It doesn't take long to turn a budding NRL career around, just ask Tom Dearden.
Less than 15 months ago, the blonde-haired half was given the chop from the Brisbane Broncos, the club where he'd been hailed 'the next Alfie', before the youngster was kicked to the curb for Adam Reynolds to join the club.
While Brisbane have enjoyed the leadership delivered by veteran Reynolds this season, the Cowboys have unearthed their next ten-year five-eighth, with 'reject' Dearden piggybacking North Queensland to a top four berth - and an Origin debut.
Called into the side after superstar Cameron Munster contracted COVID in camp, Dearden will become just the third half Maroon in State of Origin history to debut in the third game of a series, with both Munster and Corey Norman also debuting in deciders in recent years.
While the new colours will be unfamiliar for the 21 year-old, his team mates won't be, having played club football with six of the Maroons' Game 3 line-up. With Daly Cherry-Evans taking the reins, it'll free up Dearden to play his natural game and prove why he's worthy of elevation to this level.
Queensland coach Billy Slater has played mind games with the media this week, confirming the Cowboys' five-eighth will wear the six on Wednesday night, but whether he'll start, Slater is leaving that one down to the final team sheet.
“I’ve said to Tom a number of times throughout the series, if he was wearing a Maroons jersey in a State of Origin game, I wouldn’t be concerned one bit. Now he’s going to be and I’m not concerned one bit. I’m really confident in Tom" Slater told the media earlier this week.
“I love the way he plays his football. He’s a true competitor, he’s a tough defender, he organises his area really well and brings out the strengths in people around him."
His debut will double as his 50th career game at an elite level, playing 49 NRL games between Brisbane and North Queensland since his 2019 debut, a time period long gone in the rear view mirror.
Currently in the midst of a career-best season, Dearden has crossed the strive five times already this year with nine try-assists to boot. The Mackay product will be more than ready to show the rugby league world what he's made of, and leave the Broncos pondering what could have been.