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Leilua opens up on sudden Tigers NRL exit

3 minute read

Luciano Leilua claims Wests Tigers wanted him to leave the NRL club early but the Tigers' football department says otherwise.

LUCIANO LEILUA of the Tigers.
LUCIANO LEILUA of the Tigers. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

North Queensland recruit Luciano Leilua has opened up on his mid-season exit from Wests Tigers ahead of his likely club debut against Brisbane on Saturday.

In November, Leilua signed a three-year $2.2 million deal with the Cowboys that was set to start in 2023 but the second-rower has joined the club mid-season after being granted an early release from his Tigers contract.

"I didn't really have any intentions to come in (early)," Leilua said.

"The club told me that I was no longer needed and the Cowboys wanted me to come up here, so it all worked out."

But the Tigers told AAP that Leilua had asked for a release on "multiple" occasions and strongly denied he had been pushed out the door.

The Tigers eventually granted Leilua's request earlier this month but the 26-year-old opted to miss the chance to play for Samoa in the representative round in order to travel to North Queensland and acclimatise.

Leilua arrives at just the right time for the Cowboys, who have lost second-rowers Mitchell Dunn and Helium Luki to season-ending knee injuries.

"Those unfortunate, season-ending injuries are all part of the game," Cowboys forward Coen Hess said.

"But to bring someone of 'Luc's character and ability into the squad is tremendous."

Leilua had a mortgage on the right second-rower spot at the Tigers but is resigned to having more competition at the in-form Cowboys.

Jeremiah Nanai is enjoying a breakout season in the back row, while Tom Gilbert and Hess have both been key contributors in North Queensland's charge up the ladder.

"I'm ready for anything. I don't mind starting or starting on the bench, whatever's best for the team," Leilua said.

"The team's going really well so I'm just hoping to come here and play my part."

Leilua's club debut for the Cowboys will also be his 100th NRL appearance.

"I'm really grateful to play one. To play 100 on Saturday would be pretty good," he said.

Hess said Leilua was already fitting in well with the playing group.

"He's been unreal, we're just trying to get him up to speed with all the plays," Hess said.

"He's settled in really well.

"It's up to us to make it a memorable (100th game) for him."

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