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League Life and Ricky Stuart, I am sorry

Dear Ricky Stuart, I am so sorry, I am an idiot. A narrow minded idiot.

 

Sitting in the comfort of my lounge room, watching you battle away on the sidelines with the Eels, Roosters, Sharks and the Raiders, I questioned your coaching in the most disrespectful manner.

 

Not to mention my rather blunt and uninformed analysis of your State of Origin record.

 

I truly believed that you inherited a Roosters team in 2002 that a fool, or me, could have guided to a premiership.

 

I saw your move to Parramatta as a cheap and profitable one that was motivated by greed and laughed at your subsequent homecoming to the Raiders as some sort of pathetic admission of failure.

 

I summarised your time at the Sharks as evidence that you didn’t actually have any idea what you were doing.

 

Even your early time at the Raiders, whose scoring ability was never in doubt, made me laugh. Without a serious defence, the Raiders would continue to be a joke and the coach at the helm would be thought of in the same way, according to this narrow minded fool in need of a football education.

 

Strangely enough you appeared on League Life this week, a show of whose credentials I was just as sceptical, and the most unlikely combination has humbled me.

 

By the end of the programme, I had realised the foolishness of my thoughts, comments and attitudes and felt sick to the stomach as a result. The panel asked simple yet poignant questions of you and I sat fascinated by your responses.

 

Your passion and belief in your players and the tangible connection you have with them, made me rethink my entire attitude towards you as a mentor, a coach and a person.

 

I loved you as a player. Not so much as a Raider; you knocked off my Dogs more times than not, but more as a Blue who reigned as halfback through the early nineties in a dominant New South Wales team that would go down in history.

 

Watching your combinations with Ken Nagas, Laurie Daley and Mal Meninga was a privilege, yet the way you spoke about Mal on Wednesday night was moving and gave a telling insight into your coaching philosophy.

 

You spoke eloquently about the figure that was Meninga. The way the great man walked across the chalk onto the field and made you and every other player better, by instilling a belief and confidence that, as individuals, you had never experienced before.

 

Connecting the inspirational captain to your current experience in Canberra was done in a seamless manner and I was moved by your comments around the current players and their representational potential.

 

When you spoke of Jack Wighton, the hosts noted your mood and saw just how close to tears you had become.

 

When you passionately expressed your hope that all of your players were selected in rep teams without any concern for potential injuries or disruption to the Raiders’ season, I knew I had judged and sentenced you unfairly.

 

The discussion on the legends of the Raiders and the manner in which the club attempts to keep their legacy alive was inspiring. Having Dean Lance attend an informal lunch and talk about the glory days of the Raiders, reeked of astute planning and strategy.

 

Your subsequent insistence that the current success of the squad was not so much of your doing yet rather a by-product of the commitment of the squad and their professionalism in preparing for matches, tipped me over the edge and made me a Ricky Stuart fan for life.

 

Or so I thought, until I saw the end of the interview with the League Life panel and realised that your personal life was the heart and soul of everything that you stand for, believe in and apply in your everyday coaching philosophies.

 

There has been extensive coverage of your beautiful, autistic daughter Emma. Most within the rugby league community are aware of your love for your special little girl.

 

Less are probably familiar with the charitable foundation you have set up to assist kids with a myriad of disabilities and issues that place them outside the so called ‘norm’.

 

Seeing your face and hearing your words as you spoke about children, brought me to tears and the images selected by the Fox Network provided a beautiful backdrop to the profound impact you are having in the local community.

 

When you spoke of your wife, Kaylie and the persistence and patience she has shown in her care for Emma, all the while being a mother to other children, a loving wife and a woman who has never once complained about the challenges she faces on a daily basis, I saw a better man than I will ever be.

 

It was only then that I started to connect the dots and see the link between the care, passion and concern that you show towards your players, as an extension of the man that you are.

 

To top things off, you managed to compose yourself, give the League Life panel kudos for their work and express a sincere hope that the show continues to grow. So much so, that you have been invited back already.

 

It was a great half hour and a life changing one for me. I had you pegged as a great player riding the coat tails of a successful career, earning gig after gig as a coach, based on nothing more than playing reputation.

 

After listening to you speak as a mentor, a man, a father and a husband, I realise how narrow and shallow my opinion towards you has been.

 

As a writer, I hope our paths cross in the near future, so I can shake your hand and express my apology to you in person.

 

Undoubtedly, a case of the better man winning.

 

I hope I can return serve and be the better man one day, when a narrow minded fool casts unfair judgements upon me.

 

I am sorry.

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