Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meet The New Boss, Not The Old Boss.

I woke up yesterday morning to the best news I'd heard in some months.

After several tortuous weeks where the boys were mailing in games and Ricky Stuart looked like a defeated man on the sideline, he finally did the honourable thing and stepped aside.

While it's a pity it took a shellacking of the nature of the Pond Pigeons Rout to finally get him to see the light, what's done is done.

I have one Ricky Stuart story I'd like to share.

It was the day after the Rugby League World Cup final, where the Kangaroos had of course been upset by the Kiwis. I was in Brisbane at the time for a different reason (saw the game with dad at a pub cause we couldn't score last minute tickets) and we were seeing my mum off at the airport when I saw Ricky. He was on his phone and sounded pissed off.

Of course, that was 2008 and I was coming off what amounted to my best year in memory as a Sharkies fan. Since I was wearing a Sharks T-shirt at the time, I thought he could use some words of comfort after the loss so I went up to him to thank him for all he had done for our club once he got off the phone.

His response? "Yeah yeah, thanks mate. Now piss off for a second." And he got back on his mobile.

I was never a huge fan of Ricky Stuart the man, but that just confirmed once and for to me that he was a cunt of the highest order.

As it turns out, my respect for him as a coach eroded pretty quickly as well after the hellish last couple of years.

I became a Sharks supporter in 2001 when I was just 9. I remember the Chris Anderson Era too well. The last couple of years under Stuart were worse. Much worse.

In my opinion (and I can't be alone in this) the biggest mistake of the Ricky Stuart Era was blowing up the 2008 team that was one game away from the Grand Final (and, with the Storm scandal, should legitimately have made it).

First we screwed Noddy over which drove him into the Puppies' kennel. Letting Isaac De Gois go to Newcastle. Not putting up a fight to keep Fraser Anderson. And please don't mention the Greg Bird saga because it really makes me cry thinking about the Bird/Gallen days and just how good our backrow could have been with Tupou.

All those guys were vital pieces to the 2008 team. We let the first two go without a fight, and as for Birdy...well, if the Pond Pigeons can keep the rapist on their team we should have stuck by Greg and kept him. Especially since he was found innocent.

Since then, Ricky's recruiting hasn't exactly been top shelf either. Trent Barrett has been the only major signings of ours since 2008 who has at least somewhat panned out. Other than Baz...Adam Fatcuntbertson. Tim Smith. Screwing little Albert Kelly around by sticking him at fullback. See where I'm going here?

On the field, we haven't really seen much since 2008 either. Here's where I think the loss of Noddy more than anything really hurts us.

Stuart's system doesn't really call for halves with creative flair. It's more important to have a halfback who can organise the team, boot it downfield and kick to the corners. Noddy could do all those things. Other than Scott Porter for flashes, none of our halves since then could organise a poker game in a casino. Which isn't necessarily their fault.

However, with Ricky seemingly insisting on having our halves play his way, you can see the soul slowly being sucked out of them.

Ricky's way of coaching halves reminds me of another coach's treatment of players who play the same position he once played.

Doc Rivers, the current coach of the Boston Celtics, is widely hailed as one of the best coaches in the NBA right now (and one of a select club who have coached a team to a title). However, in his early days as Celtics coach he was notorious for being very tough on his young point guards by giving them inconsistent minutes and frequently berating them.

Only after the 2008 Celtics championship did he begin to give his young starting point guard more licence to play his natural game. Rajon Rondo responded by developing into an All-Star, and, since the 2010 playoffs, arguably the best point guard in the NBA.

Ricky could have done worse than follow Doc's advice with his halves. A less dogmatic coach would have given the talented but erratic Albert Kelly a run at five-eighth (his natural position) or off the bench, or allowed Tim Smith to play his natural game rather than constraining his options while creating the side-effect of leaving us with a slow, predictable attack. It's no secret that we went from having one of the better offenses in the NRL under Stuey Raper to one of the worst every year under Ricky. At least in 2008 our defense was immovable. Since we lost large pieces of our defensive steel (Birdy) and organisation (Noddy, especially on kick chase) that's vanished as well.

So with that said, how will I remember the Ricky Stuart era? I'll be tempted to remember the bad stuff first.

However, there's one memory I'll always have of the Ricky Stuart era.

It was the second game of 2008 when we were playing the Storm in Melbourne at the near peak of their powers. (IIRC Ben Ross was also sent off during that game). Our attack was still sputtering but our defense had kept us in the game until Noddy made that field goal in the last minute.

It was then that I knew we were going to make the finals. I don't know how - I just knew. Such wack psychic moments aren't exactly common to me, and when I do have them I'm often wrong. But goddamnit if I didn't get this one right.

So I keep that memory as well. It serves as a reminder that nothing in life as in footy is irretreivably shit.

Except last week's game.

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