Cherry on top: The ultimate Origin redemption
FOUR years ago, Queensland rugby league fans despised Daly Cherry-Evans. Today, Queensland's No. 1 halfback has won back the people.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters has declared Cherry-Evans will be adored by the public after the classy playmaker was ordained Queensland captain for this year's State of Origin series.
The 30-year-old Mackay product is Queensland's 15th Origin captain, joining leadership icons such as Arthur Beetson, Gorden Tallis, Cameron Smith and Mal Meninga.
Cherry-Evans is the sixth playmaker - after Wally Lewis, Allan Langer, Darren Lockyer, Adrian Lam and Walters - to lead a Queensland team into Origin battle.
"It's a very proud moment, not just for myself but the people who have followed me on my journey," Cherry-Evans said.
"It's a call I will never forget, to tell my mum and dad and meeting with Kevvie this afternoon, it's a great honour and I can't wait."
It is impossible to ignore the poetic justice in the timing of Cherry-Evans' coronation.
Cherry-Evans was on the nose with blue-collar Queensland folk. He was regarded as a turncoat. He broke his word.
It was not the Queensland way. He didn't play State of Origin for another three years.
Now, on June 5, 2019, Cherry-Evans will return to the same ground to face a standing ovation from 52,000 fans when he leads the Maroons out against NSW.
Cherry-Evans admits he has had to overcome fierce criticism in his ascension to the Queensland leadership post as Greg Inglis' successor.
"I once had a chip on my shoulder, but my motivation is different now," he said.
"It's a part of rugby league, you can't make everyone happy. If you try to please everyone, you set yourself up to fail.
"You have to make sure you have strong beliefs and don't falter from that, that will put you on the path to success."
When asked if Cherry-Evans had been embraced by the Queensland fans, Walters was blunt: "My word, the fans will love DCE."
"He is a more experienced player now, a more settled player. He is in our leadership group. "They (the Queensland public) are going to love him … absolutely love him."
Queensland Rugby League officials were entitled to breath a sigh of relief when The Courier-Mail released results last Friday of an online poll asking who should skipper the mighty Maroons.
Cherry-Evans was a standout winner with 44 per cent of votes. The people had spoken: Cherry-Evans' broken promise to the Titans was forgiven.
The shift in sentiment could no doubt be traced to last July, when Cherry-Evans was recalled to the Queensland State of Origin team after a three-year absence for the dead rubber in Game 3.
With the Maroons facing a 3-0 rout, Cherry-Evans produced the greatest game of his career, scoring the try which sealed an 18-12 victory at Suncorp and convinced Walters he can inspire a new generation of Queensland players.
"He already has stamped his mark on this team," Walters said. "The way he walked into camp last year … there was an instant connection between himself, myself and the team.
"We sat down and had a good conversation and I walked away from that thinking this guy will play well and he did.
"We played the same positions (Walters was a five-eighth or halfback) and I played football against his dad so I've known Daly's family for a long time.
"I like what he brings. He is a relaxed person and an intelligent person which you need in those positions, he has the smarts and he is strong enough in the mind to control an Origin game."
Cherry-Evans has underlined his professionalism over the past six weeks.
Initially given no hope of playing Origin I after undergoing ankle surgery, Cherry-Evans accelerated his recovery by almost three weeks thanks to around-the-clock rehabilitation.
"The physios are shaking their heads," Walters said.
"He did whatever it took to play for Queensland … that sums up his character."
Cherry-Evans has relished the Manly captaincy since being appointed in 2017 and says his club experience puts him in good stead succeeding Greg Inglis as Queensland skipper.
"I love what comes with captaincy, I enjoy the proud moments of leading your team onto a ground," Cherry-Evans said. "I also took a lot of confidence from being in past Queensland and Australian camps. I've had the luxury to learn from senior players like Cam Smith, Inglis, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk.
"NSW are probably more settled than we are, but … it's always good when Queensland gets the underdog tag. We have plans to spoil their party."