In the coaching hellscape that has been the last few weeks, it’s been funny to see the media finally start asking questions about Ricky Stuart.
In all fairness these questions should have started a long time ago. Even us loyal dumbasses started asking them in April. It’s not rocket science. The Raiders have only made the finals once in his five year tenure. This is the worst period since the Raiders first five years in the competition. Ricky is the only Raiders coach to miss the finals two years in a row since Don Furner. Senior.
He’s created a quality squad that has squandered its talent in all but one year. The problems that have plagued the side – edge defence, discipline, mental fragility in close games – have steadily gotten worse, not better. He’s continually made strange roster decisions, unable to settle on solution in key positions. Aidan Sezer has played dummy-half. Ata Hingano has played utility and even a bit of wing. Sia Soliola shifted from prop to edge forward to centre on a seemingly weekly basis. Blake Austin was the future, offered 700k a year to stay until everyone worked out (a long time after the rest of the league) that he wasn’t a first-grade defender on the edge. The development of players has been mixed. For every player that has improved or reached their potential under his watch – think Tapine, Rapana, Hodgson – there’s one who hasn’t (Sezer, Boyd, Austin, Paulo, Vaughan).
Sidebar: Sticky’s win/loss record with the Raiders is 47.5 percent (per Wikipedia). This is the best win percentage of a Canberra coach since Mal Meninga. The Raiders were in a dark spot when he took over. He turned the side around, and even attracted talent to the capital. It’s not indefensible to continue to support Stuart.
It’s all culminated in a 2018 which has been about as much fun as passing a kidney stone. Not so much the number of losses but the nature of them has haunted Canberrans week to week. As the side has mentally fallen apart Sticky has been helpless. Certainly the Green Machine’s injury toll has played it’s part, but the talent that has remained should have been sufficient for a less ‘scooping my eyeballs out with a spoon’ season.
For the first time in his reign, there have been rumours of his potential demise in the future. There’s even unsubstantiated rumours that Trent Barrett will take over in 2020 as Ricky shifts to a management role. The Fifth and Last podcast recently passed on a rumour that Stuart would be given 2019 to prove himself, or be replaced by Simon Woolford, currently coaching in the Super League. Scuttlebutt aside, it does reveal that Stuart’s position can probably be described as shaky. And even Ricky knows it. He’s been clear that not making the finals is unacceptable and that he is the man that can take this team to the finals in 2019.*
In all likelihood Stuart will be given another year to fix this mess. He is contracted for another two years beyond this season, and there’s nothing like sunk costs to distort your decision making processes.
The Raiders should consider the opportunity cost of keeping Stuart. Premiership windows are fleeting in Rugby League and simply hoping Sticky will turn it around whittles another year of the roster’s prime. Josh Hodgson won’t be young forever. Nic Cotric might decide to leave. Joe Tapine and Jordan Rapana may attract more money than the Raiders can afford.
There’s another opportunity cost to sticking with Stuart. 2018 appears to be a particularly fluid year of coaches. Head coaches like Michael Maguire, Wayne Bennett, Anthony Griffin, Neil Henry and Trent Barrett are all available. Trendy assistants like Jason Demetriou and Adam O’Brien are either on the move (O’Brien) or about to be passed over for the head job for the second time (Demetriou). In short there’s a bunch of actually quite good coaches out there that could begin to address the Raiders issues. Could Canberra actually attract them? Whoever misses out on the current merry-go-round may be tempted. This current carousel my not be so plentiful next year, and the Green Machine may end up working with a shallower talent pool if they choose a different time to move Stuart on.
Only time will tell if the Canberra administration are giving Stuart the side-eye. At least publicly they have been clear they have no intention of doing so. Ricky Stuart will probably coach the Raiders in 2019. But at what cost?