Dummy run haunts Cherry-Evans
It was a dummy that'd make the dodgiest of used car salesmen proud, and Maroons halfback Daly Cherry-Evans admits it's likely to haunt him for the rest of his days.
With Queensland clinging doggedly to a 4-0 lead in the 72nd minute, Cherry-Evans moved up in a Maroons line that had kept the Blues scoreless for just under two hours of football, having not been breached since Jarryd Hayne crashed over in the 33rd minute of Game One three weeks ago.
Just minutes earlier, the Manly halfback, clearly playing busted with the knee that had troubled him all week, had picked himself up and packed himself with dynamite, crunching Michael Jennings to the ground when he was all but certain to bag the opening four-pointer.
But when former Manly teammate Trent Hodkinson went to the line, dummied and then swerved past inside defender Ben Te'o, there were no more heroics from the man who had once squared off against the Blues No.7 for a starting spot at the Sea Eagles.
Cherry-Evans stuck to the looming Ryan Hoffman on the outside, Te'o clutched at the thick ANZ Stadium air, and Hodkinson accelerated his way into the history books, bringing an end to 3,269 days of Blues heartache and Maroons triumph in one fell swoop.
"That's a moment I'll never forget. He ran straight past me so that's something I'll have to learn to deal with... but well done to Trent," Cherry-Evans lamented.
While Hodkinson will never have to pay for another beer so long as he's in the Premier state, the XXXX flowed freely in the Queensland sheds as Cherry-Evans struggled to put into words the emotions that came with the end of one of Australian sports greatest ever dynasties.
"It was a pretty empty [feeling]. If I was to speak personally, it was a really empty feeling out there after the game.
"But I'm sure that's honestly how New South Wales have felt in previous years.
"Now we get a little glimpse into that. So close yet so far."
The owner of Australia's most scrutinised left knee refused to use the week-long speculation about his fitness as an excuse for the loss. Ditto the repeated hits from Blues vice captain Robbie Farah as NSW clearly targeted the Maroons halfback for an assessment that gave the term physical a whole new meaning.
"It wasn't ideal but they were the cards we were dealt with as a side," said Cherry-Evans.
"I think as a team we didn't have the ideal preparation. [The attention from the Blues] was always going to happen with the media build-up in regards with my knee which is unfortunate the amount of attention it got.
"It is what it is and I wouldn't have played if I felt I couldn't get through the game.
"Unfortunately it wasn't the result we were after."
Confirmed to play just 24 hours before kick-off, coach Mal Meninga backed the decision to play Cherry-Evans despite having only trained once with the side.
“He worked hard on his injury all week... and I thought he handled himself well again tonight,” said Meninga, before predicting the 25-year-old would eventually benefit from the experience of being at the helm of Queensland first series defeat since 2005.
"He's going to get better, not worse from that experience.
"You learn more things in defeat than in victory I believe, so from a character point of view it does hurt.
"I've been in that situation many times... and it does build character, it's how you handle it going forward is the really important part about it."