The Daily Telegraph
August 22, 2014 12:00AM
WHEN Daly Cherry-Evans was just four he’d stand outside the family home in Brisbane practising his goal kicking over the clothes line.
This is the story of the boy who inspired the man — a player who will run out for his 100th NRL game on Friday, already with his career perched at the very top of the rugby league world.
But even back then, his parents Kellie and Troy remember, Cherry- Evans had a work ethic to match his natural born talent.
His dad coached him as a kid and was constantly drilling into his son the importance of being able to kick both feet.
“Troy always taught him that if he was going to do the kicking then he had to learn to kick left and right,” Kellie recalled. “So that’s what he did.”
Then when he was 12 the family moved to Mackay and Cherry-Evans, the oldest of five kids by that stage, had upgraded the old Hills hoist with the house as his makeshift goal posts.
“The sun could be going down but he’d still be out kicking,” Kellie continued. “He’d kick the football from the front of the house to the back, and he’d kick it all day.
“I’d be saying; ‘Get inside, tea’s ready’. And he’d say; ‘Yeah, I’ll be in there soon’. And he’d just keep kicking and keep kicking.”
Manly assistant coach Dave Penna takes up the story upon Cherry-Evans’ arrival at Manly.
As Penna recalled this week, here was this raw-boned 17-year-old kid with a long neck and not much else in respect to body shape, except he had this relentless work ethic to match his obvious talent.
“We were playing Raymond Terrace up near Newcastle,” Penna said of that first trial, “and there wasn’t a lot of him. But the thing that was most impressive was the way he ran the football.
“I remember I watched the game from behind the goal posts because there really wasn’t anywhere else to stand. And after I said to Crusher (former Manly talent scout Noel Cleal), I sort of compared him to Darren Lockyer.
“He just did some really nice things, he just really stood out.”
Then Penna watched him develop on the training paddock, and the stories his parents told of the boy were still his driving force as a teenager, now as a man.
“If he’s doing kicking and it’s been a really hot day, I have to physically tell him he has got to get off the field because he’ll stay there and kick and kick and kick,” Penna said.
“He has always been one of those kids who just wanted to learn. I don’t think people see how tough he is, either, how hard he works. He just wants to be the very best he can be.”
And defensively, that hard work philosophy has also rubbed off. Even with all his attacking flair, he still rolls up the sleeves and does his share of the work. Last year Cherry-Evans made the most tackles by a back in the competition, 593 in total, for an average of 22 a game.
“He is not one of those guys who will say I’m going to go and defend one in from the wing, I don’t have to make those tackles,” Penna said. “He knows if he wants to be one of the best halves in the competition he has to do that.
“And I guess the most pleasing part this year was the way he defended in the middle in State of Origin. I thought at the time, God, what have they done, when they put him there. But in the end he defended really well and he did his job. That’s the thing about him, he won’t let anybody down.”
Which brings us to this game, when the Sea Eagles tackle Parramatta in Friday Night Footy, and Cherry-Evans runs out for this relatively minor rugby league milestone.
But to think of what he has already achieved in four years of NRL football only makes you wonder where this story might one day end.
Two grand finals so far, one premiership, one Clive Churchill Medal as best on ground in a losing team last year, Dally M rookie of the year, two Kangaroo tours, two State of Origin series.
Earlier this year Matty Johns wrote a column in the lead up to Origin where he labelled Cherry-Evans and Greg Inglis the two best players in the game. And one of the things Johns explained was how frighteningly similar Cherry-Evans was to his brother Joey.
How of all the playmakers Andrew had worked with over the years, none understood Joey like Cherry.
“Troy told him as a kid, watch the footy on TV and pick a player you want to be and do what they do,” Kellie said.
And you wouldn’t believe who he picked. “Andrew Johns,” she laughed.
Which makes it all the more incredible given Johns now works alongside the Manly halfback as his skills coach, and will be calling the big game from the sideline for Channel Nine.
And at home in Brisbane, Troy and Kellie will be watching on as proud as any parents on the planet.
“We find it pretty surreal that he grew up dreaming to be like that person and now that person trains him,” Kellie said of his relationship with Johns.
Last week Kellie and Troy travelled down to watch Manly play on the Gold Coast when Cherry-Evans sealed victory with a late left-footed field goal. It brought back memories of the boy they remember practising kicking until the sun went down almost every afternoon of the week.
While everyone else at the ground seemed amazed, by Cherry-Evans’ freakish skill to switch feet at such a crucial time in the match, Troy just looked over to Kellie and smiled. “There’s that left foot again,” Troy laughed.
Hard work has a habit of making its own luck, in league and in life.
“And he still sets all his goals for the future,” Kellie said, “what he wants to become, where he wants to be. We just sit back and hope those dreams come true for him.”