A FAMILIAR face has returned to the Wigan gym this week... but he won’t be playing for the club.
Thomas Leuluai has returned to England for a month-long visit with wife Natalie, sister of former team-mate Darrell Goulding.
The Kiwi is out injured for the rest of the NRL campaign, and his club, New Zealand Warriors, gave him permission to take a break as he can use Wigan’s facilities to continue his rehab.
“It’s really good to be back with everyone,” said Leuluai, who made 189 appearances in six years at Wigan.
“It’s good to see the culture is the same.
“There are a few new guys but a lot of old faces, so it’s been good.
I’ve come back to do my rehab, obviously I’ll be around the place, if there’s anything I can give back I’m happy to do thatThomas Leuluai
“I’m out for the rest of the year with this (knee) injury, I’m slowly getting back into it. I can’t run yet, so I’m having physio at Wigan.
“Nat is loving being back too. We’re having our first kid at the end of the year, so it’s a chance to come back and see her family for a bit. I’m grateful I got the opportunity.
“It’s good, too, to get away and get a break, because at the end of the season when the (NZ Warriors) boys are away, I’ll be back in doing rehab.”
The 30-year-old arrived in the country on Friday and shrugged off jetlag to travel to Headingley to watch his old club go down 25-18 to Leeds. Later, he caught up with his cousin, Rhinos prop Kylie.
His return will no doubt prompt whispers in some quarters that he may be returning to the club to play, but he signed a new deal with the Warriors last year which runs until the end of 2017.
However, Wigan may profit in another way from his presence in the camp.
“I’ve come back to do my rehab, obviously I’ll be around the place, hopefully I’ll learn things myself but if there’s anything I can give back I’m happy to do that,” said Leuluai, who has made no secret of his ambition to move into coaching once he hangs up the boots.
“I’ve been doing some bits at the Warriors with their Under-20s squads. If I can help out I’ll be more than happy to.”
Leuluai became a firm favourite among Wigan fans, not just for his crafty halfback play but his ability to put a shot on opponents. He won the Harry Sunderland Trophy for his man of the match display in the 2010 Grand Final, and scored a vital try in the Challenge Cup Final the following year.
NZ Warriors have tumbled out of the top-eight play-offs spots after a sixth straight loss last weekend, and their coach, Andrew McFadden, says Leuluai’s absence is being felt just as much as injured star halfback Shaun Johnson.
“It’s not just Shaun, we’re missing Thomas, who was our starting hooker. He was playing terrific before he was hurt,” he said.
Leuluai will be back in New Zealand next month and, as unlikely as it seems, hopes his club are involved in the play-offs at the time. They are two points behind eighth-placed St George Illawarra Dragons. “It’s a very close competition, it wasn’t long ago we were top four - but as quickly as it changes one way, it can go the other way,” he said. His team-mate, Sam Tomkins, is returning to these shores at the end of the campaign after two years in the NRL.
“He’s been really good, when he came back from injury he had a big positive influence on us,” added Leuluai.