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Tom Dearden was delivered the Cowboys No.7 jersey by Johnathan Thurston last week and has no plans to simply hand it over to high-profile signing Chad Townsend when he arrives in Townsville next season.

Deaden and Townsend both inked three-year deals with North Queensland earlier this year before spending time languishing in the reserve grade ranks for Brisbane and Cronulla respectively, with the Cowboys securing an early release for Dearden to move north two weeks ago.

The 20-year-old endured a tough first Cowboys outing in a 50-18 trouncing from Manly, having never trained or played with fullback Valentine Holmes as he was away on Origin duty when Dearden arrived in town.

A one-time Cowboys academy member as a teenager, Dearden plays his first game in front of North Queensland fans this Friday against the Sharks.

Next year's marquee signing Townsend has been named again for Cronulla's feeder side Newtown after being dropped from NRL duties in round 11.

Dearden's signing from the Broncos came after he yo-yoed in and out of first grade and never received an official retention offer, but now he has the Cowboys No.7 jumper he hopes to make it his own for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

Thurston presents Dearden with Cowboys' debut jersey

"I want to keep working hard at training and want to be the halfback of the Cowboys," Dearden said on Tuesday.

"But also Chad coming up here next year is a really good opportunity for me to learn off someone who's very experienced and can also help me develop my game as a halfback.

"It's awesome to play with Drinky (five-eighth Scott Drinkwater), he's been killing it on the field, he's a really skilful player and he's helped me out a lot.

"The combination is something we'll just build on as the year goes on... He's a bit off-the-cuff and lives to play eyes-up footy.

"My game, I like to play a bit more direct and get the team around the park, so I think we can build on that and complement each other that way."

Thurston delivered Dearden's jersey before last week's clash against Manly, with plans for the Cowboys icon to help Dearden's development in a similar way to the work Cooper Cronk does with playmakers at Melbourne and the Roosters.

"The club has brought you here for a reason, they believe that you're the man to get the boys around the park," Thurston told Dearden in front of his teammates last week.

"I've got high hopes for you at this club for the future and I always loved putting this jersey on.

"Not only are you representing the boys and your family, but the region too. For 80 minutes that the Cowboys are playing, they stop to watch that because there's a sense of belonging for them."

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Coach Todd Payten welcomes Kyle Feldt back from a post-Origin back issue against Cronulla, with the Sharks able to leapfrog North Queensland into seventh place if they can jag a win on the road.

Payten conceded Dearden's first outing against a rampant Sea Eagles side and playing behind a "comprehensively beaten pack" made for a tough night out.

He said Dearden haD every chance to claim the No.7 role before Townsend arrives next season and had looked far more comfortable in his second week at the club.

"Whatever happens down the track happens down the track," Payten said.

"What we've got in front of us is Tommy is our halfback and it's his opportunity to press for that spot.

"It'll get better week to week. He's not an overt character. When he came to the group he was really quiet and respectful.

"I've seen him became louder and louder from day-to-day. He was talking in our meeting this morning so that's another positive sign that he's feeling comfortable on his own position and what we expect of him."


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