Explosive back-rower Luciano Leilua has reportedly asked the North Queensland Cowboys for an immediate release as he seeks a move back to Sydney. Leilua's manager, Mario Tartak, has initiated contact with the Cowboys and urged them to allow the forward to return to New South Wales, putting NRL clubs on red alert just weeks out from the new season.
The Dragons - where Leilua previously played 43 games across four seasons - are believed to be frontrunners for the Samoan's services. The 27-year-old is contracted with the Cowboys until the end of 2025 after joining from the Wests Tigers during the 2022 campaign.
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Leilua has had a tumultuous time in recent years, previously facing domestic violence charges in 2022 which were later dropped by NSW Police. He also was fined and suspended from driving for a month last week for a low-range drink driving offence. The NRL integrity unit is still investigating the incident.
Luciano Leilua could add much-needed firepower to the Dragons
The Dragons would be the obvious destination from Leilua as the club has been searching for a marquee signing since Shane Flanagan took the reins. They ultimately missed out on Addin Fonua-Blake in a major blue to their recruitment plans but could have been provided with a last-minute chance to add to their forward ranks with the latest development out of the Cowboys.
However, if the club were to secure the services of Leilua they would need to free up a spot in their top 30 roster. The Dragons have been doing business in recent weeks landing Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Christian Tuipolotu and have a full top 30.
If Leilua is granted a release, it would be a surprise if the Dragons didn't move to bring back a player who came through the junior rep system and the lower grades in the St George area. He would also add some class and explosive edge running to their often-criticised forward pack.
Shane Flanagan's brutal admission in Jack Welsby pursuit
In an attempt to attract a marquee signing the Dragons turned their attentions to English Super League star Jack Welsby. However, the halfback turned down the chance to spearhead Flanagan's side, stating he is happy where he is.
It comes after Flanagan admitted to The Daily Telegraph last month that his side was forced to look "outside the square" in its pursuit of Welsby, with few options of his caliber available on the open market. The Dragons coach conceded that it was always a long shot to convince the 22-year-old to uproot his life and move to the other side of the world.
"We are definitely looking outside the square and have gone as far as going to the UK with Jack Welsby... He is a super talent with attacking brilliance," Flanagan said. "In the World Cup, he was outstanding. Even Benny Hunt said he was hard to handle when Australia played them.
"The challenge is getting some of those English players out of their country. Once they’re here they love it but getting them here is the challenge."
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