The Wests Tigers will push North Queensland for a swap deal with one of their young gun backrowers if the Cowboys want Luciano Leilua released for 2022.
The Cowboys landed the shock signing of Leilua on a three-year deal worth around the $2.1 million on Wednesday but the Tigers will only release the backrower if both clubs can negotiate a fair and reasonable outcome.
North Queensland have two of the best emerging backrowers in the NRL in the form of Helium Luki and Jeremiah Nanai and the Tigers have already begun the process of trying to land one of them.
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Luki, 20, stands 195cms and impressed in 11 NRL matches last year when Cowboys coach Todd Payten opted to blood the generation next of talent in North Queensland.
The Tigers aren’t the only rival club eyeing Luki after the rookie backrower impressed with his first foray into the NRL.
Aside from his obvious traits of size, speed and athleticism, Luki made good judges sit up with an effort play against the New Zealand Warriors last season when he chased down a runaway Reece Walsh in a brilliant cover tackle.
The Redcliffe Dolphins are also expected to make a major play for Luki.
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There is even talk his management have put a price tag of upwards of $450,000 on him.
Nanai, 18, is considered one of the best emerging talents in the game after making his NRL debut last year.
The rookie was included in the Cowboys NRL squad at the end of 2020 aged 17 and was rewarded with four NRL matches last year.
This is where the Cowboys signing of Leilua gets curious.
After missing out on Viliame Kikau North Queensland still had money to invest in a backrower for 2023 but have they really nailed a brilliant deal in paying Leilua $700,000-a-season?
As talented as Leilua is the Tigers initially baulked at his $700,000 asking price leading the club to go and sign Parramatta’s Isaiah Papali’i for 2023 on a three-year deal.
The Tigers signed Dally M backrower of the year Papali’i for around $600,00-a-season.
Wests Tigers were only prepared to offer Leilua a contract worth around the $500,000-a-season mark.
The Cowboys went in hard and have got their man but the question still to be answered is have North Queensland struck a smart deal?
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Even more so if it costs them one of their rookie emerging backrowers in Luki or Nanai?
The Cowboys went down a similar path last year when they blew the Sharks out of the water by offering halfback Chad Townsend a three-year deal worth $2.1 million midway through last season.
They also signed another half in Tom Dearden – which led to Jake Clifford departing for Newcastle.
As much as Townsend, 30, and Leilua are solid NRL players there’s a view North Queensland have paid too much for both recruits.
It will now be up to coach Todd Payten to make it work.
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