Daly's Planet: The rise of DCE
They’re at it again. Sweating in the winter sun of Central Queensland, the two best players in the under-15 Mackay rep side are fighting over who will take the kick for touch.
One is dark and feisty, the other blonde and chilled.
Before the decade is out, they will both be signing autographs for starry-eyed kids.
But here they are, friends and friendless, after a penalty for their side, quibbling over who has the better boot.
“I’m naturally very competitive,” Daly Cherry-Evans tells Big League. “Whether it was goal-kicking duties or simply kicking for touch, we always wanted to be in control and I guess that comes down to our competitive nature.”
His young rival was recently recognised as the best rugby league player on the planet. But Ben Barba owes at least some of the spoils to his Mackay mate.
“I always claim that I set up 90 per cent of his tries,” says Cherry-Evans. “But he’ll tell you a different story.”
Cherry Evans’ killer instinct didn’t stop with Ben Barba.
It kicked on. Kicked on like Dean Jones kept batting when he needed an intravenous drip. Daly never lost that beautiful desire to win at all costs.
“It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s something at training or it’s something as easy as doing a bit of 10-pin bowling with my mates, I want to win everything,” he admits.
You get the sense that if Daly Cherry-Evans was on Apollo 11, he’d have shoved Neil Armstrong aside on his way down the ladder, just to make sure he was the first.
“I think it comes down to my family. I was the oldest of five kids and growing up the oldest you always want to be the best and show off to your younger brothers and sisters,” the 23-year-old says.
At times that Ali-esque mentality has come across as conceited. Cherry-Evans, the last to leave the sheds after last Friday night’s win over the Cowboys, even seemed smug after Manly-Warringah’s controversial triumph, something that’s not lost on him.
“It takes me a while to warm to people on the outside,” he admits.
There’s a very fine line between confidence and cockiness, one that Cherry-Evans treads delicately. Oftentimes appraisals of his character in the media have sided with the latter.
It’s also been said that he is a shy young Queenslander, overawed by the sounds and sights of the big city – something he flatly denies.
“To the public eye I might come across a bit shy but to my friends and family I’m pretty outgoing,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I’m the centre of attention, but I like to socialise.”
An obviously laid-back 20-something, he does admit you can never take Mackay out of the boy.
“I think if you look at all the products that have come from Mackay, they’re very laid-back characters. It’s just part of the system up there, there’s nothing really to be too fussed about,” he says.
But do you ever get angry?
“If I do I try not to show it.”
From playing in what must have been a scarily good Mackay side, Cherry-Evans now finds himself in a rugby league team that could share a pedestal with the Dragons of the ’50s and ’60s or the Rabbitohs of the early ’70s.
“For a young person, seeing these people that have played for Australia, for their state, won grand finals, it’s pretty daunting,” he says. “Especially being a halfback, knowing that you have to tell them what to do.
“At first it’s a bit frightening, but with the position you play, it’s part of the job so you have to learn pretty quickly.”
But in David Penna for the under-20s and then Des Hasler and Geoff Toovey in the NRL, Cherry-Evans has had the good fortune to be coached exclusively by halfbacks in recent years and “they’ve been a great part of my development.”
Cherry-Evans’ role as halfback for the Sea Eagles places him as conductor of one of rugby league’s greatest modern orchestras and he compares his job to that of a gridiron quarterback.
“There probably are some similarities,” says Cherry-Evans. “But they’re getting paid a lot more money than us so there’s a lot more responsibility on their shoulders.”
With the team bus full and waiting to peel down Driver Avenue last Friday night, Daly Cherry-Evans dawdled his way out of Allianz Stadium.
One by one he made his way through the young crowd, writing first a capital ‘D’ on their footy cards and then a single-stroked swish that turned into a ‘CE’.
He might have been last on the bus that evening, but as the kids sprinted back towards their parents, roaring “Got him!” as they went, there was no doubt about it. Daly Cherry-Evans had won.