BRIAN CANAVAN, the mastermind behind the blueprint propelling NSW into the State of Origin decider, believes Ricky Stuart is capable of coaching both a club side and the Blues next year.
When the NSW Rugby League appointed Canavan to map out a strategy to break Queensland’s interstate dominance two years ago, his first recommendation was the appointment of a stand-alone NSW coach without club ties. Officials duly appointed Stuart, who was without a gig following his parting of the ways with Cronulla in 2010. However, his future beyond Wednesday night’s decider is clouded.
Stuart has indicated he wants to return to club football and may do so, particularly if he can break the Maroons’ six-year stranglehold on Origin. The premiership-winning mentor has been linked to clubs such as the Roosters, Canberra and St George Illawarra.
While Canavan initially insisted on appointing a coach with no club ties, he believes an exception could now be made for Stuart.
”With his experience, I feel he could,” Canavan said. ”It would be up to him and the club to work that out. But the fact he has established all the programs – and we’ve only got one more step to go in the development of the high-performance program – there could be that opportunity for him to become that part-time coach again.
”The point when I did the review, there were a lot of gaps in the NSW Blues program and it needed a full-time person to come in and re-establish advanced programs. Ricky was the ideal person for it.
”In my review, that full-time status was to be reviewed at the end of two years. And here we are in a few days time. It would be up to Ricky and the NSW board whether they still want a full-time coach.”
Few people know Stuart as well as Canavan. The pair worked closely together at the Roosters, where Canavan was the chief executive and Stuart the coach in a partnership which garnered a premiership in 2002 as well as grand final appearances the following two seasons. ”It’s a huge workload, we’ve seen what it does to [Stuart’s NSW predecessors] Craig Bellamy and Graham Murray,” Canavan said. ”If you’ve got programs in place and the right people delivering them, it could work. I’m not saying it would, but it could.”
Stuart has shown that he can do both jobs. He was the last man to coach the Blues to a series win in 2005, while he was also overseeing the Roosters. That’s why legendary coach Jack Gibson’s right-hand man, Ron Massey, believes Stuart could fill the dual roles again.
”He’d be capable of doing it … he’s not new to winning”, said Massey, who is also a confidant of Stuart. ”If they’re successful next Wednesday night, the great majority of the team will be there next year. With their faith in him and their knowledge of what he wants, it wouldn’t take long for him to get them thinking the same way.
”I’m sure he could handle it.”
Should Stuart abdicate the throne to work exclusively for a club, Laurie Daley is considered the favourite to take over. A market provided by betting agency Betstar has Daley as the $3 favourite should Stuart leave the post. Daley is one of NSW’s great players and has served an apprenticeship in recent years as Country Origin coach but has no experience as a coach at NRL level.
The second favourite is Daniel Anderson at $4.50, Warren Ryan was a surprise at $6, followed by Jim Dymock ($7), Trent Barrett ($7), Jason Taylor ($8), Brad Fittler ($9) and Andrew Johns at $10. Former Queensland coach Wayne Bennett is a $67 outsider, while the Blues’ most successful Origin mentor, Phil Gould, now the general manager of football at Penrith, is a $126 chance.
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