Daly Cherry-Evans ruined Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues’ hopes of a clean sweep in the State of Origin series, and now coach Brad Fittler believes he is the player who could have the greatest impact in helping the Australian Kangaroos topple the New Zealand Kiwis in Saturday’s Test match.
Cherry-Evans will don the No.7 green and gold jumper for the first time in four years after NSW Blues five-eighth James Maloney was ruled out through injury.
The Manly halfback also ended a five-year exile for Queensland in the Origin arena this season, after being selected to replace Ben Hunt in the starting side for game three before going on to turn in a strong performance in the 18-12 win.
With the Kangaroos undergoing a major sea change with stalwarts Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston all having retired, Fittler nominated Cherry-Evans as the player most likely to execute the game plan of former Queensland turned Australian coach Mal Meninga.
“They’re all important, I think Mal is working on them all as a team,” Fittler said.
“Cam (Smith) always had a big say over the last 10 years really just the way he played and obviously that combination from Melbourne, and that Queensland combination.
“Now, they’ve got to make their own combination.
“Cooky is important. Daly Cherry-Evans is important because he’s one of the more experienced guys and he hasn’t played much at all either.
“But he’s been with the coach longer, he knows what the coach looks for and his style.”
The Australian team includes 11 players from NSW, with Origin stars Damien Cook, James Tedesco, Latrell Mitchell and emerging Blues talent Luke Keary making their debut for the Kangaroos.
Fittler named a record 11 debutants for the Blues this season, with the gamble paying off after they won the opening two games to claim their first shield in four years.
Having worked closely with a number of players who have now been chosen to go on and represent their country, the NSW coach said Meninga would also benefit from their work ethic and desire to learn.
“All the boys are really good listeners like Teddy and Cooky,” Fittler said.
“They’ll be hanging off every word Mal says, just work out what he’s looking for and they’ll deliver it.”
Fittler said he was also looking forward to watching the performance of Luke Keary, who was drafted into the extended Blues squad this season.
The Sydney Roosters five-eighth was a deserved winner of the Clive Churchill Medal off the back of a brilliant performance in the NRL grand final against Melbourne and was rushed into the squad after Cameron Munster withdrew for personal reasons.
“That was one of the more impressive games I’ve seen by anyone, particularly in a grand final,” Fittler said.
“That was a super effort, what he was used to doing and how it changed in a game and a half, and then what he came up with.
“He doesn’t look like he gets overawed by much. He was awesome.”
Fittler also said he didn’t expect any of the debutants to be overawed by the occasion, having watched how they handled their selection for the Blues this season.
“It’s like the first one, you’ve just got to be ready for the opportunity,” Fittler said.
“They’ll be a lot of excitement and even just getting the clothes, the colours, the green and gold. Those moments, when you get your bag and you’ve got all your training gear and when you’re sitting in the sheds and it’s time to put your jersey on and your socks on. That’s when it hits home.
“It’s an incredible feeling. Origin is the same, you talk about the Blue and the Maroon, but then it’s the green and the gold. You’ll get to put it on and catch yourself in the mirror and it will send emotion through you.”