League Express editor MARTYN SADLER pays tribute to a player who many thought was a risky selection for Queensland in Wednesday’s State of Origin game.
In Rugby League we are great at talking down the game and some of our leading stars.
And the Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans is a perfect example of a player who some Australian fans seem to love to hate.
When a few years he backed out of a deal to sign for the Gold Coast Titans to renew his contract with Manly in a deal that would secure his future, he attracted criticism that seemed excessive to me.
Cherry-Evans had last played for Queensland in 2015, but as a natural playmaker he had struggled to play alongside the Maroons’ established stars in a subservient role and was on the outer until this Wednesday, when coach Kevin Walters took what some people thought was a gamble in selecting him for a comeback. Walters faced plenty of scepticism for his decision, with many pundits claiming that the Titans’ Ashley Taylor should have got the nod instead of Cherry-Evans.
But as it turned out, the selection of Cherry-Evans was a master stroke, and his halfback combination with the Storm’s Cameron Munster was a key part of the Maroons’ thrilling 18-12 victory in what was one of the greatest Rugby League games I’ve ever seen.
Cherry-Evans scored the winning try, while his kicks repeatedly secured repeat sets and he clearly took charge of the team on the field.
For me he was clearly the man of the match and his interview after the game showed how much it meant to him. His coach admitted that he is now central to his plans for 2019.
“Obviously next year is next year. He’s in a great position now and he’d have to be doing something not so well next year to lose it,” said Walters.
“It’s his. He did a great job with it, we’re really thrilled for him.
“He had to wait his time, he was behind behind Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston for three, four, five years,” Walters said.
“When he did get his opportunity last time I don’t think he was quite fit or his shoulder wasn’t quite right.
“I could tell at the start of the week when I sat down with him – and Billy knew as well – that he would put on a performance tonight.
“I was really happy for him and that will put to bed all of those myths and all that talk about what sort of person he is and secondly that he’s not welcome in the Queensland set up. That has all been put to bed, which is great for DCE.”
Queensland captain Billy Slater, who was making his last Origin appearance, said Cherry-Evans had had a massive influence in the Maroons’ training camp.
“I was really impressed with Daly Cherry-Evans coming into the side, he led us around all week,” said Slater.
“He learned the game plan, in his spare time he came up to a few of us and worked on combinations. He wanted to understand the plays. I think that No.7 jumper is his for a long time to come.
“He’s very experienced now and he’s very impressive.”
Cherry-Evans made a superb contribution to a brilliant game in an Origin series that was a beautiful demonstration of sport at its very best, from game one in Melbourne, through the second game in Sydney to the final game in Brisbane. The only pity was that the final game wasn’t a decider.
But for Daly Cherry-Evans it was a triumph. He may have been booed by a section of the Maroons supporters when he entered the field. But by the end of the game they loved him. And so they should.
Read Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ column every Monday in League Express.