Cameron Smith left a massive void when he retired from rep football but he has given glowing endorsements to the two men who have filled his shoes in the Queensland Maroons side.
Speaking ahead of Origin II at Optus Stadium on Sunday the former Queensland skipper said new captain Daly Cherry-Evans and hooker Ben Hunt would both improve on what he insisted were outstanding displays in the game one win.
Hunt stepped into the hooking role for the first time as a starter and made 53 tackles in an 80-minute performance of grit and courage.
Smith said Hunt was "extraordinary" in Game One and was emphatic when asked whether he could hold down the position long-term.
"Absolutely. I think it is really in his hands how long he wants to play there for," Smith said.
"If he keeps putting performances like that he will be there for quite some time.
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"To make the number of tackles he made and give the service he provided in attack is a huge effort. He will only grow in confidence. I know he had some things he wanted to work on and improve on and I am sure he will do that.
"I thought he was one of Queensland’s better players in game one. He hasn’t played in the No.9 in a long time. It is a big change going from No.7 and defending three-in and coming in to the ruck and making tackles."
Cherry-Evans returned to the fray in Origin I just five weeks after ankle surgery.
Smith’s former teammate Billy Slater was in camp with the Maroons and noted how well the Manly captain handled the lead-up and told his old Melbourne skipper how impressed he was. It came as no surprise to Smith.
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"I spoke to Billy during the camp and he said he was really impressed with the way Daly handled the week particularly during meetings and on the training paddock with the way he was talking it up and controlling the sessions," Smith said.
"We all knew that Daly had that in him. Now he is a more mature person and a more mature player and he’s had the captaincy at the Sea Eagles for several years.
"He was always going to develop his leadership skills and I don’t think there were too many people involved in that camp or the team that were surprised with the way he handled game one.
"As far as the way he controlled the team and controlled the game I thought it was fantastic."
Cameron Munster did most of the running of the football for the Maroons in Brisbane but Smith expects DCE to up the ante in that department on Sunday now that he has an Origin and a club game for Manly under his belt after returning from injury.
"I don’t think Daly was 100 per cent fit in game one but now two weeks later I think he is going to be even better for that first-up hitout," Smith said.
"Usually when you have surgery it is a 12-week injury so he did really well to get back for that game and do the job that he did.
"I mentioned to a couple of people after game one seeing what he did coming off that injury he is only going to be even better in Game Two with his running game and ability to move around the park more freely."
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Cherry-Evans rested a sore shoulder on Wednesday where he sat out training but was back on deck on Thursday.
"I pulled up a bit sore from the Manly game on the weekend. I'm sure I'm not the only one who did carry a few niggles into camp, but I get that extra day off which was fantastic,” Cherry-Evans said.
"I bounced through training yesterday and feel great today so I'm really excited about the way I feel and the game this weekend.
"I'd like to think we will be better, not just as an individual but collectively as a team. I'd like to think we have improvement across the board and certainly the way we have trained this week, we've identified a few things we can be better at."
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Cherry-Evans has thought about the rewards that await should Queensland win on Sunday and wrap up the series.
"There are moments in your career where you don't set out at the very start, but once you are put in a position of captaincy, you certainly dream big, you dream of holding the shield up,” Cherry-Evans said.
"I'm lucky enough to go out there with 16 other players and potentially have that opportunity.
“We understand what is on the line as a side and we are excited about that and we can't wait to get out there."