Daly Cherry-Evans will make his comeback to State of Origin next Wednesday night. However, he’s been served a total sh*t sandwich.
Brought into a badly damaged side that has only pride to play for, anything but a win will see him banished from the event forever, and his previous time in the wilderness justified.
It’s a telegraphed injustice that should boil the blood of any true Queenslander who is interested in their state’s long-term fortune.
However, DCE has no choice but to chew and swallow like a man possessed, and you can bet he will put up the fight of his life.
The last time Cherry-Evans played in a State of Origin match was on Wednesday June 17, 2015, at a packed MCG.
With Cooper Cronk unavailable, DCE was drafted into the number 7 jersey and – as had happened the year before in Game 2, when he stepped in for Cronk – Queensland lost the match and the series came down to the third game.
However, Cherry-Evans wasn’t there for the Maroons’ triumph in the decider as he’d begun his time in exile.
While no one ever said it, it seems clear he was made a scapegoat for the losses the Queensland juggernaut endured in the absence of Cronk.
I’m an unabashed fan of DCE as a player and as a bloke. Sure, like most people, I don’t like Manly that much – my personal experience is that their fans have a nasty habit of rubbing salt into wounds beyond an acceptable point – however, every dealing I’ve had with Cherry-Evans has always increased the esteem in which I hold him.
He truly is a good bloke. He speaks well, is polite and he’s genuinely friendly. He has clearly been raised well.
And he can play very well.
Yet people despise him.
Part of that is surely because he plays for the Sea Eagles.
Some of that is probably due to the Gold Coast Titans backflip – which the Gold Coast Bulletin so nicely articulated.
However, unlike the mass of popular support that was shown for the Rabbitohs to re-enter the NRL, few have ever lifted a finger to help the Giants-Seagulls-Chargers-Titans. How people can suddenly be outraged when DCE, within the rules, chose to stay for what is still the richest deal in rugby league history is – at best – opportunistic.
Cherry-Evans’ problem is that he is totally his own man. He is completely comfortable in his own skin and just as confident that his footballing ability is at least the equal of any other player. Those are wonderful qualities to have as a club’s chief playmaker and captain – essential, even.
However, if you are the up-and-coming star at a successful club, the established star players might not like it much. Anthony Watmough certainly didn’t.
For all of Watmough’s refreshing candour on the matter though, he still reveals that he was expecting his grand-final-winning wunderkind halfback to be happy playing for $50,000 a season. There was nothing unreasonable in DCE’s actions to demand more money, but there was plenty of problems with expecting him to play for peanuts.
When you add Cherry-Evans’ great qualities to the greatest representative side of all time it can also go bad. If you’re a star in that team, you’d probably expect the likes of Cherry-Evans to doff his cap and tug his forelock in deference to his superiors.
And maybe he should have. Who knows? Maybe he did. We don’t know why Cherry-Evans was put on the outer. All we know is that he was.
On the surface of it, you can say that he failed to step into the void that the great organiser Cronk left when he got injured in the early stages of Origin 1 2014 – which also saw him out for the second game – and that Queensland lost both games as a result. You can then go on to say that this thesis was proved when the same scenario happened in Game 2, 2015.
However, let’s not forget that Cherry-Evans wasn’t leading around a team of rookies in those games. His teammates included Billy Slater, Johnathan Thurston, Cam Smith, Greg Inglis, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Darius Boyd and Justin Hodges.
All of those players also lost those games and, in reality, had more responsibility due to their seniority to get the team over the line. However, somehow the blame ended up with the rookie.
And so many people have believed it and accepted it as gospel. What a joke.
Ben Hunt had a poor game in Origin 2 and has now been benched. However, Kevin Walters is adamantly refusing to scapegoat him in a show of support the type of which DCE himself could have benefited from in 2015.
“To blame him for what happened in Game 2 is absolutely ridiculous,” Walters said this week. “That’s never been our view, that’s never been our stance. We had 16 other players out there.”
However, no one ever actually ever came out and said that DCE was the reason that the Maroons lost those two matches in 2014 and the one in 2015. No one openly blamed DCE at all. Yet somehow everyone knew that was the case. He was the change that was made. We all heard “he’s disruptive”, “he’s a dickhead”, “no one likes him”.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reported, Cherry-Evans himself is at a loss on the matter.
“It really is a tough one. There were no quotes or comments … it was just rumours. Nobody actually came up and told me … except for Anthony Watmough,” he said.
So we don’t really know if those rumours are true, yet we’ve just accepted them as fact.
