Either Queensland are about to pull off their most elaborate ruse or a desperate Maroons will roll the dice and thrust rookie halfback Ben Hunt into the State of Origin game two cauldron.
A comeback rivalling Allan Langer’s miraculous 2001 return or Trevor Gillmeister’s 1995 hospital discharge may be needed by Maroons No.7 Daly Cherry-Evans in order to feature in a must win Origin II clash after he cut a forlorn figure on Sunday.
The Manly playmaker spent the majority of their Origin II dress rehearsal – Sunday’s opposed session with the Queensland Under 18s – icing his troublesome knee in front of TV cameras at their Gold Coast camp.
As Cherry-Evans looked on, Hunt – armed with just 13 games experience as an NRL starting halfback – spent the entire session as Queensland No.7.
Other injury concerns Greg Inglis (ankle) and Billy Slater (shoulder) ran freely.
Cherry-Evans was set to fly out with the Queensland squad for Sydney on Sunday afternoon and will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness.
While a wary NSW will be prepared for anything on Wednesday night thanks to the Maroons’ track record, it seems unlikely Cherry-Evans will add to Queensland Origin folklore with another against the odds effort.
Queensland backrower Sam Thaiday admitted it was a risk leaving Cherry-Evans’ selection until the last moment for a match that will put their unbeaten eight-year run on the line.
“There is somewhat of a risk there leaving it late,” he said.
“But in saying that we have been preparing like they haven’t been playing.
“Ben Hunt has been doing everything in the halfback role – we have our bases covered at the moment.”
NSW back-rower Anthony Watmough said the Blues were preparing as though his Manly teammate Cherry-Evans would play, but he personally wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t.
“He doesn’t play many games injured with Manly,” he said.
“They seem to wrap him up in cotton wool, so it’ll be interesting to see how he goes.
“He’s a danger in any team. We’ve seen him dominate games week in and week out, so we’re going to have to put pressure on him – and all of them.
“If we can stop their big men from going forward, we can go a long way to stopping his running game and getting us on the back foot.”
Thaiday could empathise with Cherry-Evans after pulling out of game one with a calf injury.
But he backed the Manly No.7 to make the right call if left with the final decision.
“That was a very difficult phone call to make,” Thaiday said of his game one withdrawal.
“Looking back it was a wise one for me. You don’t want to be playing not at 100 per cent – you will get found out.
“But yeah I am sure he will make the right decision and put the team first and not be selfish.”
Rather than look at the negatives, Thaiday said the stage was set for one of the great Queensland underdog wins in game two.
“The script is there to have one of those fairytale stories,” he said.