Queensland captain Cameron Smith admits Daly Cherry-Evans faces a huge challenge stepping up in State of Origin II after his contract saga.
However, the Maroons have backed Cherry-Evans to slot in for injured halfback Cooper Cronk (knee) when they look to seal their ninth series win in 10 years at the MCG on June 17.
Cherry-Evans caused an uproar north of the Tweed River last week when he reneged on a four-year Gold Coast deal to stay in Manly.
A low point came when the Maroons playmaker was booed at Queensland’s spiritual home, Suncorp Stadium, during Manly’s NRL loss to Brisbane on Friday night.
Smith admitted Cherry-Evans faced a tough ask filling in for Cronk for just the second time in an Origin game.
Cherry-Evans struggled with a knee injury and didn’t fire a shot at No.7 when Cronk (broken arm) missed last year’s Origin II clash, as NSW sealed their first series win in nine years.
But Smith claimed Cherry-Evans was ready to rise to the challenge and “make a statement” for the Maroons in game two.
“I see it as a big challenge for him personally but I think he is up to it,” Smith said.
“The best thing is that he will be able to train with us for the entire camp.
“Last time he had the No.7 jersey he had one training session with us.”
Meninga rued Melbourne Storm halfback Cronk’s injury but backed Cherry-Evans after ignoring the claims of in-form Broncos halfback Ben Hunt.
“He (Cronk) would have loved to have played here,” Meninga said.
“But Daly comes straight into the side. He has been there, done that – I am very confident he will get the job done.”
Meninga insisted Cherry-Evans’ contract drama would not be an issue in the Maroons camp.
“He will be fine. What has occurred in the past is behind him now,” he said.
“To be honest we don’t think about those sorts of things.
“This is the Queensland team and we are moving forward.
“We wouldn’t probably discuss that in camp to be honest.”
Queensland have talked up the fitness of fullback Billy Slater (shoulder) and centre Greg Inglis who is nursing a knee complaint. while recovering from a bout of tonsillitis that floored him ahead of Origin I.
Cherry-Evans’ elevation at halfback ensured Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan kept his spot as bench utility.
Instead of an 18th man, Meninga added three players to an extended Maroons squad – Newcastle duo Korbin Sims and Dane Gagai and Canberra enforcer Josh Papalii.