The sight of Daly Cherry-Evans striding out at training was enough to bring a smile to Queensland coach Mal Meninga’s face.
But NSW claims that the Maroons were foxing ahead of Wednesday night’s must-win State of Origin game two at ANZ Stadium were no laughing matter, it seems.
Meninga breathed a little easier as halfback Cherry-Evans gave his strongest indication yet he had overcome a knee injury by joining the main training group for the first time on Tuesday – barely 24 hours before Origin II’s kick-off.
Cherry-Evans had his troublesome knee strapped but moved without discomfort in the team’s warm-up as a horde of cameras scrutinised his every move at ANZ Stadium.
His understudy Ben Hunt may yet receive an Origin debut off the bench if Cherry-Evans is officially passed fit on Wednesday.
Barnstorming centre Greg Inglis (ankle) is also expected to get the green light on Wednesday.
It seemed like a miraculous recovery by Cherry-Evans – one that will no doubt raise eyebrows in a cynical NSW camp which had dismissed Queensland’s injury dramas as “smoke and mirrors”.
But Meninga denied Queensland had pulled off an elaborate ruse, saying they had too much respect for the revitalised Blues who are one win away from breaking an eight-year Origin drought.
“First and foremost, we put up our hands and said NSW deserved to win game one (12-8),” he said.
“Yes, we have had to get through a muddled week with injuries. But I am positive our team will play well tomorrow night.”
Meninga said it was no revelation that Cherry-Evans would be targeted if passed fit, ensuring the Manly playmaker would make the right choice when given the final word on playing Origin II.
“(Pivot) Johnathan (Thurston) and Daly will be targeted just like their (NSW’s) seven and six (Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds) will be targeted – that’s the nature of the beast,” he said.
“That’s why we need to make a smart decision and why we are relying on Daly to make the right decision.”
Meninga wouldn’t bite when told of a report in which NSW forward Greg Bird claimed Maroons veteran Brent Tate was a hypocrite for complaining about a game one dangerous throw.
“It adds to the theatre of Origin – I think that is all well and good,” he said.
“But opinions don’t really matter when you get on the field to be honest with you – it’s actions.”
And Meninga played a straight bat when asked about targeting NSW’s wounded backrower Anthony Watmough (bicep) who had taunted Queensland midweek by saying “come and get it”.
“There is no intent (to target players’ injuries). Both teams …love the aggression, the contact of our sport – that’s why we play it,” he said.
But Meninga could not resist all but delivering a rallying cry with their dynasty on the line.
“Because of the culture we have created within the Maroon camp every hurdle isn’t impossible – we always find solutions for them,” he said.
“We look forward to the battle.”