Roosters rejection pits rookie Bronco against hero
Broncos teenage sensation Tom Dearden's decision to reject the Roosters has put the 18-year-old on a collision course with his boyhood idol, Cooper Cronk, in Friday's Suncorp Stadium blockbuster.
Dearden's childhood dream will become a full-blown reality when he opposes the champion playmaker - 17 years his senior - in the most daunting examination of his embryonic NRL career.
Underlining the generational gap, the Broncos halfback was three years old when Cronk made his debut for the Melbourne Storm in 2004.
Now Cronk will become the NRL's second most-capped player, surpassing Darren Lockyer (355) with his 356th game, and the Roosters No.7 won't accept being outgunned by a baby-faced rookie.
Rated Brisbane's next halfback superstar, Dearden was blooded against South Sydney a fortnight ago and will take on Cronk with confidence after a 26-10 disposal of Manly gave him his first NRL victory.
"I've grown up with my heroes being (Cowboys champion) Johnathan Thurston and also Cooper Cronk. I get to play a game against him (Cronk) this week so it will be pretty surreal for myself," said Dearden in his first interview.
"I like how composed Cooper is - he is always relaxed and knows what he is doing. I'm trying to learn that from him.
"The main thing I've taken from Thurston's game is to make sure I compete on every play. He was always just there in case something happened in a game and that's what I try to bring to my game."
If the Roosters had their way, Dearden would have been serving his apprenticeship at Bondi this season.
Last year, the then 17-year-old was chased by six clubs - including the Roosters, Titans and Bulldogs - but opted to sign a three-year extension with the Broncos until the end of 2021.
Despite his tender years, Dearden is not short on quiet confidence.
The best demonstration of that came in the 52nd minute of Friday's night defeat of Manly. Attacking the line, Dearden produced a Thurston-style show-and-go and speared through the Sea Eagles defence in the first significant play of his NRL career.
"It was my first game at Suncorp, so to get the job done was awesome," he said.
"Anthony Milford (Broncos scrumbase partner) has been awesome for me. I just support the calls he gives and play off the back of what he says.
"'Seibs' (coach Anthony Seibold) has put belief in me and I know I am ready to do the job.
"It's been my dream to play in the NRL, so there are nerves, but I am getting more and more confidence with every game."
The Mackay product only joined Brisbane's full-time squad four months ago.
"I still pinch myself playing with guys like Milford, Matt Gillett, (Andrew) McCullough and Darius (Boyd), and being able to take the field with them," he said.