin.
The Junior Kangaroos' proud record was blotted at Richardson Park when PNG overcame the sin bin dismissal of fullback Richard Fletcher and being reduced to just two bench players to score a 24-16 win in the annual International Challenge.
The Junior Roos boasted experienced first graders Leon Bott, Yileen Gordon, Jarrod Mullen, Todd Carney, Mickey Paea, Steve Michaels and Beau Champion but they failed to snatch a late victory after Papua New Guinea led 18-6 with half an hour to go.
"I'm really proud of the boys, they're a young crew coming through," said veteran Kumuls lock Tom O'Reilly, who helped run down Brisbane star Michaels as he was about to score the winning try with three minutes left.
"They'll remember this forever. The natural talent is always there with PNG."
Coach Jason Carroll added: "I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the newspapers go on sale tomorrow - as you know their love for rugby league is amazing. I just think it's great for the country.
"The heart the guys showed - you can't bottle that or describe that.
"For the last 15 minutes we had two guys left on the bench and we had eight guys who were suffering cramp repeatedly."
In a thrilling finish before around 2000 Territorian league fans, Brisbane Norths' Fletcher seemed to put his countrymen on the road to an upset when he crossed after Australian winger Michael Lett spilt a bomb in the 46th minute.
Skipper John Wishere's conversion made the margin 12 points but PNG players were going down injured at regular intervals and it seemed only a matter of time before the Australians would inflict the sort of soul-destroying late defeat they regularly mete out at senior level.
Canberra halfback Carney provided a chip kick for centre Ryan Shortland to score in the 51st minute and then Newcastle five-eighth Mullen laid on a try for fullback Willy Zillman.
"Things were looking up," said Mullen. With 12 minutes left, it was only two the difference.
But the Junior Roos got the ball back from a line dropout and knocked on immediately, only for Papua New Guinea to fail to find touch from a penalty.
The key play came when Broncos flanker Michaels headed for the right corner but was somehow rounded up by former Gold Coast utility O'Reilly and his winger, Carney Stack.
"The old legs, I've still got a little bit left in them," O'Reilly joked afterwards.
Centre Wilshere missed a late penalty attempt but with just second left, Kumuls hooker Billy Segeyaro forced his way over and his team-mates embraced.
Australia coach Brian Johnson said the Junior Roos players were disappointed to have lost in the green and gold at such young ages.
"But it shows we have some good teams coming together for the World Cup," he said.