Resilience behind DCE's Maroons comeback

·4-min read

Ask Daly Cherry-Evans' Queensland teammates about him and they all end up saying the same thing.

They can't wait to run out behind him in Wednesday's State of Origin opener in Townsville.

It's a typically low-key indication of the Manly halfback's standing, worth appreciating given his long and winding relationship with rugby league in his home state.

Making his NRL debut for the Sea Eagles in 2011, Cherry-Evans earned the ire of those north of the border in 2015 when he backflipped on a big-money deal to join Gold Coast.

He soldiered on at Manly, returning for Queensland in 2018 after a three-year Origin absence and seizing his second chance.

He was named Maroons captain in 2019 but his finest moment came in 2020, leading an unfancied outfit to a series win.

"On behalf of the worst ever Queensland team, thank you very much," he said on the podium after last year's Origin upset.

His comment ensuring he received the warmest of welcomes when the team touched down in Townsville on Monday.

"That doesn't really surprise me because growing up in Mackay I got to watch him and he was always that bloke no one really talked about," Cherry-Evans' teammate Dane Gagai told AAP.

"It wasn't like 'oh he's going to go on to do big things'.

"But just his determination and his work ethic and professionalism is obviously what sets him apart from other players.

"When he did get selected for Origin and obviously had a bit of a rough start and went away for a little bit, his resilience was unreal.

"He's shown that to now go on and lead our state. I love seeing it.

"He's such a good bloke, I just can't wait to get out of the field with him again.'

Raw back-rower Jaydn Su'A said Cherry-Evans had been key to his and the Maroons' composure in their surprise victory last season.

COVID-19 provided the outside noise in 2020 while a change of venue from the MCG to Queensland Country Bank Stadium has ensured more of that in 2021.

Louder this year has been the suggestion Cherry-Evans was leading a player-push to oust ARL Commission chairman Peter V'landys over the handling of the high-contact crackdown.

It's an allegation Cherry-Evans was forced to deny during Origin camp on the Gold Coast but something his teammates hardly had to worry about.

"I can leave all of that stuff to the big dogs like DCE; I see it on my phone and the news and that's it but he handles it, pushes it aside to focus on what's important," Su'A said.

"He helps all the younger fellas out, everyone respects him and after the series last year he's gone to another level and I can't wait to run out there with him."

Cherry-Evans was able to lower the colours of high-flying Penrith No.7 Nathan Cleary in last year's Origin series, staving off his young rival's challenge for the Australian jersey in the process.

Cleary has only gathered pace in that pursuit since, with this year's series looming as a vital selection battle before the Rugby League World Cup in England later this year, should it go ahead.

In Cleary's favour this year is Origin inclusion of his Panthers halves partner Jarome Luai, the pair winning a staggering 46 from 48 games together since joining forces in the under-20s.

Queensland's lone Penrith representative Kurt Capewell knows how dangerous his fellow Panthers can be but says in Cherry-Evans - and incumbent Kangaroos' No.6 Cameron Munster - the Maroons are well-equipped.

"It's the perfect combination (for NSW) of the half that gets you around the park and an A-class player with the ad-lib ability of any first grader I know," Capewell said of Cleary and Luai.

"They're tough to handle when they're paired together, but he's (Cherry-Evans) awesome hey.

"Such a class act as we all know; professional, a great leader and awesome in camp.

"It's going to be special for him to lead us out up there, I can't wait."