Australian captain Boyd Cordner says the dramatic loss of experience in the new-look Kangaroos team contributed to their 26-24 defeat by New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday night.
The Kangaroos camp blamed a 68 per cent completion rate for their loss but Cordner admitted it was impossible to replace Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston at one time.
Fullback James Tedesco, halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and hooker Damien Cook all performed well in their first Test together, while the other member of the all new Australian spine, Luke Keary, lasted just 17 minutes before being ruled out of the game with a concussion.
Cook, who usually plays 80 minutes for South Sydney and at State of Origin level for NSW, needed a break midway through the second half due to the amount of tackling he was forced to do.
However, Cordner also pointed out that it was unfair to expect the Test rookie to provide the same direction late in the game as Smith.
"You can't replace a bloke like Cam Smith, just his experience and the player he is,'' Cordner said. "He's one of the best in the game. But we've picked a side who are in really good form, and Damien Cook has been one of the best players in the NRL this year.
"I thought he played really well, he made a lot of tackles, and there was just his work cleaning up for us. At the same time he doesn't have the experience of Cameron Smith, but he still turned up and did a really good job for the Kangaroos.''
Match Highlights: Kiwis v Kangaroos; 2018
Keary, Cordner, centre Latrell Mitchell were on Australia's left edge, along with the game's opening try scorer Valentine Homes.
Meninga said he had been "worried" after Holmes scored in just the third minute and New Zealand dominated possession and field position for most of the match.
"Experience tells me you've got to keep on sticking to the plan," Meninga said. "When that [first] error came around that 12-minute mark we didn't touch the ball for another 10-to-12 minutes. They had all the momentum. It was a miracle we were in front at half-time."
The Kangaroos led 12-8 at the interval after a long range Dane Gagai try on half-time but the defensive toll proved too much in the second half as the Kiwis piled on three unanswered tries before Felise Kaufusi and Tedesco scored in the final minutes.
"I hate losing, we all do," Meninga said after the world champion's first defeat since mid-2015. "The papers and media will be talking about the Kangaroos are vulnerable at this stage in our transition.
"I can't fault the effort and attitude and desire to play. We just need to execute better."