We always knew he’d be a big player - Thomas Leuluai on the rise of Harry Smith at Wigan Warriors

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josie andrews
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We always knew he’d be a big player - Thomas Leuluai on the rise of Harry Smith at Wigan Warriors

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HARRY SMITH’S rise to Super League stardom has come as no surprise to the man he succeeded as Wigan’s scrum-half.

The Warriors’ Grand Final triumph last year owed much to the form of Smith, who controlled the team to great effect before doing likewise for England in the autumn and being named player of the series against Tonga.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Wigan Academy graduate, as assistant coach Tommy Leuluai knows all too well.

Smith became a first-team regular in 2021, when Leuluai missed much of the season through injury and a young Wigan team struggled for form.

But hard work has turned him into the player who contributed so decisively to their Challenge Cup final success the following year and Super League triumph last term, Leuluai says.

“We always knew he was going to be a big player. He just had to take his time to grow,” the former Wigan captain told League Express.

“Even when it didn’t go his way, and he had a couple of years where he copped a bit of flak, I always knew he was going to be a big player.

It was just a matter of when. He found his way last year and his confidence grew.

“I thought he was exceptional for the whole of last year but he maybe wasn’t getting the accolades he deserved.

“But in the back end I thought he stood up, and then to see him play for England, I was really pleased.

“He’s a very smart footballer, he knows his game. He’s very professional in the way he looks after his body. He’s easy to coach in that respect.

I have a good relationship with him, and he’s really motivated to have a great year.”

Last season was Leuluai’s first on the coaching staff after ending a 20-year playing career that included five major honours with Wigan as well as a World Cup title for New Zealand.

Seeing the younger players like Smith win their first Super League rings gave Leuluai satisfaction “in a different way” to his own playing triumphs.

“We went through a bit of a patch where we weren’t winning. We got close (in 2020) and lost it on the buzzer,” he added.

“To see some of the boys who went through that win this one, that was cool for me. I was proud of them.

“Passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained and trying to help them is one of the reasons I’m doing it (coaching).

“I enjoy that part of it, seeing guys improve and reach their goals and achieve stuff that they’ve wanted to for a long time.”

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Anyone can support a team when it is winning, that takes no courage.
But to stand behind a team, to defend a team when it is down and really needs you,
that takes a lot of courage. #18thMan
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