Dally M rookie of the year Daly Cherry-Evans got nothing more than a handshake and a greenkeeper’s uniform at the Sea Eagles’ NSW Academy of Sport headquarters at Narrabeen.
Just three years ago, the halfback was earning $250-a-week as a living away from home allowance.
Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran only fared slightly better. At 16, he signed a $5000 contract or $100 a week on the promise of a pathway to the NRL. Two years later, he was playing Test football for New Zealand.
Whereas the Silvertails once recruited rugby league’s biggest names with an open cheque book and the stroke of a pen, these days the Sea Eagles have developed arguably the best nursery in the NRL on a handshake and a dream.
Cherry-Evans and Foran continue the line of young guns coach Des Hasler has unearthed and developed. And they have carried the club to within 80 minutes of a grand final.
Hasler has helped nurture the fountain of youth identified by 16-season recruitment veteran and Sea Eagles legend Noel Cleal.
Cleal has more than 200 sets of eyes and ears around Australia, all scouring suburban and country ovals for the next big thing.
Over the years, he has helped identify the likes of Jamie Lyon, Willie Tonga, Andrew Ryan, PJ Marsh, Luke Burt, Steve Matai, Glenn Stewart and, of course, this year’s NSW Origin debutant Will Hopoate.