Blair prepares for Manly job audition
Manly three-quarter Cheyse Blair is looking at this weekend's trial against the Roosters in Gosford as a job audition as he looks to stake a claim for the backline position currently left vacant by an injury to Jorge Taufua.
A former Roosters NYC player, Blair joined Manly in 2014 from then-wooden spooners Parramatta knowing he had one of the most scintillating backlines in the NRL in front of him and a massive task just trying to earn an NRL start.
But a series of injuries early in the season to wingers David Williams and Taufua, and at different times to centres Jamie Lyon, Steve Matai and fullback Brett Stewart, saw Blair make nine appearance in 2014, mostly on the wing.
With Taufua again sidelined, this time with a knee injury that will keep him out for at least the first month of the 2015 competition, Blair is battling the likes of Williams and young gun Clint Gutherson for the vacant wing spot.
Coach Geoff Toovey has named the 23-year-old to start at centre against the Roosters with Matai out injured, Gutherson on the wing and Williams on an extended bench.
Toovey also said he was likely to swap a large number of players at half time to have a proper look at everyone.
The Manly coach said while there are some obvious certain starters for Round 1 against Parramatta, "...there are some areas on the fringes there that need to be filled and the best man will get the job."
Blair told NRL.com he is "definitely" looking at the game as a job audition.
"I've been in and out of there all pre-season so hopefully I get the opportunity [in Round 1] and I take it with both hands, try and cement it for myself so I can have it all year," he said.
Blair said he knew he was competing with a high-quality backline at Manly and that hadn't changed since last year.
"I knew it would be tough for myself with the backline they have here. But I did get an opportunity last year and I think I went pretty well. I got my first semi-final experience and it's a whole different ball game once you get there and this club's built around semi-final football so I'm looking forward to this year."
He added there is a friendly rivalry between the players competing for spots.
"Training is always competing, right from the time I came here was competing. There's a lot of young people coming through and some guys that have been here a long time. If I get my opportunity I'm sure I'll take it with both hands and try to cement that spot," he said.
Williams, the cult figure winger known as "Wolfman", won a premiership and represented his country in his debut season in 2007 before a series of injuries threatened his career. He also lost his spot in first grade last year to Peta Hiku after topping the 2013 NRL try tally, before then being suspended for six months for placing bets on NRL matches.
He has also been one of the most vocal players at Manly training this year, frequently barking orders at his teammates during defensive drills as if a first grade match was on the line. Blair said despite a tough 2014, Williams has remained positive around the group and it is great to see him with a smile on his face.
"He's been good, he's a bit of a laugh, he's funny, puts a smile on everyone's faces. He had some tough times last year but he's over that and training really hard this year. He made a mistake but everyone does, he dug himself a bit of a hole and it's up to him to get himself out and get his spot back," Blair said.
This weekend Blair faces off against the club he played with as a teenager and said there are still some quality players on the Roosters' roster from when he played there.
"They're a very good team; they've still got some good players from when I was there but it's going to be a tough game and we're all looking forward to it. Hopefully we play good in the trials and take that into week one," he said.
"Round 1's going to be tough against Parramatta too, that's my last club, there's going to be a big rivalry with Choccy [Anthony Watmough] being over there so we're really looking forward to it."
Without taking a deliberate dig at his former club, Blair said the chance to play finals football had been a major factor in his decision to leave Parramatta for Manly.
"I knew coming here that Manly's built around success. I didn't hate Parramatta, I enjoyed my time there but there were a few dramas going through the club then and I don't have much background around the club and what they're going to do going forward," he said.