DEPARTING Thomas Leuluai thanked the Wigan fans for making his time at the club so memorable.
The halfback played his final match for the club last Friday night, a 13-12 play-off semi-final defeat to Leeds cruelly denying him the chance to say farewell with a Grand Final appearance.
Leuluai, 27, is joining New Zealand Warriors for next season.
And after six seasons in the Cherry and White, he said: “I feel like I’ve grown-up at this club.
“I came here quite young and I’m a different person than I was when I first came and I’m glad for that.
“I owe a lot to the club - they’ve moulded me as a player and a person so I need to thank them for that.
“The fans have been terrific with me from the start. I’m going to miss the place.”
Leuluai was the Harry Sunderland Trophy winner in Wigan’s Grand Final charge two years ago, and played a huge part in their Challenge Cup Final success at Wembley a year ago.
“There’s been so many [memories], winning the trophies obviously stand out,” said the Kiwi.
Unfortunately he couldn’t add more silverware to that collection as Shaun Wane’s hopes of reaching Old Trafford in his first season as head coach came to an abrupt end at the DW last Friday.
“It wasn’t meant to be I suppose, it was one of those games,” said Leuluai, one of five stars to depart with George Carmont, Brett Finch, Jeff Lima and Stuart Fielden.
“I thought we did well but sometimes someone else is in control of those games and it wasn’t us.
“The way we were playing wasn’t really suiting the game. I thought we made the right changes and managed to come though the middle in the second half.”
Wigan roared back from 11-0 down at half-time with two tries to take a 12-11 lead, only for Kevin Sinfield’s late penalty to snatch victory for Leeds. But the ending was not without controversy – Darrell Goulding was later held down by Ryan Hall as Wigan scrambled for a late score and stand-off Finch said: “I don’t know how that’s not a penalty at the end there - it’s a disgraceful call.
“If it’s a penalty up there for offside, then it’s a penalty for holding down and probably a sin bin. But what do you say? We can’t fix it.
“Credit to Leeds they hung in there and got the job done.
“It’s hard to take - they get a try from a loose ball, kick three penalties and take a field goal so it’s a tough one to swallow. Leeds have been doing it for years. That’s why they are a champion side - they keep coming at you.
“I have a feeling they got a bit lucky but we’d certainly take it if the shoe was on the other foot.”
The disappointment, however, has not soured Finch’s experience with the club.
“I’ve really enjoyed my experience,” he said.
“This is a great club with a lot of history and I’m glad I’ve played a little part of that. The Challenge Cup stands out and I’ve made some really great friends.
“I’m disappointed not to get to Old Trafford but it’s been great, a really enjoyable season. I thought we were great as a team. We had a few setbacks coming into the finals with Mickey (McIlorum) and Sam (Tomkins) but it’s a heartbreaking loss.”
SAM Tomkins will discover tonight whether he is the 2012 Man of Steel.
The full-back is on a three-man shortlist with Warrington’s Ben Westwood and St Helens hooker James Roby. The award – as the player of the year – will be presented at a dinner in Manchester this evening.
Tomkins missed last Friday night’s semi-final and Shaun Wane revealed he would have missed the Grand Final, had the Warriors reached Old Trafford. He is suffering from a knee injury which is threatening to restrict his involvement in England’s autumn series against Wales and France.