The stunning twist that heaps more pressure on Broncos
The Broncos are under mounting pressure to retain Tom Dearden with the off-contract Brisbane halfback receiving an approach to consider an immediate transfer to the Cowboys.
News Corp can reveal a third-party associate has contacted Dearden's management to sound out the prospect of the 20-year-old playmaker quitting the Broncos this week to join North Queensland.
The Cowboys are weighing up their scrumbase options after fielding a request from the Knights to grant a release to Newcastle-bound Jake Clifford to cover an injury to veteran halfback Mitchell Pearce.
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Cowboys hierarchy will not release Clifford at this stage, but their position could change if they were able to secure Dearden, who is a free agent for 2022 and has yet to receive a new offer from the Broncos.
North Queensland are turning up the heat on Brisbane. Dearden flew to Townsville in February for preliminary talks with Cowboys coach Todd Payten, who is on the hunt for playmakers amid speculation star five-eighth Michael Morgan is weighing up retirement.
It is understood the third party who contacted Dearden's agent Sam Ayoub proposed a scenario that could see Dearden move to the Cowboys immediately if North Queensland lost Morgan and Clifford in the coming weeks.
But Broncos coach Kevin Walters has hit back, insisting he has no plans to sign off on a release for Dearden, despite agreeing to a request for boom teenager Reece Walsh to make an instant shift to the Warriors.
"Tom is under contract to us this year so we won't be releasing him," Walters said.
"Even if Tom did want to leave, which I'm confident is not the case, the fact is he is contracted to us so that (releasing him to the Cowboys) won't be happening."
While North Queensland are struggling like the Broncos on the field, one attraction for Dearden considering a move to Townsville is the opportunity to be mentored by Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston.
Thurston has a huge wrap on Dearden, having worked with him in Queensland junior representative camps, and shapes as an X-factor in the Cowboys' poaching attempt.
Walters promoted Dearden into the starting side in last week's 40-6 loss to the Storm and before the game, the Broncos coach said he was acutely aware of the importance of not over-exposing the rookie halfback.
"We are very conscious of making sure that Tom gets the right support around him to be successful at this club," Walters said.
"We want Tom coming into a winning team in an environment where he is comfortable playing.
"The NRL is a tough environment for any young player to be learning their skill and that's our main headspace around Tom, to make him feel welcome here.
"It's up to us and Tom and everyone around him to make sure we manage that properly, so that his form and his career is in good hands at the Broncos."
Originally published as The stunning twist that heaps more pressure on Broncos