Daly Cherry-Evans admits Nathan Cleary deserves to be Australia's end-of-year No.7, despite sending selectors a late-season reminder of his own form in Manly's 42-24 win over Canterbury.
On a dominant day for the Sea Eagles, Cherry-Evans and his right-edge second-rower Haumole Olakau'atu starred as Manly snapped a three-game losing streak at Accor Stadium.
A win over a languishing Bulldogs side is hardly a notable Test audition, with Canterbury's season over and the hosts missing 44 tackles on Sunday.
But with Manly stuck in 12th and also set to miss the finals, Cherry-Evans' chances are limited before the end-of-season Pacific Championships.
In his second-last game of the year for Manly, Cherry-Evans set up one try, had a hand in another and went 40 metres from dummy-half to score one of his own in the second half.
The Manly half finished the match with 145 metres and eight tackle busts, with his only blemish an errant pass that led to a Jake Averillo try for the Bulldogs in the second half.
Cherry-Evans lost his No.7 jersey to Penrith's two-time premiership-winning half Cleary in last year's World Cup.
But the 34-year-old has since guided Queensland to a second straight State of Origin series win, while being a shining light in a tough year for Manly.
"I definitely came back extremely motivated that I had lost the Australian halfback jersey. So that's definitely fuelled this season," Cherry-Evans said.
"No doubt about it. If I get dropped, I want to get back in there. I'm always always ambitious to play rep footy.
"But I do understand where I stand on the pecking order. Nath is probably the first priority for Australia, and I get that."
Manly coach Anthony Seibold would not weigh into the selection debate, but said he had no doubt Cherry-Evans had been Manly's best this year.
Olakau'atu has not been far behind.
It was his soft hands that set up Manly's first try after they went behind 6-0 early, dummying a long ball and then going short to Morgan Harper in the lead-up to Jason Saab crossing.
Manly scored another first-half try through rampaging prop Toff Sipley, while Tolu Koula was solid at fullback and helped Raymond Tuaimalo Vaega over just before the break.
Canterbury, in contrast, were poor as their difficult season reaches a long-awaited climax.
Matt Burton failed to find touch on a penalty kick in the plays leading up to Cherry-Evans's try in a play that summed up their day.
Coach Cameron Ciraldo was also left seething with players walking on kick chases, threatening to swing the axe if they do not aim up for the last week of training.
"If I get any smell that someone is not up for the game, I will find someone who is," Ciraldo said.
"We have a Jersey Flegg crew going well and are getting ready for finals, so if there are kids in there who want to have more of a go, I will throw them in."