Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
They were roommates during State of Origin and now Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans is hoping the tips he learnt from Queensland teammate Cooper Cronk will stand him in good stead when the pair go head to head at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
Although he stopped short of labelling his clash with Cronk as some sort of personal battle as old sparring partners Manly and Melbourne reignite their rivalry, Cherry-Evans admitted that his own form had stepped up a level since making his Origin debut two months ago and credited Cronk and co. for his rapid development.
“He was my roommate so I spent a lot of time with him and on the training paddock he was very willing to lend a helping hand, so any time you get that opportunity you grab it with both hands,” the Sea Eagles’ No.7 told NRL.com.
“Cooper’s professionalism was the big thing for me. He does everything properly and if he doesn’t do it well, he’ll keep doing it again until he gets it right. It’s something that’s obviously made him into a very good player.
“It’s the same with all of those guys (Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith), they are very professional in the way they go about their business on and off the field and after seeing how well they do it, it’s still something I need to work on.
“But it would be naïve for me to think I haven’t picked up some experience and confidence playing Origin this year. I think I’ve been playing my role as good if not better since coming back from Origin.”
Cherry-Evans pointed to his running game as a key area in which he has improved in recent weeks and he has certainly caused some problems for opposition defensive lines with some brilliant moments against South Sydney two weeks ago and Parramatta in Round 21.
“I’m always trying to work on the running game,” he said. “It’s an important part of a halves’ game and it’s something Kieran (Foran) and I always speak about. Hopefully we can continue to build on that.”
This week’s clash with Melbourne looms as a crucial game for Manly’s confidence with the finals only two weeks away. The two sides drew 10-all when they met at AAMI Park in Round 10, but that remains the Sea Eagles’ best result against a fellow top-four side in 2013 with two losses to the Roosters and two more to Souths presenting some questions about their ability to go all the way.
But Cherry-Evans insisted it was simply a matter of finding a more consistent performance across the 80 minutes.
“We haven’t thought about that and we haven’t spoken about it,” he said in regards to the lack of wins over top-four sides. “We understand that we’ve played well in patches against those top-four sides but we need to do it for 80 minutes if we want to get the results against those good sides such as Melbourne this weekend.
“Even in the games we’ve been winning, we’ve taken the foot off the throat and slackened off a little. I think building into these finals is something we’ve addressed. It’s something we need to work on and hopefully these next two weeks we can put in some pretty good performances.”
While Cherry-Evans is relatively new to the Manly-Melbourne rivalry – having debuted well after their consecutive grand final meetings in 2007 and 2008 – he has since experienced the passion the two sides bring out of one another and was part of the infamous “Battle of Brookvale” two years ago that resulted in Glenn Stewart and Adam Blair being sent off for fighting, four Manly players suspended for joining in and both clubs fined $50,000.
And while he said he personally bore no ill-will towards the Storm, he admitted there were likely a few teammates still pencilling this clash in each season.
“More than anything I think there is more of a mutual respect between us,” he said. “There might be a bit of dislike from previous years but I personally wouldn’t know about that.
“What I do remember was that [the Battle of Brookie] was a fiery encounter. Each side lost an important player that night and it ended up being a real fiery game.
“It’s a match I’ll always remember because of the fight. I can’t see it coming to that this Saturday night but it’s obviously going to be a really tough game.”
“You know what you’re going to get when you play against Melbourne. We’re looking forward to an intense battle. We’re going to have to play well for 80 minutes if we’re going to get the result we’re after.”