Wigan Warriors' Thomas Leuluai set for final 'battle' with Danny McGuire
They have had many halfback duels over the years but tonight, Thomas Leuluai is poised to face Danny McGuire for the final time.
The former England ace is hanging up his boots at the end of the season to take up a role as recruitment manager at Hull KR.
McGuire spent the bulk of his career at Leeds but is still going strong at the Robins, and last week kicked the vital 40/20 - and Golden Point drop-goal - to give his side a vital 27-26 win against Castleford.
“We’ve had some duels over the years,” said Leuluai. “He’s been a fantastic player, very talented - I’ve always rated him highly.
“”We’ve had some battles - he’s a good competitor.
"He did a good job last weekend and I watched them when they were on Sky a couple weeks ago, he’s got class in those tight moments.”
Wigan did a sterling job of shackling Marc Sneyd in their own close game in the city of Hull last week, and Leuluai says they’ll need to be just as alert.
“But in a different way,” he said. “Danny’s such a good runner of the ball, we can’t just rush up and put pressure on like on Sneyd.”
While McGuire is hanging up his boots, Leuluai has agreed to play on next year after signing a one-year extension – and has not ruled out playing beyond 2020.
“I’ll play it by ear, I did it this year, I didn’t know if it was going to be my last or not,” he said. “So I’ll just see how I feel.”
Whether next year is his last or not, he is set to move onto the club’s coaching staff once he does retire. Leuluai has played under a number of coaches over the years, at Wigan, London, NZ Warriors and with the Kiwi national side, and has been learning tricks and tips from them all.
The 34-year-old says he was always confident his current coach, Adrian Lam, would steady the ship after a stormy start to this season.
“You’ve got to remember, some of these players had only ever had Shaun Wane as a coach,” he said.
“Think about that – only one coach throughout a whole career.
“So I knew it wasn’t going to be smooth. I knew it would take them a while to adjust, but I knew Lammy said the right things and what he was trying to do. It was tough and it put a bit of strain on the group, but we got through it.
“I knew we’d not go bad, because the markers were all there – the attitude, the work-ethic – they were still there.
“It was just teething problems, which I expected.”
Wigan have recruited three stars for 2020 – Bevan French, who is set to make his debut tonight, as well as George Burgess and Jackson Hastings.
But keeping hold of Leuluai has been as significant, as far as Lam’s concerned.
“Tommy is one of the key players, so for him to stay on... it was one of the most important signings this year,” said Lam.
“He got my respect early on when we had so many out and he kept the group together.
“I like his temperament, he buys into what we want to achieve here, he understands the game.”
Lam says the New Zealander’s value runs much deeper than on the pitch.
“He’s one of our leaders, and with so many young players coming through we need the Tommy Leuluais to help them develop and his signing is one of the better ones,” he said.