COOPER Cronk’s reign as rugby league’s No1 halfback is under serious threat from Manly’s Daly Cherry Evans.
Cronk won the Dally M award last year and has been the game’s standout halfback since Johnathan Thurston switched to five-eighth two years ago.
But Cherry Evans is a freakish talent and is closing in fast.
Manly trailed by 20 points against Parramatta on Saturday night at half time at Brookvale Oval.
Cherry Evans came on for the second half and the Sea Eagles bolted in.
This guy reminds me a lot of the great Steve Mortimer, my favourite halfback of all time.
In an era when rugby league has become such a structured and tightly programmed game, players like Cherry Evans are a standout and a breath of fresh air.
“He’s a great player,” Mortimer said on Monday.
“Shame he’s a bloody Queenslander.
“He takes the ball to the line, chances his arm and puts guys threw gaps.
“I think he’s a bit like Sterlo and a bit like me. He’s a very good playmaker and he’s got a lot of flair about his game.”
Mortimer too likes the fact Cherry Evans is not shackled by his coach and is prepared to take a risk when it best suits the team.
None of this five hit-ups and a kick on the last tackle.
“You love seeing guys like Cherry Evans try stuff that’s not always in the game plan,” Mortimer said.
“I love the way he plays the game and I still think there’s so much opportunity in our game for a chip over the top or a little grubber.
“The coaches now want to be very structured, but now and again you can break the seal with a little bit of brilliance.
“I think Cherry Evans knows that. I’m a fan of any half that plays like that.”
The other thing working in Cherry Evans’ favour is the presence of league immortal Andrew Johns on Manly’s coaching staff.
He has helped turn him from a good to a great player – and not far off being a champion.
It will be interesting to see how Queensland and Australia’s selectors handle the situation later in the year.
The Maroons will almost certainly stick with Cronk because of his week-in week-out club relationship with Cameron Smith and Billy Slater.
But for how long is the big question.
Even Andrew Johns lost his Test and Origin half-back jumper to Brett Kimmorley back in the late 90’s and had to switch to hooker to keep his rep spot.
Cherry Evans will no doubt make the QLD and Australian teams on the bench.
Johns says his time will come.
“The position is Cooper’s until he loses it,” he said, “but Cherry Evans’ pre-season has been fantastic.
“You can see he’s learnt from Thurston and Cronk by being with them on the Kangaroo tour.
“Manly has a set structure but he knows he can go outside of it when there’s an opportunity.”
BUZZ’S TOP FIVE HALFBACKS
1 Daly Cherry Evans (Sea Eagles)
2 Cooper Cronk (Storm)
3 Mitchell Pearce (Roosters)
4 Adam Reynolds (Rabbitohs)
5 Shaun Johnson (Warriors)