For Manly Sea Eagles’ captain Daly Cherry-Evans and Cronulla Sharks’ Toby Rudolf, Sunday’s blockbuster at Redcliffe will be a return to where it all began. Both players share what the game and Redcliffe mean to them, and what fans can expect from the clash.
“It’s the place where it all began for me. I was born in Redcliffe Hospital, I come from a family with strong ties to rugby league – my dad played, all of my uncles played, some for Redcliffe. I never really had a choice to play rugby league but luckily for me I did enjoy it and I haven’t looked back. At five years old, I got to play my first game at the Dolphins and I haven’t missed a season since,” Cherry-Evans told Moreton Daily earlier today.
The 32-year-old says he played under-7s for three years, then moved up through the juniors skipping a year level along the way before moving to Mackay when he was about 11 years of age.
He returned to complete Year 12 at Redcliffe State High School, playing for the school team and chasing his rugby league dream.
“I knew moving back to Brisbane was going to further my rugby league career – I obviously wasn’t gaining much attention up in central Queensland. I knew coming back to Brisbane, which is a pretty big heartland for rugby league, I knew if I was playing the right style of footy I had more chance of getting noticed or picked up,” he says.
His desire to play the game at the highest level was front-of-mind throughout high school, which he says must have been frustrating for teachers trying to help him identify a realistic career path.
“Obviously the percentage of people going on to play professional sport is pretty small, but I guess that’s probably the part that separated me … not necessarily my ability, but my determination,” he says.
“I wanted it at all costs and was willing to move away from home to chase the dream. It’s so funny how Redcliffe has always played a role my journey – as a five-year-old, an 18-year-old and now as a 32-year-old.
“It’s a place that’s definitely close to my heart. It’s just played a constant role in my journey of being a rugby league player. Mum and dad live 15 minutes away. I go to mum and dad’s place quite regularly during my downtime. It’s not uncommon for us to go and have lunch over at Redcliffe.”
Cherry-Evans says running out on the field at Redcliffe will bring back memories of playing in no boots – that’s what all the kids did back then – and doing it in front of family will make it particularly special.
“Running out there is going to bring back all those memories and they’re all good memories, they’re all great memories from my childhood – the experiences and the enjoyment I got out of playing for the Dolphins as a kid,” he says.
“Mum and dad will definitely be there, I think most of my brothers and sisters will be able to make it. Having our games up in Queensland, one of the benefits is my family gets to come quite regularly which is something they don’t get to do too often. So, that’s exciting for me.”
His partner and three daughters aged eight, six and three will still be in hotel quarantine and will have to watch the game on TV.
“As much as my partner, in particular, wanted to come and share this experience with me because she understands the role Redcliffe has played through my career, she is excited to watch and she’s obviously hoping it’s a great day and we can get a win and celebrate it,” he says.
Cherry-Evans’ love for the game has intensified, the more he’s played and he’s grateful the season has continued in Queensland and he has the chance to play where it all began.
“I can’t predict the scoreline … I’m hoping we can play the style of footy we’ve been playing, which is pretty expansive, and I’d like to think it’s pretty entertaining – the last 8-10 weeks in particular,” he says.
“We’re coming up against a really tough side. They’re always very physical and make you work for very point you get, so we know we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us and they’re obviously sitting in seventh (and we’re in sixth). It’s going to be a great game, but we do like our chances. You have to back yourself in sport.”
Cherry-Evans says he and Cronulla prop Toby Rudolf, also a former Dolphin, will undoubtedly be feeling similar emotions on Sunday.
“The Dolphins have played a part in his rugby league journey and probably just goes to show what Redcliffe has provided in the rugby league world is a lot of quality players who have gone on to play NRL,” he says.
“I think that’s a really great sign of the club and how strong they’ve been for so long. Toby will want to make it a special day, but I’m hoping my teammates help me get that win and make it really cool day.
“Hopefully we can get a few people there on the weekend. It would be nice, not just for me, but for the game as well.”
“I’d be nothing without the Dolphins, they gave me a start in a lot of ways,” Rudolf says.
“I moved over there (to the Dolphins) with the hope of maintaining a starting point in the Q Cup, did that and had probably the best year of my life.
