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It might not have been what fans would predicted at the start of the season, but a five-eighth showdown will take place on Sunday as two of the NRL's most in-form young halves take to the field at Bundaberg. 

At similar ages and stages of their NRL career, Tom Dearden and Matt Burton have both returned to their teams full of confidence after their Origin debuts this year.

Since each moving to a new club to make the number six jersey their own this year, Dearden and Burton's success has been telling; the Bulldogs five-eighth has 12 try assists this year while the Cowboys playmaker has 11, with both players producing strong performances despite their teams being at opposite ends of the ladder.

For the 21-year-old North Queenslander, Burton's boot will be the real test on game day, with Dearden wary of the impact his counterpart could have on the result.

“I think it’ll be a good match-up, he’s obviously got a good boot and can kick some good bombs so I think we’ll have to do a good job on him with that part of the game,” Dearden told

“He’s (Burton) playing really good footy and I think the Bulldogs as a whole have turned it around for themselves. It’s going to be a tough challenge, so I’ve just got to get my preparation right to give myself the best chance possible.

“They're coming off the back of a couple of good wins as well so it should be a really good contest to go down and play them in a country town at Bundaberg.”

It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for the Mackay junior who has gone from a Brisbane Broncos outcast to an integral cog in the Cowboys machine since his move north midway through last year.

Dearden steps up defensively

Dearden endured a difficult three seasons in Brisbane with just four wins in 22 appearances but the turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable with the number six now a certified Premiership contender at Todd Payten's side.

“I think I’ve really simplified my game. Playing along a really experienced half like Chad (Townsend) has just allowed me to focus on the strengths of my game, which is running the footy and getting my edge organised,” Dearden said.

“I’ve been happy with doing that each week and now with the side playing as well as we are and defending our errors, it’s given us a lot of confidence in attack.

“I think we’ve just turned around as a whole as a team and it’s paying off for some of us as individuals as well.”

The Cowboys' department of youth has been on show this year with Dearden in good company among a host of young talent including the likes of Tom Gilbert (21), Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (20) and Jeremiah Nanai (19).

Dearden is among an exciting pack of young talent at the Cowboys.
Dearden is among an exciting pack of young talent at the Cowboys. ©NRL Photos

“One thing I’ve noticed just from being here as long as I have is that the group is so close and we’ve got such a tight culture. We’re just good mates and I think that shows on the field,” he said.

“Because we’re quite young we know it’s really important we all support each other and there’s really positive talk on the field. And it just makes it so enjoyable, especially when you’re winning footy games.

“I think if you hear us in the dressing sheds it shows that we’ve got a good culture, we’re excited and we’re having lots of fun.”

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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