The grand opening of Lottoland (no, they weren’t kidding) didn’t go to plan in Round 1, 2017 for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, beaten by their archrivals the Parramatta Eels 20-12.
In his first match as captain, Daly Cherry-Evans didn’t exactly stand out either.
Apart from a nice break through the middle of the pitch, Cherry-Evans work was mainly restricted to the defensive side of the footy, with his Sea Eagles enjoying very little in the way of territory or possession.
When they did have the ball, the new skipper didn’t do too much to spark the action either, at one point throwing the ball off the head of new teammate Curtis Sironen.
It was only the season opener, but if DCE does not start to turn up the volume soon, especially in his first campaign as captain, the noise around him and his $10 million contract will start to get deafening.
The Queenslander is signed through to 2023 – which will be his age 34 season – earning a reported $1.3 million a year, easily the richest rugby league contract of all time.
For reference, almost all that appear around him on the NRL rich list also feature in the representative game, which Cherry-Evans has not since the season he signed the contract.
However, this is only the start of the second season of his contract. Hell, if you’d asked me to sign a $10 million contract, I’d have asked you what colour pen you want it signed in.
This deal has years yet to show its’ dividends… but what is the risk that, despite how well he plays, it never will?
There are multiple problems to pick on with this deal, but perhaps the biggest is that we’ve never seen anything like it before in rugby. We have no idea what a $10 million player looks like.
Athletes were not meant to sign 10-year contracts – they’re just too long, and sport contains too many variables for contracts this size to be seen as successful.
Across the Pacific, in US sporting history, 17 contracts have been signed that are 10 years or longer.
Of those 17, eight are currently being honoured by the team who signed it, and eight were not completely honoured, either through retirement, a trade with another team, or faux retirement and re-signing (Google: Ilya Kovalchuk).
The only athlete of the 17 to sign the contract and see it through to its’ end with the same team is Todd Helton, formerly of the Colorado Rockies, who signed an 11-year contract from 2001 to 2011 worth $151 million.
In 2008, aged 35 and with four years still to run on his contract, Helton was diagnosed with a degenerative back condition. He continued to play, but at nowhere near the level he was at before the diagnosis.
All Colorado managed during Heltons’ time with the team were two post season appearances, one being a World Series loss in 2007.
From this, one can conclude that, in the history of sports, we are yet to see one team honour a decade-long contract and see any real fruition or success from its’ signing.
The 28-year-old halfback from Redcliffe will be the first rugby player to attempt to buck the trend.
Let’s start to brainstorm now. For all the possibilities available to DCE until 2023, what would need to go right for this contract to be viewed as a success?
For starters, individual brilliance is a necessity. As good as he is, no one is about to call Cherry-Evans the best in his position in the league.
Unless he wins multiple Dally M Medals, or at the least, Halfback of the Year awards (he’s one won so far, in 2014), the argument could be made that another halfback could’ve done the job for a lot less money.
What’s more, what is the purpose of a contract to a team if not to lock in place the pieces required to win premierships? If the Eagles reach 2023 and have not added to their 8 premierships, will the contract be viewed as a success?
Even if he equals the great Jonathan Thurston's tally with the North Queensland Cowboys of four Dally Ms and only 1 premiership – an immense effort in its’ own right – will we look down on the contract with smiling eyes?
The argument then could be made that, if the Sea Eagles had a little more cap room, they might have been able to sign the player or players required to win a few more titles.
But guessing games aside, time will be the one to tell whether this contract works out or not.
I am merely gawking at the thought of how much one man and his club will need to achieve for this transaction to be viewed in consensus as a success.
Either way, best of luck to you Daly. I, nor anyone else who follows the NRL, have any idea what a $10 million player looks like.
Please, show us.