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Phil Gould claim rejected by Cowboys as drama erupts around Heilum Luki's future

The Bulldogs supremo claims Heilum Luki has taken up a one-year extension with the Cowboys.

Pictured right Phil Gould and left Heilum Luki
Cowboys General Manager of Football Michael Luck has rubbished Phil Gould's claim that back rower Heilum Luki has taken up a one-year extension at the club. Image: Getty

Cowboys General Manager of Football Michael Luck has rubbished Phil Gould's claim that back-rower Heilum Luki has taken up his one-year player option to stay in North Queensland until the end of 2025. Luki has essentially been a free agent since November 1, with his current contract with the Cowboys set to run out at the end of the season.

On Wednesday, Gould claimed on his 'Six Tackles with Gus' podcast that the Cowboys were surprised by his decision to stay as it was something they didn't think would happen. "They've (Cowboys) had to make some salary cap decisions there," Gould said.

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"Heilum Luki, it was kind of expected he'd take a big offer to go elsewhere to the Dragons or Dolphins. He had an option in his favour to stay with the club and has elected to stay. I don't think they thought that was going to happen.

"That will put a lot of pressure on keeping Kulikefu Finefeuiaki, who is an outstanding young talent and probably on a much smaller contract than he can get somewhere else. They’d have to upgrade him to keep him, but they didn’t have that sort of money available, particularly after Heilum Luki took up his option to stay."

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 07:  Heilum Luki of the Cowboys scores a try during the round nine NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on May 07, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
Heilum Luki scores a try during the round nine NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Newcastle Knights. Image: Getty (Ian Hitchcock via Getty Images)

But Luck labelled Gould's claims as nonsense, stating that the club views keeping him as a priority and says a deal between Luki and the Cowboys is still in the works. "We are continuing to work through it with Heilum’s management," Luck told The Courier Mail. "He's a priority signing for us and we’ll keep working through that process."

The Cowboys' salary cap squeeze has been relieved somewhat by letting go of troublesome forward Luciano Leilua last week, clearing $950,000 a season from their salary cap from next year. With the money saved, North Queensland are expected to upgrade the contracts of representative forward Reuben Cotter, Luki and fellow back-rower Kulikefu Finefeuiaki.

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Earlier this month Leilua secured a three-year deal with the Dragons after he requested a release from the North Queensland Cowboys before the start of the new NRL season. It is understood the former Dragons and Wests Tigers back-rower sought a move back to NSW to be closer to family.

The Canberra Raiders were also understood to be interested in securing the signature of the edge forward but reportedly pulled out of negotiations when it became clear that he favoured a return to the Dragons, the club where his NRL career began. The Cowboys will reportedly cover $400,000 of Leilua's salary for the current NRL financial year, meaning the Dragons are left to pay the remaining $500,000. However, from next season, the Dragons will need to cough up the full $950,000 per season for 2025 and 2026.

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