Sport Rugby League There’s no place like home: the Ricky Stuart story

There’s no place like home: the Ricky Stuart story

Ricky Stuart celebrates a Canberra triumph. Photo: Getty
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It is fitting that on Saturday, in its first NRL preliminary final in 19 years, Canberra will be led by Ricky Stuart.

The 49-year-old coach – a passionate character who has always divided opinions – is, of course, a Raiders legend.

He was the halfback linchpin of the club’s 1989-90 and 1994 premierships and the man they call ‘Sticky’ also wore the No.7 the last time Canberra made a preliminary final – way back in 1997.

Since then, he has experienced the full gamut of euphoric highs and soul-destroying lows that NRL and international coaching has to offer.

At first, it was all smooth sailing. 

The Kangaroos’ 1990 and 1994 Ashes hero transferred his insatiable competitive streak and rugby league brain to coaching seamlessly, taking charge of the Sydney Roosters in 2002 and becoming just the third first-year coach in history to win a premiership. 

“Ricky gave us the bit of steel we needed,” Chris Flannery, former Roosters and Queensland Origin player, told The New Daily.

“There was no secret to his training, we just trained hard and we were probably the fittest team in the competition.

“Our line-speed was great, we were really physical and aggressive.

“That’s the way Ricky was and it probably came out in our own footy. 

“What you see on the sideline is how he was at training, he’s very intense. He’s a pure competitor.

“As you saw in his playing days he never wanted to lose, and he was the same with us.”

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Stuart celebrates with Roosters legend Brad Fittler. Photo: Getty

More success followed.

The Roosters made the NRL grand final in 2003 and 2004, but lost both, and Stuart then won a State of Origin series at his first attempt in charge of New South Wales in 2005.

His stocks soon plummeted, though, with consecutive failures to reach the finals enough to see Stuart punted by the Roosters at the end of 2006.

He was then sacked as Australia coach – a position he took on in late 2005 – after abusing referee Ashley Klein in the team hotel following his side’s shock defeat to New Zealand in the 2008 World Cup final.

Stuart’s achievement in leading Cronulla to a preliminary final in 2008 was swiftly forgotten as the club disintegrated on and off the field the following season, and he stood down midway through 2010.

Another stint in charge of New South Wales convinced the hapless Parramatta Eels that Stuart was the man to lead them out of the mire, but he bailed after just one season – and a wooden spoon – into a lucrative three-year deal to return to Canberra at the end of 2013.

Put simply, Stuart’s stocks were low.

A 15th-placed finish for Canberra in 2014 did little to improve them, either.

But astute recruitment and year-on-year progression saw the Raiders given a chance of making the 2016 finals series and this season they have developed into the NRL’s hottest attacking outfit.

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Stuart is popular with his players. Photo: Getty

Flannery can see a distinct resemblance between this Raiders combination and Stuart’s Roosters juggernaut of the early 2000s.

“They’re playing a similar brand of footy, they’ve got a big, physical team, and we were a lot the same,” said Flannery, who is now CEO of the Sunshine Coast Falcons.

“Ricky’s done a great job down there over the last couple of years.”

It has always been easy to paint Stuart as rugby league’s pantomime villain. 

Abrasive and quick-tempered – when he’s not blowing up in press conferences about referees, he’s calling out reporters – and he has attracted $100,000 in NRL fines over the course of his turbulent coaching career.

But many of those outbursts are results of Stuart’s famous loyalty to his players.

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Stuart has had a strained relationship with the press. Photo: Getty

Flannery said it is why his sides want to do so well for him.

“Ricky is one of the most loyal coaches that I’ve played under,” he said.

“Once he knew you were putting in for him and giving 100 per cent for the team, he was so loyal.

“He’d always back his players – even sometimes when he wasn’t right or we weren’t right as players.

“You couldn’t ask for any more as a coach than Ricky used to do for us players.”

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