All coaches have a limited time in which to make their mark. Success is the only currency that extends that time. And when the clock starts ticking on their regime, the remaining time is rarely extended.
Danny Wielder reported this week that the Canberra Raiders’ board have decided to not offer new contracts that go beyond the 2020 season. Coincidentally, Ricky Stuart’s own contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. So forgive me for going all tin-foil on you, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the board has delivered a message to Stuart.
The case would be straightforward enough with the Raiders’ poor start. Two wins from the first seven rounds is only the start of the problems the green machine have faced this year. Stuart has been unable to find a satisfactory answer at key positions. Aidan Sezer and Ata Hingano have both been unsuccessful fill-ins at bench utility, a position that is begging to be filled by the in-form Craig Garvey. Sezer should have been the Raiders field general from day dot and only Ricky didn’t know that. Prop rotations have been inconsistent, haphazard and sometimes bizarre. The inability to decide on whether to start Shannon Boyd or Junior Paulo is one thing but sitting the Raiders’ best prop for 50 minutes while they are smashed in the middle is perplexing.
Stuart has also been unable to find answers to key structural issues. Week after week the Raiders’ edge defence remains fragile for the fourth straight year. The massive forward pack has been shown up in their losses this year, by the nimble Manly pack in round four, and by a bigger group of Souths middle men last weekend. Even the Raiders vaunted attack has seemed more than ever reliant on the production of a few key players.
And it may be that the Raiders are starting to haemorrhage talent. Junior Paulo signed on with the Eels just two years after joining the Raiders on their upswing. Boyd has been linked to the Titans this weekend, Sezer has been continually linked to the Bulldogs, and Blake Austin seems as good as gone now. It’s hard to tell how many of these stories are real and how many are agents seeking to drum up the price the Raiders pay for them. But together they allow people to paint the picture of a rickety ship that some people are trying to get off.
You can see that the board may be looking at this and wanting Stuart to repay the faith they showed when they extended him in 2017 while the side was in the midst of their previous four game losing streak.
The board no doubt have the memory of 2016 in their minds. When he came home, Stuart took the cleaners through a side that needed it and put a side together that legitimately competed for the 2016 premiership. He has identified talent (Hodgson, Tapine, Cotric, Wighton) that will mean the Raiders are competitive for years to come. With a great number of Raiders coming off contract at seasons end, it’s not unreasonable to think he is capable of delivering Canberra a repeat dose in 2019 and 2020.
At least that is what it seems the board is hoping. Ricky is being given every opportunity to turn 2018 around with a view to building into 2019 and 2020.
But after that? Well, the clock is ticking.
 It should be noted that frankly taking anything Danny Wielder says too seriously is ridiculous. I apologise for using this as the premise of an article. But IF what he reported is true then it’s very significant.