He’d come back with 20 bourbons
Ricky was a couple of years younger than me and played junior rugby union in the same age group as my brother.
I used to see him play. He was playing for St Edmunds, a pretty famous rugby school in Canberra. He was always earmarked for big things, always the star of the team.
The teachers there, the brothers, they’ll still tell you he’s the best schoolboy rugby player through the place. They’ve had George Gregan, Matt Giteau. Dave Furner played there. You can go back to Alex Jesaulenko!
I didn’t meet him until I played a few games of reserve grade for the Raiders in 1991 and ’92. That’s where our friendship formed – the reserve grade front-rower and the star halfback.
It was borne on the back of similar interests. We were usually the last ones home! We both love a beer and a punt. He’s more of a punter than I am. I like a bet but I’ve got less money than him!
I only played with him once – it was 1992, on a Saturday night at Bruce Stadium, Raiders against Great Britain. Ricky was captain. There was a punch-up in the first scrum of the game. I don’t know if there were any actual punches thrown but I got sinbinned. After 10 minutes in the dressing shed I headed back on, passing Stick in the tunnel going the other way. The Raiders were playing Parramatta the next day, and they wanted to wrap him in cotton wool.
He moved to Sydney when he went to play for the Bulldogs in 1997. I’ve lived in Brisbane since 2002. We’ve always kept in touch. Usually on the phone. When he comes to town or I go to Canberra, he’s always up for a beer. It’s been a friendship formed over a few beers. Quite a few.
Whenever they play in Brisbane or the Gold Coast, I’ll go along, get on the team bus, sit up in the coach’s box. The royal treatment. But that’s how he treats his mates. And he’s got a million mates like me.
For whatever reason he’s a real love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy. And if you know him, chances are you love the bloke.
Canberra is good for him and he’s good for Canberra. Going back there has been such a natural thing. His charity golf day is like a big reunion.
He’s always got to be first
He’s never been a good loser. He just hates losing. Hates it. It’s what makes him such a prolific winner. He’s got a drive in him.
We’d play pool at the Kingston Hotel for two bucks. You lose you pay for the next game. And Ricky would just about break cues if he’d lose. And it wasn’t for theatrics – he was that bloody disappointed he lost. Like, ropeable.
It talks to how competitive he was. He’d get beaten by a couple of knuckleheads playing for two bucks and take it to heart.
He’d always get over it. And it’s the same with footy. As a mate, whether he’s won or lost, you catch up later and he’s the same bloke. Win or lose he’ll be the first bloke to the bar. First bloke to call you when you need a lift. He’ll curse or shake his head. But he does get over it.
He’s one of those blokes, he’s got to be first. He’s got to be the first one to shout. First to the bar. He and I used to have competitive shouts! He’d come back with 20 bourbon and Cokes, that’d be his shout, for all the boys. I’d come back with 25. He’d have to beat me.
The hotelier there, a bloke called Russell Ingram, had a bit to do with the Brumbies, he had a guard-rail at the pub for the staff to gain access. The only exemptions were me and Ricky. They didn’t want us to leave. We didn’t have to go outside to the ATM; they’d give us cash from the till and swipe cards. This is long before tap-n-go.
His best mates now are his best mates from school, Peter Winchester and Donny Furner. He’s still very close to those guys. And he’ll pick up people like me along the way. We all have our own bond and feel close to him. And he’d do anything for you. Anything you need. He’ll do it if he can do it.
It’s reciprocated. Wherever you go, he’s always got lots of mates around him. His first love’s his family. A close second is his mates. And his players. He treats them like family.
People ask me what he’s like, and why do you like him. It’s not something you ask yourself: ‘Do I like him?’ Because I like him!
He’s always very kind and generous. For one of my first businesses, he came and did a TV ad. He can be too generous for his own bloody good. If you’re holding a charity auction you want him in the room. Poor Kaylie his wife, she must dread it. “We’ve bought what?” He cannot say no. He’s generous to a fault.
He’s never said no to anyone
The Ricky Stuart Foundation has built two respite houses for families with special needs kids and there’s a third in the pipeline.
Before he did that he was patron for Camp Quality for 10 years. He ran a golf day. He’s never said no to anyone ever. People don’t appreciate that, the charity work he’s always done.
The respite homes and his foundation have allowed him to focus his energy, to channel it. John Fordham is like a second father and best mate. Those sort of blokes get around him and put some polish to his ideas. They’re kicking amazing goals.
The foundation has a very strong board. The Chairman, John Mackay, ran the ACT’s leading gas and electricity company.
It’s not just Ricky, but Kaylie as well, they see the foundation as an extension of themselves. They have a daughter with autism. And enormous empathy for families with kids with special needs.
His golf day is brilliant; the effort and planning that goes into it. He wants to give value back. It’s ten grand to be a sponsor, entry level. They work so hard to make sure it’s an enjoyable experience. He took a lot from Jack Newton’s Celebrity Classic that’s been running 40 years. Today they raise something like $250,000 every time.
The golf day’s like a who’s who of Canberra business, sport, politics. He’s also got corporate ties in Sydney. He’s mates with Alan Jones, Gerry Harvey. He’s mates with some heavyweights. He’s one of those guys who can work at all levels. Bit of a chameleon that way. It’s a strength of his. He can talk to CEOs, business people, the strapper, the fans.
It can be a weakness, too. When he was at Cronulla he was trying to do everything. Coaching the footy team, bringing in sponsorship, trying to get members. He was wearing too many hats. The club was on its knees so he took it on himself and did too much. Most other coaches just focus on coaching. That’s how it should be. It’s a big enough job.