Broncos halfback Tom Dearden has signed with North Queensland with Brisbane confirming he has informed them he will play at the Cowboys from 2022 onwards on a three-year deal.
Cowboys coach Todd Payten was delighted to secure the services of the 20-year-old Mackay product, who has appeared in 22 NRL games over the course of three seasons for the Broncos.
Dearden was a member of the Cowboys’ Mackay Academy as a teenager and starred for the Cutters’ under 16s side in 2016 before relocating to the Gold Coast to attend Palm Beach Currumbin High School the following year.
In 2018, Dearden was an integral member of Palm Beach’s ARL Schoolboy Cup winning side and received the Peter Sterling Medal for Player of the Tournament. He was also selected in the Australian Schoolboys side to tour England at the end of the season.
"Tom organises his team with great maturity for a 20-year-old, he’s a strong runner, he kicks well and he gets his body in front as a defender," Payten said on Monday via a statement.
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"He played first grade at 18, so it’s clear he has an abundance of ability and he’s been the standout half in his age group coming through the grades.
"On top of that he is a North Queensland kid, who is a really good person that is going to add significant value to our roster."
After snaring the signature of Sharks veteran Chad Townsend last week on a three-year deal, Payten is assembling a new-look roster in Townsville.
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"This is an exciting signature for our club because it gives us another genuine organising halfback," Cowboys head of football Micheal Luck said.
“Tom is young, he’s come through first class systems at the Broncos and Palm Beach Currumbin and he now gets the opportunity to learn off an experienced premiership-winning halfback in Chad Townsend.
"An extra attraction for us, apart from his on-field talent, was the fact he is a Mackay junior and he came through our academy system as a teenager.
"Tom is tenacious in the way he plays and he has all the traits we want in a long-term halfback."
The loss of Dearden, a highly touted prospect, will be a bitter blow to the Broncos on the back of David Fifita's exit to Gold Coast at the end of last season.
In a club statement, coach Kevin Walters said: "Tom Dearden confirmed to the club this morning that he has signed for the Cowboys from next season.
"Obviously we are disappointed but we have clear priorities on who we are targeting to strengthen our roster going forward.
"We will continue to work through that process in the weeks and months ahead."