Manly Sea Eagles captain Daly Cherry-Evans is in poll position to be the next Queensland captain as Maroons coach Kevin Walters and his fellow selectors prepare to replace Greg Inglis.
Cherry-Evans is not the only candidate by any means, but he has done everything in his power to be considered as a prime candidate.
Maroons coach Kevin Walters said on Monday he was pleased Inglis was “at peace with his decision” to retire, but made the point that the Maroons won’t be trying to replace him. There is only one GI after all.
Walters: Inglis a once in a generation player
What Queensland will be looking for in the wake Inglis retiring is another centre that can do the job, and a leader of the team who can bind the Maroons together for what will be the ultimate test against a New South Wales side on a high from winning the 2018 series - and with plenty of options to enhance the team.
“We have to find a new captain and there are some great leaders that come from this great state,” Walters said, before listing three current available club captains in Jake Friend (Sydney Roosters), Michael Morgan (North Queensland Cowboys) and Cherry-Evans (Manly) as contenders.
Cherry-Evans had days earlier put his hand up to say he would relish being the Maroons skipper if given the chance, a stance that was music to Walters’ ears.
“These are the sort of things that I like to be reading and like to be seeing," Walter said.
"It is a great positive mindset for DCE and he has been captain of Manly for several years now and doing a great job, so we have got some good candidates coming through.
“It is up to us and the board of Queensland Rugby League to make the right decision when Origin is upon us.”
Cherry-Evans lost a lot of support in Queensland when he turned his back on the Gold Coast Titans in the famous “back flip”.
Last year in camp he was not afraid to address the issue and in an article in NRL.com asked his critics to put themselves in his position; he pointed out he’d received a counter-offer from the club that gave him his NRL chance that set his family up for life.
The Manly captain got a sense of the change in public attitudes towards him at the Maroons fan day in Hervey Bay ahead of Game III of the 2018 Origin series; he was mobbed by fans and the queues to get his signature were as long as for any other player.
Then he was one of Queensland’s best in the 18-12 win over NSW in Game III at Suncorp Stadium.
Cherry-Evans relished the extra responsibility given to him and took up the challenge issued to him by Walters to be a dominant play-maker and lead the team from halfback.
After that match, there were plenty of Maroons supporters who voiced their change of heart towards Cherry-Evans on social media.
More importantly, he had the respect of his teammates for the way he handled his reintroduction to the Origin arena.
This week Maroons selector Darren Lockyer said he preferred the captain of the team to be one the of the players in a play-making role in the spine.
That stance will also be of benefit to Cherry-Evans’ chances.
Roosters skipper Friend has not played Origin and while he is recognised for his leadership qualities, it seems a stretch to imagine he would be made captain in his first game for the Maroons, presuming he is selected.
Inglis’s retirement has given Friend’s selection chances a boost in that Morgan, who was a possible No.14 option previously, is now a prime candidate for a centre position where he has represented Queensland well before.
Dragons halfback Ben Hunt was standout as Queensland’s No.14 in Game III of last year’s series and if the Maroons persevere with him, it will mean Andrew McCullough and Friend will fight it out for the hooking role.
Another possible option for Queensland to consider is Brisbane Broncos second-rower Matt Gillett.
The 30-year-old played 18 games straight for Queensland from 2012 until 2017 before a neck fracture and shoulder injury ruled him out of last year’s series; he has been a stellar performer for Queensland and back in 2016, then captain Cameron Smith said Gillett was a Maroons captain in waiting.
“I could name a handful of captains but for me, I think Matt Gillett needs to be a good candidate for the job,” Smith said at the time.
“I can just see that leadership quality in him from the way he is playing at the Broncos and his consistency there.”
Gillett is in the four-man Broncos leadership group and is likely to be recalled to the Maroons side for game one of this year’s series.