NRL 2021: Manly Sea Eagles, Josh Schuster, Kieran Foran, halves battle heats up

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Rising Manly talent Josh Schuster holds veteran Kieran Foran in high regard but isn’t hiding his desire to take the No.6 jersey from the club’s prodigal son.

The 19-year-old pivot, whose hype increased after an assured Telstra Premiership debut last year, said he was “very, very happy” when news broke in September that Foran would return to the Northern Beaches.

But that doesn’t mean Schuster has taken a back seat.

While Foran already has chemistry with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, having won the 2011 premiership together, the confident youngster wants to partner the captain from the get-go.

“I love playing five-eighth, I’ve been playing there since I was a young boy,” Schuster said on Monday.

Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran.
©seaeagles.com.au

“With Foran and Chez being here, they have the experience in the game which is very good to learn off them.”

The junior prodigy said he and Foran had been “taking turns” at handling the five-eighth duties in pre-season training.

“I obviously respect [Foran], but at the end of the day we’re all fighting for our spots,” Schuster added.

“The season is around the corner and I’d love to play five-eighth, but if that’s not the case I’ll probably bide my time and keep learning.”

Kieran Foran is back in the Sea Eagles' nest.
Kieran Foran is back in the Sea Eagles’ nest.
©seaeagles.com.au

Schuster is considering a trial against the Wests Tigers on February 28 a chance to stake his claim, pending selection.

Foran, back in maroon after injury-interrupted stints at the Eels, Warriors and Bulldogs, has enjoyed the challenge of competing with the young Sea Eagle while the 30-year-old has also trained at hooker “here and there”.

“At this stage of my career, having young guys at your toes and pushing you is just what you need,” Foran said.

“Josh is a highly talented young kid. His skill-set is phenomenal. He’s got a huge future in the game. He’s pushing me. He’s making me get better at my job for the team.”

For his part, Cherry-Evans remained tight-lipped about which way coach Des Hasler is leaning in the halves.

“If I tell you, Des would kill me, wouldn’t he? I don’t want Des on my bad side,” the skipper quipped.

“We’ve been training for a fair while now and getting a lot of reps with each other. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s interchanging because you want to prepare at this time of year for any situation.

“I think the closer we get [to round one], the clearer we get on how we’re going to play and who’s in the side. But I wouldn’t say it’s all set in stone. I don’t think it’s that clear-cut.”

Manly young gun Josh Schuster.
Manly young gun Josh Schuster.
©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Schuster has only played one NRL game, with an ankle injury during his debut against the Wests Tigers curtailing his 2020 campaign, but has been earmarked for success by many good judges.

Benji Marshall described Schuster’s entrance to the NRL as “the best I’ve seen”, but the teenager has remained grounded.

“I’m kind of getting used to [the praise] now. I don’t really read into that stuff,” said Schuster, who confirmed he never considered leaving Manly because of Foran’s return.

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“I love my attacking footy. I’ve still got to work on some stuff moving forward. I’ve still got lots of learning to do [but] I should get there.”

Foran said he was stoked to be playing under Hasler once more as the coach knew how to manage his load.

But he conceded he may have to temper the kamikaze style he made his own during his first Manly stint from 2009-15.

Josh Schuster during his NRL debut in 2020 with Daly Cherry-Evans.
Josh Schuster during his NRL debut in 2020 with Daly Cherry-Evans.
©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Foran, Canterbury’s 2020 Player of the Year, suffered a pectoral injury in September and went to Melbourne at the end of last year with Tom Trbojevic to undergo hamstring testing.

“I don’t want to change the player that I am. I think that’s something that I pride myself on … my physicality,” he said.

“[But in order to stay fit] I think there will be a change in the way I play, hopefully not too much. Hopefully, it adds benefit to the side rather than me sitting on the sidelines.”

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