Leading by just six as the closing minutes approached, it was only a Tyrell Sloan try just before full-time that secured victory for the visitors, who made 17 errors across the match and struggled to shake off PNG as a result.
Despite fielding only a handful of players with NRL experience – in comparison to Australia who had eight World Cup winners and 12 players who appeared at Origin level this year in their squad – PNG were right in the contest for the first hour and had Australia sweating before their late flurry of points.
In the end tries to Titans flyer Alofiana Khan-Pereira, Sharks workaholic Cameron McInnes and Sloan got Mal Meninga's side home, with hooker Ben Hunt among their most impressive players as he pushed his claims for the Kangaroos' No.9 jersey in next month's Pacific Championships.
In what was one of their best showings in the end-of-year clash, the hosts got off to a dream start when Kyle Laybutt's cross-field kick was fumbled by the Australians and Nene Macdonald touched down, sending the packed crowd in Port Moresby into a frenzy of celebration.
While the 6-0 lead would last only 10 minutes before Murray Taulagi hit back, it was clear from the arm wrestle that was taking place that PNG were well and truly up for it.
On the back of Laybutt's long kicking game – aided by a strong wind at the back of the hosts in the first half – the PNG side were able to keep forcing Australia to bring the ball back off their own line, but ended up going to the sheds down 12-6 after Hudson Young scored just before the break.
When Cruise Ten battled his way over to tie scores six minutes into the second period, coach Justin Holbrook looked on track to make a historic start to his coaching tenure in PNG, but eventually, the class of Australia shone through.
Khan-Pereira continued his remarkable rookie season with a try, to go with the 20 he scored for the Gold Coast this year, before McInnes got over on 62 minutes to create some breathing room.
After Epel Kapinias had hit back to make it a one-score game with 10 to play, Australia survived some nervous moments to hold on, with Sloan's try just before the final siren and Zac Lomax's fifth conversion of the day sealed the win.
- Coached by Kangaroos mentor Mal Meninga, the Australian team featured several players with Test and Origin experience.
- Last year's corresponding game was won 64-14 by the Australia PM's XIII.
- No Australian forward ran for over 100 metres in the face of a spirited PNG defence.
- Australia made five line breaks to PNG's one.
- Captain Cameron Murray led the way with 44 tackles, while Judah Rimbu had a team-high 30 for PNG.
- Cruise Ten registered nine tackle breaks in the loss and ran for 98 metres.
Play of the Game
A try that summed up the effort and passion shown by the PNG PM's XIII. Cruise Ten had no right to score at first as he took the ball into multiple green and gold jerseys, but kept fighting to emerge over the line and bring almost everyone at Santos National Football Stadium to their feet once again.
Story first published on NRL.com