Cowboys coach Todd Payten has set a date for Luciano Leilua’s debut despite concerns the club doesn’t have cap space available to welcome the new recruit.
The 26-year-old’s early Tigers departure was said to be halted due to cap constraints, before North Queensland football manager Michael Luck revealed his arrival was far from signed, sealed and delivered.
Luck explained “it’s not a done deal yet” as the club attempted to get their recruit early after signing a three-year deal in November 2021 to begin in the 2023 season.
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Now, coach Todd Payten has told reporters on Thursday that Leilua will play in the club’s cross-town grudge match against the Broncos in Round 16.
“We’re playing him against the Broncos,” Payten said.
“He’ll get up and we just got to make him feel comfortable and welcome as possible.
“When I told the captains on Tuesday they were pretty excited. Jase (Jason Taumalolo) had a grin from ear to ear and Chad (Townsend) gave me a pot shot to the guts. So yeah, we’re all excited to have him.”
Payten explained that the Cowboys had been knocked back twice when seeking an early release, before the club received a call from the Tigers on Tuesday.
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The process then began and Payten expects to have his new backrower in the squad soon.
“We asked the question when we signed him originally,” Payten said.
“We asked the question again a month ago, and both times it was a no.
“We got a call out of the blue from the Tigers’ recruitment the day before yesterday. We had to look at our figures and within 45 minutes to an hour we gave them a call back and verbally agreed. Within 45 minutes to an hour there was a public statement put out by the other party.
“It’s not signed off on yet, but I expect it will be.
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“There are still some things to happen. He needs to get a medical, he needs to sign his termination clause, and we haven’t actually drawn up a contract yet either. That’s what’s happened and that’s where it’s at.”
Leilua’s arrival is timely for the Cowboys, who will be without Heilum Luki (ACL) and Tom Gilbert (eye) on the edge, while Origin star Jeremiah Nanai is set to return.
Payten revealed Gilbert is set to miss “a week or two” ahead of the club’s clash against the Sea Eagles.