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Whether it was the late-night knock on their hotel door or a phone call from Billy Slater, it’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Queensland’s last-minute call-ups Tom Dearden and Corey Oates.

Both at different stages of their NRL careers, the pair have endured similar yet vastly different journeys in the past year to ahead of taking their place in the Ampol State of Origin decider.

For Dearden, who comes into the Origin arena on debut, his past year has included going from the Broncos’ next best halves prodigy to an outcast, later moving north to Townsville to relaunch his career.

With just four wins in 22 appearances in a difficult three seasons at the Broncos, Dearden has turned his career around at the Cowboys and should he start at five-eighth on Wednesday night, be an important cog in Queensland’s attack.

“If you go back 12 months ago or even six months ago I wouldn’t have pictured myself even coming along to these camps,” Dearden said on Sunday.

“To be able to now get my debut it’s unreal and it’s a really good turnaround. I’m happy and proud of myself as well.

“The biggest thing I learnt was to stick with it. It was a tough couple of years to start my NRL career but I still really love playing footy and that’s what I kept telling myself.

Slater confident Maroons can fill the Munster void

“I’m starting to really enjoy my footy and I think I’m getting the rewards off the back of that.”

Dearden got the shock of his life late on Friday night when Slater knocked on his door in camp at Sanctuary Cove to inform him Cameron Munster had tested positive to COVID-19.

It was Munster’s next move which has Dearden primed to return the favour.

“He called me and congratulated me on the news and said the players backed me to make my debut,” Dearden said.

“I know how devastated he’d be missing out on a decider but there’s nothing that can help.

“I don’t think there’s any better time to debut than a decider at  Suncorp.”

Oates, who returns to the Origin arena after eight games between 2016-2019, had high praise for his former Broncos playmaker while also reflecting on his own jaded 12-month journey.

The 27-year-old was close to retirement with freakish injuries and falling out of love with the game in 2021 after his form dipped to coincide with Brisbane’s struggles.

“You look back now and the way I was about all that, I guess showed where was in my life and career,” Oates said.

Classic deciders: QLD v NSW, 2011

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“My head wasn’t in the right place and I wasn’t listening to people. I never thought this was a possibility again. It was a wake-up call, one I needed.

“There’s a lot of people who got me back in small parts to enjoy my footy again, let alone playing first grade. To get the call off Bill, I really didn’t believe it.”

On Dearden, who he watched come through the Broncos for three seasons at Red Hill, Oates added the Cowboys playmaker had proven people wrong following a breakout year in North Queensland. 

"I’ve always said it would’ve been awesome to see him with Reyno (Adam Reynolds) but that part of his career and the way the club was it was a hard decision for Tommy [to leave] but he knew in his mind he knew it was always going to be the right one," Oates said.

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