Ricky Leutele on 2019 and the Upcoming Playoffs
Ricky Leutele knows what it means to be involved in something truly special and the lure of recapturing that feeling was a huge factor in what led his family to pack up their beachside Australian home and cross the seas to call Toronto home ahead of the Wolfpack’s 2019 Betfred Championship campaign.
In 2016, Leutele made the final tackle of the NRL Grand Final, a tackle that sealed victory for his Cronulla Sharks and saw them crowned champions for the first time in the Club’s 50-year existence. Now, the Samoan international has his sights set firmly on another slice of history as the Wolfpack look to become the first transatlantic team to reach the Super League summit.
To achieve this, the Wolfpack must win two more games in 2019, including a potential Playoff Final at Lamport Stadium in front of an ever-growing fan base that has fully embraced the Club since its inception in 2017. Despite his three-year deal with the Wolfpack beginning in the 2019 Season, Leutele signed on with the Club in May 2018 and watched the team from afar as they made a play for Super League promotion at the first attempt. The passing of time had granted him the ability to look back on the heartbreaking two-point loss in the Million Pound Game with a sense of perspective.
‘Last year, watching from home, it was hard to watch because a lot wasn’t going our way. A few disallowed tries and a few missed goals but I just think it wasn’t meant to be because we probably weren’t ready as a team. But coming into this year with a different core group, it is looking promising for the Club.
‘I was disappointed when we lost [the Million Pound Game] because I wanted to continue playing top flight footy, but saying that, it’s probably a blessing in disguise because I get to come here now and help the team make Super League and be a part of that history.’
As someone with a young family, Leutele knows that his successes on field are not just his own but belong to those closest to him as well. He is one of several Wolfpack players with children and understands that while results are not the full measure of a person, victory is shared by everyone involved with the Club and would be impossible without the support of family.
‘For players’ families to come over here, they’ve sacrificed a lot. Moving away from what they are comfortable with back home like having family and friends around and schooling for the kids as well, so it would mean a lot for the families if we can get promoted.’
Leutele loves to get involved in the communities of the areas he visits and has a strong passion for growing the game of Rugby League worldwide.
‘Talking to a lot of kids around Toronto, they haven’t been involved in any sort of Rugby League and I think it is an exciting sport with untapped potential and I think it is good for our game to keep expanding and focusing on grassroots in local areas and clubs. It is a really exciting time to be a part of.’
Leutele was one of several inclusions for the Wolfpack ahead of the 2019 Season and among that list was UK Rugby League legend Brian McDermott, who signed on as Head Coach during the off-season. Relationships between coaches and players are increasingly important in the modern sporting world and Leutele speaks glowingly when describing the impact the seven-time Super League champion has had on himself and the group as a whole.
‘With B-Mac leading the ship, it’s not hard to come in and stay motivated at training thanks to him telling us what we need to work on and what’s been going well for us. It’s not hard to stay motivated when you’ve got a coach like that.’
A chance to explore beyond the immediate horizon is another benefit of playing for the world’s first professional transatlantic sports team that sits extremely well with Leutele. The chance to see Europe and experience life in North America is a privilege and a joy that appeals to the globetrotting, side-stepping winger.
‘Back in Australia, you only play in New Zealand or Australia so coming to England and seeing parts of Europe and then coming to Toronto and seeing North America got me excited.
I feel Toronto is the best city I’ve ever been to. There’s always something happening, there’s always some type of festival on, lots of things to do for kids and getting around is easy. I love it here.’
With the Wolfpack’s first Playoffs fixture just days away, Leutele says he is feeling good and ready to tackle the biggest challenge of the Club’s remarkable journey to date.
‘My body is feeling good and I feel confident in the team because we’ve worked hard throughout the year to get this far. Our main goal is obviously to be promoted into Super League and I think the only people that can stop us is ourselves. If we stay focused and motivated then we are looking pretty good.
‘I love playing finals footy; it brings the best out of players. Finals is a different excitement, a different ballgame. It’s a different level, it’s a lot faster, a lot more intense with a lot more pressure and I can’t wait. You get this extra adrenaline rush when you wake up on game days. I just want to have fun and just get out there and play.’
Ricky Leutele will be in action when the Wolfpack take on Toulouse Olympique at Lamport Stadium, Toronto in the Betfred Championship Playoff Semi-Final this Sunday, September 22 and tickets are available now through the Wolfpack ticketing page at Ticketmaster. Click here to secure yours.