Young gun Tom Dearden has proved himself as one of the NRL's toughest players, sporting UFC protective wear in a desperate bid to be part of the Cowboys' push for a second premiership.
The 21-year-old soldiered on for 50 minutes after suffering the injury in a two-try, man-of-the-match performance against the Warriors in Round 23, and then fronted up for last week's win over the Panthers just 12 days after having surgery.
Wearing “a UFC box” to protect an injury which usually requires up to a month of recovery time, Dearden capped a brilliant regular season with an 80-minute stint against the Panthers that featured two try assists.
“It was pretty painful for the first few days but I was lucky I could recover quickly. If I didn’t feel like I was 100 per cent or could do my job for the team then I wouldn’t have played,” Dearden told NRL.com after the win in Townsville.
“I definitely wore a bit of protection, I got a UFC box so I felt a lot more confident with that.
“I don’t think there have been too many of those types of injuries. It was quite painful the first few days but in terms of injuries, I’m pretty lucky it was only one week out and then I could get back into it.
I think our boys this year have been thrown so many curve balls and we’ve been really good with handling all of that. You handle those situations based on the cultureTom Dearden
“I was pretty determined to get back to training with the boys and it was great to be able to play the last game of the season.”
In recognition of his toughness and talent, Dearden was named the NRL Cowboys Way Award winner on Sunday at the club's presentation night after registering eight tries and 15 try assists in a breakout season.
Dearden's standout performances for the Cowboys earned him a call-up to the Origin arena for the deciding game in Brisbane and the 21-year-old stood tall as he has done all season as the Maroons wrapped up the series.
“I remember in pre-season Toddy (Payten) was talking about North Queensland as a region and what the people are like,” Dearden said after collecting his award.
“We know that they’re tough and resilient and they’ve been through a lot of things like cyclones and floods but the community continually bounces back.
“And I think that’s what we relate our culture at the Cowboys to, trying to be resilient and be tough.
“I think our boys this year have been thrown so many curve balls and we’ve been really good with handling all of that. You handle those situations based on the culture.”
The Mackay product enters his first finals series this week when the Cowboys take on the Sharks and he's hoping his Origin experience has prepared him for the hostile reception sure to be coming their way at PointsBet Stadium.
Dearden gets a double
“There’s a few of us younger boys here who haven’t played finals yet so it’ll be a big test and something we’re all looking forward to I think,” Dearden told NRL.com.
“I think Origin is probably the closest comparison I can get to finals footy as I think the intensity will be similar.
“I think it’ll be a similar game mindset as well, with how you aim to complete high and defend really well. So that’ll definitely be a focus this week.”
“The Sharks have some quality individuals so we’ll have to make sure we’re on our game and that we’re defending well.”
Dearden never says die
Among a host of intriguing match-ups on Saturday, Dearden's showdown with one of his boyhood idols Matt Moylan promises to be a beauty.
“Matt is someone that I did watch growing up and he’s been a good player for a long time,” he said.
“He’s had a few injuries so I think it’s awesome to see him get back on the field and he’s playing some really good footy.
“I think along with him and Nicho Hynes, they’ve got a good combination and have formed a great attacking side. So we’ll have to make sure that we’re on defensively.”
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney