Wigan Warriors announce that Club Captain Thomas Leuluai will retire at the end of the 2022 season and become Assistant Coach for 2023 and beyond.
After 20 years seasons as a Rugby League professional, Leuluai, 37, will hang up his boots following the conclusion of this campaign.
Leuluai is due to return from injury and is set to feature for Wigan before the end of the season, as he looks to end his career in pursuit of a third Betfred Super League Grand Final trophy.
He will become Assistant Coach and join Head Coach Matt Peet and former teammate and also Assistant Coach Sean O’Loughlin on the Coaching Team.
Leuluai will lead out New Zealand in their World Cup warm-up match against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley Stadium on Saturday 8th October. He will represent his country for one final time, before joining the Coaching Team for the tournament.
Leuluai started his professional Rugby League career in May 2003, making his NRL debut for New Zealand Warriors and becoming the youngest player to ever play for the Club. He made his international debut for the Kiwis aged just 18 – becoming the second youngest player to represent his country.
A versatile player throughout his career – playing in the halves or at hooker – Leuluai joined London Broncos in 2005 and made 40 appearances for the Club before signing for Wigan and making his debut in February 2007 against Warrington Wolves, earning the Heritage Number 997.
After becoming a World Cup winner with the Kiwis in 2008, Leuluai went on to win his first trophies at Club level – winning the 2010 League Leaders’ Shield and Super League Grand Final, as well as the Harry Sunderland Trophy following his Man of the Match display against St Helens.
Leuluai won two more trophies with Wigan – scoring a crucial try in the 2011 Challenge Cup Final victory over Leeds Rhinos, before helping the Warriors to another League Leaders’ Shield in 2012 – the final year of his first stint at the Club.
He re-joined New Zealand Warriors in 2013 and stayed there for four years, playing 64 games. Leuluai then returned to Wigan in 2017 and played a key role in guiding the Club to win the World Club Challenge for a record fourth time against Cronulla Sharks.
A year later, he claimed his second Grand Final winners ring after victory against Warrington at Old Trafford.
In 2020 and in the absence of then Club skipper Sean O’Loughlin, Leuluai Captained the team to win the League Leaders’ Shield for his and Wigan’s third time.
Leuluai deservedly took over the Wigan Captaincy following O’Loughlin’s retirement but was limited to just 13 games in 2021 due to a hamstring injury. He entered his 12th season with the Cherry and Whites in 2022 as Captain and in May led Wigan to win the Challenge Cup for a record-breaking 20th time.
In his 12 seasons with Wigan, Leuluai has earned himself a place in Warriors folklore having played 325 games, scoring 74 tries and winning eight major honours.
On the announcement, Leuluai said:
“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.
“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.
“I look back throughout the years and I just feel 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.
“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.
“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.”
Wigan Chairman, Ian Lenagan, said:
“I am delighted to have been associated with Tommy throughout his career at London Broncos/Harlequins and at Wigan and to have watched him develop from being a talented young player to a seasoned New Zealand International and then on to being to a mature leader and Captain in his last few years at Wigan.
“I’m not sure whether he’ll be better remembered for his bone-crushing hits on big forwards or for his exquisite long pass in the 2022 Challenge Cup Final which led on directly to Wigan’s match-winning try.
“Either way, Tommy Leuluai will be long-remembered and feted by Wigan fans as a player before he even begins what I feel sure will be a highly-successful career in coaching.”
Executive Director, Kris Radlinski, said:
“Thomas Leuluai will go down as one of Super League’s greatest players. He is a fearless competitor who leaves everything on the Rugby League field. We are all aware of his defensive and passing skills but his presence on the field and in the training environment is what we will miss the most.
“He is also a great thinker of the sport. During his most recent injury, I took him away for the afternoon with Matt Peet where we just talked about the game, the training and the physical and psychological challenges that the sport presents. It was incredibly rewarding to get such an insight from one of the most decorated players in the game.
“I have been speaking to Michael Maguire about ways in which we can pay tribute to him. The idea of Tommy leading his beloved Kiwis out one final time made the hairs on my arms stand up. I will be there with my colleagues from Wigan supporting the Kiwis for one night and I urge as many Rugby League fans as possible to join us.”
Head Coach, Matt Peet, added:
“An incredible playing career of which he and his family should be so proud. Thomas is an example to any young rugby player on how to play the game with the balance of skill, physicality and respect. Personally, I owe so much to him for the support and guidance he has given me as a player, Captain and friend and, for that, I say a massive thank you.
“Thomas has all the attributes to make an outstanding coach. He will bring so much to our coaching team and I am excited to work with him during the next stage of his career.”
Assistant Coach, Sean O’Loughlin, said:
“Tommy is a Rugby League great. I absolutely loved playing alongside him. To have a player with the skillset to open up the best defences and then back it up with hits that a front row would be proud of, is unprecedented. I feel honoured to have stepped foot on the field with him and in his final seasons the opportunity to coach him.
“Wigan fans should feel privileged to have had the opportunity to watch him go to work in a Cherry and White jersey. He is in my eyes the best overseas signing the Club has ever made. All the best to you and the family, Tommy.”
Former Wigan Head Coach and current England Head Coach, Shaun Wane, said:
“I’ve loved working with him. He is one of the toughest and fiercest competitors of the modern era in Rugby League. He is a legendary bloke off the field too. He has been a terrific servant for the Warriors on both sides of the world and will be a great coach. I wish him all the best in what is next.”
Former Wigan Head Coach and current New Zealand Head Coach, Michael Maguire, said:
“I was fortunate to coach Tommy in 2010 and 2011, he along with a great group of men transformed the Wigan team into a force over the last 10 years. Tommy has been one of the main stayers – winning Super League and Challenge Cup trophies. Tommy has been a great Kiwi player who all players loved playing with. I look forward to reuniting with Tommy at the end of the season being a part of the Kiwi World Cup campaign.”