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Challenge Cup

1 Jun 2022

How Thomas Leuluai beat the odds to play in the Challenge Cup Final

How Thomas Leuluai beat the odds to play in the Challenge Cup Final

Thomas Leuluai pushed the boundaries of recovery in order to be fit for the Betfred Challenge Cup Final on Saturday.

The veteran halfback or hooker, who is the oldest player in Super League and turns 37 this month, suffered a knee injury in the club's Good Friday clash with St Helens, which looked set to rule him out for 12 weeks.

But, once the club's place in the Final was confirmed after a semi-final triumph over St Helens at Elland Road in early May, he did all he could to shake off the problem.

Wigan Head Coach Matt Peet revealed to the BBC: "I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Thomas Leuluai.

"He rang me the day after the semi-final - he should have been no chance for this game - but he said 'what do you think?'

"I said 'if you can make it happen, you're on the field'."

And so, three weeks after suffering what looked to be a three month injury, he set about getting fit as his side went in search of a first Cup Final success since 2013.

After the game, he told the media: 'I lived like a nun for three weeks!'

"I pushed it really hard and I've got to thank the physios, who worked hard on me," Leuluai commented.

"At the start, I got told it was 12 weeks, but I got back in six. I lived like a nun for three weeks! My diet was perfect.

"I went full whack. I said to my wife, 'I need to do all I can to get in the team if there's a chance', so I've got to give special thanks to her.

"And the club were really good, they bought me a sauna blanket at home which I jumped in every night.

"We literally threw everything at it - altitude chambers and ice baths, I was getting massages and trained pretty much non stop for three weeks."

Leuluai went on to play a key role in the win, featuring off the bench in place of teenage hooker Brad O'Neill, before moving into the halves as stand-off Cade Cust suffered what turned out to be a dislocated shoulder with ten minutes left to play, when Wigan were still chasing a two-point deficit.

Peet said: "He came on at a time when we were failing to get out of our own end, but I think everyone would have looked at Thomas (when he came on) and just felt so much more composed."

Leuluai added: "Matty (Peet) told me what he was looking for from me, I said 'I reckon I can do that'.

"We rushed it but I got through training. He had the trust in me to do that and I'm so grateful that we got the win so I could repay that trust.

"I just wanted to give Matty an option. If we had had an injury, I would have to play anyway.

"At the start, he told me I'd do 25 minutes at the back end of the game, so I was sitting back relaxing. I could tell the way we started was a bit nervy and we thought my experience could help the situation.

"I thought my job was done when Custy did his arm so Lockers (Sean O’Loughlin, Assistant Coach) pulled me over and said 'you're on' - but I hadn't trained in the halves."

Though Leuluai's looping 20-metre pass proved crucial in setting up Liam Marshall's winning try, he paid tribute to eventual halfback partner Harry Smith, who took his chance amidst the recent absence of Leuluai and the suspended regular hooker Sam Powell.

Smith, 22, provided the kick to set up Marshall's late winner, kicked two goals and scored a first half try in an influential display at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

"I told him (Smith) to take control of the game and I'd just back him up," Leuluai said.

"He showed great composure, made a line break, scored a try and set up the winner so his family should be very proud of him.

"He's grown so much in the last six weeks since I've been out and I think he'll grow from this. Part of my role when I re-signed this year was to bring Harry on, so maybe my job's done!

"I'm grateful to still be playing at my age, and to win a Challenge Cup at my age."