Leigh Leopards are reportedly set to make another significant acquisition on the eve of the new Super League season – as Newcastle Knights outside back has entered their radar, per reports from Rugby League Live last month.
Despite the Knights hoping to retain the 22-year-old and Armstrong himself recently admitting he was hoping to break into their NRL squad in 2024, Leigh have identified him as a player of interest after a move for Brisbane Broncos utility Tristan Sailor ultimately fell through.
The move is only possible due to the loosening of quota regulations, which means it is now easier to sign players from Australia if they haven’t played the required number of NRL games needed to secure a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE). However, there is another stumbling block for any potential deal: Leigh are currently full on their overseas quota for 2024.
They have the maximum number of seven overseas players under contract meaning that in short, for Armstrong – or anyone from the NRL to sign – Leigh have to release an existing player. It is a situation the Leopards have been considering for some time, given how close they were to signing Sailor before Brisbane ultimately refused to sanction his release.
Here’s a look at what could happen for a deal for Armstrong to go through – and who could be the players that are risk of being let go.
Leigh’s contracted overseas players
As mentioned, Leigh have seven overseas players under contract this year – all with varying degrees of contracts. Ricky Leutele and John Asiata’s deals expire at the end of this season; Leigh are certainly keen on convincing Asiata to stick around beyond this year as a bare minimum. Ben Nakubuwai is another whose deal runs out at the end of this year.
Three players have two more years under contract: Edwin Ipape, Kai O’Donnell and new signing Matt Moylan. Tom Amone, the last player of the seven, is believed to be out of contract at the end of this year but nothing has been confirmed publicly.
Who could be offered to clubs?
Obviously, there are some players which are far less likely to be offered out as a potential departure which could free Leigh up to make another signing from the NRL.
Moylan is clearly at the top of that list, having only just signed for the Leopards. Leigh captain Asiata is another who will clearly be going nowhere – and given the importance he has in Adrian Lam’s side, Edwin Ipape is another who won’t be going anywhere.
Leopards officials have been impressed by O’Donnell’s pre-season form and he will once again be a firm fixture for them in 2024 as they look to build on an impressive first year back in Super League.
That leaves three players. Leutele is working his way back from a serious injury and will categorically be given a chance to prove he can hit the heights that saw him become one of the most fearsome centres in the competition while at Huddersfield.
The Leopards have made no secret of the fact they want to strengthen their backline – another reason why Leutele won’t be going anywhere. Nakubuwai and Amone are the two remaining players on that list – and Love Rugby League has been told there have been tentative expressions of interest from Championship clubs in Nakubuwai’s services. The former Salford man made 19 Super League appearances for the Leopards last year, 17 of them from the bench.
Nothing is clear-cut, and Leigh have not committed to letting any one particular individual go. But if Armstrong is to join, it looks like a forward who could be most at risk.