An injury cloud would be insufficient to describe the maelstrom that descended upon the Queensland camp this year – an injury typhoon would be a more fitting sentiment. Yet not even the absence of seasoned Origin campaigners Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd were enough to convince Kevy Walters to extend an olive branch to public enemy number one, Daly Cherry-Evans.
As a Queensland supporter I can’t tell you why we feel an aversion to DCE, only that we do. Much in the same way that we know Wally Lewis is the King of All and Billy Moore’s vocal chords are the best things since XXXX, it is simply a fact passed down in our DNA: DCE does not belong in maroon unless he’s playing for Manly.
I work at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. I am there for every Broncos home game, every Origin match up. When DCE walks onto the field he is greeted by boos that even Paul Gallen and James Maloney would regard as unfriendly. I cannot think of another current Queensland player who receives such a frosty reception from the Lang Park faithfuls in what is the home of rugby league for his state.
The root of this widespread animosity has proven hard to ascertain, with speculation and conjecture of its cause now a key facet of any Origin discussion. There are three leading theories – all yet to be proven – that punters appear to favour.
Firstly, there is the perception that DCE’s allegiance lies on the wrong side of the border; that he just isn’t Queensland enough. It can’t be that he dares to play for a club in Blues’ territory, if this were so then DCE would not be the only player to find his name crossed off Queensland’s Christmas card list. Dylan Napa, Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai (plus Josh Papalii if you count the ACT) all play for teams on the wrong side of the border and none of them has ever received the same spirited welcome as DCE.
So is it his personality, his attitude then like some have suggested?
Such a narrative is more reminiscent of high school politics than a professional footy side and, if true, raises questions of what goes on inside the Queensland sheds. Playing for your state should not be a popularity contest but a test of merit and skill. If DCE has been denied a jersey merely because top Maroon players do not believe he fits their preferred mould, it would hardly be in the Queensland spirit we claim to pride ourselves on.
Coach Walters, of course, has dismissed such claims as nonsense.
Secondly, some believe that Queensland fans dislike DCE out of solidarity with their Titans counterparts who he so grievously wronged way back in 2015 with his notorious contractual backflip.
Something about this tale seems off to me.
The good people of Brisbane, Townsville and the Gold Coast are hardly known for crying tears over the others’ sporting misfortunes. Sure, we all come together under the banner of Queensland but that doesn’t mean we cheer for each other in the NRL. For me, it is just as believable that the news of DCE’s backflip was met with a celebratory can of Bundy north of Cbus Super Stadium.
Finally, there are those who merely believe DCE just isn’t good enough to wear the jersey. Sure, his past Origin performances haven’t been stellar. The entire fault for the 2014 Origin loss can, apparently, be unequivocally laid at the feet of DCE. While there’s no space here to dissect the serious flaws of such a surprisingly far-reaching belief, DCE’s current form cannot be so easily set aside. He’s in the best form of his career to date and only looking stronger each week. It is even likely that, in failing to choose DCE and deny them their game-changing captain, Kevy has all but handed the Manly Sea Eagles a top four finish.
DCE is in better form than his last Origin stint and he has big game experience – a fact not to be overlooked in such an overwhelming arena. Yet Kevy opted to add another two debutants to the greenest Maroons side selected in my lifetime – one of whom hasn’t even been good enough to earn a weekly spot in his club team.
Less than a month ago, Ben Hunt was running onto the field for the Ipswich Jets. On Wednesday, he’ll debut on the second biggest NRL stage this country has to offer. That’s quite the turn around for a man who has been playing second fiddle to Kodi Nikorima. Cameron Munster is the other Origin rookie to join Hunt and he will be tasked with filling the golden boots of Johnathan Thurston in the number 6 jersey.
DCE leads the NRL for try assists, he has the capacity to play big minutes, force dropouts and make one-on-one tackles – all qualities which have proven to be match winners for his team so far this season. Yes, Munster has also been in impressive form, particularly with respect to his running game and ability to offload at clutch moments, and he’ll undoubtedly fit in well with the all Melbourne spine of the Queensland team. But everything is different on the Origin stage – a fact that DCE can surely attest to.
Is it really wise to experiment with new blood in one of the most important positions on the field?
Particularly when you have a tested Origin player waiting in the wings with something to prove. And what about Hunt? When this unholy trinity go head to head, the only stat Hunt leads is the missed tackle count, which is made even worse considering he’s played far fewer minutes.
According to Kevy, DCE’s origin days are far from over; he has even hinted that the Manly skipper is still in the running to be JT’s long-term successor. However, this premonition from the Queensland coach will have to wait until at least 2018 to come to fruition. It remains to be seen whether DCE has indeed been blacklisted or something far more innocuous is to blame for his omission, namely that to be included DCE would have to start while Hunt could come of the bench.
For now though it is safe to say that, in the absence of DCE on Wednesday night, any booing by the vocal Queensland crowd will be solely reserved for those from south of the border. I can’t help but think this is a fact that Manly supporters – if not all of New South Wales – should be celebrating.
(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer, File Photo)