“If he [Stuart] has more success, he’ll be fair dinkum up there as a contender as a super coach” … Ron Massey.Ricky Stuart sensed the natives were restless. It was during his stint as Roosters coach that word filtered back the players felt flat and tired. That he’d been too hard on them at training. Never one to shrink from an issue, he gathered the whole team together to address the elephant in the room.
”Everyone feeling flat or tired,” Stuart dared. ”Raise your hand.”
The players looked sheepishly at one another. Legend has it about half put their hands in the air. The smart ones kept their mitts firmly tucked into their pockets. ”Everyone with their hands down can go home,” Stuart said before eyeballing the weary. ”The rest of you … you’re doing 400-metre sprints. Then we’ll see how flat and tired you are.”
Welcome to the method and madness of Ricky Stuart. A man who bleeds blue, doesn’t mind picking the odd one and, according to none other than Jack Gibson’s right-hand
man, Ron Massey, could well be on the path to super coach status if his Blues get up on
What the above anecdote doesn’t demonstrate is how much Stuart cares for his players. Hopefully the next one will. In the aftermath of the Roosters’ gut-wrenching 2004 grand-final loss to the Bulldogs, Stuart and his charges trudged back to the club to commiserate with the fans. Several were ripping into one of his players, who had made the sort of gaffe which costs you a lap of honour. Stuart was so protective of his charge that he had to be physically restrained, ending the heckles once and for all.
It’s that sort of devotion to his men that has him primed to make history at Suncorp Stadium. On only two occasions have the Blues come from behind to win a series. The first time was in 1994, when Stuart was halfback. The other was in 2005, when he was coach. Coincidence? Unlikely.
Fittingly, the man in the opposing coach’s box is his good mate, Mal Meninga. On the surface, you couldn’t find two more different personalities. Mellow Mal and Rampaging Ricky. But appearances can be deceiving. Just ask the man who coached them both at the Green Machine, Tim Sheens.
”They’re not as far away from each other as you think,” Sheens revealed. ”They’re two of the most competitive blokes I’ve ever been involved with. If you wanted to play Mal in marbles, he’d want to beat you. Ricky would probably want to beat you. And then steal the marbles.”
That competitive fire has sometimes got him into trouble. It has also put him offside with some of his closest allies. Like his fallout with Meninga after last year’s decider. Or the time that Phil Gould, in one of the most cutting and eloquent sprays of all time, described Stuart as the most ”pig-headed and ungrateful person I’ve ever met in football”. Or when ”Sticky” savaged Sheens for his unsolicited advice regarding the selection of Robbie Farah.
But it seems no one can fall out of love with Stuart for long. Having made up with Gould over a long, long lunch some time ago, Stuart accepted an invitation from Gus to prepare for game one at Penrith. Meninga remains on his speed dial. And the supposed Sheens feud was just a couple of mates having some fun at the expense of an obliging press.
Another classic lover’s tiff. When he left Bondi Junction, Stuart looked his great mate, Roosters official Richard Fisk, in the eye and promised: ”I’ll never do anything wrong by you.” Microseconds later, he walked back into a restaurant, where he was wining and dining Fisk’s PA. Not only did he poach the Roosters staffer, he pinched one of Fisk’s sponsors for good measure as he left for Cronulla. For more than three months they didn’t speak until their wives, sick of the stand-off, tricked them into meeting face to face for lunch. As soon as they saw each other, they burst out laughing. The next person Stuart poached from the Roosters was Fisk.
”While there are many stories about Ricky and what makes him a great coach, people should never forget he is a better father, husband, friend and mentor than he is a coach,” Fisk said.
icky Stuart circa 2012 is a different bloke to the one who terrorised opposition forwards – and his own – as a halfback for Canberra, Canterbury, NSW and Australia. Back then, the stories of his competitiveness were legendary.
”As a player, I think he gave our forwards – if he thought they were bludging – more than he gave their forwards,” Sheens said. There’s the yarn about how he used to drink his bourbon and cokes after a game and throw the ice at one of the biggest monsters in his pack. Sheens told his prop to put Stuart in his place. The response: ”No way. If I clip him, he’ll clip me back. And then he’ll clip me again when I’m not looking.”
With Stuart, you rarely see it coming. As a Raiders player, he loved watching the opposition troops climbing out of the bus, rugged up in their overcoats and moaning about how cold it was in the nation’s capital. So when he was in charge at the Sharks, he ordered the squad to dress in shorts and T-shirts for the trip. That’ll show them. Anyone who so much as mentioned the weather was fined. It didn’t happen often.
Apparently, he has mellowed, according to Brian Canavan, his chief executive at the Roosters and the man Stuart worked closely with in producing the Blueprint for NSW’s shot at dethroning Queensland. ”Comparing him now to what he was like at the Roosters, he’s now far more rounded,” Canavan said. ”Far more circumspect. He’s extremely passionate and it’s good to have people who are calm around him, let’s say … guys like Ron Palmer. He has still got that element of surprise in him, that element of mystery, which is good. All coaches need to have that.”
That element of surprise was never better exemplified than when Stuart first arrived at Bondi Junction. When he asked Nick Politis for the funds to set up a base camp, the Roosters chairman winced at the prospect of outlaying more funds for his beloved Chooks. He needn’t have worried. The Ezron Hotel in Coogee, according to one of the players, ”looked like the lowest joint he could find”.
”There was a perception we were pampered latte sippers – and he wanted that to change,” the player said. ”Three grand finals later, I reckon it did.”
It wasn’t the Hilton but it became a home. The players, initially repulsed, grew to love the Ezron. When it went onto the market some years ago, Stuart tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Politis or the club to buy it.
Now his current players are buying in. The passion. The loyalty. The unstinting belief they are better than a team who have beaten them six years in a row. After such a barren run, you could understand if long-suffering fans were turned off Origin. Instead, they are watching in record numbers. ”Ricky and the players can take a bow for that,” said Nine Network sports boss Steve Crawley. ”Ricky is very emotional and great talent for television because it’s all there. You look in the shop window and the fireworks are going off. He’s sensational.”
Even Mr Queensland himself, Wayne Bennett, heaped praise on Stuart for reigniting Origin interest in its most lopsided period ever. ”Ricky is the driving force in all of that,” Bennett said in a recent interview with The Sun-Herald. ”And he’s the driving force in the way the team is playing.”
tuart speaks to Massey at least once a week. As sounding boards go, ”Mass” is the best in the business. Having worked with Gibson and Bennett, he is also well-placed to compare the trio. ”He’s more emotional than they were,” Massey said. ”Jack was never a big one on speeches and things like that, but the players listened to him.
”Similar things with Wayne Bennett. It’s the attitude he’s got. He and Jack both had the title of being a super coach and Ricky is just behind them at present. If he has more success, he’ll be fair dinkum up there as a contender as a super coach.”
Twitter – @proshenks
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.