NRL Rd 11 - Broncos v Storm
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Tom Dearden of the Broncos in action during the round 11 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium on July 24, 2020 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Brisbane Broncos halfback Tom Dearden has signed with North Queensland.

First reported by journalist Phil Rothfield, the Cowboys are understood have secured Dearden's signature after a long spell of speculation between the two parties.

The 20-year-old will join Cronulla playmaker Chad Townsend in Townsville for the 2022 season, with Kevin Walters set to turn his attention to the open market in hope of fixing his current halves partnership problems.

News Corp reports suggest Dearden has penned a three-year deal with the Cowboys worth close to $1.1 million.

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In a statement published to the Broncos' website, Walters stated his disappointment in Dearden's departure.

“Tom Dearden confirmed to the Club this morning that he has signed for the Cowboys from next season," Walters said.

“Obviously we are disappointed but we have clear priorities on who we are targeting to strengthen our roster going forward.

“We will continue to work through that process in the weeks and months ahead.”

North Queensland coach Todd Payten spoke highly of the promising halfback after the signing was made official.

“Tom organises his team with great maturity for a 20-year-old, he’s a strong runner, he kicks well and he gets his body in front as a defender,” Payten said.

“He played first grade at 18, so it’s clear he has an abundance of ability and he’s been the standout half in his age group coming through the grades.

“On top of that he is a North Queensland kid, who is a really good person that is going to add significant value to our roster.”

The Cowboys have been keen to add to their half stocks for the future with Michael Morgan announcing his retirement earlier this month and Jake Clifford set for a move to Newcastle at season's end.

Dearden has looked to secure his place in Walters' starting side after beginning the 2021 season in the reserves, with high-priced five-eighth Anthony Milford currently the unfavoured figure at Red Hill, featuring in the QLD Cup over the past fortnight.

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The Broncos have been closely linked to off-contract halfbacks Adam Reynolds and Mitch Moses, with Dearden and Townsend seen as the first dominoes to fall in what will be a busy market for those in the No.7 jumper.