The curse of hype: are we burdening Kane Evans with unfair expectation?

Hype is only good if you ever live up to it. If you don’t, you end up carrying it around with you for the rest of your career. You become the guy that “didn’t quite live up to expectations” or “didn’t deliver on all that promise”.

Hype is a story only when you manage to match or exceed it, and very few athletes ever surpass our expectations.

The rugby league world has had its fair share of people who matched the hype — Sonny Bill, Freddy, Joey, Lockyer — but largely it’s littered with stories of players whose careers never reached the incredible heights we expected of them.

Source: SMH.

Braith Anasta was labelled “The Next Brad Fittler”, and in his first full game he almost lived up to the hype, setting up two tries including one of an intercept and grubber to the wings for Hazem El Masri. He has, by all reasonable metrics, had a very, very good career: he won a Grand Final with the ‘Dogs, kicked the greatest field goal ever kicked in 2010 and is one of the few New South Welshmen still running around who can claim an Origin series win. He captained the Roosters to a Grand Final — as his comparison did — and has played four games for Australia.

But ultimately, he wasn’t Fittler. And even though he never asked to be labelled the next Freddy, because he never got there he’s considered “overrated”.

Had he started out his career with lower expectations – say, a very good half who could one day play a few Origins – would he be remembered differently as his career winds down?

And did the hype cripple his chances of ever becoming a version of Freddy?

They were calling Tautau Moga “The Next Folau”. Two knee surgeries later and people are wondering whether he will be able to play regular first grade, let alone live up to the hype – and until he does, like Braith, he’ll be labelled “overrated” even though he wasn’t the one doing the rating.

Luke Brooks was labelled the next Andrew Johns after a superb cameo last year against the Dragons. It only took one flogging at the hands of that same team in just his second game of footy for people to question the label.

The line between “legend” and “overrated” is made of chalk and often drawn on the pavement in the midst of a hype hurricane. The presumption of greatness is often just too much for a player to live up to, and we shoulder the player with a burden before they’ve had the chance to show they can carry it.

I’m wondering if we are doing the same for Kane Evans?

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I’m as guilty of over-hype as the next fan. Last year, I called for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to immediately take the reins at the fullback spot. When injury ruled Mini out for a few games, I then immediately declared that the spot was his to lose.

And while he didn’t harm his chances, he lost it when Mini returned – his first few games as fullback in the top grade showed some warts that needed burning before the position was his without question.

I’ve called Daniel Tupou “Izzy wit Skillz”; I’ve called Jared Waerea-Hargreaves “one of the best defensive front-rowers of all time”; heck, I call Brad Fittler “God” and Mini “The Italian Jesus”.

But Kane Evans is yet to play a game, and the hype surrounding the kid’s debut has been two years in the making.

Petero Civonicieva said before the start of last season that:

He hasn’t played first grade yet but I can see him being a superstar of the future. Hopefully he gets an opportunity this year. Kane’s sheer speed for a big man is amazing. I remember watching him in the Under-20s State of Origin game last year when he made a break and left everyone for dead. I have been fortunate enough to get to know Kane through the Australian Fijian association and he is keen to play for Fiji – although I think in the coming years we’re going to see him put on that sky blue jersey for NSW and then Australia if he chooses that way. He is fully capable of it.

Source: Zimbio.

Source: Zimbio.

Evans is a behemoth of a man, blessed with a speed no-one his size has in the game combined with a powerful, agile running style that should translate well to the faster pace the NRL is played at this year.

But for the past two years we’ve been talking about “unleashing Kane” as if he is the saviour. And look, he very well might be the game’s next front-row superstar – he seemingly has all the tools, and if you were to mould a front rower from scratch out of silly putty you’d come close to crafting what Evans appears to be.

But what if he ends up as just a strike forward off the bench? Or worse, a serviceable front-rower? Is that such a bad thing?

Are we placing a plague on his house before he has had the chance to build it?

I want Evans to have a great career, but I am worried that we as fans have placed so much pressure on him that the valve will break – not his valve, but ours.

If he ends up becoming a latter-day version of Jason Cayless – a premiership winner and unsung hero of the 2002 squad – that should be a good thing. If he becomes Peter Cusack, a serviceable front rower who enjoyed a long career – that should be a good thing too.

But before he’s even played a game we’ve potentially set him up to fail, as many people did with Braith, Tautau and possibly even Brooks.

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Hype got me excited to see Anchorman 2 and The Man of Steel.

“It’s been 15 years in the making!”

“They’ve finally nailed the Superman Story!”

Yet the hype, as it is in the overwhelming majority of cases, wasn’t matched. Anchorman 2 can’t hold a candle to Anchorman the original, and The Man of Steel had me thinking “man, that Zack Snyder is the next Michael Bay”.

That’s not a good thing.

I want Kane Evans to match the hype. But I hope we don’t think any less of this young man if he doesn’t get there. His career can be a long one – at the very least, he should be able to carve out a spot as a bench prop: that’s his floor.

But we may have given him a ceiling that no person can reach.

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