LEIGH Centurions continue to strengthen their squad for the new season with the signing of former Australia international Willie Tonga on a two-year deal.
And the Australian has revealed that advice from his best friend and fellow 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.
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,” he said.
“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.”
The Championship outfit have already captured high profile names such as Harrison Hansen, Corey Paterson and Rangi Chase ahead of the new season, with Tonga’s arrival from Catalans Dragons further underlining their Super League credentials.And for coach Paul Rowley, it ends an in-depth search for a new centre.
“The opportunity to sign Willie comes after a very rigorous search for another outside back and so to finally land a player of Willie’s quality is very pleasing,” said the Centurions boss.
“I am delighted to welcome Willie to the club and am excited to see him get down to work.
“This is another positive step in the progression of our club and another great professional athlete joining the ranks to help enhance the culture and work ethic within the club.”
The 32-year-old made his NRL debut with Parramatta Eels in 2002 and played a prominent role in their 16-13 Grand Final victory over Sydney Roosters in an Eels side that also included current Leigh Centurions team-mate Reni Maitua.
And before heading to Super League with Catalans Dragons for the 2015 season,TOnga scored 11 tries in 22 representative appearances which also includes appearances for the Prime Minister’s XIII and the Indigenous All Stars.
Centurions head of rugby Derek Beaumont said: “ This is yet another fantastic signing for our club. Yet another international proven athlete still playing at the highest level.
“The line-up is mouth-watering and with one more possible target to land we really are shaping up to be a formidable group.
“Talking to Willie he is really excited at the prospect of getting stuck into achieving our goals and playing alongside his best mate Reni Maitua. I am a believer everything happens for a reason and I am especially pleased with the outcome of the hand of fate with this signing!
“I cannot wait to see the boys in action together and hope this further adds to the belief of the town that we are driven to achieve what this town and Stadium richly deserves.”