New man No.6 Josh Schuster played just one match with Daly Cherry-Evans at half-time in a debut that caught the eye of his idol and counterpart Benji Marshall.
Marshall, who played in his final season with the Tigers in 2020, admired Schuster’s skills and called his debut the best he had ever seen.
“I’ve got to say — the guy on the other team, that was the best debut I’ve ever seen from a young guy,” Marshall told Fox League after the game.
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“Absolutely [he’s got a big future]. Remember his name because I’ll tell you he commanded the ball in a game where kids don’t usually do that. I was really impressed with him.”
Fast forward to 2023, now an established first grader, Schuster still thinks he faced one of his heroes in his first ever NRL game.
“It was my first game and to run into someone like Benji, who was one of my idols, was pretty surreal,” Schuster said. foxsports.com.au.
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“I look back now and it was pretty crazy.
Since his debut, Schuster has played predominantly in the back row, but Kieran Foran’s move to the Gold Coast Titans has opened the door for him to return to the No.6 jersey full-time.
Schuster is grateful for the time he spent learning from one of the best in the business in Foran and believes it will stand him in good stead for his first full season in the playmaker hot seat.
“Foz (Foran) represented his country and played over 250 NRL games, so just his experience and learning how to control the game,” Schuster said of what Foran taught him.
“He taught me not to overplay my hand. You don’t have to score every game. He was always cool, calm and collected and that’s probably the main thing I learned from him.’
There will undoubtedly be growing pains as the 21-year-old creates combinations with his teammates, but Schuster believes his grounding in both the second row and five-eighth can help ease the transition.
“I played both five-eighth and back row in juniors, so it’s not a big change for me,” Schuster said.
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“During my time at Manly I loved playing in the back row but now I’m in my preferred position so I’m loving life.
However, Schuster admits he had to change his diet to go from a second-rower’s body to a full-time one.
“I definitely had to make some dietary changes,” Schuster said.
“I knew what I had to eat and what was good for my body during recovery and stuff, so I had to make big changes from playing in the second row.
The transition is also made easier by the fact that he has a veteran of nearly 300 games for Manly, captain Daly Cherry-Evans, alongside him at fly-half.
Schuster admits his combination with his No.7 is a work in progress, but is excited to get more game time with Queensland and the Australian fullback.
“Me and Chez (Cherry-Evans) have been working hard on our combination and it’s been going really well,” Schuster said.
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“I only played one game with him in the halves, which was my debut.
“Our combo has been developing nicely in the last few months of pre-season so we have to keep working hard.”
Schuster called for last year’s World Cup to be skipped and watched his native Samoa take a dream route to the finals.
However, he has no regrets about his decision to put his club first this time, given the importance of the challenge of becoming one of Manly’s main playmakers.
“I just wanted to get ready for a new role as a fifth-eighth and focus on practice,” Schuster said.
“It was a huge challenge for me and my family. But now I look back and it was definitely the best decision I made.”
Still, Schuster has ambitions to one day play for his country at the World Cup and also has one eye on the sky blue jersey come Origin time.
“Origin is definitely one of my main goals,” Schuster said.
“I would love to play for NSW this year or the next couple of years, but I definitely want to test myself at Origin level.
“I would also like to represent Samoa at the next World Cup.
Manly could have a completely different wing combination this season, with Schuster moving from the second row to five-eighth and Reuben Garrick looking to switch from wing to centre.
Schuster is looking forward to testing the new combinations in the upcoming preseason challenge.
“Right now, Reuben is training on my side,” Schuster said.
“Actually, he did really well. We put our combinations in order.
“We want to test this in our tests in the next few weeks.”
Manly will also need to fill Schuster’s void in the second row and believe Tigers recruit Kelma Tuilagi will get first crack at partnering Haumole Olakau’atu in the second row.
“I think Kelma Tuilagi will be there at this point,” Schuster said.
“He rode really well and we worked on our combinations, so he will most likely start the season.”
Schuster also earmarked Samuel Faina for a breakout year after the versatile forward impressed him in the preseason.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him because he’s one of my close guys, but Samuel Faina is going to have a big year,” Schuster said.
“He was probably the most impressive for me in pre-season. He is still so young and definitely has a big future.
“He is versatile and can play second row, lock and prop. He’s also a ball player and a tough runner and tackler, so he’s one to watch.”
Schuster is also entering his first year as a 5-eighth with a new coach and has been impressed with how Anthony Seibold has created a family atmosphere at the club.
“When he first came, I noticed he was a family man,” Schuster said.
“His first week back we had dinner with his family and met his family which was nice.
“We’ve been doing a bunch of family stuff with our players and their wives and kids coming over and having lunch and things like that, which has been good.
“And of course he is a good coach. He has a good knowledge of the game. He’s been around the game for a while, as has his coach Shane Flanagan and Jim Dymock, so these are exciting times for the club.”
Manly’s 2022 season collapsed when they lost their last seven games to miss out on the finals, but Schuster believes if they build confidence soon the club can return to the top of the table in 2023.
“I think the key is consistency,” Schuster said.
“We have to show up every week and try again. It’s so simple.
“I think the more wins we get early, the more confidence we’ll build each week and go from there.”
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