NRL Rd 10  - Tigers v Broncos
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 17: Luciano Leilua of the Wests Tigers thanks fans after winning the round 10 NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the Brisbane Broncos at Leichhardt Oval on July 17, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The North Queensland Cowboys have finally secured the immediate signing of Luciano Leilua for the remainder of the 2022 NRL season.

Leilua had already signed with the Cowboys from the beginning of 2023, but rumblings had been persistent for most of the first half of the season that the star edge forward was wanted immediately by Todd Payten's side.

The Tigers showed little interest in an immediate release, but took everyone by surprise just an hour before Round 15 teams were announced, making the call to release Leilua.

It was tipped that the Cowboys would announce him almost immediately, however, the speed at which the Tigers moved took the football department in Townsville - led by former hard-hitting forward Michael Luck - by surprise, with the deal taking more than a week to be completed.

Todd Payten told the media last Thursday that the Cowboys had given a verbal agreement, but at that stage were yet to draw up the contract for Leilua.

That has now been confirmed, with the back rower to slot straight into Payten's side for the Round 16 match against the Brisbane Broncos after the NRL's representative round.

He will replace Heilum Luki, returning the Cowboys to a three-pronged back row assault alongside Tom Gilbert and Queensland Maroons' debutant Jeremiah Nanai. Gilbert is currently battling an eye injury, but is due back, although results of a specialist doctor visit are yet to be revealed.

The Cowboys also have Connelly Lemuelu and Ben Condon who can be used on the edge.

Leilua, who is also a Samoan representative, will bring plenty to the club, and director of football Michael Luck said the Cowboys were thrilled to capture his signature.

“We are thrilled to welcome a player of Luciano’s ability and class to our club at this stage of the season,” Luck said.

“We’ve been very lucky we haven’t had any long-term injuries to our backrowers to start the season. That’s changed now with Heilum Luki ruled out for the season.

“We were in the fortunate position to be able to fit Luciano into our squad this year if the Tigers had an appetite to release him. It’s worked out well for both parties and we look forward to what Luciano will add to our squad moving forward.”

The deal means Leilua will move from the Tigers, who are near the bottom of the table, to the Tigers, who are near the top.

So long as he is selected, his first game for the Cowboys will double as his 100th NRL appearance, with the 26-year-old contracted with the Cowboys until the end of the 2025 season.