Sport

A Prickly Ricky gives his Raiders the edge

Raiders Ricky Stuart has turned some of his players from outcasts to stars.
Raiders Ricky Stuart has turned some of his players from outcasts to stars. DEAN LEWINS

NO DOUBT we have all met someone about whom we had formed an opinion before getting to know them.

And sometimes, no doubt, they turned out to be just as we thought they were.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart can be just that person, although my view is tainted. Ricky and I have known each other for close to three decades and have had our differences.

The prickly Ricky we see on TV, in particular in press conferences following a loss, was often the man to whom I spoke while a working NRL scribe. But it was an attitude that usually helped create an interesting yarn.

That, thankfully, is in the past. More recent interaction has been courteous, although sporadic. Our paths don't cross much these days.

And they may not in the future either because sometimes NRL premiership-winning coaches suddenly become a little aloof, and difficult to contact.

While I'm not tipping the Raiders to win the comp, I won't be surprised if they do. And if they do win, Prickly Ricky will deserve every single plaudit that comes his way.

What he has done at Canberra this past season is nothing short of amazing. Ironically, on the eve of the Raiders-Storm grand final qualifier, it may not be drawing too long a bow to describe his coaching transformation as Craig Bellamy-like.

Born and raised in Canberra, Stuart played 203 NRL games for the club and won three premierships with the Raiders. His heart, quite obviously, was in the national capital when he returned two years ago to take over as head coach.

The wheels for the transformation were no doubt set in motion then, but took a while to gather traction. That happened back in round 16 and the Green Machine has been beaten only once since.

The comparison with Bellamy comes because of the manner in which Stuart has rebuilt and saved careers.

Joey Leilua was a talent, but a boofhead who had been moved on from two clubs. In two weeks he will almost certainly be named a Kangaroo.

His right-side demolition partner, Jordan Rapana, had two years on a Mormon mission after debuting for the Titans at 18. He then spent two more years floundering in rugby union before Stuart turned around his career.

Blake Austin was unwanted by the Panthers and Tigers; Sio Soliola was a spent force in the UK Super League; Junior Paulo was released by the Eels; and Joseph Tapine was cut loose by the Knights.

Further, who had heard of Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead, Clay Priest and Luke Bateman? And would any other coach in the NRL dare to drop workaholic lock Shaun Fensom?

Now, just a mate and a gathering Storm stand between Stuart and another shot at glory.

Topics:  canberra raiders, ricky stuart, sportopinion, tony durkin


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