Tom Dearden emerging as NRL’s next million dollar player with North Queensland Cowboys headache

Following Jarome Luai’s reported call to defect to the Tigers, the cards are falling perfectly for Tom Dearden to be the NRL’s next million-dollar star.

Luai on Saturday nudged the breaks on reports he is moving on from Penrith by insisting he is yet to sign a contract.

Luai wrote on Instagram there was “no pen to paper” following reports he has verbally agreed to a blockbuster five-year deal worth more than $6 million from the 2025 season onwards.

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Dearden is now the top playmaker left on the open market for 2025 with a string of clubs all chasing a front-line playmaker.

The 22-year-old has emerged as one of the NRL’s best running five-eighths after the last two seasons at the Cowboys and even earnt a Queensland debut in 2022.

Dearden remains without a contract for 2025 and North Queensland officials have reportedly already tabled a three-year extension offer worth around $2 million.

The SMH reports “up to half a dozen” NRL clubs are in the race to sign Dearden.

Cowboys teammate Chad Townsend said Dearden is due for a big pay day.

“With Jarome potentially coming off the market, Tommy is next in line,” Townsend said to the SMH.

“Tommy knows how much I love him as a player, he’s got a lot of quality football in front of him, and if he doesn’t get that [$1 million a year] contract this time, he will next time because I know how hard he works.

“He earns every single dollar by the way he plays and the effort he puts out on the field.

“[As for myself] I’m taking it day by day and just want to focus on enjoying my footy. I’m open to everything.”

Luai had been linked to the Tigers over the past couple of months, with last season’s wooden spooners able to offer the premiership winner considerably more money than the Panthers were able to.

The Daily Telegraph reports an emotional Luai told teammates and Panthers coach Ivan Cleary at training on Saturday he would be leaving Penrith at the end of next season.

But a deal hasn’t been done quite yet, with Luai taking to Instagram to address the speculation.

“No pen to paper here. I’ll let yous know when a deal is done. Big Love.”

The news of Luai’s signing comes hot on the heels of turmoil striking the club after the entire board was sacked following a scathing club review.

Wholesale changes were made to the club’s board structure which included chairman Lee Hagipantelis and chief executive Justin Pascoe both stepping down.

Interim CEO Shane Richardson remained confident the board axing wouldn’t hinder their abilities to lure Luai away from the Panthers.

“I’ve made my feelings on Luai well-known for a long time,” he said, also praising Warriors prop Addin Fonua-Blake who will become available at the end of the 2024 season and wants to return to Sydney.

“In my opinion, he was the best young half coming through, he’s proven at the highest level as the best young half coming through.

“Not only that, he’s a great team leader. That Penrith side revolves around Luai.

“He’s a great person off the field despite what many media people like to try to make out. You couldn’t meet a better person than him.”

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