Luciano Leilua to Dragons confirmed as NRL fans divided over $400,000 discrepancy

The talented edge forward is moving back to the club where his NRL career began.

Pictured here, Luciano Leilua playing for the Cowboys in the NRL.
Luciano Leilua's impending big-money move to the Dragons has raised eyebrows around the NRL world. Pic: Getty

Luciano Leilua's impending move back to the Dragons has divided NRL fans, amid eye-opening details around the reported $2.3 million deal over three years. Leilua is set to rejoin the club where he began his NRL career after requesting a release from the North Queensland Cowboys before the start of the new season.

It's understood the former Dragons and Wests Tigers back-rower wanted to move back to NSW to be closer to family, with reports his team was looking to secure a deal worth around $900,000 per season. The Canberra Raiders were also interesting in securing the signature of the destructive edge forward but reportedly pulled out of negotiations when it became clear he favoured a return to the Dragons.

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The eye-watering figures around Leilua's big-money move have sparked debate across the rugby league world, with News Corp league reporter Brent Read previously reporting that the 27-year-old's team were trying to secure a four-year deal worth $3.6 million. Read described it as being an "astronomical" figure and while the Dragons won't be forced to cough up that much money, Leilua will still be earning $900,000 per season, for the next three years.

The caveat - according to Fox League's James Hooper - is that the Cowboys have already covered $400,000 of Leilua's salary for the current NRL financial year, meaning the Dragons are left to pay the remaining $500,000. The Dragons would then pay the full $900,000 per season for 2025 and 2026, with the three-year deal setting the Dragons back a bit more than $760,000 per season.

With the Cowboys having covered almost half of Leila's fees for 2024, the signing is considered by many to be a win for the Dragons and coach Shane Flanagan, who has been desperately trying to recruit big-name talent to his squad. However, many other fans are questioning whether Leilua's is worth the staggering $900,000 per season deal, that makes him the 12th-highest paid forward in the NRL.

Luciano Leilua set to finalise Dragons move this week

Fox League's Hooper says Leilua will fly to Sydney from Townsville later this week to undergo a medical examination before he officially becomes a Dragons player again. Leilua debuted for the Dragons in 2016 and played 43 games for the club, before moving to the Wests Tigers and becoming one of their most important players. He then moved to the Cowboys in 2022 and has been a regular in Todd Payten's starting side.

Seen here, Cowboys forward Luciano Leilua.
Luciano Leilua is set to complete a big-money move from North Queensland to NRL rivals, the Dragons. Pic: Getty

With North Queensland looking to upgrade the contract of new co-captain Rueben Cotter and with the emergence of young gun back-rower Heilum Luki, the Cowboys have ultimately opted to let Leilua go as the salary cap squeeze takes effect. For Flanagan and the Dragons, it's another important signing that adds a potent new dimension to their attack and helps solidify their defence.

Flanagan missed out on signing a number of other big-name stars this pre-season, such as Roosters gun Joseph Manu and Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake, but has picked up a number of quality additions in what will be his debut season as head coach of the Red V. Leilua is set to join fellow back-row recruit Raymond Faitala-Mariner and former Manly winger Christian Tuipolotou, who both joined the Dragons in pre-season. An international with Samoa, Leilua is likely to link up with five-eighth Kyle Flanagan on the left edge, with Jadyn Su’A and halfback Ben Hunt to operate on the right for the Dragons in 2024.

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