Happy to be back up north and proud to be representing his home region, Tom Dearden is loving his footy at the moment.
As the five-eighth in the resurgent North Queensland Cowboys team that has stunned the NRL this season to be perched near the top end of the competition ladder, his good form was acknowledged with what he calls a ‘surprise’ call-up to the Queensland Maroons squad for State of Origin Game I.
Named as the 18th player, Dearden will stay ready and if the occasion arises in the match where he is needed, he won’t be found wanting.
“It’s an awesome feeling, to get the call from Billy (Slater) and find out... was really unexpected and I am absolutely stoked to be here," Dearden said.
“I had no clue at all, so it was a massive surprise.
“I’m 18th man, so I have to prepare as if I am going to play.”
Dearden, who moved to the club from the Brisbane Broncos midway through the 2021 season, is joined by five other Cowboys in camp, with Valentine Holmes named alongside debutants Reuben Cotter and Jeremiah Nanai, as well as Murray Taulagi in the extended squad, in a fitting reward for the club's form so far this year.
“I think we are all just really playing for each other and we are putting in a lot of really good team performances and I think that’s why we started the year successfully," Dearden said.
"And we’ve got a lot of defensive resolve and I think that’s just been the pleasing thing to start the year.
“But obviously, it’s a long season, so we have still got a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we are definitely on the right track.
“It is a good reward. I think it is just a lot of reward off the back of the way we have started the season and it’s awesome to see Reubs and Jeremiah get their Origin debuts and it’s very exciting for them.”
It’s also a far cry from some of the more difficult patches Dearden - who always displayed talent through the grades - has been through in recent times, with high expectations, high pressure and a lack of opportunity to find his feet in the top competition dinting the confidence.
However, through it all, the Mackay Brothers junior - who later went in to star in the southeast of the state with Tweed Seagulls in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup and for his schoolboys team Palm Beach Currumbin - found he learnt a lot from his time moving between the NRL with the Broncos and playing with the club’s affiliated Hostplus Cup sides Wynnum Manly Seagulls and Souths Logan Magpies.
"I have definitely had some tough times to start my NRL career, but it’s good that I am back really enjoying my footy, loving it so far... I think that was all part of my development into making my journey and it’s been a really good journey so far," Dearden said.
“It makes you very grateful to be able to be part of those teams, to get the opportunity to play in the Cup competition and there’s definitely some really good players in that competition that I learnt a lot from as well.
"There were senior players – so it’s been a really good journey and I have enjoyed it and I have taken something from every single pathway that I have gone through."
Right now, his journey has him within touching distance of an Origin appearance and relishing in the chance to further develop his game as part of the camp.
“It’s really exciting. They have Billy (Slater), Cam Smith, Johnathan Thurston in the coaching staff, so to be able to those people here who are legends of Origin, I will learn as much as I can off them," Dearden said.
“And also in our squad, we have got players like Daly Cherry-Evans and Cam Munster and Ben Hunt and I will be looking to pick their brains as well, I think it’s just going to be a really good learning experience and I am just really happy to be here.”