Daly Cherry-Evans has confirmed what many suspected, the Sea Eagles have been praying for and the Titans were dreading – the superstar halfback has back-flipped on his deal with the Titans to sign a long-term contract with the Sea Eagles.
Cherry-Evans has signed a lifetime deal with the club – a reported minimum six-year, open-ended contract worth over $1 million per season, effectively tying him to the club that he debuted for in 2011 for the remainder of his career.
The announcement was made official at a press conference – one of the most intense in recent memories, with the pack of journalists firing salvos masked as questions at the man in question – held by Manly this afternoon.
Cherry-Evans said the new offer, the need to look after his family’s interest, and the desire to remain a one-club player were behind his decision, which he claims was only made in the last 48 hours.
Amid intense speculation early in the season, Cherry-Evans signed a rich four-year contract with the embattled Titans. Rumours he was set to renege on the deal and remain in Sydney ramped up after representative teammate and close friend Nate Myles, the Titans’ current captain, signed on with Manly for 2016.
The hotly-anticipated turnaround comes just two days before the Round 13 cut-off…and less than 24 hours after the NRL announced plans to abolish the controversial rule which allows players to back out of contracts before the halfway mark of the season, replacing it with a far more practical 10-day cooling-off period.
The 26-year-old, a veteran of 114 games for the Sea Eagles (including two Grand Finals), 11 Tests for Australia and five Origins for Queensland, is not the first player to use the Round 13 clause to scupper a confirmed move to another team and remain with their current club.
Canberra forward Josh Papalii controversially reneged on a contract he signed with Parramatta to remain in the capital early in 2013. The Raiders were on the other side of it last year when boom fullback James Tedesco inked a deal to join them, only to get cold feet and re-sign with Wests Tigers.
But neither player boasted Cherry-Evans’ profile, nor were their cases anywhere near as drawn out as the DCE-Titans-Sea Eagles saga. Consequently, public sentiment is overwhelmingly against him.
A pin-up for the code virtually since he burst onto the scene, the well-spoken and well-behaved No.7 wizard is viewed as one of the NRL’s most marketable entities.
But it started to go pear-shaped for the Manly linchpin as the decision on his future turned into a soap opera as the 2015 premiership loomed, exacerbated by persistent talk of a rift in the Sea Eagles playing group – with Cherry-Evans supposedly feuding with several senior members of the squad.
This latest development leaves his reputation tarnished further.
Any negative sentiment will matter little to the Sea Eagles, who were left devastated by the defection of Cherry-Evans and marquee halves partner Kieran Foran in March. The club still needs to find a five-eighth to play alongside Cherry-Evans, but having a halfback regarded as being among the top three in his position in the world puts Manly in a better position than most.
CEO Joe Kelly, somewhat quizzically, said as long as Cherry-Evans is in the NRL, he will be playing for Manly – without giving any indication of the length of the contract.
The Titans will be crestfallen. After financial strife that saw the NRL step in and take over ownership of the club, which came hot on the heels of the cocaine scandal that saw several Gold Coast players front court, the acquisition of Cherry-Evans from 2016 was a beacon of hope.
They have re-signed impressive rookie half Kane Elgey – after Manly attempted to sneak under their guard – but highly-rated five-eighth Aidan Sezer is on his way to Canberra at the end of the season, leaving the Titans in a dire position with few quality playmakers on the market.
Myles’ departure, with fellow Test veteran Greg Bird tipped to follow suit, leaves a cavernous experience gulf in Gold Coast’s roster. Unless they can somehow wrangle a representative-quality recruit, the Titans will head into 2016 with no current Origin players or Australian or New Zealand Test stars.
But that is no longer the concern of their proposed saviour, Cherry-Evans, who now shapes as a long-term captain of Manly, destined to go down as one of the greatest ever to wear the maroon and white jumper.
Part of his legacy, though, will be as the player whose prolonged, back-and-forth contract negotiations sounded the death knell for one of Rugby League’s most archaic and problematic rules.