The North Queensland Cowboys have officially released Luciano Leilua from the remainder of his contract.

Leilua, who has been with the Cowboys since the middle of 2022, recently requested a release from the Townsville-based club after struggling to adjust to life in the north.

After impressing during his time with the Wests Tigers, Leilua failed to make a great impact in the second half of 2022 before missing a chunk of 2023 under the NRL's no-fault stand-down rule.

His return saw him fail to hit the heights he had previously reached, and he entered 2024 with no guarantee of playing time, given North Queensland also have Jeremiah Nanai, Heilum Luki and breakout star Kulikefu Finefuiaki in their ranks to play on the edge.

Leilua has been heavily linked (but yet to confirm) with a move to the St George Illawarra Dragons on an eye-watering $900,000 per year deal, and it now appears that he is a chance of running out with the club he made his NRL debut for in Round 1, with the Cowboys releasing a short statement confirming his departure.

"The North Queensland Cowboys have released Luciano Leilua from the remainder of his contract, effective immediately," the statement read.

"Leilua had been stood down from all club activity since pleading guilty to a low-range drink driving charge earlier in February.

“We thank Luciano for his service to our club and wish him, Dora and their family well in their return home to NSW,” Cowboys General Manager of Football Micheal Luck said in the statement.

Leilua had also been linked with the Canberra Raiders, who have been heavily involved in the market for second-rowers but ultimately decided against making a play for Leilua after his price tag to leave Townsville was revealed.

The mammoth figure is reduced a little for the Dragons this year, given the Cowboys have already paid for his salary since November, which is the start of the contracted year for NRL players.

Shane Flanagan has made no secret of his desire to conduct a quick rebuild of the Dragons, and Leilua is the biggest signing the club have made so far since he officially took over the coaching post from Anthony Griffin, who was sacked in the middle of 2023.

The Cowboys' decision to release Leilua comes following the Dragons also making plays for Luki and Finefuiaki, although it's now believed the promise of playing time and upgraded money will allow North Queensland to retain the duo.

The Dragons are yet to comment.

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