By Paul Crawley, The Daily Telegraph
RICKY Stuart says he doesn’t give a “stuff” what “people” say about him.
Actually, Ricky didn’t use the words “stuff” and “people”. He went a bit harder. But without wanting to offend anyone, you get the drift.
I confess, I love Ricky. Always have.
I love Ricky because he’s real. I admire his passion and his honesty, and how he has the guts not to hide his emotions.
I have a brother who works on his coaching staff at Canberra, sits beside him every week on the sideline. Though that’s not the reason I have time for Ricky.
I remember the bloke I first met in the early 1990s when he was a young superstar at the Raiders. And the bloke I met way back then hasn’t changed a bit, except for a bit less hair and a few more wrinkles.
Ricky was always fiery and frank with his opinions. But I equally respected how he treated people as they deserved to be treated, regardless of their standing in the game or in life.
I remember when a mate of mine went to play at the Raiders in the late ‘90s. Stuart didn’t know who he was, but was the first to make him feel welcome.
Ricky would invite him to golf or to the pub or if the boys were catching up for a feed, it didn’t matter how good a player he was. And when you see him in the company of everyday people Stuart never puts himself above anyone else.
I’ve seen him at backyard barbecues talking with truckies, tradesman and miners, acting exactly the same way as he was at his own 50th birthday gathering in Sydney earlier this year.
And you should have seen that turnout.
But it doesn’t matter if he’s socialising with politicians and judges and the highest rollers from any walk of life, Ricky doesn’t change.
Regardless of if he is on top of the world or struggling for success, like he is right now. Which brings us to the reason for today’s column.
It was only nine months ago Stuart was crowned Dally M coach of the year after Canberra’s brilliant finish to 2016. Now the knockers have started up again because the Raiders haven’t performed as well as everyone expected.
So I called him this week to see if he’d do an interview ahead of Friday night’s game against St George Illawarra. He didn’t hesitate.
“Everybody wants a scientific solution to what is going wrong,” he said.
“The fact is the plain and clear answer to what we are doing wrong is that we are making far too many errors with the football and putting too much stress on our defence.
“We have analysed and analysed it. But the good thing is that’s one thing not out of our control.
“And I will tell you something else. I have been in these situations before and I know I will work my way out of it and we will work our way out of it.
“Everybody has to be looking at themselves and pulling in the right direction and they are. It is not about any individual. We have to hang tough together.
“If there is no enemy within the outside noises won’t hurt you. I have seen us winning, and now I am seeing this group in a very difficult period.
“The real winners at the end of the day will be the people that can handle this type of situation and still stand beside you in the trenches.
“That is as simple as it is.”
I asked him about the fickle nature of the game, and if he ever gets sick of putting his balls on the line when he knows people will go after him at the first smell of blood.
“I never hide from it because I know I will pull out the other end,” he said. “Last year I was getting the credit, this year I’m not.
“I don’t care. It is all a part of the journey.
“And I don’t give a (stuff) how fickle the game is or what (people) might say about me as long as those around me aren’t fickle. That is the most important thing to me.
“I know this period we are going through now is helping us in regards to where we want to get one day.
“We are never going to have one long, straight road without one bump in it. You are always going to have the odd blew and the odd blow up. That’s human nature.
“You live with one another every day. But you learn from the tough times, you really do.”
Stuart has been in this game for 29 years now, at the most elite level. This week will be his 632 game as a player or a coach.
Try and imagine how much heart, self-belief and sacrifice it takes to survive that many years under this type of intense scrutiny. That kind of mental strength and courage, it is not for everyone.
But the fact Stuart is still here, putting himself up for any challenge, says more about his character than it does those who want to kick him when he’s down.
Ricky Stuart is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.