SUNSHINE COAST, Australia (AP) — Melbourne Storm have signed Ricky Leutele from the Toronto Wolfpack for the rest of the 2020 National Rugby League season in Australia.
Frank Ponissi, the Storm’s general manager for football, told NRL.com the deal for the 30-year-old center was completed “with 20 minutes to spare” before Monday’s deadline.
“We lost three of our four centers in a span of a few days and we knew we only had until yesterday to fill,“ the position, Ponissi said.
The short-term signing of Leutele went ahead after news that his Wolfpack teammate and ex-All Blacks rugby star Sonny Bill Williams was preparing to take a short-term NRL deal with the Sydney Roosters.
“It was probably after the Sonny-Bill Williams signing that we decided to look at Toronto’s list and we saw Ricky Leutele’s name, a player who fills the criteria we were looking for with his position and his ability to make a difference," Ponissi said. "It was a no-brainer for us to chase him and chase him hard.”
Leutele, part of the Cronulla Sharks lineup that beat the Storm in the 2016 final to win the NRL premiership, had been stranded in England with his visa set to expire after the Wolfpack withdrew from the British-based Super League because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He will have to go into quarantine for 14 days when he returns to Australia and isn't expected to be available for the Storm until next month.
The Storm have been training and playing in a so-called bio-security bubble on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland state, which has become the home-away-from-home for some interstate clubs in the NRL, the Australian Football League and the national Super Netball competition.
Leutele, a Samoan international, played more than 120 NRL games for the Sharks before moving to the Wolfpack.
“He's a premiership winner — so he knows what it takes to win," Storm assistant coach Jason Ryles said. "He's going to be a really good addition to our squad.”
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