Clare Wheeler remained confident it was a case of no pain, no gain after being part of a largely inexperienced Matildas side who were hammered 5-0 by Canada on Saturday.
The Adamstown Rosebud junior and Newcastle Jets product, who now plays for Everton in England's Women's Super League, was one of six players in Australia's line-up with less than 20 caps.
The 25-year-old midfielder debuted for the Matildas in 2021 and was part of Australia's World Cup squad but remained unused throughout the history-making tournament this year as Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson stuck closely to a limited number of experienced players.
But, with the Olympics looming next year, Gustavsson appears to be using every opportunity to give players such as Wheeler more time to test themselves against quality opposition.
She featured heavily during Olympic qualifiers in Perth in October and played 90 minutes against Canada on Saturday.
"It was definitely a tough game but it has provided us with a lot of opportunities to learn," Wheeler, who now has 18 caps for the Matildas, said post-match.
"We tried a new style of play against a top opposition with a lot of players who haven't had a lot of minutes, and it was a challenge but it's important for us to take these opportunities and push ourselves. We need to challenge ourselves before the Olympics.
"We need to test what we can do better and trial different types of play and trial different pairings."
No players who started the Matildas' 4-0 Women's World Cup win over Canada were named in the line-up at Langford on Saturday.
Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were out injured while Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Newcastle's long-serving Matildas midfielder Emily van Egmond were among those benched.
Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted in the experimental starting side.
Van Egmond, who is two games into a four-game guest stint with the Newcastle Jets in A-League Women, was deployed at half-time and Gustavsson turned to Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry and Alanna Kennedy for the final half hour.
"Emily has a wealth of experience and, with all of the subs coming on, they really helped calm the game down with their experience and it definitely helped see out the game," Wheeler said.
"But it's equally important that the debutantes, everyone gets some time and to see that level of international football."
The two-match series with Canada in Canada is the Matildas' final assignment for 2023. They face Uzbekistan for Olympic qualification in a home-and-away series in February.
AAP reports: Gustavsson defended fielding the largely inexperienced starting line-up as a necessary part of building depth.
But he will turn to his strongest possible line-up on Wednesday (AEDT) for the second game of the friendly series, after Australia suffered their heaviest defeat since the 7-0 humiliation to Spain in June 2022.
Nichelle Prince scored in the 10th and 43rd minutes, Cloe Lacasse netted in the 49th, Simi Awujo iced the game six minutes later and Adriana Leon completed the rout in the 62nd.
Gustavsson had promised an experimental line-up for the first friendly, determined to test young and fringe players ahead of February's final Olympic qualifiers, while looking after overloaded senior players.
When asked whether he could have had more of a blend of youth and senior players, Gustavsson noted Polkinghorne, Aivi Luik, Teagan Micah, Courtney Nevin and Wheeler weren't lacking in experience.
"We've had a lot of debate and discussion, I listened to my experts around me with my sports science and physios about load management on players," Gustavsson said.
"If you for example, have a player that only has one game, which game are we playing [with them]? If we mix, maybe we get more like two solid performances but also at the expense of maybe continuity in a potential starting line-up.
"Age-wise and number of caps maybe not so experienced, but there was still enough there to feel that we had a balance and a structure.
"Sometimes growth hurts. Growth and development hurts at times. As long as you know why you're doing it and what you're doing and it's up to me also to protect the players in this journey."
On a sodden artificial pitch at Starlight Stadium in Langford, Australia were overrun in midfield and had no first-half shots to Canada's 13, while three of the five goals came from being dispossessed in their own half.
Gustavsson was adamant his young players would be better off after a harsh lesson on the speed of international football.
"A couple of the players said it straight after the game: 'this is exactly what we needed'," he said.
"This is not about throwing the player under the bus because they got dispossessed in their own half in build-up against Canada away - that's on me, to ask them to do this and learn.
"We need to have a safe space in this environment where they can learn from mistakes. The biggest mistake we can do is stop trying and they really tried tonight and that's the best thing they can do."