Kruise Leeming to Wigan Warriors casts doubts over future of current players, including overseas playmaker

Josh McAllister
Kruise Leeming, Wigan Warriors

Wigan Warriors confirmed the signing of Kruise Leeming for 2024 on a massive four-year deal from the NRL on Sunday – but what does that mean for current players? 

The former Leeds captain will return to Super League upon the expiry of his contract at the Gold Coast Titans, having been granted an early release from Headingley Stadium in March.

A product of Huddersfield’s academy, Leeming has made 170 Super League appearances, now alongside six in the NRL, and adds a wealth of experience to Matt Peet’s Warriors.

However, what does the latest addition mean for the other players at the DW Stadium?

Overseas recruit Cade Cust joined Wigan as a half-back from the Manly Sea Eagles in 2022, but has since shifted to the hooker position and most recently utilised from the bench in recent weeks.

The 24-year-old is without a deal beyond the current campaign and previously spoke of his desire to remain with Wigan, with the club holding the option to take up another season.

However, that would appear less likely following the addition of 27-year-old Leeming.

It’s a strange one with Cust, who enjoyed a pretty solid debut season in England following his move from Down Under, making 25 appearances and scoring five tries, producing a further 15 assists.

He began the current campaign pretty strongly in the halves alongside England international Harry Smith, featuring in the opening six games before injury struck ahead of the Round Seven clash with Leigh.

Cust made his return from the bench against Leeds later in May in the 40-18 home defeat, and was later dropped for the Challenge Cup trip to Headingley Stadium and the Super League clash with Hull KR.

The Australian was given shirt number six for the second consecutive season, but has seemingly fallen out of favour under Peet, with Bevan French most recently utilised in the halves.

Cade Cust on Wigan Warriors future

When asked if he’d be open to staying at Wigan if the club offered him a new contract, Cust said: “Yeah, definitely.

“I’m in constant talks with my manager and Matty [Peet]. At the moment it’s just about me playing some consistent footy and getting time under my belt, that’s what I want to do.

“We’ve had pretty open discussions at the moment so the focus for me is getting a good amount of games under my belt and playing good footy and hopefully playing good footy at nine and showing what I can do there.”

But you would question if the overseas spot, as well as the salary space, could be used elsewhere, unless Wigan eventually plan on moving Cust back to his favoured position of scrum half.

All seven overseas spots are currently being used by Wigan, with superstars Jai Field and French tied down on contracts.

Patrick Mago, Kaide Ellis, Abbas Miski and Willie Isa all still remain without deals for 2024 and beyond, while Wigan Warriors have also recently confirmed the signings of forwards Sam Walters and Tiaki Chan from Leeds and Catalans respectively.

Manly will have the first opportunity to negotiate a deal with Cust, although that would appear unlikely following the signing of Luke Brooks from Wests Tigers on a four-year contract.

Three players for number nine? 

Sam Powell is currently contracted until the end of 2024, while Brad O’Neill is highly-rated at the club, with the 20-year-old already making 33 Super League appearances.

Powell, 30, inked a new two-year deal with Wigan in June 2022.

He has made 266 appearances for the club, helping the side to several major honours including one World Club Challenge, two Super League Grand Finals and two League Leaders’ Shields.

It would be hard to imagine Powell playing anywhere else, having first joined the club at the age of 16.

The same could be said for Leigh-born youngster O’Neill, who has been starting at nine under Peet in recent weeks.

O’Neill signed for Wigan’s scholarship system in 2017, and later made his debut in 2021 against Wakefield.

He was named to start at last year’s Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following the suspension to Powell, making a total 13 appearances that season.

It would leave three players fighting out for the starting spot and likely a place on the bench, which would be firm competition for the squad.

A loan spell could potentially be utilised for O’Neill, with Leigh looking to bolster their squad with local players in the near-future – although, again it would be hard to see the youngster playing elsewhere following some stellar performances in 2023.

Ultimately, the signing of Leeming casts doubts over Cust’s Wigan future.

Powell could keep his number nine shirt, or could be set for a potential positional switch, having played loose forward numerous times so far in 2023.

That would leave Kruise Leeming as the main man and O’Neill alongside him, with young Tom Forber also at the club fighting for a spot.

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