In 2017, Manly started the season with the expected retirements of long-term players Brett Stewart and Steve Matai. With their retirement, the team dynamic was now transferred to the last man standing from the glory days of the 2011 season.
Prior to last year, Cherry-Evans had been on the outside of the Stewart brothers inner circle. Free now to run the team as the senior player, he thrived. 2017 was the most complete season he has played at the club since making his debut in the Premiership winning year of 2011.
Going into season 2017, Cherry-Evans had the pressure of $1 million a year contract expectations. He was able to shut out external noise and lead his team to an unexpected 6th place.
Also with the retirement of Stewart and Matai, Manly was in the awkward position of having to pay their high salaries as part of the season's salary cap. A burden that restricted Manly being able to strengthen their squad.
Not many had tipped Manly to make the Top 8 but Cherry-Evans and coach Trent Barrett were able to get their modest squad to perform beyond what even they could have imagined.
This year the pressure will be on them to repeat their deeds. They will need to do this with the loss of Cherry-Evans half-back partner Blake Green to the New Zealand Warriors. The partnership with Green was key to Cherry-Evans great form and the team's overall success.
Salary cap restrictions have meant Manly haven't been able to bring in a replacement for Green. Jackson Hastings and Lachlan Croker shape as best candidates to partner Cherry-Evans.
Jackson Hastings is a good player but is too similar to Cherry-Evans in his style of play. Lachlan Croker has joined the Sea Eagles from the Canberra Raiders. A talented NYC cup player, he had been tipped for big things at Canberra before falling out of favour with Ricky Stuart and will most likely be given first shot at five-eighth.
Without a player to run the team to allow Cherry-Evans to play freely, Manly will struggle. Barrett will have to play all his cards to get Manly back into the top 8 again this year.
Cherry-Evans has a lot riding on 2018 being a good year for Manly. With Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk stepping down from Queensland rep duties, his chances of a Queensland selection have never been better.
Cherry-Evans form deserved Origin selection last year but for reasons unknown, Queensland selectors have been reluctant to pick him. Now 29, he is running out of time to entrench a spot. Queensland has a reputation to pick and stick. If he can make his mark this year, he may be able to hold on to he spot for the next five years.
Cherry-Evans is a quality player. He carried Manly last year with his great form. With a mix of young players and rejects from other clubs, Manly have formed a good team. They have a good coach in Barrett and they will be competitive again in 2018 without being a competition threat.
Can Cherry-Evans and the Sea Eagles improve on their 2017 season?