Kruise Leeming explains why ‘big’ Wigan Warriors move has ‘exceeded my expectations’

Ross Heppenstall
Kruise Leeming Wigan Warriors Alamy

Kruise Leeming in action for Wigan Warriors in 2024

Helping Wigan Warriors to the coveted title of the world’s best rugby league club side will not be enough for Kruise Leeming this season.

He wants more, and with a Challenge Cup semi-final date with Hull Kingston Rovers coming into sharp focus, Matt Peet’s men already have the scent of Wembley.

There is also a burning desire to keep the League Leaders’ Shield and Super League trophy under lock and key at the DW Stadium.

That is why Leeming snubbed several clubs and chose to join the Warriors at the end of last season following a stint in the NRL with Gold Coast Titans.

In just his second appearance for the Cherry and Whites, the hooker scored in their famous World Club Challenge win over serial NRL kings Penrith Panthers on February 24.

But for a club of Wigan’s illustrious history and ambition, that success alone will not suffice this year.

Having played a key role off the bench in Thursday’s 30-8 home win over Catalans Dragons, Leeming told Love Rugby League: “At a club like Wigan, if we said we weren’t looking to win more trophies then people would see through it and know we were lying.

“Coming here to Wigan was a very big move for me, signing a four-year deal, at this stage of my career after my time in Australia.

“What club was going to bring the best out of me as a rugby league player and as a character away from the sport?

“I spoke to a lot of coaches, saw a lot of clubs and their facilities, and Wigan was the team I felt I could best flourish in.

“I feel I’ve made the best decision and it’s exceeded my expectations – I knew it would be good but it’s been even better than I envisaged.”

Much has been made of the tight-knit culture that head coach Peet has built behind the scenes at the club’s Robin Park training headquarters.

But Leeming stressed that remaining humble was at the heart of Wigan’s ethos.

He continued: “We have a very good culture and that itself brings a humility to the playing group and the environment here.

“Yes, we won the World Club Challenge but it also humbles you and we were soon looking to the following week as to what we could do to get better.

“We also have the humility to look at other teams who have done well against us and take little bits from them too.

“There are some teams – when they have a little bit of success – who think that’s it and that there’s no improvement in them.

“We do want success and more trophies, but we’re still humble enough to be striving to improve and work hard every day.”

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Kruise Leeming explains the reason he signed for Wigan Warriors

Ryan Hampshire Kruise Leeming Wigan Warriors Alamy
Ryan Hampshire (left) and Kruise Leeming (right) celebrate a Wigan Warriors try in 2024

Leeming made his name at Huddersfield Giants before moving to Leeds Rhinos and helping them to Challenge Cup glory behind closed doors against Salford Red Devils in 2020.

Last March, the 28-year-old Yorkshireman left Headingley after falling out with head coach Rohan Smith and spent the rest of the season at Gold Coast before returning to Super League with Wigan.

The tough, unforgiving environment there suits Leeming, who remains based in his native West Yorkshire.

“As a professional sportsperson, you have to be constantly striving for the highest possible standards every single day,” he explained.

“If you settle for anything less, then you’re not a true professional.

“Anyone who feels that way is either at the back end of their careers or have lost themselves a little bit.

“The reason I signed for Wigan is to be a part of those top-class standards and coming second is no good to me.

“Coming first is what I’ve been searching for my whole career and I feel like I’m at home now at Wigan.

“Don’t get me wrong, coming into training every day is a challenge; it’s nerve-wracking because you’re trying to improve and the margins for error are so small.

“But that’s what gets you out of bed every day and is what keeps you on the field doing your extras.

“That’s when you look outside and it’s cold and wet and think ‘do I have to go out and do my extras?’

“Of course you do because you fall behind otherwise and the bi-product of that is me becoming the best player I can possibly become. That’s what I want.”

Leeming is still finding his role in the team with homegrown Brad O’Neill seen as the club’s first-choice starting hooker.

But as he showed against Penrith – and in Thursday’s win over Catalans – Leeming has the ability to speed the game up to devastating effect.

The win over the Panthers saw him come off the bench to score before he sustained an ankle injury which sidelined him for a month.

But he has since returned to help Wigan to within 80 minutes of Wembley and to firmly establish themselves as title contenders once again.

Certainly the way they defended against Catalans suggests it will take a special team to wrest the Super League trophy from them later this year.

“It’s about finding my role in the team and I want to be as effective as possible by bringing a different dynamic,” said Leeming.

“Whether that’s starting, playing 80 minutes or coming off the bench and speeding up the attack that way, it’s just trying to fit in the best possible way for the team.”

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Facing his former club Huddersfield Giants and the potential impact of Sam Walters

Kruise Leeming Wigan Warriors Alamy
Kruise Leeming of Wigan Warriors

Next up is a trip to Huddersfield on Saturday, a game which could see Sam Walters make his first senior appearance in a Wigan jersey following his recovery from injury.

Leeming is relishing the clash, adding: “It’ll be a great game and what I’ve realised from playing for Wigan is that everyone raises their game against us.

“I’ve been at different clubs and when you’re playing the champions the opposition always want to test themselves against you.

“I’ve been in that other dressing room and you can see the lift in intensity when teams face the top sides.

“That’s something we won’t shy away from and it brings the best out in us.

“Huddersfield are a great team and it’s going to be a tough game next Saturday.”

On the potential impact that imposing forward Walters could make this year, Leeming said of his former Leeds team-mate: “Sam’s a great player and he will only get better at Wigan.

“We’re friends and it’s nice to share this journey with him, having been at Leeds together.

“He might get a shot next week and Matty has spoken to us about the decisions he’s got to make over team selection – but they’re nice decisions to make because of the quality of our squad.”

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