Daly Cherry-Evans has urged Josh Schuster to fight for the five-eighth jersey at Manly, predicting the young star had it in him to challenge new recruit Luke Brooks for selection in 2024.
The Sea Eagles moved veteran Kieran Foran on at the end of 2022 to accommodate Schuster’s desire to reinvent himself as a playmaker.
But despite his undeniable talent as a ball-runner, Schuster’s switch from the back row has largely misfired amid injury and attitude concerns.
After benching him in round 25, coach Anthony Seibold dropped Schuster altogether for last week’s clash against lowly Canterbury.
Seibold has kept the 22-year-old in reserve grade for Manly’s last game of the year against Wests Tigers, having previously dropped him following fitness issues in April.
Along with the axings from first grade, recruiting experienced Tigers halfback Brooks appeared the firmest indication Manly would end their experiment with Schuster in the halves next year.
But Cherry-Evans did not believe Schuster’s return to forwards had been sealed just yet.
“I hope he’s not resigned to the fact that Luke’s going to play in the halves,” Cherry-Evans said.
“If I’m him, I’m not giving that jersey up, no bloody way.
“I reckon there’s so much fight in ‘Schuey’ and I think over the off-season we’ll see him come back and be ready to fight for that spot.
“I think we’ll see that in his performances over the off-season and pre-season.”
Schuster has already shown a willingness to commit in the pre-season, shedding considerable weight and forgoing last year’s World Cup to prepare for his move to the halves.
He has shown flashes of brilliance in the No.6, and last weekend came up with a game-winning performance for Manly’s NSW Cup affiliate Blacktown.
With regular five-eighth Cooper Johns injured, Schuster set up three tries and kicked a 40/20.
Cherry-Evans, who gave Schuster a public dressing-down over his attitude earlier in the season, said his teammate was on the right track to return to first grade.
“What he did on the weekend was the first step, it’s just going out there and playing good footy,” Cherry-Evans said.
“It looked like he maybe played with a bit of looseness I guess. Like there was no pressure on him.
“He single-handedly took control of that second half and basically won them the game. He’s a very good footy player.”
Cherry-Evans said Schuster’s next goal needed to be reproducing that form.
“We just need to keep seeing him working hard and the results will come off the back of the hard work,” he said.
“He’s proven time and time again, he can play great first grade.
“It’s just consistency. That’s all anyone wants to see is consistency in your game.”