Luciano Leilua in eye-watering new $3.6m call after surprise fallout at Cowboys

The Samoan international dropped a bombshell on North Queensland before the start of the new season.

Pictured here, Luciano Leilua playing for North Queensland in the NRL.
Luciano Leilua is seeking a big-money move away from North Queensland after requesting an immediate release from the NRL club. Pic: Getty

The St George Illawarra Dragons will have to dig deep if they are to land Luciano Leilua, with reports the wantaway North Queensland edge forward is chasing a four-year, $3.6 million deal. The Cowboys' NRL pre-season preparations were rocked after it emerged Leilua had asked for an immediate release, with the 27-year-old understood to be keen on returning to a NSW club.

Leilua's manager, Mario Tartak, has been in discussions with the Cowboys about agreeing on an early release for his client, with a number of NRL rivals understandably interested in the Samoa international. Leilua's contract demands could put off potential suitors though, with News Corp league reporter Brent Read claiming he is asking for a dal worth around $900,000 per season, for at least four years.

SHOTS FIRED: Nofoaluma's startling Benji reveal after messy Tigers exit

NEW DETAILS: Manly's telling move to combat smaller field in Las Vegas

The Dragons have emerged as the club most likely to secure the services of Leilua, who reportedly sat down for discussions with St George Illawarra coach Shane Flanagan this week. Ricky Stuart's Canberra Raiders are another club linked with the dangerous back-rower but Read said the "astronomical" figures around the 27-year-old could prove prohibitive.

“Canberra’s issue is the price is astronomical, there’s been talk that Luciano’s asking price is minimum four years $900,000… certainly Canberra won’t go there," Read told Triple M. "If they’re going to throw that money around I suspect they’ll go for David Fifita because he’s got that clause in his contract that he has until Round 10 to pick up. But they’re certainly monitoring the situation with Luciano.”

The Dragons have space in their cap to chase big-name players, having been unsuccessful in luring a number of star signings to the club, such as Roosters superstar Joseph Manu and fellow Kiwi international, Addin Fonua-Blake. Flanagan is keen to add some star power to his squad and Leilua is certainly one of the more damaging edge forwards when in form.

Luciano Leilua eyeing big-money return to Dragons

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. Read revealed that the Dragons also enquired about signing the 27-year-old last year.

“They actually reached out for Luciano last year, they went through the front door and said we’re keen on speaking to Luciano you should consider letting him go,” Read said. “But at the time the Cowboys said no because Toddy Payten was a huge fan of him. The situation now is the cap is really tight, they’ve got Helium Luki they’ve got Rueben Cotter due for an upgrade and something had to give and in the end it’s Luciano who will make way so they can keep those guys."

Cowboys back-rower Luciano Leilua has reportedly asked the NRL club for an immediate release. Image: Getty
Cowboys back-rower Luciano Leilua has reportedly asked the NRL club for an immediate release. Image: Getty

Leilua is contracted with the Cowboys until the end of 2025 and 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.

Seven league reporter Michelle Bishop confirmed this week that Leilua met with Flanagan as well as other Dragons officials, including club CEO Ryan Webb, and is desperately keen to return back to NSW. "He wants to come home," Bishop said. "He’s not having a lot of fun up there (in Townsville). “If you look at the bigger picture, it’s probably a win-win for the Cowboys because they’ve got a couple of young guns in Kulikefu Finefeuiaki and Heilum Luki.

“The Cowboys have plenty of great and young backrowers coming through. The Dragons will have to release at least one player from their current roster. I’m hearing Corey Allen’s name being mentioned and that’s obviously because of his ACL issue. He will be sidelined for six to nine months so the Dragons may just pay him out.”

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.