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Same, same but different: Cherry-Evans backs new-look spine

Queensland captain Daly Cherry-Evans has backed his team’s rejigged spine to get the job done as the Maroons aim to claim their first clean sweep since 2010.

Harry Grant – who has started at hooker previously once before in Game One, 2021 – is set to start for Wednesday night’s match, with Ben Hunt coming off the bench, while AJ Brimson comes in at fullback for the suspended Reece Walsh.

Cherry-Evans said the plan behind starting Grant was a look to the future and give him more experience.

“We know how crafty he is,” Cherry-Evans said of Grant. “He's a fantastic player and you could probably argue his best days are in front of him, which is crazy to think.

“I really enjoy playing footy alongside Harry, he thinks a lot about his footy and he's really good at bringing other people into the game, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity that he's got on Wednesday night.

“We feel as though we've started the game well both games, so it's not as if we're disappointed with what Ben's done, Ben's done a fantastic job.

Ben Hunt: Behind the scenes

“Make no mistake, it’s not about a demotion for Ben Hunt, this is about just giving Harry an opportunity to start. He has started one game before... so, this is probably just our coach thinking ahead for the nine for the future.

"Harry is really well thought out, he's thinking about what he's doing. He works on his footy. He spends time on it, watching video talking about it with us."

Brimson's return to the number one jersey also brings with it an exciting combination of new strengths for the Maroons, after Walsh's fantastic contributions in Origin I and II.

“We spend a lot of time together in camp. A focus of how we play our footy is laying a foundation but then connecting as a spine, so we think about our footy affair bit,” said Cherry-Evans, who is set to go past Allan Langer with an Origin record of 14 games in a row in the number seven jersey for Queensland.

“We talk about our footy a fair bit and with Harry starting, I guess it's just going to give it a different look to start the game. But make no mistake, we're just trying to improve on what we've already been doing, which is good, but not elite just yet.

“We've got a style of footy as a side that we really want to make sure we keep building on, but we're not just going to put AJ in and expect AJ to do Reece's job.

“We're chatting about how to bring AJ into the game and what's best for him; what's his best footy look like? It is a bit different to Reece's, but it’s really important that we connect as a spine on Wednesday night and bring AJ into the game with his best strengths.”

The skipper also said Brimson, and forward Pat Carrigan, had prepared well during the camp, despite it being an emotional week with members of the Maroons squad – joining the duo to support the Hampo Cup match on Sunday in tribute to their good friend Liam Hampson who passed away last year.

“Yesterday would have been a tough day for him, I can't imagine what they went through at the time, let alone now when the emotions are rehashed, but it is in memory of what was believed to be a really good man and a friend to a lot of people,” Cherry-Evans said.

“Those things are to commemorate, and I hope the boys just understand how lucky they are to be playing in someone's honour and I'm sure they're doing that.

They'll be playing in his honour on Wednesday night and it's a powerful thing when you're playing for more than yourself.

Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans

Motivation remained high throughout all the players in the Queensland squad despite already wrapping up the series, with the chance to claim a rare clean sweep a key factor to perform and establish this side among the greatest Maroons outfits.

“We're aware of how little it's happened and that just shows how hard it is to do,” Cherry-Evans said. “You think of the greatest Queensland team that ever played and they did it once – so it's hard to do.

“We know the challenge that's in front of us, but I can guarantee you, this group is excited about it. We're not daunted by it.

“We're proud of where we've come, we're proud of what we've done, but we're not going to rest on that just yet.”

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Manly Warringah Sea Eagles respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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