By Christian Nicolussi, The Daily Telegraph
THE rebirth of Ricky Stuart continued last night when crowned Dally M coach of the year, 23 years after he won as a player.
Not too long ago Stuart was ridiculed for his coaching record, making the finals just once with Cronulla, then winning five games during a forgettable stint with Parramatta in 2013.
Even Stuart conceded last night the Raiders had taken a punt on him.
“They stuck their neck out for me and I owe them a lot,’’ Stuart said.
After working tirelessly behind the scenes at Canberra since returning home in 2014, Stuart was finally rewarded for his hard work this season.
The Raiders played an entertaining brand of attacking football to finish second on the NRL ladder.
And the players all praised Stuart at various stages of the campaign for turning the club around.
“Ricky has set the culture and really made this team his own. What he says around here, goes,’’ star centre Joey Leilua said.
Craig Bellamy and Shane Flanagan, whose Melbourne and Cronulla will do battle in Sunday’s grand final, were also right in the hunt for the award.
Brad Arthur showed a tremendous ability to somehow keep his Parramatta playing group together after a year from hell, while Neil Henry took the Titans to a finals campaign, despite many expecting the club to be fighting out the wooden spoon.
Henry also played his role in getting Jarryd Hayne to sign with the Gold Coast club, not Parramatta.
But Stuart triumphed, even though he would have dreaded the fuss. He even did his best to deflect the attention as he thanked his entire coaching staff when accepting the award from his good mate and fellow Canberra legend Mal Meninga.
“I love being back home, it was hard when I got back there because there was an unknown,’’ Stuart said.
Ricky Stuart is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.