As seen on Stuff.co.nz
World Cup winner Thomas Leuluai will represent the Kiwis one more time before ending a glittering 20-year first grade rugby league career.
The 37-year-old Wigan Warriors captain confirmed on Wednesday (Thursday NZ time) that he will retire at the end of the year to join the Super League club’s coaching staff.
But Leuluai – New Zealand’s starting hooker in their one and only Rugby League World Cup grand final win in 2008 – will lead the Kiwis out one final time in a World Cup warmup game against the Leeds Rhinos on October 8.
The son of 1980s Kiwis star James Leuluai believes it is time to end a career that began in 2003 with the New Zealand Warriors.
“When players and teammates around me retired, I often wondered how they knew it was the right time to do so, but I can honestly say I feel so content with my own decision and it’s true what they say, you know when it’s time,’’ Leuluai wrote in a letter to fans on Wigan’s website.
“It’s been an incredible journey, back in 2003 when I made my debut for the New Zealand Warriors, I never thought I’d be writing this 20 years later.
Leuluai has chalked up 448 first grade games in the NRL and Super League and also played 40 tests for the Kiwis between the 2003 and 2017.
He was the youngest player to represent the New Zealand Warriors when he made his debut at 18 in 2003, and became the Kiwis’ second youngest test player that same year.
Leuluai became the last of the World Cup winning Kiwis to play for a top-tier club after Benji Marshall retired at the end of 2001.
Noted for his silky skills, strategic brain and tough tackling, Leuluai had 85 games during two stints in Auckland with the Warriors, from 2003 to 2004 and again from 2013 to 2016 and represented the Kiwis at three World Cups.
As well as his World Cup winner’s medal, Leuluai won two Super League titles with Wigan, two Challenge Cup crowns and three League Leaders Shields as minor premiers.
He first played in Super League in 2005 with the London Broncos and, after a short stint with Harlequins moved to Wigan, his wife Natalie’s hometown.
Leuluai became a crowd favourite at the famous English club from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2017 after returning from New Zealand.
He won the Harry Sunderland Medal as player of the match when Wigan won the 2010 Super League grand final.
Long regarded as a potential coach, Leuluai will become an assistant-coach to Wigan head coach Matt Peet in 2023, working alongside his former teammate Sean O’Loughlin.
The Kiwi has been dogged by injury this season, but came back to play a telling role in Wigan’s Challenge Cup victory in May.
He said he felt “incredibly grateful for everything that Rugby League has given me’’.
“There have been wonderful times on the field, and amazing times off it. I’ve loved them all but without a doubt the best thing Rugby League has given me is the friendships I have made. “
He thanked “all the coaches, trainers, physios, doctors and office staff that have helped me along my journey’’, and also his family, including dad James and mum Lenore, his siblings, wife Natalie and their three daughters Wynter-Rose, Storm and Romi, plus his agent, former Kiwis prop Peter Brown.
“I have to give special mention to the Wigan fans that have taken me in like one of their own, you are what make this Club such a special team to play for, it has been a privilege to represent your team and your town,’’ Leuluai wrote.
“To all my teammates I can’t thank you enough – I’ve loved going to battle alongside you all. I’ve also loved all the great times we have had off the field, there are so many great memories that I will forever cherish.”