Willie Tonga has revealed that advice from his best friend and fellow Australian international Reni Maitua was a big factor in him joining Leigh Centurions from Catalans Dragons on a two-year contract.
The pair have been best mates long before they both featured in Canterbury Bulldogs’ NRL Grand Final win in 2004 and have now been reunited 12,000 miles away on the other side of the world as they join Leigh Centurions’ push for Super League.
After talking to Leigh Centurions head of rugby Derek Beaumont and head coach Paul Rowley, Tonga sounded out Maitua before making his final decision on the move.
And Tonga, who has 12 Test caps for the Kangaroos, revealed that Maitua had nothing but good to say about his new club.
“I spoke to Reni a couple of days ago and within that 20 minute phone call I was sold on the club,” Tonga revealed.
“Reni told me how professional the club is he’s been to a few clubs in the NRL and he put it up there with the best clubs he’s been at.
“For him to say that sold the club straight away to me. I’m now looking forward to the next chapter in my life and what it holds. I’d like to thank Derek and Paul for giving me this opportunity and I’m looking forward to working with the bunch of guys here.”
Tonga ripped straight into training on Monday morning with his new team mates after arriving from Barcelona late on Sunday night. He met up with many familiar faces, players he had played with and against in the NRL with Rangi Chase, Fuifui Moimoi, Dayne Weston and Cory Paterson also in the Centurions squad.
“It makes it a lot easier to settle in, knowing a few of the boys,” Tonga said.
“It’s good to be here. The last 48 hours have been hectic and things have moved quickly. I spoke to Cory as well and he told me everyone was welcoming and the people were nice.”
Tonga, who made his NRL debut with Parramatta in 2002 enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2004, not only winning the grand final but representing Queensland and then playing for Australia in their 44-4 Tri-Nations Final victory over Great Britain at Elland Road, when he scored two tries.
“That whole year was special for myself and the boys coming through,” he said. “It’s something we can look back on and cherish for the rest of our lives. Playing for Australia was my no1 highlight and a dream of mine growing up. I never thought I’d be good enough but that made me work harder to achieve it.
“That Tri-Nations final is just a blur. I can’t remember watching the game back but it was just an awesome experience to be playing alongside my childhood heroes like Darren Lockyer and Shane Webcke.
“A few years later I made the move to North Queensland Cowboys and played alongside players like Matty Bowen and Johnathan Thurston and I’ll be forever grateful to them for the help they gave me in getting back to playing for Australia again.
“It was a big decision to go to Catalans but after weighing everything up I had achieved everything I wanted to in the NRL. I never thought I’d leave Australia but I saw it as a new challenge. It was something different and something I wanted to pursue.
“I enjoyed my time at the Dragons and now I’m happy to be at Leigh. A lot of the boys believe Super League is a lot better than it was ten years ago and there’s not much difference between that and the NRL I believe.
“I’m looking forward to getting started and what the future holds. Hopefully we can win a few trophies this year with Leigh Centurions.”