It’s funny how often finals games follow a script. Everyone is focused on old workmates Des Hasler and Geoff Toovey going head to head once more. While they’re pulling strings from above the pitch, another subplot emerges on it: Daly Cherry-Evans versus Trent Hodkinson.
Cherry-Evans was Hodkinson’s direct replacement when he departed for Canterbury at the end of 2010. The 25-year-old Sea Eagles halfback tasted Premiership success in his debut season, while a series of injuries prevented Hodkinson from taking part in the 2012 grand final loss.
This rivalry took another turn as they duked it out in State of Origin earlier this year. Hodkinson was the hero for a victorious NSW but Cherry-Evans proved again that he is tailor-made for the representative arena.
Against Souths last week, Cherry-Evans’ running game was negated. He made only two runs for six metres, which is well below his average of 52m over the last month.
In the round 13 clash, Steve Matai’s try came from a slice of DCE genius. Receiving the ball 45m out, he dummied to take Josh Reynolds out of play, before running and kicking between two tiring forwards. He then toed the loose ball through to pick it up and hand off to his centre.
It’s been a little while since we’ve seen the Redcliffe-born halfback at his best, playing off-the-cuff footy in which he has become known for. He is unlike other halfbacks; just consider that he is tenth in the comp for offloads, and is the only half in the top 20.
Statistics show that Origin took a lot out of Hodkinson. In the nine games following the decider, he has made three line-break assists, two try assists, two tackle breaks, conceded six penalties and averaged 2.7 missed tackles (25 total), 1.1 errors (10), 27.4 run metres (247), and 302.7 kick metres (2725).
In the 10 games before Origin he made six line-break assists, seven try assists, 12 tackle breaks, conceded three penalties and averaged 1.3 missed tackles (13 total), 0.9 errors (nine), 44.7 run metres (447), 264.7 kick metres (2647).
The 26-year-old’s performance last week against Melbourne rated on average except his impressive 61 run metres, a figure last topped in round six. He can be dangerous with ball in hand, especially as Canterbury’s big forwards punch holes in the defence. And while Reynolds is more likely to run the ball, his Campbelltown-born partner has more line breaks this season.