Thomas Leuluai has warned Warriors will need to “raise our game to another level” if they are to win Saturday’s Grand Final.
They face Warrington for the third time in a title decider at Old Trafford, having beaten the Wolves in 2013 and 2016.
But after seeing Warrington’s display against league leaders St Helens in their 18-13 semi-final win last Thursday, Leuluai has called on his team-mates to find another gear.
“I thought Warrington played really well. I know how hard it is to come back after a Challenge Cup final loss, and to come back and play like that against the best team all year was impressive,” he said. “We need to raise our game to another level to beat them.”
But Leuluai is confident in his own side, and says their nine-match winning run, which started before the Super 8s kicked-off, has helped them find their groove.
“I’m looking forward to it, it’ll be a great way to end the year,” he said.
“We’ve just been improving, we had a bit of a wobble midyear and we changed a few things.
“We’ve come into a bit of rhythm and a bit of form. But we need to turn up on Saturday.
“We’re defending well, we work really hard at that and we take pride in it but we’ve not attacked too bad, either. But yes, we enjoy defence.”
Despite a long career, this will only be 33-year-old Leuluai’s second Grand Final with Wigan. He missed the run from 2013 to 2016 while he was at New Zealand Warriors, though there are fewer differences from the 2010 final to now than you might expect.
“Mostly it just takes a bit longer to get over the game but that’s it, as I’ve got older I’ve been looking after my body a bit better,” he said.
Leuluai certainly has fond memories of his last match at Old Trafford – he won the Harry Sunderland trophy as man of the match in the 2010 Grand Final.
Just don’t ask him where his award is!
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” he smiled. “It’s not here so it must be back home somewhere, but I couldn’t tell you where.
“Even the ring, I couldn’t tell you where it is.
“At the end of each year, I usually just give all my stuff to my mum and she puts it away somewhere.”
His mum and dad will watch the game from New Zealand but he will have one direct-family member at the ground – cousin Kylie is Warrington’s head of rugby operations.
“I’d like to think he’d have been there anyway, if Warrington weren’t,” he said.
“But my family has always been blase about things like that, it’s not a massive thing in our family.
“It’s not that they don’t care but everyone has played, my dad played, I was brought up coming to these big games.
“They’ll watch it – dad watches all my games – and my mum will send a text.
“I guess we’ve been quite lucky, that a lot of us have played to a decent standard.”
Leuluai arrived on these shores in 2005 to join London Broncos.
Despite returning home to first club New Zealand Warriors for a stint he has spent the bulk of his career in Super League.
Now he is settled with his English wife, Natalie – sister of his former team-mate Darrell Goulding – and their daughter, Wynter-Rose.
“She’s nearly three, and she’ll be at the game. Whether she’ll be awake I’m not sure,” smiled Leuluai, who will play on next year before taking a coaching role with the club.
“Looking back, when I first came over here, I never would have thought I’d have stayed over here so long.
“When I joined London, I only signed a one-year deal because I planned on going back straight away.”
On Sunday, he was pleased to see the Broncos reclaim their place in the top-flight, beating well-funded Toronto 4-2 in a tryless Million Pound Game.
“I was happy for them - I was quite surprised, but happy for them,” he added. “The club has changed a lot since I was there, but there are still a few there.”