Despite what you may have heard, Daly Cherry-Evans isn’t the problem with the NRL.
To listen to rugby league fans and insiders discuss Daly Cherry-Evans over the last couple of weeks, you’d swear the young Manly half had kicked a puppy to death.
His real sin is much less troubling. If you somehow missed it (perhaps your life doesn’t revolve around the minutia of who’s kicking a ball for which club for what exorbitant amount of money?), here’s what happened – Cherry-Evans, or DCE, as he’s often referred to (usually with a sneer, these days), backed out of a contract.
Not admirable behaviour, sure, but not a crime punishable by hanging, either, especially once you understand the NRL’s bizarre ‘Round 13’ rule. You see, in the NRL, a player can backflip on a contract for next season as long as they do it before Round 13, meaning that contract isn’t really worth the paper it’s printed on until that Round 13 cut-off date. It’s not just a cooling-off period, it’s an Ice Age.
With no worthy offer coming from his club (which he clearly wanted to continue playing for), the Manly Sea Eagles, DCE signed a lucrative deal with the Gold Coast Titans. This spurred the Sea Eagles into action, and they offered DCE a ‘lifetime’ contract of over a million dollars a season to stay put.
DCE – who had acknowledged all along that Manly would likely make a counter-offer before Round 13 – did what any reasonable person would do in his situation and took the massive Manly deal.
The NRL, as reactionary as ever, has closed the Round 13 loophole in response to the furore over the DCE saga. But DCE doesn’t deserve your jeers for playing the game the way it was set out in front of him, the Gold Coast doesn’t deserve your tears for taking a big gamble and losing, and the NRL doesn’t deserve your cheers for scrapping a rule that should never have existed in the first place.
Absolutely nobody can adequately explain why the Round 13 rule, which made it impossible for clubs to negotiate with players in good faith and seemed to run counter to the whole point of contract law, was allowed to hang around this long.
But as much as the NRL is at fault here, I can understand why people are frustrated with DCE. He gave his word to the Titans, and there will be no consequences for breaking it.
Sure, he’s now stuck with a $1.4 million home on the Gold Coast he no longer needs, but that’s a problem most of us would kill to have.
There is talk that the backflip has hurt his “brand”, that it might cost him endorsements, but this is overblown. Sports fans have short memories, and after a few miraculous tries (or, better yet, a premiership), all will be forgiven. If league fans could forgive Sonny Bill Williams for walking out on them under cover of darkness in the middle of a season to go play rugby union in France, they will forgive anything.
If there is a punishment for DCE, it’s this – from now on, he will always be judged by the standards of this contact (the largest in his sport). He has to prove he’s worth more than a million dollars a year, every year. All that money could end up being an albatross around his neck.
A brilliant, brilliant albatross that’s set him up for life, but an albatross all the same…