His years in the representative wilderness must seem an eternity ago for Daly Cherry-Evans after the Kangaroos heaped praise on their recalled playmaker ahead of Saturday’s trans-Tasman Test in Auckland.
Prop Aaron Woods backed coach Mal Meninga’s declaration that the Kangaroos are now Cherry-Evans’ team to guide while Tom Trbojevic hailed the halfback’s mental strength.
The DCE love-in is in stark contrast to just three months ago when speculation was still rife that Cherry-Evans’ representative cards had been permanently marked after reportedly falling out with Queensland Origin players.
The public perception wasn’t helped by Cherry-Evans’ infamous fallout with Manly teammate Jackson Hastings in April.
The Sea Eagles skipper began to turn the tide when he made a stunning Queensland return and sparked a State of Origin game three win in July, ending a three-year Maroons exile.
Woods said Cherry-Evans had already won over his Kangaroos teammates ahead of his first Test in four years.
The bench prop said the playmaker had been entrusted with the reins of a new-look Kangaroos featuring four rookies, backing Meninga’s claim that Australia were now “his team”.
Woods said it was up to Cherry-Evans to take control of a rookie spine, with fullback James Tedesco, pivot Luke Keary and hooker Damien Cook all making their Test debuts.
“It will be Cherry (who leads). He is a real dominant half. He can dominate with the ball and let Luke move in and out of the game and let Cookie run whenever he sees anything,” Woods told Sky Sports Radio.
“If we do fall out of a bit of shape it will be Cherry who gets us back and directs us to where we have got to go.
“Cherry will be our chief playmaker and the likes of Keary and Tedesco can chime in when they want to.”
Cherry-Evans’ chances of a Test recall didn’t look good when his NRL club Manly endured a horror season on and off the field, finishing second last amid speculation over coach Trent Barrett’s future.
But he nailed his audition, captaining the Prime Minister’s XIII to a win over PNG in Port Moresby last weekend.
Kangaroos centre Trbojevic said Manly teammate Cherry-Evans deserved the Test call-up after impressing with his resolve during a nightmare NRL campaign.
“It’s how mentally strong he is. Cherry’s been through a lot but he’s a great footy player,” Trbojevic said.
“He’s well deserving of this spot. He’ll show everyone that come Saturday night.”