“That’s when my career started, really. I came from the Rabbitohs in a first-grade system where I didn’t really do anything, didn’t really flourish. I was the only player in that squad to not play first-grade and was left with a decision – do I keep playing or do I hang up the boots and try get on with my life and get a real job?”
The now 25-year-old says he had mates who had played in the Queensland Cup and Anthony Cherrington suggested he try Redcliffe.
“He had played for the Dolphins. He said that it would be really good for me and I’d love it, so I just told my manager I wanted to do that – get out of Sydney and put all my eggs in one basket and do my best in the QCup,” Rudolf recalls.
He played off the bench in round 1, 2019, and says a conversation with coach Adam Mogg in which he asked for an opportunity to be in the starting squad was a turning point.
“True to his word he put me in the starting team in the second round, my whole family came up to see me against the Burleigh Bears at the Gold Coast,” Rudolf recalls.
“Something happened that game, I had a blinder of a game and every day after that I was trying to put my best foot forward and kept playing well, we kept playing well as a team … winning a lot of games.
“It was just that whole transformation from being an unwanted player with the Rabbitohs, then actually being a half-decent player for the Dolphins and winning a comp and getting back to Sydney with a first-grade contract and meeting a lot of really good people along the way.”
He credits General Manager of Football Operations Grant Cleal and his teammates for improving his game.
“The main thing I learnt from Redcliffe was that I can compete with the best. They put belief in me and added a bit of confidence. I was lacking in both those areas so much, when I first arrived at the club. Through the players I was with there, the likes of Cameron Cullen, Sam Anderson and Nathan Watts, there was just lot of belief they put in me,” he says.
There are two things Rudolf is looking forward to about Sunday’s game.
“Running out of that 30m tunnel, with the Des Webb painting on the wall … I love that tunnel… but probably what I’m looking forward to the most is seeing all the fans that used to pack out the stadium,” he says.
“I’d love to see some familiar faces and soak in the atmosphere that Moreton Daily Stadium can now produce.”
Unfortunately, his former teammates won’t be in the crowd, as they have their own game to win on Sunday afternoon.
“I would have loved it (if they were there), but they’ve got a job to do themselves and winning another Q Cup is at the top of that list. If they could watch it on TV, that would be nice,” he says.
“Fans can expect a really fast, error-free game of footy. Every game it seems we’re fighting for our season to stay alive and this is no different. We’re versing a team that’s one place ahead of us on the ladder, so if we win, it cements us even further and brings them back further towards our level. I think you can expect a game that’s going to mean a lot to both teams and it will show on the field.
“Just look out for my dolphin fin/shark fin that I’ll be giving all the fans out there. This will just be whenever I’m not doing something, I’ll get the shark fin/dolphin fin out.”
Moreton Bay Region Mayor Flannery says the match will be the cherry on top of what’s shaping up to be a bumper weekend in the region.
“It’s been a long time between courses, but the Moreton Bay Food + Wine Festival is back and with the NRL game falling on the same weekend, it’s going to be one hell of a party!,” Mayor Flannery says.
“It’s great to be able to celebrate after a tough year and this is a treat Moreton Bay earned and deserves. Council is proud to partner with the NRL and the Dolphins to make this happen, providing a boost to local businesses recovering from the latest COVID lockdown.
“I’m urging locals to come out in droves and show the NRL why the Moreton Bay Dolphins deserve to be the next NRL team - we are passionate, we have the best facilities and are already working alongside the NRL to make sure the competition can continue in 2022.”
Mayor Flannery said the region is already recognised as a national sporting destination and hosting this match will reinforce that fact.
“We had a sell-out crowd when we hosted the Broncos and Cowboys trial match earlier in the year and I know this game will be just as successful,” he says.
“We’re predicting thousands of NRL fans to converge on Moreton Daily Stadium to watch the match, which will be a huge benefit for our local economy.
“There’ll also be millions of viewers tuning into Channel Nine’s free coverage of the game to show the world what Moreton Bay really is – the ultimate heartland of rugby league.
"This won’t be the only NRL match to be played in Moreton Bay this season with the Bulldogs and the Tigers going head to head the following week – so stay tuned for more.
“Council has been the single biggest investor into the recent stadium upgrades, contributing a total of $8.4 million, and I am proud that it’s paying dividends for the entire region."
Sunday’s game is at Moreton Daily Stadium, home of the Dolphins. Kick-off is 4pm.
For tickets, head to ticketek