Sharks star Ricky Leutele, a member of the premiership winning side of 2016 and an integral part of the Cronulla backline for the best part of the last five seasons, has announced he will be leaving the club at the end of the year.
The 28-year-old, who has played 114 NRL games since making his debut in 2010, has signed a three-year deal with the Toronto Wolfpack, a team presently playing in the second-tier competition in the UK and hoping to win their way into the English SuperLeague in 2019.
Set to become one of the Wolfpack's marquee signings, Leutele informed his teammates of his decision late last week. He explained what a difficult call it was to make.
"It was a hard decision. Toronto came from left field with their offer and the wife and I had a long night talking about it. I had to make the decision for my family," Leutele said.
"The boys were all happy for me and they wished me well. I just want to finish this year strong and get to where we were in 2016."
Outstanding again for the Sharks through 11 rounds in 2018, his current coach Shane Flanagan was high in his praise of Leutele's contribution in his 10 years at the club.
"Ricky has been a quality player for a long period of time. He's a very underrated player but someone highly valued within our group," Flanagan said.
"It's sad to see him go, we thank him for what's he's done for the team and for the club and wish him and family every success in the future."
Leutele arrived at the Sharks as a teenager over a decade ago, after having played his junior football alongside one-time NRL teammate Gerard Beale at Logan Brothers. He learnt his trade in the Sharks lower grades before running out for his first NRL game in a round 24 match against the Storm in 2010.
"I came down from Queensland straight out of high school in 2008 and I haven't left since. The high of my career was winning in 2016. It's been a pretty cool ride," Leutele said.
Since that initial outing eight seasons ago, Leutele has overcome some injury setbacks, before cementing the left-centre position in the Sharks top grade side. His game continued to develop and improve, Leutele going on to represent Samoa in the international arena on seven occasions, while he will be forever remembered for playing a huge role in the Cronulla club's initial premiership success of 2016.
It has been an exciting ride for one of the most popular players in the Sharks squad, with the typically modest Leutele quick to thank teammates, coaches and fans alike, all who have combined to make his 10-year stay in the Sutherland Shire an enjoyable one.
"I want to say thank you to all the Sharks fans who have supported me since I arrived from Queensland. I've had some fans who have been in communication with me throughout my career and I just want to send my love to them and say thank you," Leutele began.
"To past and present players, I just want to thank them for the contribution they made to my career. I've learnt a lot through the players and past coaches as well.
"(Steve Price) Pricey, (James Shepherd) Shep, assistant coaches the last two years, they've helped me get my game to be well rounded and where it is. Then someone like Jimmy Maloney, I learnt a lot off him as well. He knows the game, reads the game so well and he's got a lot to give to young players. Benny Barba was the same, and Klint Hoare, a trainer at the club a few years back was another who was a great help to me.
"I just want to say thank you to all of them," Leutele said.
He then gave special mention to his coach Shane Flanagan, football team staff and to the current Sharks playing group.
"Flano has given me a lot of advice, how to carry myself on and off the field, our Footy Manager Shane Smith has always been there for me and my family over the last few years and the present boys, the older boys Fifita, Wado, Gal, all the players in the team this year, I'm grateful to have been able to have them around, to play with them and learn from them," he said.
Leutele is etched in Sharks history, forever to be celebrated as the man who made that final tackle in the 2016 Grand Final. He has been a constant on the left-hand side for the Sharks in recent years and nobody can dispute that Leutele will be missed in 2019 as he heads off for a new challenge and the next chapter of his career.
While he still has business to attend to in 2018 and is firmly focussed on helping to end his career at Cronulla on a successful note. Then at season's end all at the Sharks will send Ricky, his wife Charmaine, twins Darci and Rieko and daughter Brooklyn, off to the Wolfpack with their best wishes.