A long State of Origin career has been predicted for Daly Cherry-Evans by Queensland coach Mal Meninga despite selectors making the “difficult” decision to cut him for a must-win game three.
Selectors surprisingly could not find room for game two halfback Cherry-Evans in their 17 after the return of Maroons No.7 Cooper Cronk from a knee injury.
North Queensland’s Michael Morgan kept the bench utility spot ahead of Manly’s Cherry-Evans who failed to impress as starting halfback in the Maroons’ Origin II 26-18 loss in Melbourne.
Canberra’s Josh Papalii replaces injured bench forward Josh McGuire (Achilles) and Newcastle’s Dane Gagai will make his Origin debut on the wing in the July 8 series decider at Suncorp Stadium.
While Maroons pivot Johnathan Thurston hoped Morgan could stake a long-term Origin claim, Meninga hinted that Cherry-Evans’ absence may be a one-off.
Asked if Cherry-Evans – once dubbed the next Queensland captain – had a long term Origin future, Meninga said: “Absolutely.
“This is only a decision based on this game.”
Meninga said Morgan got the nod over Cherry-Evans because he could cover more positions in a backline reshuffled after fullback Billy Slater’s season-ending shoulder surgery.
“It was a tough decision, obviously,” Meninga said of Cherry-Evans’ axing.
“But we feel that at this point Michael is the best option, he plays more positions – simple as that.”
Thurston hoped his Cowboys teammate Morgan could cement his Origin spot with a breakout game three.
Morgan debuted on the bench in game one for an injured Cherry-Evans and was retained for Origin II after the Manly playmaker was elevated to halfback for an injured Cronk.
“It’s not an easy team to force your way into,” Thurston said.
“But Mal obviously sees something in him (Morgan) and so do the boys – this is a great opportunity for him.”
Thurston admitted he felt for the axed Cherry-Evans.
“The selectors and team have invested a lot of time into him the last couple of years,” he said.
“I feel for him but this is the way the selectors have gone and we believe it is good enough to get the job done.”
Papalii played the last of his three Origins in game one last year but Meninga said his experience gave him the nod over Sydney Roosters enforcer Dylan Napa and Newcastle’s Korbin Sims.
Greg Inglis moved to fullback for Slater with Will Chambers filling his centre vacancy and rookie Gagai on the wing.
Queensland picked Cronk despite the halfback not playing since being ruled out of the Maroons’ game two loss.
Meninga said prop Matt Scott would join the Origin camp later in the week after staying in hometown Townsville receiving treatment on his neck.
He also dismissed concerns for winger Darius Boyd (groin).
Canberra bolter Edrick Lee was named 18th man.
Queensland will fly out for a fan day on Tuesday in Proserpine before settling into their Gold Coast camp on Wednesday.