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Slater's gamble on rookie five-eighth Tom Dearden pays off

By AAP
(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Billy Slater gambled on Tom Dearden to debut in a State of Origin decider and the Queensland coach was rewarded for his bravery as the Maroons claimed a 22-12 win to clinch the series.

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Last Friday, Dearden was told he was going to be the man tasked with the unenviable challenge of replacing mercurial Queensland five-eighth Cameron Munster after the latter contracted COVID-19.

The big intrigue centred around where Dearden would play on Wednesday night at Suncorp Stadium.

Would he slot straight in for Munster or would Slater shift Ben Hunt to the halves and take the more conservative approach of blooding Dearden from the interchange?

Right up until announcing his team – an hour before kick-off – Slater was keeping a lid on Dearden’s role.

The coach put faith in the rookie to start the game alongside Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves and was richly repaid for backing the 21-year-old’s ability.

Dearden has been electric for North Queensland this season after rediscovering his groove following two difficult years at the Brisbane Broncos.

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It was a club combination which first got the Maroons on the board when Dearden ran to the left and sent teammate Valentine Holmes over for the first try of the night.

Hunt was the first to race over and congratulate Dearden as the little five-eighth punched the sky.

Dearden nearly doubled his tally of try assists when he sent Corey Oates in at the corner, only for referee Ashley Klein to pull the call back for a forward pass.

Any loose ball Dearden dived on and he was willing and able to dig deep into the NSW defensive line to open up space for his outside men.

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Cherry-Evans still ran the show but Dearden was the man second to him in just about everything.

Dearden might be just 49 games into his NRL career but the North Queensland playmaker looked every bit an assured Origin player from the get-go.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Dearden as he celebrated with family in the stands afterwards.

“I was pretty nervous running out.

“The coaching staff give you so much confidence going into the game. I knew exactly what my job was.”

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