For once, Queensland captain Cameron Smith and NSW rival Paul Gallen are in agreement: Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans is the man under most pressure ahead of State of Origin II.
But Smith has backed Cherry-Evans to step up as injured halfback Cooper Cronk’s replacement and finally deliver on the Origin stage at the MCG on Wednesday night.
Usually a bench utility, Cherry-Evans got his first big chance to impress when he took over an injured Cronk’s No.7 Maroons jersey in game two last year.
He struggled after being limited to just one training session in camp due to a niggling knee complaint.
But backed by a full preparation in Melbourne, Cherry-Evans is poised to finally flex his Origin muscle – and just as well, Smith says.
“This is a huge challenge for Daly. There is no doubt. It’s a big one,” Smith said of Cherry-Evans, who missed Queensland’s Origin I win this year because of his shoulder.
“He wants to put his stamp on that No.7 role and I am keen to see how he goes. I think he will do well.”
A blunt Gallen said Cherry-Evans was the player who had the most to prove in game two.
And the NSW skipper was quick to bring up Cherry-Evans’ NRL contract drama ahead of the crunch clash.
Cherry-Evans polarised fans when he reneged on a four year Gold Coast deal and remain at Manly on a $10 million “lifetime” contract.
“If we are talking about pressure, he is probably under the most amount of pressure,” Gallen said of Cherry-Evans.
“The $10 million dollar man, he is in their side by Cooper being out so he has probably got the most amount of pressure on him than anyone.”
Gallen cheekily ruled out sledging Cherry-Evans about his recent pay rise.
“No. I might need a loan off him one day.”
Smith said Cherry-Evans had not shown any sign of nerves ahead of game two despite emerging from a tumultuous few months in the NRL.
Cherry-Evans was booed at Queensland’s homeground Suncorp Stadium playing for Manly days after the contract saga ended.
“He’s been good Daly, totally different to last year,” Smith said.
“He only had today’s run – that’s all he had in the game last year.
“His training sessions have been great, his training has had intensity, his talk has been fantastic.”
Asked if he expected Cherry-Evans to be jeered again at Suncorp Stadium in next month’s game three, Smith said: “Of course they will get behind him.
“He is wearing a Queensland jumper.”
Queensland coach Mal Meninga tried to downplay the expectation surrounding Cherry-Evans.
“Everything put upon Daly at the moment has all been external – there’s no internal pressure,” he said.
“We just want him to play his own game, prepare well and play to his potential.
“And players are helping him do that.
“He is fairly relaxed.”