Meninga, Smith back Cherry-Evans

Queensland coach Mal Meninga and captain Cameron Smith have defended the performance of halfback Daly Cherry-Evans after NSW levelled the State of Origin series at one-game all with a stirring 26-18 victory in Melbourne.

Filling in for the injured Cooper Cronk, Cherry-Evans was repeatedly targeted by several of the Blues forwards, including Ryan Hoffman.

Meninga was confident Cronk would recover from his shoulder injury in time for the deciding game three in Brisbane on July 8.

But he felt Cherry-Evans stood up well in the Storm champion’s absence.

“I thought (halves Johnathan Thurston and Cherry-Evans) played extremely well under a lot of pressure,” said Meninga.

“They ran at Daly quite often.

“I don’t know how many tackles he made but it was considerable.”

It was an opinion supported by Smith.

“Daly – I thought he was good,” said the Queensland skipper.

“There’s no doubt they sent Ryan Hoffman at him a few times.

“I think he was up to 20 tackles at halftime, so he would have finished at close to 40 and for a half that’s enormous.

“The effort was great and when you’re only making 15 or 16 tackles a week for your club and you make 40 it does take a bit of starch out of your attack.

“But I thought he was good, he was composed.

” … it’s his second game starting at No.7 on his back in a State of Origin match so it takes guys a fair while to get used to that role.”

Meninga said he did not know whether champion fullback Billy Slater would be sent in for shoulder surgery in the next few days, potentially ruling him out for the season.

“No idea really,” said Meninga.

“I think it’s all about how he pulls up tonight.

“He will be assessed tomorrow I imagine by the Melbourne club and I guess we will know later on in the week.”

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