Australia named four pacemen and rotated them regularly throughout the first session of the third Test but were not able to take full advantage against Sri Lanka's fragile top order.
Although Jackson Bird claimed both openers, Sri Lanka provided a powerful contrast to their terrible display at the MCG last week.
Captain Mahela Jayawardena flourished like at no other time in the series by cruising to 30 in his team's 2-80 while Lahiru Thirimanne (four) required a review to survive after being given out lbw first ball.
Jayawardene stroked several sweet cover drives to the fence to finally display his considerable powers but needed the good fortune of Mike Hussey grassing a chance at second slip off Peter Siddle early.
Opener Dimath Karunaratne perished playing a limp hook shot to give Bird a wicket in his fourth over.
Bird was soon taken out of the attack but had another success immediately by ending Tillekeratne Dilshan's assured 34 by forcing a feather edge to the wicket-keeper.
Bird thought he was on a hat-trick when umpire Aleem Dar gave Thirimanne out first ball but the batsman was saved by the review which showed that part of the ball may have pitched outside leg stump and only part of it may have struck the stumps.
It was no howler but a victory for Sri Lanka's tactical use of the review system.
Australia's decision to pick four quicks was quickly brought into question by Sri Lanka's success in the middle.
Curator Tom Parker warned Australia that the pitch was dry and would provide an excellent batting surface but Michael Clarke opted to focus on a new-ball onslaught.
Jayawardena predicted that Sri Lanka's best chance of an upset victory in their maiden appearance at the SCG would require a big first innings total and then spinner Rangana Herath leading the charge in the fourth innings.