The science behind Wigan Warriors' decision to pick Thomas Leuluai as captain

Thomas Leuluai has been named Wigan's new captain - after a "scientific" selection process.

Friday, 19th March 2021, 2:00 pm
Updated Friday, 19th March 2021, 3:21 pm
Thomas Leuluai playing against Salford last Sunday in a friendly

Leuluai is one of the most decorated players in the game, having won seven major honours with Wigan, including the World Club Challenge, Super League twice, Challenge Cup and League Leaders’ Shield three times - as well as a World Cup and Four Nations with New Zealand.

With Sean O'Loughlin hanging up his boots at the end of 2020, Wigan say they invested significant time and consideration in selecting his replacement before settling on 35-year-old Leuluai.

Executive director Kris Radlinski revealed: “We took a scientific approach when making this selection, which included the creation of a leadership matrix in which all candidates were scored, and comments were made.

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“We also sought external expert advice in the decision-making process. Dan Simmons, who has a specialist leadership company and a military background, came in and worked with the club’s directors and staff to probe into what qualities we were looking for.

“Many people will have opinions, but we have spent a great amount of time looking at the characteristics of high performing captains. What happens on the field has a bearing but also what happens on a day-to-day basis in the training environment is incredibly important.

“Lifestyle, emotional intelligence, humility and many other factors were considered. Not only were we concerned with the identification of the next captain, but it's also a much longer journey to work with other players and staff to develop the key qualities of future potential leaders.”

Yesterday, chairman Ian Lenagan informed Leuluai of the club’s decision via a Zoom call in the club’s boardroom and the halfback was presented with a memento with names of the previous captains from the club's illustrious history.

Lenagan said: “This was an incredibly important decision for me and for the club. I have never actually named a Wigan captain as I was fortunate to inherit Sean O'Loughlin from the previous regime. I have a long history with Tommy having been with him as chairman of London Broncos/Harlequins.

"To watch him develop into the player and person he has become has been very rewarding for me personally. When you look at all the valued characteristics of a captain, Thomas ticks every box. Even in the twilight of his career, he still sets the standards on and off the field. I am convinced he will lead the club well through 2021.”

Leuluai, who is in his second spell with Wigan, said he was "honoured" to get the role.

“It’s something I’ve never really chased or thought about, but at this stage of my career I understand the responsibility that goes along with it. I’m really privileged and honoured to be able to do the job," he said.

“Ian, Kris and Adrian (Lam, coach) spoke to me about it, and I understand the duty that goes with it. With my age and my experience, I’m really happy to fulfil the role for them. I won’t really change too much in what I’ve been doing and how I go about my stuff.

“Sean has been my captain for the majority of my career. I feel lucky to have had him as my captain – I learned so much off him in the way he leads and the way he is as a person. I’ll be trying to mirror what he has done.”

Today, after training at Robin Park Arena, the first team squad were informed of the decision with a handover speech from O'Loughlin.

“I’m buzzing for Tommy. It feels like he’s done it for a number of years anyway – when I’ve not played," said O'Loughlin. "I know he’s not from Wigan, but he understands the importance of rugby in this town and what it means to people. I know his mentality and the way he is – he fits the bill perfectly, not just because of his attributes as a player but also the actions he takes with a team-first mentality. There’s no selfishness in any decisions he makes. He cares about the lads he plays with.

“I’ll help him with anything he needs help on. He’s been around long enough though and he knows the score. You’ve got to bring something on the field and have a presence and Tommy’s got that. My time as captain has always been best when I’ve had blokes like Tommy around me.”