After experiencing the lows of a last-placed finish under immense pressure at Brisbane in 2020, Tom Dearden has found a new home for himself in Townsville – and he doesn’t want to leave, declaring his desire to remain a Cowboy for life.

Having been touted as the future of the famous Red Hill club, Dearden’s 22-game spell at the Broncos presented challenge after challenge, with the disappointment of Anthony Seibold’s reign and a lack of opportunity under Kevin Walters ultimately leading to a premature release from his contract.

It’s a long way from the glittery high of a first career preliminary final, but the challenges he’s encountered have made his rapid rise into the spotlight all the more meaningful.

“I grew up a mad Cowboys supporter and it was my dream to play for the Cowboys,” Dearden told the Courier Mail.

“It worked out pretty cool that I’m playing up here. It never happened with the Cowboys when I was younger.

“It definitely feels like I’m home. I’m loving my time up here. It’s been a really good move for footy and also for personally, I’m enjoying being back in North Queensland.

“We’re a little more isolated up here, we’re the only team so we’ve got a lot of support and fans and it’s all pretty positive.”

Despite arriving under a cloud of uncertainty and carrying a challenging experience, it’s been a remarkable turnaround in the space of 18 months for Dearden. His efforts on the field have drawn acclaim all year, and as well as a preliminary finals berth, his form also resulted in a debut State of Origin call-up.

“It’s been a massive turnaround for me,” Dearden said.

“I’ve absolutely loved my transition up here, the club is awesome, the players are awesome and the coaching staff are awesome as well.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence from that Origin game. Just being around the personnel and the coaching staff they had in the Maroons camp, I learnt so much about playing in high-pressure situations.

“After winning that decider, I came back to the NRL with my confidence higher than ever.”

That mental fortitude was on display in the Cowboys’ last game – a thrilling qualifying final win over the Cronulla Sharks in Sydney.

“That win over the Sharks showed how hard we’ve worked this year and if you hang in there and have a tough mindset, you can win any game really late.

“We just have this mentality where we never give up, we just keep turning up for each other.

“North Queensland has never hosted a preliminary final, so we’re going to have a sold out crowd full of Cowboys supporters. I can’t wait.”