Ricky Stuart has endured the highs and lows of the coaching caper but is on the verge of history should he guide the Raiders to premiership glory.
On Sunday, he’ll equal Don Furner’s record for the longest gap between grand finals when he ends a 15-year drought dating back to 2004 when he was in his third straight decider with the Roosters.
A lot has changed since then. His demeanour on and off the field has tempered – the passionate outbursts are less frequent than years gone by – but his devotion has stayed the same.
While tactics have played a role, it’s his close individual bonds with his players that have turned the Raiders into a powerhouse club. Big League spoke to a number of current stars to learn more about Stuart’s influence.
From woe to Joe
Luring star players to the nation’s capital used to be tricky. The club famously missed out on James Tedesco’s services due to a late back flip, but there were no issues securing Joe Tapine’s signature from the Knights.
“I came down and met with him before I signed,” Tapine recalls. “He told me the Raiders were building something but he also warned me that it wouldn’t happen straight away. I liked what I saw. Ricky’s passion was the first thing I noticed and that hasn’t changed. Everyone sees the angry side of him in the box but he’s cool-headed and he cares about the players off the field.”
While Wigan and Canberra share similar climates, the distance between the two cities makes the decision to pack your bags and head south a life-changing one.
John Bateman did just that in the pre-season, and while it’s been tough to be away from his young family, Stuart has been there every step of the way to help him out.
“The day I got here, he took me in like I was one of his own,” Bateman beams.
“I’ve been away from my family for eight or nine months and he literally took me in and looked after me like I was his son. He’s been there for me and I couldn’t thank him any more – actually, there is one way, and that’s getting the win on Sunday.”
No cheap thrills
While Stuart’s subtleties may be new to some, veteran Sia Soliola knows him inside-out. The fan favourite made his debut under Stuart at the Roosters in 2005 and was lured back to the NRL after a successful stint in Super League.
“We see a few broken chairs but not as many as back in the day. I was very raw the first time I was with him, but now I look at him as a different mentor. The way he operates around the club and manages the players is amazing. He drives the attitudes and sets the standard and that’s how you build culture,” Soliola explains.
“Ricky has had a great career here and he understands Canberra. He’s selfless, he’ll do anything for everybody here. Everyone knows how passionate he is about those close to him, and you can’t get any closer when you’re bleeding green.”
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