SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 11: Daly Cherry-Evans of Manly looks on during the round 23 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Manly Sea Eagles at ANZ Stadium on August 11, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Daly Cherry Evans – Premiership winning halfback. Origin regular. Kangaroo and Australian 9’s star. Gold Coast Titan?

It almost happened. It should have happened.

Few will forget the ridiculous media circus that saw the Manly maestro baulk at a monster contract extension from his club to sign with the Gold Coast Titans.

DCE was paraded from club to club with the Sharks, Titans and Sea Eagles rolling out the red carpet in their efforts to pen the superstar halfback to a big, fat contract.

The Titans – the NRL’s long-time strugglers – rejoiced as the Queenslander chose the most unlikely of options, signing an eye-watering contract chock full of riches and promises of captaincy and beyond.

The entire landscape of the NRL shifted as the Titans became genuine players overnight while the Sea Eagles sunk into their chairs looking at a complete rebuild having lost their 2011 Premiership winner.

Then it all changed.

DCE back-flipped. Thumbed his nose at the Titans and added a few extra stories to his Northern Beaches property by signing a long-term $1 million plus a-season-deal with the Sea Eagles.

Although the NRL had ended the ridiculous cooling off period, DCE was the last, and biggest name, to take advantage of the final season of its existence. For those lucky enough to not remember, a player could sign for any club and had up to a certain date (end of round 13 in this case) to change their mind.

The rest they say, it history. DCE continued his rise to the elite halfback status for Manly, while the Titans bounced between options, eventually spending the DCE-like money on a young and largely unproven half Ash Taylor.

BUT … What if, DCE hadnt have back-flipped on the Titans and instead fulfilled his contract?

Let’s start with Manly, who would have lost both DCE and Kieran Foran in one swoop, with the Kiwi number six having signed to join the Bulldogs.

Yes, Tommy Turbo would still likely have developed into the superstar he is today, but he hadn’t even completed his incredible NYC season when the DCE saga was in full flight.

Simply put, the Sea Eagles would have needed a complete rebuild. You simply can’t move on from two halves the talent of Cherry-Evans and Foran and continue on unaffected.

Manly finished 13th in 2016. They very likely wouldn’t have fared any better sans their out of sorts halfback but I 100% guarantee they wouldn’t have bounced back so quickly in 2017 without their star number seven pulling the strings.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 21: Daly Cherry-Evans of the Sea Eagles scores a try during the round 18 NRL match between the Manly Sea Eagles and the Parramatta Eels at Lottoland on July 21, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Yes, they had a woeful season in 2018 but that had nothing to do with DCE’s form. He would play Game Three in Origin and represent the Kangaroos at the end of the season.

With Des Hasler’s return brought with it Manly’s spirit. The main man? You guessed it. Daly Cherry-Evans.

As good as Turbo and his brother are, Manly’s a completely different side without their halfback. If he signs for the Titans, Manly probably still rise again eventually but unless they had signed Cooper Cronk, they’re missing the eight in 2019 as well.

As for the Titans, oh how different it could have been.

Words cannot describe how different my reaction would be if I were a fan of the Gold Coast club. I was pretty filthy on DCE changing his mind and bailing on a signed agreement.

You never know what’s going on in his personal life and the factors for the back-flip are really none of my business. That said, it presents as a bloke who signed a huge money deal pulling the pin for selfish reasons, leaving a club in tatters.

I enjoy watching DCE play, except when he’s toweling up my side. I guarantee, if I’m a Titans fan, to this day I’m death riding the bloke’s every touch of the Steeden.

Although the Titans finished higher in 2016 than Manly, they finished 15th, 14th and 16th in the seasons after.

They’re a completely different side, and club, with DCE at the helm. He’s the halfback, he’s the captain, he’s the poster boy north of the Tweed.

The club’s membership numbers are higher, their results are better and most importantly their squad is much stronger.

You sign a genuine, game-changing number seven and you’ll be surprised by how many players suddenly want to play for your club.

Jai Arrow stays on the Gold Coast to play beside DCE. They probably have Dane Gagai on the wing and I’d like to think that they would have been right in the market for Latrell Mitchell.

Ash Taylor plays five-eighth and is allowed to develop without being trust into the main play maker role before he’s ready.

Can you imagine a potential spine of Jarryd Hayne, Taylor, DCE and Nathan Peats?

Yes, a lot had to go right for that to line up but you’re talking a completely different set of circumstances very quickly.

Verdict: Manly are probably alright in the end as they always find a way. That said, they’re forced into a complete rebuild and are using stop gap options unless Cooper Cronk signs for the club.

You take DCE out of any side in the world and they’re a weaker side. Ultimately though, you get the feeling Manly would have gone much harder for Shaun Johnson or the like and been set up in a similar position they are right now for a tilt at the 2020 title.

Meanwhile the Titans are a completely different club. Much stronger, and much more stable.

They don’t need to sack coach after coach with DCE leading a winning side and a fully matured Ash Taylor playing beside him. You add Brimson at fullback and throw in Peachey and Bryce Cartwright and this is suddenly one of the most enjoyable sides in the competition.

The Titans had their man. If this had been 2016 or beyond, DCE is a Titan and history is very, very different.