Daly Cherry-Evans says there is “a bit of a gap” between his Sea Eagles and the NRL’s top four sides, but holds out hope Manly will shift gears come finals time.
The Manly and Queensland Maroons captain made the admission after the Tigers put 24 points on the Sea Eagles over the weekend.
Although the men from the northern beaches ultimately ran out 44-24 winners, Cherry-Evans pointed to the game as evidence the Sea Eagles still have “so much improvement” left in them.
“While we were definitely happy we still got the win on the weekend, it definitely showed we’ve got so much work to do, especially if we compare ourselves to the top sides,” Cherry-Evans said.
“I still think there’s a bit of a gap between the top sides and where we are.
“That’s not to stop our belief or to say we don’t think we can beat them, we definitely believe we can beat the top sides when given the opportunity, but like I said, we’re not the perfect outfit.”
Cherry-Evans’ Sea Eagles recorded a 20-point win but still leaked four tries in their clash with the 12th-placed Tigers. Picture: Jono Searle / Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Cherry-Evans said Manly’s lacklustre start to the season has impacted its ability to match it with the competition’s frontrunners.
The Sea Eagles lost their first four games of the year by a combined total of 122 points and did not finish a weekend in the top eight until round 10.
“Our first four weeks beat our confidence up a fair bit to be fair, so ever since round four we’ve just been trying to build back our momentum and build back our belief and obviously over the course of the season that has come back,” the 32-year-old said.
Injuries and suspensions have also proven thorns in Manly’s side during season 2021 – Josh Schuster, Curtis Sironen, Jack Gosiewski and Dylan Walker are among the key Sea Eagles to have spent significant time on the sidelines this year.
As a result, Cherry-Evans says the Sea Eagles “still haven’t even knuckled down our best 17” just six weeks out from the end of the regular season.
“At the moment, we’re right where we deserve to be. The top teams are where they deserve to be based on the footy they’ve played this season,” he said.
Cherry-Evans says the win over the Tigers served as a reminder the Sea Eagles need to muscle up in defence if they’re to match it with those competition heavyweights.
Manly has leaked more points this season than any of the sides above it on the ladder, and has conceded more than twice the amount that the best defensive side has.
“Defence is definitely a part of our game that we need to tighten up moving into the last six games,” Cherry-Evans said.
“We’re continually trying to find improvement, so when we do face these top four sides, we can put up a fight against them.
“I like to think when you go to the finals, it’s anyone’s race.”
While the media scrutiny that plagued the opening month of Manly’s season has subsided, Cherry-Evans has endured criticism of his own off the back of Queensland’s State of Origin campaign.
Queensland conceded defeat by a combined margin of 76-6 across the opening two games of the series, leading pundits to come down on Cherry-Evans’ leadership.
The Maroons suffered their biggest-ever defeat in Game One of this year’s Origin series. Picture: Bradley Kanaris / Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
However, he has shrugged of the criticism, saying he was pleased to be back in a winning culture at club level.
“I’ve bounced back the only way I know how to: go out and play footy,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing my whole career. A lot of the stuff that comes with criticism is usually when you’re losing and that’s what happened with the Queensland side.
“It’s been great to come back to a winning side here at Manly because straight away all the (criticism) goes away, especially when I’m able to perform close to my best.
“I’ve been really proud of the way I’ve played for Manly this season. I’m a part of a team and we’ve got a lot of improvement in us as a side and certainly my game as an individual.
“As long as we keep working together and trying to improve, there’ll be more good media written about not just myself but our side. That’s always a good thing.”
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