Brisbane coach Kevin Walters is wary of throwing Tom Dearden to the wolves, insisting the young halfback’s slow nurturing into the NRL will better serve the rising star's career in the long term.
Walters is coming under increasing pressure to give Dearden the game time he craves without burdening him with the expectation to do it all as the Broncos rebuild from a wooden spoon season in which the 20-year-old failed to win a game.
Dearden had a late seven-minute cameo in Brisbane’s 24-0 win over Canterbury last Saturday and while Walters hinted he would come off the bench against the Storm in Melbourne on Friday night, don’t be surprised if the coach pulls a late change to start him at halfback.
Walters, however, said he wanted to ensure Dearden was entering a winning environment before handing him the keys to the Broncos and pointed to Queensland Origin greats like Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Daly Cherry-Evans as how to slowly promote halves into the NRL.
"What we’re very conscious of is making sure Tom gets the right support around him to be successful at this club," Walters said.
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"We want him coming into a winning team and an environment he is comfortable playing. He is still only a young fella in age and also experience as well.
"The NRL is a tough environment for halfbacks and any young player to be learning their skill and that’s our main head space around Tom.
"I’ve looked at all of our great halves from the last 10 years. Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Daly Cherry-Evans.
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"These guys are all Queenslanders of course but they’ve all come through the competition in the Intrust Super Cup or NSW Cup whichever competition they were playing in, they did some time there, they learnt some things about themselves and about the game then applied that into the next level."
But the longer Walters waits to pull the trigger, the more restless Dearden will become in Brisbane as rival Queensland clubs North Queensland and Gold Coast Titans prepare to poach the off-contract star.
The Cowboys' interest in Dearden will only intensify with news skipper Michael Morgan is facing the possibility of early retirement due to a shoulder injury while the Titans will always be in the frame given his close ties to the region as a former Palm Beach-Currumbin High School star.
"We are in no hurry to rush Tom, we know he is a good talent and he will play lots of NRL for us this season, there is no doubt about that," he said.
"But we’ve got to make sure he is coming through in the right environment.
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"He is a big part of our future and we want to nurse him through this initial period of his career where he is gaining confidence every week in his ability.
"We are bringing him through the right way and nurturing Tom to be that player we believe to be our long-term No.7."
Walters welcomes back props Payne Haas and Matt Lodge for the clash with the Storm. He is keen to see how Haas stands up after the NSW Origin forward missed the first three games due to an off-field suspension.
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Haas will have his game time closely managed this season with Walters prioritising quality over quantity from the young front-rower.
"We don’t expect Payne to be punching out the minutes he was last year. We will play him until he gets tired and make a decision when he gets tired to get him off for a spell then we will get him back on for a stint in the second half," Walters said.
"I just feel with the speed of the game now particularly for the big men it becomes quite difficult at times.
"We want to get the best out of Payne while he is on the field and if he starts to dip with his conditioning we will get him off, give him a spell, wind him back up and send him out again."