The result capped a triple-header of New Zealand v Australia contests at Mt Smart Stadium, with Australia winning the earlier under 20s and women's contests.
At a time when New Zealand were being pegged as vulnerable and in danger of being usurped by Tonga, they produced a rousing 26-24 rugby league test victory over Australia on Saturday.
Despite the visitors scoring with minutes to go in the match, it wasn't enough, the Kiwis winning overall by two points, much to the joy of newly appointed captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak who received a haka tautoko from his family in the crowd. Their completion by the end of the night was a remarkable 89 per cent. And exactly what was needed to put the debacle of a year ago to bed.
Importantly for the Kiwis, new coach Michael Maguire gave their fans something to cheer about after a disastrous World Cup, an exodus of players to Tonga and the Jesse Bromwich and Kevin Proctor illicit substance incident.
"Honestly, I didn't know how deadly he was", Johnson said.
"The work had started before we actually assembled".
"But we still played some good footy at times, showed some good character".
However, Australia hit back with back-to-back tries by second-rower Felise Kaufusi and fullback James Tedesco to set up a grandstand finish as the Kiwis tried to hold on for the last four minutes to record their first win since 2015.
Joseph Manu and Brandon Smith scored tries on debut, and Esan Masters, who scored on debut in New Zealand's previous test against England, also touched down during a second half in which the Kiwis outscored the Kangaroos 18-12 after trailing 12-8 at halftime. "We just need to be disciplined and give ourselves the best chance". "We've got to continually back up these type of performances and that's when you can start talking about the team and where we're going", Maguire said.
"It was definitely something I'll remember for the rest of my life and be able to tell my kids, and maybe my grandkids one day".
It was just the Kangaroos' second Test without Cameron Smith since 2006 - and the first since their 2009 Four Nations clash with France.
In an influential period of play just before halftime, New Zealand had a try disallowed to Watene-Zelezniak and Australia immediately scored through Dane Gagai to lead at the break.
"Joey came up with some special moments".
"I'm looking forward to it".