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From Brothers Mackay to the Maroons: The junior club behind Tom Dearden

Tom Dearden’s elevation to the Queensland Maroons side for the State of Origin decider at Suncorp Stadium came as no surprise to those at his junior club, Mackay Brothers Bulldogs.

The North Queensland Cowboys playmaker will take to the field in Game III, making his Origin debut, after five-eighth Cameron Munster was ruled out of the clash against New South Wales with COVID-19.

There is no doubt there is a mammoth task ahead for Dearden and his Maroons teammates, but Mackay Brothers president Andrew Battaia is certain the 21-year-old is ready for the job.

Dearden was with Mackay Brothers up until he was 16, which is when he moved to the southeast to play for Tweed Seagulls in the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup and for his schoolboys team Palm Beach Currumbin.

Battaia and Dearden’s dad, Steve, worked together as coaches and coaching coordinators at the club, and Battaia said he saw a lot of Dearden’s growth as a young player.

Tom Dearden in his Mackay Brothers Bulldogs playing days.
Tom Dearden in his Mackay Brothers Bulldogs playing days.

“I first started at the club when my son started playing in 2012,” Battaia said.

“Tommy would have been under 11s then and I remember watching him play and he was a standout even back then.

“He’s always been an absolute legend of a kid. It’s no surprise at all to see where he is now.

“You’d rock up to the grounds at any time of any day and he’d be there kicking a footy around with mates or even by himself. He was constantly practising.

“He was nearly running his whole team from 13-years-old. He was so focused.

“I remember it was the under 14s grand final and Tommy’s side was in it and won pretty convincingly. He set up nearly every try and scored one himself.

“He’ll kill it (in State of Origin). He was made for it, to be honest. Seeing how he’s stepped up throughout the grades and into the NRL, with the footy he’s playing, he’ll excel here too.”

It has not been decided if Dearden will start or come off the bench, with Maroons coach Billy Slater indicating Ben Hunt could yet start in the halves with captain Daly Cherry-Evans.

However Slater said Dearden would definitely play five-eighth at some point in the decider and he would wear the No.6 jersey. The Maroons mentor said he was confident in the young half’s ability.

Dearden training ahead of Game 3. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL
Dearden training ahead of Game 3. Photo: Scott Davis/QRL

“I’ve said to Tom a number of times throughout the series, if he was wearing a Maroons jersey in a State of Origin game, I wouldn’t be concerned one bit,” Slater said.

“Now he’s going to be and I’m not concerned one bit. I’m really confident in Tom.

“I love the way he plays his football. He’s a true competitor, he’s a tough defender, he organises his area really well and brings out the strengths in people around him.

“I’m happy for Tom he’s got the opportunity because he really earned it.”

Battaia said he knows many people from the Mackay Brothers club will be watching Origin, including his own two sons who view Dearden as a hero.

Dearden and Oates: There's a job to be done

While it’s been a long time since Dearden last played for the Bulldogs, he still reaches out when he can and last year filmed videos of support for the club’s grand final teams.

Battaia said Dearden has always been that way and is not just a great player on the field, but a great person off the field.

“My strongest memory of him was when I was coaching the under 9s and I was also helping Tom’s dad with his side one day,” Battaia said.

“We asked Tommy if he wouldn’t mind helping some of the younger kids with kicking practise. He went over and grabbed them at around 4pm and took them away to show them.

“We actually had to get him to finish up over two hours later because he wouldn’t stop. He just kept saying, ‘A bit more, Andy, a bit more,’ because he wanted to keep helping them. He’s one of the best young fellas.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have a few kids come through our club and go on to NRL and Origin – Brett Dallas, Shannon Hegarty, Mitch Dunn – but the most recent is Tommy and a lot of our players coming through now had a lot to do with Tommy.

“I remember we’d have touch football games when the season finished and Tommy would always be down there playing with them and encouraging them.

“To most of the club, he is their hero.”

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Queensland 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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