Wasps swoop in and leave Hurricanes stinging
It speaks volumes that Alapati Leiua was on the cusp of the All Blacks last year.
With that in mind, his imminent departure from New Zealand rugby after one final season with the Hurricanes will be a profound loss.
Sunday News understands Leiua has signed a lucrative three-year deal with London Wasps, worth in excess of $1.2 million. Like most, he will use his NPC out clause and leave at the conclusion of Super Rugby.
The 25-year-old, who is set to earn between $400,000 and $500,000 per-year, will exit at the peak of his career and is sure to be sorely missed in the capital, where he's played 35 games for the Hurricanes and 52 for Wellington since 2009.
Last year he started every game for the Hurricanes, scoring a memorable intercept try that stole victory over the Crusaders in Wellington.
While he predominately featured on the wing his pace, explosive abilities and anticipation also make him a valuable option at centre.
Strong form and versatility saw Leiua leap into contention for the All Blacks squad in June last year, but he chose to stay loyal to Samoa and play alongside older brother, London Irish flanker Ofisa Treviranus. Leiua made his international debut for his country of birth against Scotland in Durban last June and went on to play five tests. He will be a key member of the Samoan squad in the lead-up to next year's World Cup in England.
That international exposure is thought to have increased his global appeal.
With his pathway to the All Blacks blocked, the New Zealand Rugby Union and Hurricanes had no chance of matching his salary at Wasps. The maximum he can earn in Super Rugby is $180,000 annually.
Leiua was born in Samoa but refined his rugby skills in Wellington.
He came through Porirua College and burst onto the scene with Northern United in club rugby.
At all levels he will leave a major void.
Sunday News also understands Chiefs wing Alesana Tikoirotuma will join Leiua, former All Blacks wing Zac Guildford (Clermont) and Waikato captain and Blues midfielder Jackson Willison (Grenoble) in the pending departure lounge.
Esportif has secured Fijian-born Tikoirotuma a two-year deal with English giants Harlequins, where he will link up with former All Blacks first five-eighths Nick Evans.
After attempting to win a third successive title with the Chiefs this year, the 27-year-old can look forward to supporting his wife and three children on a similar salary to Leiua.
That progression serves to highlight how far Tikoirotuma has come from playing five years for Wanganui in the Heartland Championship, before transferring to Manawatu.