11 August 2022

In the wake of the Ricky Stuart post-match press conference, we need to ask: why do we have them?

| Tim Gavel
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Ricky Stuart at media conference

Ricky Stuart in the fateful post-game press conference that cost him a one-match suspension and fine. Photo: Screenshot.

Having spent many hours in NRL post-game press conferences, I can tell you they can be as joyous as a tooth extraction.

Yesterday (9 August), coach Ricky Stuart found out the hard way how costly they can be, with the NRL banning him from coaching the Canberra Raiders this weekend, slapping him with a one-week suspension and a $25,000 fine for his post-match outburst about Penrith’s Jaeman Salmon.

With so much at stake, emotions are, more often than not, running high after a game. This is especially so with a losing coach. In most cases, these coaches would rather be anywhere else.

Press conferences with a losing coach are usually highlighted by journalists nervously looking at the floor with the coach and player shuffling in their seats waiting for the first question.

Frequently there are moments of uncomfortable silence before the first question is asked.

READ MORE Ricky Stuart remains the best fit for the Canberra Raiders

Regularly it’s a full toss, with questions like, ‘what did the coach think of the performance of the team?’ before expanding onto other topics.

Potential curve balls occur when a journalist asks what the losing coach thought about the refereeing during the game.

The coach, preferring not to be faced with a fine, often fires a question back at the journalist, asking them what they thought.

By this stage, it has become exceedingly uncomfortable and the response from the journalist is usually a nervous one.

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I have been on the end of many an uncomfortable exchange with a losing coach and it can play on your mind for days.

It is not an experience I miss.

Before Super League and the introduction of set media conferences and media managers with each team, it was pretty much a ‘free for all’ in the dressing rooms.

I vividly remember trying to find a coach from a losing side for an interview who hid in the bathroom until the media had given up waiting for him.

These days, it is far more staged.

Under the NRL rules, both the winning and losing coaches, as well as a player from both teams, need to be in attendance in a room separate from the change rooms with sponsors’ signs as the backdrop.

Ricky Stuart

Ricky Stuart: he can get a little passionate. Photo: File.

In the AFL they have become a featured event, which is televised live with the journalists often becoming the feature, not the coaches, as they spar back and forth.

There is less of this in the NRL.

In NRL media conferences, apart from the odd outburst as we saw with Ricky Stuart on the weekend, the whole event can be reasonably sterile in terms of newsworthiness.

The likelihood is that coaches will say one thing in a press conference and another to the players in the sanctity of the dressing room.

This is why I question the worth of the post-media conference involving the losing coaches. They are on a hiding to nothing.

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I think they’re pretty pointless and rarely watch them myself (I find watching rugby league on Channel 9 painful enough and switch off the moment the siren goes) but at the end of the day the broadcaster demands it, and they’re the ones who pay the bills which enables the coaches’ million dollar salaries. Don’t like it, get it negotiated out of the broadcast contract and be prepared to get less money and lower salaries. Still don’t like it, go coach local footy for peanuts.

Ricky does tend to say exactly what he thinks. I find his honesty refreshing but sometimes cringe worthy.

Unfortunately his comments were considered out of place and he got punished for them while Jaeman Salmon got off lightly in comparison for what I’m lead to believe may have been assault.

The coaches may need some coaching before they are put in front of the media. Sending the assistant coach in if they think the coach is going to go off could also be a way to mitigate these unfortunate situations.

Or is it a case of the media machine loving these situations? Ricky was certainly newsworthy a few days ago.

Tim , you raise a very good point and one worthy of discussion. I agree with many of your sentiments including the discomfort factor for coaches and journalists alike but what is the alternative? There is always a good degree of interest in post match comment, always has been and always will be. Do we want to go back to the days of dragging camera operators into the dressing rooms, through a sea of bodies in various stages of undress, trying to find a player or coach willing to talk. Post match pressers are part and parcel of every major sport in the world. Should rugby league be different?

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