Warrington Wolves exclusive: ‘Encouraging’ new era under Sam Burgess underway as Kylie Leuluai gives unique insight into his role with the Wire

Ross Heppenstall
Sam Burgess Kylie Leuluai Warrington Wolves

Photos courtesy of Warrington Wolves

It has been a long time between drinks for Warrington Wolves and their last league title success – almost seven decades in fact.

You have to go back way back to 1955 for when the Wire were last crowned champions.

Leeds Rhinos waited 32 years for title glory between 1972 and 2004, when they beat Bradford Bulls in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Manchester United themselves went 26 years without a top-flight championship before winning the inaugural Premier League title in 1993.

Arch-rivals Liverpool suffered three decades of hurt without being kings of England until finally clinching the Premier League in 2020.

But it is almost 69 years since rugby league’s championship trophy was under lock and key at Warrington, the town that lies halfway between the North West’s two footballing powerhouse cities.

Sam Burgess at the helm

Sam Burgess Warrington Wolves Photo courtesy of Warrington Wolves

Could this finally be their year? Well, Sam Burgess has taken over as their new head coach.

It is seen as a benchmark of the Wolves’ ambition, despite his lack of coaching experience.

But one man at Warrington who knows better than anyone about winning the Super League title is Kylie Leuluai, their head of rugby operations who has been at the club since 2017.

The Auckland-born former prop is the most successful overseas player in Leeds’ history having won six Grand Finals, two League Leaders’ Shields, two World Club Challenge titles and two Challenge Cup finals between 2007 and 2015.

Leuluai, 45, is cautiously optimistic about the new era that is unfolding at Warrington and told Love Rugby League: “Sam comes from a good family and their mum Julie did a great job of raising the four boys after their father Mark passed away in 2007.

“You can see in the way Sam coaches that he wants to achieve because he had so much success as a player and commands instant respect.

“He has a philosophy of being tough but he doesn’t ask the players to do something that he wouldn’t or couldn’t do himself.

“He’s tough on the group and we work closely together – his office is next to mine – to make sure players are in a good space.

“We’ve got some very talented youngsters coming through such as Josh Thewlis and Leon Hayes and there’s a good chemistry around the place heading into the new season. It’s encouraging.”

Legendary prop Kylie Leuluai gives insight into his unique role at Warrington Wolves

Leuluai is enjoying his role at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, having worked as Leeds’ player welfare officer for two years following his retirement at the end of the Rhinos’ glorious treble-winning campaign in 2015.

He explained: “I’m head of rugby operations, which covers a lot of things such as logistics and ensuring commercial partnerships run smoothly.

“I’m head of player welfare too which I really enjoy, having done it at Leeds for two years before coming here.

“It’s about making sure players are in a good space and coming to Warrington gave me a wider-ranging role to still work in player welfare but also administration and rugby management.

“That’s what I was looking for and the good thing about this job is that as staff we train together in the mornings – Sam, Gary Chambers, Richard Marshall and myself.

“They’re all good blokes and again, it’s good for the chemistry of the group.

“It’s only pre-season and no-one wins anything at this time the year but hopefully we’re going in the right direction as a club.”

A proud sporting family

Marley Leuluai Burnley FC Marley Leuluai has recently signed a professional contract with Burnley FC – Alamy

Former Samoa international Leuluai has three sons – 17-year-old Marley-Johannes, Kingston-Vin who is 13 and 11-year-old Rocco-Adriannes.

Marley spent nine years on Manchester City’s books before joining Burnley in the summer.

He recently signed a professional contract on his 17th birthday and has been a regular for Tony Philliskirk’s Under-18s this season.

Marley also captained New Zealand Under-17s at their World Cup in Indonesia last month.

Proud dad Kylie added: “Signing his first professional contract was a big step for Marley.

“Not many people get this far and now it’s about pushing on even further.

“There are more lows than highs in sport, but he’s doing really well and being good at sport is definitely genetic.

“Darren Fletcher’s twin boys, Jack and Tyler, came through with Marley at City before joining Manchester United in the summer while Kevin Sinfield’s son Jack is playing for Leeds Rhinos.

“Marley was a centre-half at City but Burnley see him as more of a six in midfield and he’s happy with that.

“He enjoys getting up and down the pitch and competing.

“My middle son is 13 and looking for a rugby league scholarship around here.

“He was at Stoke City, but chucked it in because it was quite full-on and now he’s playing rugby league for Woolston Rovers.

“He’s loving it and I’m one of the coaches – they’re good people and it’s enjoyable. We’re certainly a sporting family!”

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