NSW are on high alert for under-siege Queensland playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans, who they say is heavily armed with motivation ahead of State of Origin II next week.
With his NRL contract drama behind him, two forgettable efforts in the interstate series last year spurring him on, and last week’s boos from Queensland fans still ringing in his ears, the Blues know Cherry-Evans is readying himself for the game of his life on Wednesday at the MCG.
With Cooper Cronk again sidelined with injury Cherry-Evans, one of rugby league’s most polarising figures, has the chance to spearhead the Maroons to victory.
“We have to be wary of Daly coming in with a point to prove,” said Blues back-rower Ryan Hoffman, who will be charged with stifling Cherry-Evans’ impact on Queensland’s right edge.
“He was thrown in there last year when he wasn’t expecting it and he has plenty of time now to prepare himself and get ready for this game.
“I’m sure he took a lot of responsibility for what happened last year and he will be looking to rectify it. It is a matter of us being wary of what he can come up with.
“He is probably better that that contract stuff is all past now, and all he needs to worry about is playing footy, all that speculation, all that questioning of what he is going to do is done and now he can just concentrate on footy.”
With Queensland leading 6-0 early in Origin I last year, Cronk broke his arm and Cherry-Evans was thrust into the Maroons halves, before the Blues surged home for a 12-8 win.
With Cronk still sidelined with injury, Cherry-Evans was again in the Maroons’ driver’s seat in Origin II, as NSW claimed their first series win in nine years in Origin II.
But Cherry-Evans’ preparation was interrupted for both those games.
Blues fullback Josh Dugan said the Manly pivot, who has played five Origins, 11 Tests and led the Sea Eagles to the 2011 premiership, was a big game player.
“Cherry has proved that he can handle the Origin arena, he has done it on numerous occasions,” Dugan said of Cherry-Evans, who was booed by fans at Suncorp Stadium when Brisbane hosted Manly after his contract backflip.
“He is a dangerous player and we have to prepare for that.
“The difference between Cronk and Cherry is that Cronk is a bit more composed and sticks to the game plan whereas Cherry likes to play a bit off the cuff at times and that can work in Queensland’s favour. He is a dangerous ball runner, he has a great show-and-go so we are going to be on our toes for him.”