How do you solve a problem like Daly Cherry-Evans?
That looms as the biggest conundrum for Queensland coach Mal Meninga ahead of next month’s State of Origin series decider in Brisbane.
Meninga and Queensland captain Cameron Smith were the first to defend the halfback’s display in their 26-18 Origin II loss to NSW in Melbourne on Wednesday night.
However, the jury is out on whether Cherry-Evans will stamp his mark on Origin after, yet again, letting a golden chance slip.
Filling in for injured halfback Cooper Cronk (knee) for the second time in as many years, Cherry-Evans never found his feet on Wednesday night – albeit after a fearsome NSW campaign to target him all night.
Still, the stage was set for Cherry-Evans to emerge as Queensland’s white knight on Wednesday night.
Instead he remained one of rugby league’s black sheep.
Cherry-Evans was booed when he appeared on the MCG big screen as he ran out in the fallout over his much publicised NRL contract backflip.
Just as he was recently at Queensland’s home ground Suncorp Stadium while playing for Manly.
And there were few cheers when his game two stint ended, capped by a team high five missed tackles.
He may avoid a game three jeering at Suncorp Stadium on July 8 with Cronk set to return from injury and form NRL No.7 Ben Hunt breathing down his neck.
Cherry-Evans polarised the public when he backflipped on a Gold Coast NRL deal and stayed at Manly on a “lifetime” $10 million deal.
Yet he found a way to bring Origin’s tribal rivalry together on Wednesday night when inundated by boos.
There was plenty of pressure – but no excuses.
Last year Cherry-Evans struggled to step up in Cronk’s absence in Origin II after having just one training session due to a knee niggle.
This time Cherry-Evans had a full preparation in the Maroons camp.
Yet it seemed to be the same old result.
Meninga said he was “pretty sure” Cronk would return for Origin III after the halfback flexed his regenerative powers by returning early from a broken wrist in 2014’s game three.
But he still felt compelled to defend Cherry-Evans.
“They ran at Daly quite often,” he said.
“I don’t know how many tackles he made but it was considerable.”
Smith empathised with Cherry-Evans’ plight.
“There’s no doubt they sent Ryan Hoffman at him a few times,” he said.
“I think he was up to 20 tackles at halftime.
“The effort was great and when you’re only making 15 or 16 tackles a week for your club…it does take a bit of starch out of your attack.
“It’s his second game starting at No.7 in Origin – it takes guys a fair while to get used to that role.”