As cocky as he and his new eye-catching haircut purport to be, Daly Cherry-Evans is well aware of the predicament his State of Origin ambitions find themselves in.
Stuck in rugby league’s toughest queue behind current Maroons playmakers Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, the Manly No.7 estimates it could be as long as four years before he finally dons a Queensland jersey.
But one thing he is certain of is that if he was to receive the call this season he would be ready – and there is no better time to stake his claim than against Des Hasler’s Bulldogs this Friday night.
“It’s something I’d love to be a part of and yeah, I think I’m ready for it,” said Cherry-Evans, who played two Tests for Australia following the Sea Eagles’ grand final win in 2011.
“Once you get a taste of rep footy you always want to get back into the picture of playing at that level. At the moment it’s not in the forefront of my mind but it’s something I’m always willing to put my hand up for when it comes around.
“It’s a tough team to crack and the two players in front of me in Cooper and Johnathan… I more than understand the position I’m in and they could well be there for the next three to four years. If that’s the case, so be it. I’m happy to wait and hopefully if I do get a chance before that I’ll be happy to take it.”
Cherry-Evans was part of Queensland’s Emerging Origin squad for the third consecutive year in early 2013 and was on the coaching staff’s radar even before he made his NRL debut in 2011. And while he is no hope of usurping either Thurston or Cronk in the starting side any time soon, he could come into calculations for a bench spot.
Cronk himself faced a similar predicament for a number of years behind Thurston and Darren Lockyer but his performances for Melbourne left Maroons coach Mal Meninga with no choice but to use him off the bench in a utility role.
“That’s up to the selectors and the coach to go down that route but hopefully if I keep playing well I’ll at least be in their thoughts when it comes time to select a team,” Cherry-Evans told NRL.com.
“I haven’t heard from Mal but I spoke to him in the Emerging Origin camp. I think everyone at the camp understands that you’re within reach of the Queensland jersey so it’s a matter of taking back that confidence and playing good at your club.”
Still young for a half at 24, Cherry-Evans has wasted no time stating his case this season with standout individual performances in wins over Brisbane, Newcastle and Wests Tigers.
And it has been his willingness to take control when a game has hung in the balance that has been most impressive.
“Me and the coaching staff sat down at the start of the season and nutted out some areas we wanted to work on and hopefully we’re seeing the rewards of that this year,” he said.
“I guess coming into my third year and being the halfback of an NRL side, there is definitely responsibility on any halfback so there is a definitely a bit of that but I think it also comes down to the fact that I’m enjoying myself out there.”
Cherry-Evans said the addition of Andrew Johns to the coaching staff had also made a huge difference to his game as well as how he worked alongside halves partner Kieran Foran.
“Last year we made it public that we didn’t get that combination going as well as we wanted to, whether it was due to lack of form from both of us or injury,” he said. “We’ve been trying to work together to get things right and find that even workload that we need to carry.
“Joey has been great with that. He is very knowledgeable about rugby league and it’s good to pick his brain at training. Kieran and I are very lucky at this club to not only have Joey but another great halfback of the game in Geoff Toovey.”
Despite his solid form with the ball in hand, Cherry-Evans said it would be Manly’s defence that would tell the tale against the Bulldogs this Friday night, with last week’s 26-0 win over the Tigers the second time in four outings in 2013 that they have kept their opposition scoreless. Tellingly, the Sea Eagles halfback’s average 25.2 tackles per game is easily the most by any No.6 or No.7 in 2013 and he fully expects to be tested again this week with the likes of former teammate Tony Williams expected to target him.
“It can be a really daunting prospect thinking that T-Rex could pull out one of his big games,” he said. “For us it’s about limiting his opportunities.
“But we’d like to think that we’ve been working hard on our defence and that it’s been paying off with the nil scorelines; but it’s something we’ll keep working on.
“We have to improve a great deal to beat the Bulldogs because any Des-coached side is always going to fight hard for the two points even if they don’t get them.
“But we’re in better shape than we were last year at this time. We need to progress every game and that’s what I think we’ve been doing this year.”