Manly back-rower Jamie Buhrer says his close mate Daly Cherry-Evans has improved steadily as the season has gone on since taking over as lead playmaker for the club this season.
Cherry-Evans formed a formidable partnership with Kieran Foran over the five seasons they shared playmaking duties on the northern beaches but the Sea Eagles have struggled to get out of first gear in 2016 as they battle to form new combinations with a number of new players in key positions, while also dealing with a horror injury toll.
As a marquee man, Cherry-Evans has come in for more criticism than most and Buhrer said while that is always to be expected with high profile players, he has every confidence Cherry-Evans will be one of the players to lead the side back into finals territory.
"Manly are a club that always expects success straight away and Cherry's now been thrust into a role where he is the dominant half and he's leading everything and with that comes its share of criticism," Buhrer told NRL.com ahead of his return from injury.
"But I know he's tough as nails and especially the last few weeks he's really starting to play some really good footy and the rest of us around him need to start lifting as well."
Buhrer added Cherry-Evans has "got better as the season's gone on". The Sunshine Coast product broke five tackles and ran over 100 metres as he tried to lift a beaten side against the season favourites Brisbane last week.
"He is going to be an important piece [if we are to get back in the eight] but we need to all step up," Buhrer said.
"From one through to 17 this year we've had some good moments but we've been for the most part quite down and it's on us to rectify that. We've certainly got the playing roster, there's no excuse, we've got to start putting it in now."
That starts on Saturday night at Cronulla and despite Manly's commanding recent form against the Sharks (they've only lost one of their past 14 against the Sharks and just one of their past eight visits to the Shire) it will be as tough an ask as possible this weekend against a team that hasn't tasted defeat since Round 3.
"I don't think I've played a game at Shark Park and had it been easy," Buhrer said.
"They're certainly a tough opposition, especially at home. It's usually a cold Saturday night, they are in great form, it's going to be up to us to try and turn the tide for ourselves and try and knock them off."