It was a different world when Thomas Leuluai first debuted for the New Zealand Warriors back in 2003. The club was coming off a grand final appearance and everything seemed rosy in Auckland.
Daniel Anderson was a happy coach and hooker Monty Betham was club captain. Richard Villasanti and Brent Webb were household names and nobody really knew future Kiwi superstars Sonny Bill Williams and Benji Marshall.
Leuluai, the son of Kiwis legend James, came into grade as a prodigy ready to take over from the master Stacey Jones.
In fact, the Junior Kiwi was the youngest player to ever debut for the club at that time.
But things don’t always pan out the way you intend them to in the National Rugby League. After only a handful of games, Leuluai was out the back door and on his way to the London Broncos.
We would have forgotten him completely if New Zealand hadn’t kept bringing him back for international duty. Such is his class, he was one of only a handful of players to continually return for test football.
Is it any wonder that the diminutive ballplayer was part of the World Cup winning Kiwi squad?
“I love playing in the Super League and Wigan’s a great club to be a part of but, at some point, I was going to head home again,” Leuluai said in late 2011.
“I also had a real desire to go back to where it all started at the Warriors. I’m looking forward to a new challenge and achieving new goals.”
Leuluai was the first major signing under new coach Brian McClennan.
“He is an outstanding performer for Wigan and he has also established himself as a vital player for the Kiwis” McClennan said at the time.
Unfortunately McClennan wont be there to see the dynamic playmaker. But it wont stop the Auckland native from impressing on his return.
With James Maloney’s departure, a spot in the halves alongside Shaun Johnson is available. There will be pressure from others but Leuluai will get first crack.
For anyone doubting his ability, just watch him go.