Teenage playmaker Tom Dearden is keeping the heat on first-choice Broncos halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima and Brisbane have ensured he won't be a poaching target for rival teams.
Dearden made an eye-catching Intrust Super Cup senior debut described as as good as any seen in the competition in the past 23 years.
A schoolboy star with Palm Beach Currumbin High School last year, he was pilfered by the Broncos from under the Titans' noses and is under contract with Brisbane until the end of 2021.
The 18-year-old halfback was named man of the match in Wynnum Manly's 16-8 win over the Mackay Cutters in front of Broncos powerbrokers in a performance that was class with a capital C.
Milford told NRL.com he wasn't taking his Broncos jersey for granted as he targets being a decade player in the halves alongside Nikorima, but mentioned Dearden as one of the young guns breathing down his neck.
"Definitely we can [play together for 10 years] but we have a lot of depth here at the club with Sean O'Sullivan, Tanah Boyd, Cory Paix and Tom Dearden, who is coming off an awesome pre-season, so those boys are going to be pushing and keeping us on our toes. They are tapping on our shoulder and waiting for their turn," Milford said.
Former Penrith premiership winner Scott Sattler, who has been watching the statewide competition since its inception in 1996, said Dearden's debut was "absolutely as good as I've seen".
"Dearden is every bit as good a player as Nathan Cleary and Luke Brooks, who came into grade at 18. I will be really surprised if he is not playing in the NRL by round 11," the Channel 9 commentator told NRL.com.
"I've been watching the kid for a long time and his main aim is to go into any game and dominate. He plays with a level of confidence you rarely see in a young player. For Wynnum he played like he had been there for weeks and just fitted in with the side and controlled the game.
"He was named to play Mal Meninga Cup under 18s but played Intrust Super Cup and not only did he not look out of place, the opposition wasn't on the same level as him. He had four line breaks, a smart short kicking game and took the line on at speed and created opportunities for his outside men with his sheer skill. Defensively he was great. They tried to work him over but he held his own.
"His greatest asset is that he uses the field as a chessboard and controls the rhythm of the game, which is something the Broncos don't have at the moment.
"Really good halfbacks can play fast and slow, but not many halves these days can receive the ball at half-pace and explode into full pace, and then be able to slow it up again and create an opportunity for their outside men. Greg Alexander was a genius and the best I ever played with at that and Dearden has the same qualities."
Dearden starred in the first two trials for the Broncos against Souths-Logan and Wynnum-Manly before playing the last 12 minutes in the NRL pre-season clash with the Titans.
He is the nephew of former South Queensland Crushers and Gold Coast Seagulls utility Don Saunders.
"Tom has come from a really good training and skills base at Palm Beach Currumbin High, has a great mentality and defensively is outstanding. Emotionally, I am certain he would handle the NRL," Sattler said.
"At Palm Beach Currumbin last year everyone said he was small, but he has put muscle on his bones and looks like he can handle the consistent, aggressive questions that the NRL asks of you."