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Leutele set to leave on his terms

An untimely knee injury threatened to rob Ricky Leutele of a fairytale finish at the Cronulla Sharks but the centre is fit again and prepared for the finals.

Leutele – who will depart the Sharks at season's end to join the Toronto Wolfpack – sustained the injury in round 23. It's kept him sidelined for the past fortnight.

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan faced a selection conundrum earlier this week with Leutele and rookie centre Jesse Ramien both returning from the casualty ward.

Ramien turned out to be the unlucky victim of the Sharks' stacked backline, as Leutele got the nod for Saturday night's blockbuster qualifying final against the Sydney Roosters.

Speaking on Wednesday, Leutele assured that he's at full health and raring to go.

"I'm feeling good. I love finals footy – it brings the best out of the players and the teams and I'm looking forward to trying to finish on a high," he said.

"The knee is going good. I did all my fitness tests yesterday [Tuesday] and I passed them. It was all good at training, too. I'm sweet."

Leutele will mark up against Roosters youngster Joseph Manu at Allianz Stadium in what looms as an enthralling one-on-one battle.

"Joey is having a good year. He's young, fast, strong – a quality centre. It'll be a good game."

It's been an incredible ride at the Sharks for Leutele. He came to Cronulla in 2008 as a raw teenager fresh out of high school. He will leave immortalised in club history.

Leutele was a prominent member of the 2016 side that won Cronulla's maiden premiership. More than that, he's been a valued teammate and ultra-consistent player during his climb up the ranks over the past decade.

Even Leutele admitted he can't quite believe what he's achieved.

"You can't even dream of this type of stuff like winning a premiership and playing over 100 games," Leutele said.

In the initial years after he entered first-grade in 2010, those accomplishments seemed a million miles away.

Throughout his first four seasons of NRL he managed just 13 appearances. Injuries stalled his progress and although he starred in the NSW Cup, he couldn't nail down a permanent top grade spot.

But if there's one quality that sums up Leutele, it's perseverance. And persevere he did.

The centre had his breakout campaign in 2014 amid the distraction of the ASADA investigation, playing 23 matches for Cronulla.

He's remained a crucial part of the Sharks' backline ever since, forging a reputation of reliability.

Reflecting on his time at Cronulla, Leutele said he "most definitely" considers the 2016 Grand Final win over Melbourne his career highlight.

The lasting memory of Leutele in the minds of Sharks fans will perhaps be the desperate tackle he made on Marika Koroibete in that decider when the Storm looked like scoring after the siren to steal the trophy from Cronulla.

"Heaps of people keep talking about it but I'm pretty sure anyone in my situation would have made the same tackle," Leutele said modestly.

"It just had to be done, I guess."

Leutele isn't certain what the future holds after his time with Toronto but an NRL return isn't completely out of the question.

"I'm not too sure. I'll see how it goes with the three years over there and I'll weigh up the options towards the end of my third year. We'll see how we go," he said.

Before then, there's still business to be taken care of at Cronulla.

While Leutele is hoping to prolong his final match for the Sharks until Grand Final day, he'll look back fondly on his period in the Shire regardless.

He had the opportunity to wave goodbye to some of the Cronulla faithful at the Sharks' last regular season home game with a lap of honour – an experience he described as "really touching and memorable".

Leutele took the chance to send a message of heartfelt appreciation to all the supporters that have shared his journey.

"I just want to say thank you to all the fans. To the ones that always message me daily and wish me luck week in, week out, through injuries or through games," he said.

"Thanks to all the diehard fans that travel to Melbourne and New Zealand. Without the fans, there wouldn't be a game of rugby league."

It's safe to say that Cronulla fans are immensely grateful for Leutele's services, especially his role in bringing the Sharks their first premiership.

No doubt they'll be hoping his parting gift is a second title.

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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