Tom Dearden has put paid to speculation about his future by signing a mammoth five-year extension to remain a North Queensland Cowboys.
The 22-year-old five eighth was thought to be ready to test his value on the open market – where he may well have attracted a million dollar contract – but will now stay in Townsville until the end of 2029.
The extension is a huge move for the club and coach Todd Payten, who can now build his team around the young half without any fear that he will depart.
“This is a great day for our club, locking in one of the most talented young playmakers in rugby league to remain in a Cowboys jersey until the end of the decade,” said Micheal Luck, Cowboys General Manager of Football.
“Today’s announcement finalises what we believe is a solid foundation for our club to build around with Tom, Scott Drinkwater and Reece Robson all locked into long-term deals.
“We were always confident Tom wanted to remain part of our club because he has thrived in our environment. His improvement as a player has been considerable since he first arrived in 2021 and we believe he’s only scratched the surface.
“We are thrilled to extend Tom’s contract to the end of 2029 and look forward to the success we believe is in front of us with Tom playing an integral role.”
It is another kick, however, for clubs who might have wanted to tempt Dearden down from the north. The Bulldogs and Dragons would have been among the top suitors, with both in the market for an elite playmaker.
With Jarome Luai on the brink of signing for the Wests Tigers, the Panthers might have been interested in Dearden but will now likely turn their attention to Jack Cole, their NSW Cup five eighth, or either of new back-up halves Brad Schneider and Daine Laurie.
Ezra Mam is almost certain to extend his time at Brisbane, leaving only veterans and the Super League to pick from.
Luke Keary and Kieran Foran are both off, though they would be a short-term solution only, while Jack Welsby, the England five eighth, is in discussions with St Helens but thought to be amenable to an NRL move. The Dragons and Dolphins have been rumoured as landing spots.