Tom Dearden signed with the Cowboys in the hope he'd be wearing the No.7 jersey for seasons to come, so he won't want to listen to Darren Lockyer's opinion on where the young halfback fits in next year.
Dearden was granted an immediate release from the Broncos in April after North Queensland coach Todd Payten was happy for Jake Clifford to expedite his move to Newcastle, who had signed the five-eighth to a two-year deal starting in 2022.
Payten also had to fill the massive hole left by the forced retirement of Cowboys legend Michael Morgan. It was the perfect scenario for Dearden, who had struggled for game time in the halves in Brisbane.
But within weeks of Dearden's move north, the Cowboys ramped up their recruitment and lured veteran Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend to Townsville on a three-year contract, followed by the re-signing of five-eighth Scott Drinkwater.
The logjam amongst the playmakers has created a dilemma for the Cowboys.
Dearden has the rest of this season to prove he's the man to start at halfback before Townsend joins the club next season, but at this stage – according to Lockyer – he's third in the halves pecking order for 2022.
"We always talk about halves that complement each other… so if we're working off that, at the moment it's Townsend and Drinkwater and Dearden is just a young pup earning his stripes," Lockyer told Wide World of Sports' QLDER.
"It's been the conundrum ever since they signed Townsend and Dearden."
Another Broncos legend, Sam Thaiday, backed up Lockyer, believing the Cowboys would be best to go with Townsend – a reliable halfback who is closing in on 200 NRL games – in front of the 20-year-old Dearden.
"I agree with Locky," said Thaiday.
"I love Townsend and Drinkwater together. I think Drinkwater is a fantastic five-eighth, and Tommy is still earning his stripes as a first grader."
The make-up of the Cowboys' spine is up for further debate given the impressive performance at fullback last Saturday of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
The 19-year-old was deputising for the injured Valentine Holmes and his blistering speed cut up the Roosters on numerous occasions.
So could 'The Hammer' nail down the No.1 jersey even when Holmes is fit again?
"I like fullbacks that can pass and put their outside men into better positions and create space for them," said Lockyer.
"His speed makes him effective at fullback. (And) Val is a good fullback at NRL level. Hammer played in the centres for Origin and did a great job and I think that's where you persist with him.
"And Queensland need centres!"
The Cowboys look well stocked at hooker, with the versatile Reece Robson in outstanding form and veteran Jake Granville, who last month re-signed for 2022, adding a bit of spark off the bench.
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