Manly’s star playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans says he’ll step up to help rookie Jayden Hodges settle in as the NRL premiership heavyweights deal with a hooker injury crisis.
The ladder-leading Sea Eagles are suddenly stretched to the limit at hooker after scans revealed first choice Matt Ballin has a fractured fibula and could miss the rest of the NRL season.
Ballin suffered the injury in Manly’s last-gasp win over Penrith at Brookvale Oval on Sunday while his hooker backup Jamie Buhrer copped a season-ending ruptured ACL in the same match.
It further tests Manly’s forwards depth, with Glenn Stewart (ankle) also sidelined for the entire finals series.
Hodges, who has played just one first grade game – in round 17 against Canterbury – takes over as hooker for the final round clash with North Queensland in Townsville on Saturday, when a win can secure the Sea Eagles the minor premiership.
Halfback Cherry-Evans admitted on Wednesday the loss of Ballin and Buher would have a big impact but said it was up to him to help guide 20-year-old Hodges as Ballin had helped him.
“This side is really going to be tested with the durability of our roster,” Cherry-Evans said.
“It’s going to be a difficult transition. Matty Ballin has been tried and tested for so many years and has done an amazing job and made my job so much easier.
“The shoe’s going to be on the other foot this weekend where as a half I’m going to have to help the young, new hooker out.
“I’ve got every belief that, with the ability Jayden has shown, he’ll be able to do a great job and hopefully I can help him as much as possible.”
The injury ends Ballin’s run of 182 consecutive matches for Manly and Cherry-Evans admitted if would be unfair to expect Hodges to have the same influence.
“He (Ballin)is an ironman of modern day rugby league. He’s done an unbelievable job and the quality of football he’s upheld in that time has been amazing,” Cherry-Evans said.
“There’s some big shoes to fill for Jayden, but I’ve got no doubt he’ll do a great job – maybe not Matty Ballin’s job but he’ll do a good job.”
Ballin was disappointed to have the fracture confirmed after secondary scans and said it appeared an innocuous injury at first, with the hooker playing on for a further 22 minutes before being replaced.
He still held some hope of returning if the Sea Eagles progress deep into the finals.
“Hopefully the boys do a great job in the next game, then the semi-finals and then I can be back for some games towards the end of the year,” he said.