The National Schoolboy Cup has continued its tradition of producing NRL players with 2018 Peter Sterling Medallist, Tom Dearden, the latest young gun to make the leap to first grade.
Dearden will make his first-grade debut when the Broncos take on South Sydney on Thursday night.
He follows in the footsteps of teammates Payne Haas (2016) and David Fifita (2017), who claimed the Peter Sterling Medal before becoming established first graders with the Broncos.
In another twist the man Dearden faces on Thursday, Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds, was the 2007 Peter Sterling Medal recipient.
Dearden's high school coach Aaron Zimmerle said the schoolboy competition, consisting of 28 schools, offers aspiring NRL players a taste of what it’s like to come up again some of the best players on a regular basis.
"The Schoolboy Cup as a competition in my opinion was instrumental in his [Dearden] development," the Palm Beach Currumbin SHS Rugby League coach said.
"The elite level play of the Schoolboys and the pressure of elimination football, provide the foundations for young men like Tommy to succeed in the NRL.
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“It allows the best of the best to play together and to play against each other."
The Schoolboy Cup underpins the game’s strong commitment to providing and supporting education outcomes for all students. In order to participate all students must achieve and maintain a minimum of 90% school attendance.
Despite it being just eight months from when Dearden was crowned the player of the tournament after their 34-20 victory over Westfield Sports High School, Zimmerle said the form he showed throughout 2018 has the 18-year-old well prepared to hold his own against the big dogs in the NRL.
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"Tommy was a key member amongst a fabulous group of young men and I am sure he would admit that he learned as much from his teammates as he did from his coaches," Zimmerle said.
"He is without doubt one of the most coachable players I have ever had the pleasure of working with - his undeniable thirst for self-improvement is only matched by his exceptional football IQ.
"Throw in a bucket load of talent as well and it is easy to understand why he has already made such a great impression."
Not only is Dearden excited to make his NRL debut in his first year out of high school but his old teammates and coaches are just as thrilled.
"Tuesday morning when it had leaked out that Tommy would debut, I had 6 of the boys come find me in class to make sure I knew - they were so excited for their good mate," Zimmerle said.
"In the next breath they were trying to work out how we could all drive down and back to Sydney for his debut and wanted to know if I wanted to come.
“The great pride felt by his teammates and teachers is just a reflection of what an outstanding young man Tom Dearden is, which is credit to him and his family."
The competition kicks off this later this month with games televised across Australia via Fox League.