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Meninga backs beaten Australian stars for Kangaroo tour

Australian coach Mal Meninga has backed the players involved in Saturday night's historic Test loss to Tonga to make up the nucleus of the squad for next year's Kangaroo tour and the 2021 World Cup.

The 16-12 loss at Eden Park was the first time Australia has been beaten by a tier two nation and Tonga joined England, Great Britain, New Zealand and France as the only teams to have won at Test level against the Kangaroos.

While disappointed with the result, Meninga said Tonga were now a genuine rival for Australia and he pointed out the Kangaroos were undergoing a rebuilding phase following the retirement of Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Greg Inglis in the past two years.

"We are hurting, we wanted to win that game but they deserve to be where they are," Meninga said of Tonga.

"From our point of view, we're going through a bit of a transition ourselves with a lot of younger players coming into the team. Our expectations are that we want to win every game we play in the green and gold jersey but it will be a really good learning curve for the debutants.

Match Highlights: Tonga Invitational v Australia

"We have had six debutants this year and we had three last year, so there is a bit of a changing of the guard. I am not using that as an excuse but it is a great learning curve for us moving forward.

"We have got a Kangaroo tour next year and we have got the World Cup the year after so there is no doubt the bulk of these players will be playing next year and will be playing at the World Cup."

Australia's schedule means that the Kangaroos will not play Tonga again before the 2021 World Cup and they may not meet then either.

However, Meninga said he did not plan to seek a re-match against the new international powerhouse, who have now beaten New Zealand at the 2017 World Cup and Great Britain and Australia in successive weeks.

"I think we are pretty well full," Meninga said. "We play New Zealand again next year and we go on the Kangaroo tour, we have got three Test matches against England and hopefully some mid-week games against the clubs over there or maybe France.

"Obviously the World Cup is what we are focusing on so who knows when we will play Tonga next but I can assure you we will be well prepared.

"They have added to the list of good international footy teams. I saw Fiji today, they had an excellent game [against Samoa] and the New Zealand-Great Britain game was a great Test.

"The international game is starting to expand and the Pacific Islands are starting to find their feet so it all adds to a very competitive world at international level."

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