Tackling the NRL's strongest player at training has convinced Daly Cherry-Evans that he is ready to make his return from shoulder surgery in Manly's final trial ahead of a season teammates predict will be a big one for the star playmaker without the distraction of contract negotiations that dogged him last year.
After months of off-season rehabilitation, Cherry-Evans is preparing to play against Ipswich Jets at Pittwater Park on Saturday night with full confidence in his left shoulder after being tested by Kiwi enforcer Martin Taupau at training.
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"I played against him last year and that is the last time I want to play against him," Cherry-Evans said of the former Wests Tigers forward, who has been bench pressing 300 kilograms in the Sea Eagles gym at Narrabeen.
Taupau tried to play down his role in helping to assess the fitness of Cherry-Evans, but admitted: "I have just been testing him out, knowing that if he can cop me then anyone can run at him and he knows that he can tackle them."
The Manly halfback battled the injury for most of last season before undergoing surgery after Manly's late bid to make the finals fell short.
Sea Eagles fans will welcome a fully fit Cherry-Evans. They will also be pleased to know he is focused following a year of distractions after signing with Gold Coast Titans pre-season, then reneging on the deal when Manly countered with a $10 million deal to secure him for the rest of his career.
Former Titans captain Nate Myles, who signed with the Sea Eagles after Cherry-Evans' initial decision to leave the club, is close friends with the Manly halfback and left little doubt the scrutiny and pressure had affected him last season.
"He is a fantastic footballer and I think he will be focused a lot more on football this year, which will only improve him and the side," Myles said.
"He is a really good dude and the best thing about Daly is that he is a family orientated guy, he has got his two girls and his wife and I know he makes them No.1, and I am envious of the way he goes around his business."
The pair had been in close contact about their futures, but Myles said they stopped talking.
"I actually shied away from it for a bit, he had enough on his plate and I had to worry about my own backyard," Myles said. "We parted ways about it, our conversation ended with him buying a place up there. He was going and I was coming down here.
"It was just the way it was going to happen, but circumstances changed and we are where we are at today. I have only played a few games with the big DCE before so I am looking forward to it and he has dove into the pre-season. He has been training hard and training well."
With new coach Trent Barrett recruiting Dan Ferris from the Gold Coast as Manly's head of physical performance, the Sea Eagles players said they had endured one of their toughest off-seasons in memory, and Cherry-Evans was not spared.
He now wants to test himself in a trial before Manly's opening-round clash with Canterbury at Brookvale Oval on March 4.
"I have definitely got a lot out of the contact sessions we have had at training, but no doubt there is a part of you that wants to get out there and trial yourself against opposition that don't have regard for your body," he said.
"Your teammates probably help you out a little bit so I am looking forward to playing against some opposition and testing out not just my shoulder but my whole body to make sure I am ready for the season ahead.
"Nothing counts like playing against opposition who really want to hurt you and beat you, so I can't wait for the competition to start."