I tried to talk him out of Eels job
His parents are from Captain’s Flat. His mum’s one of eight or ten kids. So Rick’s got a thousand cousins in Queanbeyan. All played for the Roos and Blues. He’s close to his uncle Gary, his biggest fan and harshest critic. His old man is too.
He and Kaylie, their connection with their family, mother, father, brothers, sisters, extended family is very strong. His old man, Les, Ricky’s the spitting image of him. You see Rick on the telly in press conferences, bit of a bald bit at the front, it’s Lessie Stuart all over. They’re looking more alike.
When Rick left Parramatta, it was all about family. I actually tried to talk him out of taking the Parramatta gig in the first place. He had the Origin job and that’s a pretty good gig. Not to undersell it but it’s 13 weeks and maybe another 10 weeks of work.
And while he was Origin coach, I thought he seemed very good within himself. I said to him, the Origin job’s great for you.
But he was missing the week in, week out, the rush of winning. It’s like an addiction for him. The highs and the lows of footy each week. The passion for a footy team.
Because he cares so much and takes every loss personally, it means he’s so driven to win. When he’s had teams who haven’t won as many games as he reckons they should have, he takes it on board. He takes it personally.
The lowest I’ve probably seen him was when he broke his ankle against Parramatta in ’93. The Raiders had been flying high and they fell out the back. He was crushed by it. He still won the Dally M.
How can you dislike him?
I go to barbecues, you hear people bagging him and I always defend him. Every time you hear people bagging him, it’s people that have never met him. People that have met him, they know the real Ricky, and know how caring and loyal to his mates and his players he is. His players, he’s a hundred per cent there for them.
I don’t know why people who don’t know him would say they don’t like him. It mystifies me. Maybe they see the bloke in the coach’s box and, I dunno, maybe he scares them!
He was a star footy player. And he’d do one hundred per cent everything he could to beat your footy team. If you’re a Maroons supporter, maybe you don’t like him because of that.
He’s not a shrinking violet. He cops plenty but he’ll dish it out, too. He’s not backward in coming forward.
Craig Bellamy is another good mate of mine. And I see them as the same bloke. For whatever reason, Craig has a broader appeal. Everyone’s seen Bellyache in the coach’s box. Yet people’s reception to Craig is they like him and with Ricky it’s not always that way.
Thing is: until you get to know someone how can you form an opinion? How do you dislike someone from seeing them on TV?
His players love the bloke
A journo mate of mine had a yarn with Shaun Fensom, and did a story on Ricky the coach. There was a lot of bullshit that because he’d left Cronulla and Parramatta, and the Blues couldn’t beat Queensland, that he couldn’t coach.
So the journo asked Fenno if Ricky could coach. And Fenno looked at him like he was an idiot. Because for anyone to have that perception, how would you know if he can coach if you hadn’t been coached by him?
His players love the bloke. Because he cares. You saw the love he has for his players after the news about Jack Wighton last year and Hudson Young this year. They’re blokes in their early 20s who made mistakes.
Straightaway he was sticking his neck out to protect them. You could see him diverting media attention from them to himself. Players got that. And they love him for it.
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!
Johnny Bateman was quoted through the week that Ricky’s been a shoulder to cry on, like an Australian father figure. I thought the announcement about his contract was a bit odd. Thought he could’ve waited until next week.
We talk a lot of footy, Stick and I. We don’t get the old salt-and-pepper shakers out, talk tactics. I’m still the big front-rower! Not clever enough! Anyway he’s got a massive network for ideas, though I think he’s determined to do it his way.
As a player he was crafty, creative, always offering suggestions. This year as a coach he’s been very much focused on the feeling in the joint, on morale, culture. He spent a lot of energy making sure the current blokes bonded with the boys from 1989.
He’s still intense, but he’s getting better at some things. Delegating, trusting others, soliciting feedback. We all evolve, we all grow.
Early on, he wasn’t always understanding of why players couldn’t do as he’d asked. But things don’t come as easily to all of us.
I spoke to him on Thursday. He’s excited. The boys have prepared well all week. They’re embracing the experience. He sounded like they’re in a good place.
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