Rebuilding Wigan tap into NZ pool of talent

Rugby League
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The Independent Online
Wigan have been busy lining up reinforcements from New Zealand in their bid to reclaim their position as Britain's leading club.

This year's runners-up in the European Super League are set to sign the Auckland rugby union scrum-half Junior Tonu'u, and are also pursuing Robert Henare, the Junior Kiwis prop. Wigan expect to sign the 26-year-old Tonu'u, who played for Auckland in yesterday's National Provincial Championship rugby final victory over Counties-Manakau, after the New Zealand Barbarians tour to England next month.

Tonu'u spent time with Wigan and Leeds when he travelled to England looking for a rugby league contract last year, but it is Wigan who have maintained contact with him, using a go-between who is on tour in New Zealand to tie up the deal. "I've seen him several times and he will be a very good addition," said the Great Britain captain Andy Farrell.

Denis Betts, the former Wigan forward who lives in Auckland and has often seen Tonu'u play, said: "He is a terrific player with excellent hands and I don't think he would have any problems adapting to league." With Shaun Edwards and Craig Murdock already on the books as specialist scrum- halves, Tonu'u could be used in the hooking role next season. The deal could net him pounds 200,000 over the next three years.

Wigan are also keen on Henare, who led the Junior Kiwis to a series win over the Great Britain Academy side on Friday night, scoring two tries and setting up another. Henare, too, has been involved in discussions with a Wigan representative and is understood to be willing to leave his Australian club Illawarra to try his luck in Britain.

Wigan already have one New Zealander definitely on his way. The Wigan doctor Ansar Zaman, who is also Great Britain's tour doctor, has given the Auckland Warriors' reserve-grade forward Stuart Lester the all-clear after meeting him in Auckland. Lester will arrive in time to start pre- season training.

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