Walters has come out and said those rumours are false – sort of: “I don’t have a problem in any way with him and neither do our players.”
Of course, the only players from DCE’s last game in 2015 that remain in the side are Billy Slater, Will Chambers and Josh McGuire. It could well be that the people who had a problem with Cherry-Evans are now gone and all of a sudden his skill set is very much in demand by Walters.
“We had to have a look at DCE who’s been in great touch for Manly and just that experience around the halves is something that we haven’t had in this series and I think that’s an area that we’ve been not let down in but an area we can better at,” Walter said at the team announcement.
“DCE can fill those shoes, he’s captain of Manly, he’s played in a premiership-winning team which neither Ben [Hunt] or Cameron [Munster] have done…
“He’s played Origin football, he’s played Test football, and in games 1 and 2 we lacked a bit of leadership in those positions and he provides that.”
However, look at the key warning words there: “We had to have a look at DCE.”
There is a suggestion that maybe this game is that ‘look’ and if he doesn’t win, well, that’s it.
And that just isn’t fair. Cherry-Evans is by far the best-credentialled of the available halfbacks for Queensland. At 29 he’s got the most games under his belt, the most finals, the most grand finals, and the most premierships. The contenders – Ben Hunt and Ash Taylor – combined don’t match his numbers.
But Walters is having “a look”. And he’s doing it with Cherry-Evans leading the poorest Queensland side I can remember seeing.
His starting props are a second rower and lock forward. His back row of Felise Kaufusi and Gavin Cooper is the weakest I’ve ever seen in Maroon. Will Chambers’ tackling isn’t up to scratch. Andrew McCullough is an 80-minute player but Ben Hunt is the utility. Can Hunt play centre, wing or fullback?
However, Cherry-Evans’ position is clear, despite all of this: win or be dropped – and for good this time.
As Queensland legend Billy Moore told Fairfax Media: “He’s had a bit of time in purgatory, DCE. He gets the chance to put up or shut up.”
However, Queensland should note their own history when it comes to being quick to change playmakers. One of the large factors in their dynasty was sticking with their playmaker combinations, while NSW had constant changes in the halves.
|Year||Five-eighth||Halfback||Total combinations||Five-eighth||Halfback||Total combinations|
|2005||Trent Barrett 1 / Braith Anasta 2||Brett Kimmorley / Andrew Johns 2||2||Darren Lockyer||Johnathan Thurston||1|
|2006||Anasta 2 / Mark Gasnier 1||Brett Finch 2 / Craig Gower 1||2||Lockyer||Thurston||1|
|2007||Anasta 2 / Greg Bird 1||Jarrod Mullen 1 / Kimmorley 2||3||Lockyer||Thurston||1|
|2008||Bird 2 / Anasta 1||Peter Wallace 2 / Mitchell Pearce 1||2||Ben Hunt 1 / Thurston 2||Thurston 1 / Scott Prince 2||2|
|2009||Terry Campese 1 / Barrett 2||Wallace 2 / Kimmorley 1||3||Lockyer||Thurston||1|
|2010||Jamie Lyon 1 / Barrett 2||Kimmorley 1 / Pearce 2||2||Lockyer||Thurston||1|
|2012||Todd Carney||Pearce||1||Thurston||Cooper Cronk||1|
|2014||Josh Reynolds||Trent Hodkinson||1||Thurston||Cronk / DCE / Cronk||2|
|2015||Pearce||Hodkinson||1||Thurston||Cronk / DCE / Cronk||2|
|2016||Maloney 2 / Matt Moylan 1||Reynolds 2 / Maloney 1||2||Thurston||Cronk||1|
|2017||Maloney||Pearce||1||Anothony Milford / Thurston / Cameron Munster||Cronk||3|
|2018||Maloney||Nathan Cleary||1||Munster||Hunt 2 / DCE||2|
|Total||12||11||23 (19)||5||5||20 (9)|
NSW had 12 different five-eighths and 11 different halfbacks, while Queensland had just five of each, With Karmichael Hunt and Scott Prince doing very brief cameos due to injuries to other players.
Whatever happens, Walters should – and needs to – stick with Daly Cherry-Evans into the 2019 series, regardless of the result in Origin 3. If he doesn’t, he’ll risk not only making the same mistakes the NSW selectors did for 13 years, but he’ll also be forsaking Queensland’s best halfback option.
I fear Walters may make that mistake.
I fear that Kevin Walters has served Daly Cherry-Evans a shit sandwich and now he’s got to chew like hell and swallow hard or his representative career – such as it has been – will be over for good.
And it just isn’t fair.