In demand: Luciano Leilua has just re-signed with the St George Illawarra Dragons. Photo: Jessica HromasLuciano Leilua, up until 1:27pm on Wednesday, was the NRL’s great unsigned find.
Despite making a huge impact with St George Illawarra in his rookie season, he remained the last recognised player still without a club for 2017.
But in an early Christmas present to Dragons fans, Leilua finally settled his future by committing to the Red V for a further two seasons.
“It’s nice to have my future sorted,” Leilua told Fairfax Media moments after inking his signature on a lucrative new contract.
“It’s a bit of a relief. It was playing on my mind a bit but I left it with my manager, who told me it would all get sorted.
“I’m very grateful the Dragons gave me an opportunity to train with them while off contract.”
It’s not that Leilua was short of interest from rival clubs. Manly and Cronulla in particular were keen to snare the 20-year-old, but a decision was delayed until he switched to his new manager, Mario Tartak. The Dragons, determined to retain their promising local juniors, eventually got their man.
“I’ve always been a Dragons fan,” Leilua said.
“I grew up in the St George area in Arncliffe, I played with Hurstville United, I’m a local junior here so I’m excited to play for the club that I went for.
“It’s a proud club and I’m fortunate to be playing with them. I got the opportunity to play five games this year.”
Leilua will be adding to that tally in coming seasons. The backrower earned his club’s Paul McGregor National Youth Competition player of the year award and was named a member of the NRL’s under-20s team of the year.
The brother of star Canberra centre Joey ‘BJ’ Leilua, the former Junior Kangaroo has quickly made a name of his own.
“My brother was probably my inspiration, he was my motivation to play,” Leilua said.
“They were good battles in the backyard, really tough. He won [most] but I won as well.
“It would be good to verse him one day. Hopefully it comes, it will be just like playing in the backyard.”
Asked when the Dragons were scheduled to meet the Raiders, a grinning Leilua replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “Round 19. I’ll give him a bit of something.”
Leilua’s decision to stay put has come as a relief to his family, who are devoted Dragons fans. His father in particular was urging the 186cm, 112kg forward to re-sign. While he will be in the red and white for the foreseeable future, Leilua may yet play alongside his brother at some stage.
Joey Leilua is on the cusp of NSW selection and the Blues brains trust have also identified Luciano as a potential Origin representative of the future.
“That’s a long-term goal,” Leilua said. “If it comes, it comes, but I will be aiming for it.
“I’d love to represent my country [Samoa in the World Cup] and represent NSW in State of Origin.
“I just want to play as many [NRL] games as I can. I need to train hard and play hard.”
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