After a season where the Manly spine switched on a regular basis, Daly Cherry-Evans is confident their new playmaking combination will be more settled in 2020.
Cherry-Evans played Manly's final 10 matches with Dylan Walker as his halves partner at the end of last year, seven of those with Tom Trbojevic at fullback until his campaign ended prematurely due to injury.
Trbojevic missed the first two games then another eight with a hamstring strain before injuring a pec at the end of the year, finishing with 12 games.
Cherry-Evans (ankle) missed five games, hooker Apisai Koroisau (ankle) missed four and it took until round 18 to settle on which of Kane Elgey, Lachie Croker, Cade Cust or Walker was the best option to partner DCE.
If you take the combination of Tom Trbojevic at fullback, Walker at five-eighth, Cherry-Evans at halfback, Koroisau as starting hooker with Manase Fainu off the bench as Manly's first-choice combination, the Sea Eagles enjoyed just five games with their ideal spine in 2019.
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With Fainu stood down after being charged with allegedly stabbing another man at a church dance while also being sidelined long-term with a shoulder injury and Koroisau now at Penrith, Danny Levi was signed from Newcastle to plug the gap in the off-season.
"It's no secret what our 9-7-6-1 is going to be, we've just been trying to take the time to make sure we get as many reps as we can out there," Cherry-Evans told NRL.com.
"I feel like with the style of footy we play, Danny's fit in really quickly and we'll just try and continue working with him to get on the same page as quick as possible.
"The more footy we play alongside each other the better we'll get. I thought by the end of last year we were really playing a nice style of footy as a spine so we definitely want to improve on that again this year."
Though Kane Elgey and Trent Hodkinson have now retired, Croker – in his comeback from an ACL injury – and Cust each made strides when given their NRL chances in 2019, giving coach Des Hasler options.
"We've got a trial against Cronulla in two weeks which will be our last hit-out to try and put together what you've been working on for the whole pre-season," DCE added.
"Round one is four weeks away so it's a pretty exciting time of the year. We can't wait."
Tom Trbojevic laughed off any concerns over the torn pec that ended his 2019 season, saying he would have been right to play in December.
However he was not expecting older brother Jake to recover from shoulder surgery in time for the start of the season.
"[Jake] is obviously working as hard as he can," Trbojevic said.
"He won't want to miss a game but it's looking like he's going to which is unfortunate. We might get him back about a month in, we'll just see how he goes."
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Neither Trbojevic nor Cherry-Evans made the trip to Perth for the NRL Nines, where a largely inexperienced squad surprised plenty by making it to the finals with emerging playmaker Luke Metcalf shaking off last year's ACL injury to earn Team of the Tournament honours.
"It was awesome to see," Trbojevic said.
"He's just come off an ACL. The poor kid last year did it very early (in round two) so it's great to see him back. He's a really exciting player and it was good for him to show everyone how good he is."
Cherry-Evans was encouraged by the energy and commitment the whole squad showed over the weekend and hoped it would give a lift to the entire playing group heading into the season proper.
"It was great to see the boys go over there with pretty long odds against them so to make the finals is a big effort from them," Cherry-Evans said.
"I'm proud of how they went. That's done now so we can quickly move on and get ready for round one so we're all buzzing to play some footy finally."