Manly's players and coach have backed departing halfback Daly Cherry-Evans to continue his strong form in his final year at the club after he produced a match-winning turn in his first outing since announcing his move to the Gold Coast.
Cherry-Evans had an outstanding all-round game in Manly's heart-stopping 24-22 win over the Storm at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night.
He broke the game open late in the first half, helping set up three tries in quick succession, and in addition to that finished the match with three tackle breaks, four offloads, just over 100 running metres, two line breaks and well over 400 kick metres – easily a game high.
It was an even more impressive effort given the media spotlight on the 26-year-old in recent months and especially over the past few weeks as he attempted to finalise his next playing contract.
After the game Cherry-Evans' close friend Jamie Buhrer – playing his first NRL game since rupturing an ACL in Round 25 last year – told NRL.com the performance should come as no surprise.
"I knew he would [produce a performance like that] – Daly's the type of bloke that's not down long," Buhrer said.
"He's been put down a fair bit in the media and he's struck back in the best way possible. He's a world class player and he's going to continue to put his best foot forward this year and hopefully lead us deep into September and October.
"He's not the first case in what is the current system where a player signs a year out; plenty have done it before him so he'll get on with it.
"He loves this place. It's been his home for a long time, he loves all the boys and he's going to give his all for the boys and we know that."
There had been suggestions Cherry-Evans' decision could lead to a hostile reception at his home ground, but when the players' names were read out shortly before kick-off the cheer that welcomed the halfback was as big as that which welcomed captain Jamie Lyon or fan favourites Steve Matai and Matt Ballin.
"And so they should [cheer him]," Buhrer said.
"He's been respectful to the fans for a long time and given them his best and he'll continue to give them his best. I think it's only fitting that they give him their best as well."
New Manly recruit Blake Leary – who scored a try in the win after performing strongly in his club debut against the Eels last week despite the team going down – said in his short time at the club he has been impressed both by the way Cherry-Evans carries himself and by how close-knit the playing group is.
Leary's first try in Manly colours came directly as a result of Cherry-Evans telling him where to run and putting in a pinpoint kick for the back-rower to fall on.
"Cherry's one of those player's that's just off the cuff mate. He's that talented – he just said 'Leary stay inside' and I thought 'the kick's on' and looked, boom, the rest is history, he's put it where it needs to be," Leary said
"He's a classy player and he's a classy bloke on and off the field. There's a lot of hype around the stuff outside but I couldn't speak more highly of Cherry.
"I think you ask everyone of the other boys and I think they'd say the same thing. We're a very tight knit group here at Manly. We support his decision, whatever he does, and other players – whoever leaves or decides to come here. It's a good bunch of blokes."
Manly coach Geoff Toovey also spoke highly of his playmaker after the game, and wasn't surprised the crowd had given him a warm welcome.
"I think that [the fans] all appreciate Daly for his playing ability and his character and what he's brought to this club over the last few years. I'm sure that he wants to send them out on a high note and they'd like to support him to help achieve that," Toovey said.