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Dearden poised to start for Queensland in Origin III

Cowboys star Tom Dearden
Queensland coach Billy Slater is expected to start Tom Dearden at five-eighth in Wednesday’s Origin decider.

Queensland is poised to take one of the biggest, if not the biggest selection gamble in State of Origin history by thrusting rookie Tom Dearden into the crucial five-eighth role for tomorrow night’s series decider against New South Wales at Suncorp Stadium.

Coach Billy Slater is still weighing up his options on who will play in the No.6 jumper for the sidelined Cameron Munster, with utility Ben Hunt considered a possibility to partner Daly Cherry-Evans up against the Blues’ pairing of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.

He may not make an announcement until just before kickoff, but the inside mail is that Dearden – who was battling to win a start for the Broncos last year and had to fight his way into the North Queensland starting side – will get the nod for the biggest game of his young career.

The 21-year-old from Toowoomba has made a remarkable transition this season and is one of the reasons North Queensland is challenging strongly for a top-four spot heading towards the NRL finals.

He has blossomed under Cowboys coach Todd Payten and has greatly impressed Slater in all three Maroons camps this year.

“He’ll play five-eighth when he is out there, it’s just whether he starts or not. We’ve still got one more training session here (Suncorp Stadium) tonight and we’ll make that decision closer to the game,” said Slater.

“We’ve got an opportunity to start Harry Grant and Ben Hunt can move into the halves. At the moment he is playing some great football, that’s why he is in the team.”

READ: Origin III match preview & best bets

Slater has a high opinion of Dearden and is not concerned he will be Queensland’s most targeted player if he starts tomorrow night’s clash.

“I’m really confident in Tom, and I’ve told him that all along,” he said.

“I love the way he plays his football, he’s a real competitor, he’s a tough defender, he organises his area really well and he brings out the strengths of the players around him.

“I am very happy for Tom that he has the opportunity because he has really earned it.”

Hunt will start at hooker and dangerman Harry Grant will be injected into the battle when Slater feels there are opportunities opening up.

Dearden played 22 games for Brisbane from 2019-21 and now has 27 games up for the Cowboys and 11 tries.

“It’s a massive gamble, but it’s our best option and Tommy is as tough as tungsten,” a former Queensland Origin player said during a recent private conversation.

“I think he went to the Cowboys with a point to prove and he had to battle for a starting spot up there anyway.

“They’d signed Chad Townsend and Scott Drinkwater was pushing for the five-eighth role.”

Munster is a massive loss.

He hasn’t missed an Origin game since 2017 and the Maroons were caught with no ‘Plan B’ when he went down last week with COVID.

Dearden can expect to be targeted by the NSW forwards, but he has shown this season he is a brave defender who can tip bigger blokes on their heads.

Slater will reveal his hand after tonight’s final training run at Suncorp Stadium, but he is convinced all the players are ready.

“Our players are very clear on their roles,” he said today.

Slater said the forward battle would be crucial.

“All the forwards will take it personally, it’s a decider, Origin games don’t get any bigger than tomorrow night,” he said.

“We’ve got a great mix of middle forwards and you throw Tom Gilbert in there as well, we’ve got a lot of options.

“We started the game really well in Perth, we were leading by four points up until halftime.”

READ: Carrigan backs under-fire Papalii to step up in Origin III

Slater dismissed Queensland’s impressive record in series deciders at Lang Park as being a major factor, even though he admitted the atmosphere would lift his players.

“It doesn’t really matter what has happened in the past. Our actions tomorrow night will determine how hard they are to beat,” he said.

“We can look back at the history as much as we want but everything will be dependent on how they play tomorrow night.

“Our focus will be on playing our best football.

“This game will be the biggest occasion of their careers for most of the players.

“The atmosphere is unrivalled here at Suncorp Stadium, especially in the decider in a Maroon jersey.

“The players have to go out and do that justice and get the crowd involved.

“It will be a great atmosphere for New South Wales as well.

“It will be a unique environment that these players will remember for the rest of their lives.”

The Blues will be choc-full of confidence on the back of their 44-12 win in game two and the fact that they won last year’s game at Suncorp Stadium 26-0 in Brisbane.

Josh Addo-Carr, Latrell Mitchell, and Tom Trbojevic scored the Blues’ four tries on that occasion, but none of them are playing tomorrow night.

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