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The North Queensland Cowboys have confirmed the signing of New Zealand Warriors outside back Viliami Vailea.

Aged 20, Vailea will join the club for the next two seasons and has so far played in 17 NRL games for the Warriors since making his debut for them in 2021 as an 18-year-old- ten of those occurring during the 2022 NRL season.

Having only managed five games this season for the Warriors in first-grade, Vailea will be eager to find more game time at the Cowboys, who will farewell Peta Hiku at the end of the season.

The Tongan-born centre originally comes from a rugby union background before signing up with the Warriors SG Ball Cup team in 2020. Rated as one of the best schoolboys rugby union talents in New Zealand, he has an extremely high ceiling. Vailea will be hoping to find his potential with the Cowboys and live up to expectations.

“With Peta Hiku moving on in 2024, we have a position in the outside backs to fill. We are really happy with how our young outside backs in Rob Derby and Zac Laybutt are developing, but we thought we needed another player with first grade experience to come in to balance the squad,” Cowboys General Manager of Football Micheal Luck said in a media statement.

“Viliami is parked behind some young guys at the Warriors who are playing really well and when the opportunity arose to sign him, we were immediately excited because we've been impressed with what he has produced in the opportunities he's already had in first grade.

“We think Viliami will fit into our program well and look forward to seeing him in Cowboys colours in 2024 and beyond.”

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“It was an extremely difficult decision to release Vili,” said One New Zealand Warriors general manager recruitment, development and pathways Andrew McFadden.

“We really appreciate his contribution in his time with our club and wish him all the best with his move but first he has a job to do for us for the rest of this season.”