Daly Cherry-Evans has pumped up the tyres of likely halves partner Tom Dearden as Queensland’s new-look spine crammed for the State of Origin decider.
The Maroons, who will bus to Brisbane from their Gold Coast base on Monday afternoon, won’t confirm their line-up until an hour before kick-off on Wednesday at Suncorp Stadium.
Indications are that the 21-year-old North Queensland playmaker will wear the No.6 in a straight swap for Cameron Munster (COVID-19), leaving Ben Hunt at hooker, Kalyn Ponga at fullback and Harry Grant on the bench.
That will be where the similarities between the two ball-players end though, Cherry-Evans stressing that whoever stands next to him in game three should keep Munster far from mind.
“Whoever plays five-eighth just has to be themselves,” the captain said.
“There’s no-one in the comp that can replicate Cameron Munster … he’s his own unique beast, but we’re all excited at what we can do to help this team win on Wednesday.”
Dearden has been with the squad all series, that acknowledgement alone a nod to his revival since a mid-season exit from Brisbane last year.
Hyped as a Broncos saviour, he’s instead rediscovered himself in Townsville to help the Cowboys to second with a 12-4 record.
“With confirmation he’s playing we’ve caught up on a few reps, and Benny as well, so I’m feeling really comfortable with both of them,” Cherry-Evans said.
“He’s playing great footy with the Cowboys; everyone watching him come through all saw the ability that he had.
“It’s great to see him play like the way it is … and Tommy won’t skip a beat out there.
“The style of footy he plays (suits Origin); he’s brave, a good defender, a competitor, not going to let the game go by.”
There could be some positional tweaks up front, with Pat Carrigan pushing for a start and Josh Papalii potentially shifting to the bench for impact after book-ending in short game one and two cameos.
The COVID-19 hiccups are a fresh test for Cherry-Evans, who has enjoyed a rollercoaster State of Origin career in charge.
After leading a depleted side to a series win in 2020, Queensland suffered horror back-to-back losses to surrender the shield.
A poor showing in Perth has given NSW a chance to win from 1-0 down.
“Being the skipper I want to make sure I’m really clear and direct on where our team needs to go,” he said.
“With that everyone can play their best footy.
“As soon as we left Perth it was hard not to think about game three.
“In two nights we’re going to get an opportunity to go out there and make all our dreams come true.”