Mal Meninga calls on referees to better protect Johnathan Thurston

Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga has renewed calls for superstar playmaker Johnathan Thurston to be offered better protection by referees.

Thurston was collared early in a high tackle by Kiwis enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves in Australia's 26-6 win in Perth on Saturday night. The Australian five-eighth was smashed soon after in a borderline tackle by Martin Taupau.

RESILIENT: Australian playmaker Johnathan Thurston cops a high shot from New Zealand hooker Issac Luke on Saturday night in Perth against New Zealand. Picture: Getty Images

RESILIENT: Australian playmaker Johnathan Thurston cops a high shot from New Zealand hooker Issac Luke on Saturday night in Perth against New Zealand. Picture: Getty Images

North Queensland coach Paul Green has been at pains to point out questionable tactics used in targeting his premiership-winning pivot.

And Meninga has brought the issue to a head again ahead of the Four Nations starting this month.

"He is the best player in the game and he is always going to have a target on him," Meninga said. "Every game he plays he knows he is going to cop it left, right and centre in club footy, Origin or Test footy, but he just gets up.

"That's why he is such a champion player. More than anything else he is such a tough player."

Former Queensland coach Meninga did question the legality, or otherwise, of tactics opposition sides employed to shut down Thurston.

"As long as it is within the legitimate rules of the game," he said. "I think Jared's tackle should have been put on report. He is OK, JT, but it has to be within the rules. He is as tough and resilient as they come."

Skipper Cameron Smith said the Kangaroos were moving in the right direction under Meninga. Their victory in Perth followed a 16-0 defeat of the Kiwis in Newcastle in March in Meninga's first match in charge.

"We have set a standard now we don't want to go back on," Smith said. "We have made two good steps forward. We were better than we were in Newcastle and now we have to continue to build on that."

Greg Inglis scored two tries and was man of the match. Valentine Holmes wasn't far behind on his Test debut, scoring one try and setting up another.

The five-tries-to-one win before a ground-record crowd of 20,283 in Perth was the first rugby league international to be played in the western capital.

Meninga said the victory would give Australia valuable momentum into the Four Nations in Britain.

"I am very happy with the performance," Meninga said.

"Our start was excellent and we really dominated field position. They wrestled that back and started to control the ruck better. We responded and I was really happy with that.

"Our defence was really good, but we can play better with the footy."

Inglis, who celebrated the birth of his daughter, Quinn Sybella, on Monday, scored a try in each half and ran 164 metres. He trained with the team for the first time at Friday's captain's run after arriving in Perth on Thursday.

"Greg says he doesn't need to train now," Meninga joked. "He said he will just do the captain's runs before each game. 

“It just goes to show what a professional he is."

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