You could search the sporting world far and wide but it would b hard to find a more passionate or emotional individual than Ricky Stuart.
In fact, the phrase “wears their heart on their sleeve” could well have been penned to describe the 52-year-old Canberra Raiders NRL coach who has a long history of letting his emotions get the better of him because of his unbridled passion for the game of rugby league.
It’s in his DNA.
He has never, and should never, apologize for it.
It is one of the reasons he has been so successful in the game.
He has won premierships as a player and a coach, he’s represented both NSW and Australia multiple times as a player, winning almost every accolade the game bestows on its best players and coached his country.
Through it all, Stuart has always been outspoken and controversial.
It cost him the Australian coaching job when he “blew up” at senior NRL officials and confronting referee Ashley Klien in a hotel foyer the morning after his Kangaroos lost the 2008 World Cup to New Zealand, allegedly calling him a “cheat”.
But age and hard lessons have mellowed Stuart from the days when his volatility would regularly cost the Raiders and the other three NRL clubs he coached in his 15 seasons, a hefty fine.
Stuart has had many good players come and go at the Raiders since taking the coaching reins in 2014, when he won just eight games and finish 15th out of 16 teams in his rookie year.
But he has never had a team as good as this 2019 version.
This Green Machine is one team that can deliver Canberra and their fans its first premiership in 25 years.
Stuart was the halfback in that 1994 celebrated premiership-winning side which included Laurie Daley as his halves partner, electrifying fullback Brett Mullins, man mountains Mal Meninga and Ruben Wiki in the centres and two scintillating wingers, Kenny Nagas and Noa Nadruku.
The engine room that Sunday afternoon featured Steve Walters and the great Bradley Clyde and they crushed Canterbury 36-12.
Memories of that Sunday afternoon will no doubt come flooding back for Stuart this week as he prepares his team for the grand final showdown with the Roosters.
Ironically, it will be 17 years to the day that Stuart coached the Sydney Roosters to a 30-8 win over the New Zealand Warriors, adding further emotion to what will be a special day for him and many former Raiders greats who will get together at the game.
One of them, two-time premiership-winning fullback (1989-90), Gary Belcher knows his good mate “Sticky” will be energized on the day like he always is.
“He is up there with the best of them who wear their heart of their sleeve,” said Belcher before heading to Sydney to join several of his former Raiders teammates to enjoy the occasion.
“He is still the same person, but he knew he had to change as a coach and mellow.
“He knew he had to do it, not just to be a better coach, but for the players, he was dealing with because they are a bit more sensitive than we were.
“When we came through the ranks and our coach said: ‘go do 100 push-ups and run hills for an hour’ you just did it, because that’s what the coach wanted. But they’re a bit more sensitive nowadays and Ricky had to tone it down and he has done that.
“I can tell you though, the players all respect him, they really love him and they all want to play for him and for the club.
“He hasn’t changed who he is but he has mellowed publicly.
“He learned the hard way.”
Belcher called out those journalists who a few years ago were calling for Stuart’s head.
“Those same journalists who said he should be sacked have gone awfully quiet. I’d love to see some of them come out and say they were wrong, but you won’t see that.”
Belcher said the Canberra board always had faith in Stuart’s ability because they knew the type of person he was.
“Ricky is a bit untouchable because Don Furner and other board members know he is such a great person and a really good coach. He’s perfect for that club and that community.”
Stuart played 203 of his 243 games with the Raiders winning premierships in 1989-90 alongside Belcher and again in 1994 — the last time the Raiders played in a grand final.
Both are two-time club players of the year.
Belcher believes Canberra can unsettle the Roosters early and unlike Melbourne and other teams had a certain unpredictability about them.
“The Roosters are a high-quality team but we’ve certainly got it over them as far as ball stealing goes,” he joked.
“I really rate the Roosters, they have so much big-game experience and have so much strike power.
“But they are not unbeatable.”