Johnathan Thurston dedicates medal to a Kiwi

DAVID LONG IN MANCHESTER
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2013

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An emotional Johnathan Thurston dedicated his Rugby League World Cup man-of-the-match award to New Zealander Alex Elisala, who tragically took his own life last April.

The 20-year-old's death rocked the NRL and particularly those at his North Queensland Cowboys club, which Thurston plays for.

When Thurston gave an interview on TV straight after the 34-2 win to Australia for winning the man-of-the-match award he said it was for Elisala.

Later, Thurston explained that even when experiencing one of the greatest moments of his life, he was thinking about Elisala.

"One of our boys passed away during the year, he might be gone but he's certainly not forgotten," Thurston said.

"Personally, I know what it's like to lose a family member. It's tough and I've kept in touch with the Elisala family and they're a great family."

Thurston's uncle, Richard Saunders, was bashed to death in 2008 by a group of men, eight of whom were subsequently jailed.

Elisala and his family moved to Australia when he was young and he played for Tonga against Samoa in April, so it's possible he would have played at this World Cup had he not chosen to end his life.

Meanwhile, Thurston said winning the World Cup was one of the proudest moments of his career.

"No doubt when I hang the boots up it's something I'll be very proud of to look back at.

"It is an unbelievable feeling. Doing the lap of honour at the end of the game with your best mates is a memory that will last with us for a very long time."

The Kangaroos had played down talk that they were looking for revenge in the final from their shock loss to the Kiwis five years ago in Brisbane but after the game, Thurston admitted that it was a motivation for the team.

"Obviously, that still burns," he said. "They [New Zealand] will always be the 2008 world champions, just like we will alway be the 2013 world champs.

"To bring that trophy back to Australia for all of our fans ... that's what it's all about.

"Throughout this tournament we've been improving in each game that we played. We knew it was going to be tough coming up against the Kiwis, it always is.

"When we kicked off, that first set, I've never seen anything like it before in my life. There were big collisions in there, the adrenalin was pumping and I just knew that the boys were on and we kept working hard for each other."

Thurston said he hadn't before played in an Australian side that was as dominant and impressive as the one in yesterday's final.

"Obviously we've beaten teams by a lot of points, but to keep the Kiwis team that has strike power all over the park, to just two points, just typifies what this squad is all about," he said.

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"They work hard for each other, they train for each other and they leave nothing in the tank."

- Fairfax Media

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