Why Cherry-Evans lifetime deal is good for the game Smh By MALCOLM KNOX Daly Cherry-Evans used to take part in a primary school program called 'Sea Eagle Reading', in which rugby league stars would visit third-graders for an hour a week to read books together. Nothing particularly taxing or unusual, just another piece in the mosaic of "giving back" that most professional sportspeople undertake every day away from the cameras. But Cherry-Evans was unusual. He tried to do every little thing well. He enunciated his words in that pernickety way that may annoy knockabout types, but instead of coming across as confected, in the classroom it just sounded like a bloke trying to improve himself and set a genuine example for children who were not that much younger than himself. It's been said that Cherry-Evans's idiosyncrasies did not endear him to some teammates, more old-school than primary-school in their ways. (No, we didn't see Choc or Snake at Sea Eagle Reading, though the Wolfman was prominent, as were several big names as well as the junior players.) What set Cherry-Evans apart was his commitment to doing things, even little things, to the best of his ability. He was not going through the motions, to an extraordinary degree. After Manly games at Brookvale Oval, when the players did their lap of the ground, Cherry-Evans would spot Sea Eagle Readers in the crowd and call to them by name. To these eight-year-olds, it meant the world. At that age, if Bozo had called my name for a high-five, I might literally have died and gone to heaven. Instead, a distant sneer was pure gold. I think Bozo sneered at me!! This is not to make a saint (let alone a titan) of Cherry-Evans. The local newspaper has already done it by renaming itself the Manly Daly. The salient point is that the future of the game, or any game, does not rest in the hands of those of us who think the villain in the DCE saga is Cherry-Evans or Joe Kelly or Dave Smith. It doesn't rest with those of us who know the Orr Brothers aren't a Pilbara rock band. The future does not rest with those who think DCE played both Manly and the Gold Coast so shrewdly he should be the next FIFA president, or at least run Australia's next World Cup bid. Nor does the future rest with weary cynics who see sport as a subset of the business world, and either praise or condemn Cherry-Evans, his managers, the clubs and the NRL, for their business acumen or lack thereof. The future rests with the Sea Eagle Readers. One, Lilian K (all right, yes, relation), vowed to stop supporting the club when it was announced Cherry-Evans was leaving. You could get up on your grown-up hind legs and preach the values of loyalty, of club-before-individual, of having your team tattooed on your face and microchipped into your brain all you like, but when a kid has a personal relationship with her hero who has remembered her and her classmates' names and locked eyes across the fence on a freezing Saturday night, she's going to follow that player. Loyalty be damned (ironically enough). Lilian K, not unlike her erstwhile team, was ready to consign 2015 to the too-hard basket and look forward to 2016. Possibly, gulp, as a Titans fan. It was on the cards. Time for crisis meetings. When DCE decided to change his mind and stay at Manly on the eve of her birthday, Lilian K, who, like her hero, can do an actual backflip, said it was almost better than the presents her parents gave her. And when she's an old lady, DCE will still be playing for Manly! It's not just a lifetime deal for the player. Rather than question these extra-overtime contracts, the codes should be encouraging them, because they're not just giving security to the player, they're giving it to the young fans. Perhaps the child's eye doesn't make sense. Naive, fickle, illogical, idealistic, emotional – children could be computer-matched with rugby league and put on Married at First Sight with it. The relationship is all about their future together. Meanwhile, much of what occupies adults in sport is inherently backward-looking. Young league fans have forgotten the round 13 rule (if they ever knew it), yet will line up to see James Tedesco or Josh Papalii or DCE do their stuff on the field. For young soccer fans, this was not the week when Septic Bladder won a vote, performed an offensive tribal dance ('Let go, FIFA! Let go, FIFA!') and then, like Lou Reed, saw his head laughing, rolling on the ground. These matters are irrelevance and ephemera, the passing parade of the adult world. For young fans, this was the week they saw Harry Kane or Diego Costa, this was the week they saw Arsenal turn Wembley into a theatre of the sublime, while the faces of Aston Villa-facepainted children were not just portraits of heartbreak, but of the moment when pain and the hope of redemption become ingrained in a child's character for life. Who will ever remember ASADA or Eddie McGuire? Who will be telling stories in 2050 about the day they had their Big League signed by Tony Archer? What captures the imagination of the future is the stuff the adults too often overlook. How amazingly well Adam Goodes, with grey in his beard, is suddenly playing football. Sally Fitzgibbons again proving at Cloudbreak that while she may not be the world champion surfer, she's pound-for-pound the most courageous and skilful athlete on this earth. Those two great Test matches New Zealand pulled out of old England. That Eddie Betts goal in Adelaide. The Cowboys' late show to win their ninth straight game. Things that will happen on sporting fields right through this weekend, instant memories that will outlive the latest blah blah blah. The spokesperson for the dying generation, as ever, is located in Canberra. Leave it to Ricky Stuart to put it best, a la Mal "I'm buggered" Meninga: "It's healthier if I don't continue. Thanks." That's why we learn to read: so we know when to stop talking.