NRL Rd 23 - Cowboys v Warriors
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 19: Luciano Leilua of the Cowboys celebrates after scoring a try during the round 23 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the New Zealand Warriors at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on August 19, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Luciano Leilua has reportedly asked for an immediate release from the remainder of his contract with the North Queensland Cowboys.

The Cowboys' second-rower is reportedly likely to miss out on first-grade minutes in Townsville this year with a logjam of players forcing coach Todd Payten's hand.

As it stands, all of Leilua, Heilum Luki, boom youngster Kulikefu Finefuiaki and Queensland State of Origin player Jeremiah Nanai are in competition for what is likely just three spots in the 17.

Until now, the Cowboys have been adamant they want to retain, and can find roles for all four players within the team, but it appears Leilua doesn't see it the same way, with two clubs linked to the player already according to a News Corp report.

One of those is the St George Illawarra Dragons, who have already been chasing back-rowers from the Cowboys, while another Sydney-based club are also believed to be interested.

A St George local junior, Leilua started his career with the Red V, playing 43 games for the club between 2016 and 2019, before moving to the Wests Tigers in 2020 where he played another 56 games before being released to join the Cowboys in the middle of 2022.

His stint in Townsville has been well below expectations, not helped by missing the first half of 2023 under the NRL's no-fault stand-down rule.

It's understood Leilua is keen on moving back to Sydney, with the Dragons now tipped as the favourites to secure his services. The Red V have previously held talks with Luki and Finefuiaki, with the former of the duo touring Dragons facilities early in the New Year in a sure sign he was considering a switch.

It's now believed the Dragons are of the impression neither player is interested in leaving Queensland, with Finefuiaki off-contract at the end of 2024, and Luki contracted till 2025, but with a player option in his favour for the final year of his ongoing deal.

The Cowboys may yet struggle to hang onto both even if Leilua does leave, with the Dolphins reportedly showing interest.

Shane Flanagan's Dragons side are looking for a speedy rebuild in 2024, and a player of Leilua's stature is what they have been after all off-season, although to this stage have been unsucessful in their endeavours to lock up a key signing for 2025, missing Thomas Dearden, Joseph Manu and Addin Fonua-Blake among others.

The Red V have a shortage in the forwards however, and while Dan Russell did a commendable job at the back half of last year, and Jaydn Su'A will hold onto his second-row spot, there is a shortage of depth in the edge forward department for the joint-venture.

Leilua, who has played three Tests for Samoa to go with his 123 NRL games, has two years to run on his Cowboys' contract worth believed to be around $700,000 per year.

While it's understood the Dragons have salary cap space to bring him in, they currently do not have an open roster spot after signing Christian Tuipulotu from Manly last week.

They could however look to pay out Corey Allan from his deal given his season-ending ACL injury to accomodate the arrival of Leilua, should he be successful in gaining a release from the Cowboys.