SYDNEY - Kiwis rugby league coach Stephen Kearney hopes his assistant Wayne Bennett saw enough from last night's 12-28 centenary test defeat to sign up for the World Cup campaign.
The Kiwis were sunk by an ordinary opening quarter, trailing 0-22 in as many minutes, before finishing strongly in a five-tries-to-two loss to the powerhouse Kangaroos at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It rid the memory of last October's 0-58 loss in Wellington and offered some hope for World Cup promoters that the Kiwis can frighten the hosts in October-November with more time together.
Kearney said the media-shy coaching guru Bennett's influence was invaluable and he wanted him to remain in the black tracksuit.
"I'm hoping so. He's been wonderful not only for myself but for all the lads. I'm sure you would have seen the impact he's had on the group tonight," said Kearney, whose side claimed second half honours 12-6.
"That's his decision but I'm sure we've done enough this week to give some encouraging signs for him. I know he's very passionate about international footy and he'd like to see us do well."
The Kiwis struggled to compete in the previous two early season tests, losing to Australia by 12-50 (2006) and 6-30 (2007), both in Brisbane.
A similar margin looked likely before a 34,571-strong SCG crowd, which hushed for a pre-match moment of silence for late supercoach Jack Gibson.
The Kiwis conceded four tries in the opening quarter, highlighted by a miraculous set up from a flying Greg Inglis for Mark Gasnier, and three others from poor dummy half defence.
"The other tries were ordinary from our perspective and it was something I was very disappointed in," Kearney said.
"That 20 minutes wasn't good enough. For 60 minutes I was very happy with the way the guys committed to what we wanted to do, but for 20 it didn't work."
The Kiwis were dealt two injury blows, with five-eighth Ben Roberts ruled out on match day with a strained hamstring and Lance Hohaia getting a late callup with mixed results.
Inspirational captain Roy Asotasi only played the first 15 minutes before suffering concussion which left him dry retching on the sidelines. He was too ill to attend the press conference.
Kearney named back-rowers Sonny Bill Williams and Simon Mannering as his two stars as the Kiwis forced the hosts into plenty of defending.
"I thought Sonny really put a mark on international footy tonight and Simon Mannering was tremendous.
"They were two guys of the 16 that really did us proud."
Debut hooker Issac Luke also offered the spark the Kiwis needed from dummy half.
While the Kiwis cost themselves with attacking errors with plenty of possession, they rued two marginal try decisions by referee Ashley Klein.
He ruled impressive debut centre Setaimata Sa offside as he regathered a bouncing ball and raced clear in the 57th minute, while prop Nathan Cayless was adamant about Kangaroos skipper Cameron Smith's 22nd minute effort.
"I thought it was a double movement but it's a try, you can't take it back," Cayless said.
Centre Iosia Soliola was a second half powerhouse, scoring the Kiwis' opening try three minutes after the break then setting up the consolation try for winger Sam Perrett in the dying seconds.
The Kangaroos sealed the match with an Israel Folau try from another pinpoint Johnathan Thurston kick with 15 minutes left.
Thurston was confirmed in the side yesterday after recovering from ankle ligament damage.