NRL 2022: Wests Tigers Luciano Leilua quits Wests Tigers, North Queensland Cowboys salary cap question

Luciano Leilua walked out on the Tigers to join an NRL rival, but all bets are off after a revelation that has pulled the rug out from under him.Luciano Leilua has been told his move to the Cowboys is no sure thing as the club wrestles salary cap pressures. The star forward was granted a release by the Tigers to join North Queensland immediately on Tuesday having already signed a reported three-year, $2.1 million deal to join the Townsville side last November, but the Tigers stood in his way of an immediate defection.Stream every game of every round of the 2022 NRL Telstra Premiership Season Live & Ad-Break Free During Play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now.It was believed the Cowboys, who have been the real surprise packets of the NRL season and are sitting in third, originally wanted Leilua from the beginning of the 2022 season.However, after Michael Maguire’s exit from the club and the Tigers sitting in 13th just after the halfway mark of the season, the Tigers have had a change of heart.The Daily Telegraphreported the second rower had quit the Tigers and although not lining up for either side this week, would relocate north for the remainder of the season and for next year.Now the rug may have been pulled from under him. North Queensland football manager Michael Luck revealed on Wednesday Leilua’s early arrival at the Cowboys is far from signed, sealed and delivered.“We’ve asked the question, that’s where it’s at, at the moment,” Luck said on SEN Radio’s Pat and Heals Show.“There’s still a bit of water to go under the bridge at the moment, there’s nothing in writing anywhere.“We’d love to get ‘Luc’, he makes us a better team particularly with the injuries now we had with Heilum and Tommy Gilbert especially this week and a couple more.“We’re a club that likes to do our due diligence that makes sure every box is ticked.“We’re going through that process, we want to get Luciano up here but it’s not a done deal yet.”Channel 7 reporter Michelle Bishop believes salary cap pressure is behind the Cowboys’ inability to announce Leilua joining the club early for the remainder of the season.“The Cowboys are certainly interested,” Bishop said on SEN 1170.“Luciano has been told he can go, but the Cowboys have got to work out what they can afford with the salary cap.“There is a very high possibility that they might not be able to afford him.“The conversation hasn’t been finalised about what the Wests Tigers are going to chip in.“It’s all very messy … none of the finer details have been worked out.”The move comes at the perfect time for the Cowboys after news young gun forward Heilum Luki had suffered a season-ending knee injury.But on Fox League’s NRL 360, Paul Kent said Leilua’s performances had begun to be “sub par” and it left the Tigers no choice.“The Tigers did have the option of saying ‘go back to reserve grade and sit there’ but that means they’ve still got to pay him so there’s no incentive,” he said. “It doesn’t help the Tigers, they suffer from a salary cap point of view because of that so they might as well let him go.”Leilua had arguably been the Tigers’ best player since he arrived from St George Illawarra in 2020.The Tigers are set to welcome reigning second rower of the year Isaiah Papali’i from the Parramatta Eels and the Panthers’ Api Koroisau next season.The Tigers confirmed Leilua had been released “effective immediately”, with CEO Justin Pascoe adding: “We wish Luciano the very best with his future. He and his family have made a lot of friends here at the Wests Tigers and they will be missed.”Originally published as Very bad news for NRL star after decision to walk out on the TigersMore related storiesNRLWNRLW’s bombshell expansion callThe NRL has thrown out its initial plan for growing the NRLW in favour of a new strategy that will fast-track more teams. SEE WHO MAKES THE CUT.Read moreNRLNRL coaches are sacked for two simple reasonsIt might not be fair, it’s definitely controversial but there are two very important reasons NRL coaches lose their jobs. And it’s nothing to do with results, writes Paul Kent.Read more