5 Jul 2016

Leuluai leaving Warriors to return to Wigan

7:29 am on 5 July 2016

The New Zealand Warriors utility Thomas Leuluai has been granted a release from the last year of his contract to return to England at the end of the National Rugby League season.

The Warriors hooker Thomas Leuluai in action.

The Warriors hooker Thomas Leuluai in action. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 31-year-old began his second stint with the Warriors in 2013 after returning from eight seasons in the English Super League.

Leuluai, a halfback or hooker, has re-signed with the Wigan Warriors.

The Kiwis international, who left Wigan at the end of the 2012 season, will rejoin the club for 2017 and, although they have not specified the length of his contract, he has been promised a place on the club's coaching staff when he eventually retires.

Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan said: "It was always part of our long-term plans for Tommy to return to Wigan."

"We have remained in contact over the last few years and it is clear that he still has a great affinity for the Wigan club."

Leuluai, whose wife Natalie is the sister of former Wigan centre Darrell Goulding, had also been linked with St Helens but said a return to Wigan was always his preference.

Leuluai said he was grateful to the Warriors for clearing the way for him to take his English-born wife and their baby daughter back to the United Kingdom.

"My intention was to see out my time here," he said.

"I've loved being in familiar surroundings even though we've had our share of challenges but we've reached a point where we would like to go back.

"I can't thank the Warriors enough for their understanding with this. Jim (Doyle) and Cappy (Andrew McFadden) have been fantastic about it."

"With my wife being from Wigan and us having a newborn baby, I thought for my family it would be better for us to be back in England," he said.

"I had a bit of a look around in Super League but, as soon as I knew that Wigan were interested, it was a no-brainer to be honest. I've got a lot of close friends at Wigan and I really love the club and its history."

Leuluai, who spent two seasons with London Broncos before joining Wigan in 2007, made 189 appearances and scored 60 tries for them and was a member of their Grand Final and Challenge Cup final winning teams.

He was in his second stint with the Auckland based NRL club, for whom he had became their second youngest debutant in 2003, and had another year left to run on his contract.

"Tommy is contracted until the end of next season but he approached us some time ago asking for a release so he and his family could return to England," said Warriors managing director Jim Doyle.

"While we were certainly keen to see him play out the term of his contract, Tommy has always made it clear he would go back to England at some stage.

"His leadership qualities and professionalism have been invaluable but we understand his desire to return to England and take comfort from the fact we have a number of options in his positions.

"For now he's fully committed and passionate about giving the Warriors all he can for the rest of this season."

Leuluai, who has won 38 caps so far, will be reunited at the DW Stadium with Sam Tomkins, who also cut short his time in Auckland to return to Wigan.

Wigan coach Shaun Wane said: "Tommy is a fantastic player that needs little introduction to the Wigan fans. Hard-hitting, tough and uncompromising, he is a player that really leads from the front.

"He is very experienced and a great addition to the playing squad for the next few years. His very presence just improves us and we are confident that Tommy will also enjoy a successful coaching career after he has finished playing."

Leuluai played his 77th match for the Warriors in their 27-18 win over Gold Coast Titans in Auckland on Saturday.