The Broncos have got it right by not picking Tom Dearden as a bench utility, club great Sam Thaiday says, meaning he may be lucky to play again this season.
The outstanding young halfback, still just 19, was dropped by Brisbane as they beat the Bulldogs to snap a six-game losing streak.
Rated the future of the club last season, it seemed Dearden’s next proper shot at NRL footy was looming due to the struggles of Brodie Croft and Anthony Milford. But the halves improved against the Bulldogs and Cory Paix – another young playmaker rated key to Brisbane’s future, who returned from injury – was preferred in the back-up hooker role; as he has been for Friday’s game against Wests Tigers.
With no second-tier football available due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dearden may cop a lengthy spell on the sidelines. He has made two NRL appearances this season, off the bench in losses to the Titans and Warriors, and seven so far in his young career.
“It’s kind of hard at the moment because the Queensland Cup is not on,” Thaiday said on Wide World of Sports’ QLDER.
“He’s not playing any footy in that sense but I know that they do a lot of opposed [training] sessions at the Broncos, where they’re doing 13 on 13 stuff. Yes, it isn’t a proper game, but he’d still be getting a few skills up, working with a few different combinations.
“His time will come and he just needs to be fighting fit and ready to go when that time comes, so he can get out there and pull the trigger. He’s a fantastic young kid.
“I’d rather, just personally, not seeing him on the bench for the Broncos and playing a dummy-half role because I think he is an out-and-out halfback and a fantastic young player.”
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold said last month that Dearden was not upset about being stuck behind Milford and Croft and had not indicated any desire to leave the club.
Yet adding to Dearden’s plight, Broncos icon and director Darren Lockyer says that he is only viewed as a viable replacement for Croft, not Milford, who is a running playmaker rather than an organiser. Croft is in the first year of a three-season contract.
Dearden might be highly-rated but he also appears to be getting pigeon-holed; deemed a starting halfback or nothing.
Thaiday, who a month ago predicted that Dearden could force out Croft or Milford “very soon”, said that the incumbent halves were finally headed in the right direction. Croft may well have been dropped had he struggled against the Bulldogs.
“They’re getting better and that’s all we can ask of them,” Thaiday said.
“I thought Anthony Milford had some really good kicks [against the Bulldogs], which then was backed up by a brilliant kick-chase.
“I’m going to give them a pass mark. But I’d still like to see them improve and still work on that combination because I think if they get it right, they can be an absolutely dynamic halves pairing and can really put teams to the sword.”
Immortal and inaugural Broncos captain Wally Lewis agreed.
“Croft and Milford, if you’ve got to rate it out of 10 [against the Bulldogs], I suppose you’d say a seven out of 10,” Lewis said on QLDER.
“It was a long way off being a bad [performance], they performed very well, but it’s probably a little bit short of what they can do at their highest level.
“They played a very good team game. It wasn’t all about, ‘I’m playing one for me and I’m going to run the ball and however I do this, am I pleased with my personal performance?’
“They inspired their teammates just as much as themselves and I think that was a fantastic performance.”