North Queensland Cowboys second-rower Luciaono Leilua has reportedly had a late twist over his future, with suggestions he has now signed with the St George Illawarra Dragons.

Leilua had requested a release from the final two years of his deal in Townsville with the second-rower on the outer and likely to struggle for minutes in 2024, with the club also having Heilum Luki, Jeremiah Nanai and Kulikefu Finefeuiaki at their disposal.

The Dragons had also met with Luki and Finefeuiaki in recent times, with the duo both off-contract at the end of 2024.

The Cowboys have maintained they could retain and find roles for all four second-rowers, but nonetheless gave permission for Leilua to negotiate.

He was originally believed to be searching for a contract of around $700,000 per year over three or four years, with the Canberra Raiders also showing interest, however, it was unclear whether either club would have a crack at Leilua when the figure blew out to $900,000 per year.

The Dragons though, desperate for a quick rebuild under new coach Shane Flanagan, have reportedly bitten the bullet on the figure, signing Leilua on a three-year deal at asking price according to Fox Sports.

It's understood Leilua, who commenced his first-grade career with the Dragons, had his management convince the club the price tag was worth it.

It means Leilua will likely form a second-row pairing with Jaydn Su'A in a major boost to the Dragons' chances this year, with Flanagan identifying fitness and forward depth as key issues coming into the year after taking over the coaching post.

It's understood Leilua's key reason behind a return to Sydney involved family reasons.

Leilua, who is 27 years of age, has struggled during his time at the Cowboys, but was one of the best second-rowers in the competition during his time at the Tigers, and has 123 NRL appearances under his belt, of which the first 43 came for the Red V.