Tonga to leave Eels for Catalans
In the same week that he has been named a first-time captain of the team he debuted for 13 years ago, Eels veteran Willie Tonga has announced he will depart Parramatta at the end of the season to take up a two-year deal with the Catalans Dragons.
Tonga, who has played 12 Tests for the Kangaroos and eight Origin matches for Queensland, returned to the Eels in 2012 after successful stint at the Bulldogs and Cowboys having started his career with the club in 2002.
The 31-year-old centre has failed to reach the same heights since returning to the Eels, missing all but four games in 2013 through injury, but has been one of the blue and gold's more consistent performers this season to earn a recall to the Maroons camp ahead of Origin II.
Tonga said he was thankful to the club for the opportunity to finish his NRL career where it all started as he prepares to lead the side for the first time this Saturday against the Warriors in New Zealand.
"I want to thank our supporters and also apologise; I know there was a lot of expectation from our fans and from myself coming from Townsville having just played for Australia, and I know in the first two years here I didn't live up to that," said Tonga.
"But I want to thank those who have been here from day one, encouraging me and getting me back out on the field, where I'm giving it all I've got.
"Starting my career here back in 2001, it seems fitting that I would come back here and I couldn't see myself playing for any other NRL club; I'm glad that I can say I've started and ended my NRL career here."
Eels coach Brad Arthur credited Tonga for the leadership he has provided to Parramatta's next generation as the Eels push to capitalise on their surprise start to the year with an unlikely finals berth.
"He's been an absolute credit to himself in terms of pushing himself through training difficulties to get himself in shape, and he's only missed one game all year," said Arthur.
"His leadership through his mental toughness that he's showed to the young players in our side has been invaluable."