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'I wanted to come back home': Leilua on Dragons return

Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS

Luciano Leilua's St George Illawarra homecoming has been sweetened by the prospect of ambushing former club North Queensland on the Dragons' home turf.

But the second-rower insists there's no bad blood with the Cowboys after his sudden release late in the pre-season.

"Nothing bad, just had the opportunity to come back home" he said.

A local junior, Leilua rejoined the Dragons on a three-year deal late last month and will face the Cowboys at Jubilee Stadium on Saturday.

"I'm really grateful the club gave me the opportunity to come back," he said.

"Sort of got shown the door (at the Cowboys) and I landed myself here."

"First home game back and nothing better than versing your old club that you left," he said.

Leilua labelled it "a good challenge" to meet his former club, having been stood down by the Cowboys after pleading guilty to low-range drink driving in February.

He was subsequently suspended by the NRL for one match for not disclosing the charges to his club or the governing body.

Leilua said his return to Sydney was motivated primarily by wanting to come home, rather than any unhappiness in Queensland.

"I wanted to come back home. You know, I've always wanted to be home," he said.

"Dragons always will be a home for me."

Saints were thrashed 38-0 by the Dolphins in round two last week, with coach Shane Flanagan saying post-match he was disappointed with his players.

"The first game didn't go as planned," Leilua said of his Dragons return, in which he played 50 minutes after coming off the bench.

A reworked Dragons' starting line-up will put him up against Cowboys' State of Origin representative Jeremiah Nanai on the edge.

"We didn't back it up on the weekend, but we've got to get back to the winners' circle, back to how the Dragons play," he said.

Captain Ben Hunt said he was looking forward to seeing Leilua back in front of Dragons fans for the first time since moving to the Tigers in 2020.

The loss to the Dolphins was Leilua's first appearance for the club since he played 43 games between 2016 and 2019.

"The result wasn't real good but I know he's very excited to be back playing in the Red V," Hunt said.

Flanagan - in his first year as head coach at the club - is attempting to reboot a Dragons outfit that finished 16th last year and has not reached the finals since 2018.