As sure as night follows day, the messages started flowing through.
Many were along the lines of “it’s Ricky Stuart’s fault,” or, “why aren’t the Raiders in the market for any big name players next season? It’s the fault of the coach that the side won’t make the finals for the second season in a row.”
This was after the substantial loss to the Melbourne Storm on Saturday where supporters vent their spleen on social media. It has become the medium of choice for fans to express their frustrations immediately after games.
There was little consideration of the fact that the Raiders had four key players ruled out, or that a prop ended up playing in the centres. The Raiders, against a side such as the Storm, can ill-afford to be without key players, coupled with the lack of discipline displayed on the night.
Is the lack of discipline the entire fault of the coach as was expressed so eloquently on social media, or do the players need to take some responsibility? The coach, it would seem, is called upon to take the brunt of the criticism.
There is almost an insinuation that the coach has not done all he can to ensure the side is prepared, or that he doesn’t take losses as badly as they do.
I had a chat with Ricky Stuart at the airport on the way home. He takes losses harder than anybody I have seen in 30 years of covering sport in Canberra. I get the impression that he takes it personally such is his competitive nature.
And it doesn’t end with analysis by fans and critics alike after the game. At the airport, on arrival home, you can sense people wanting to have their say, although most keep their space. It is not as if he has done anything wrong, but because of his profile, the judgement is very public. It is even more so with social media where people can say things without a filter and seemingly without feeling for the person under attack. He seems to be a magnet for non-Raiders supporters as well, as they sense a bit of blood in the water. For them, it’s a chance to put the boot in at every opportunity, especially after a big loss.
Wherever he goes in Canberra everybody, it seems, wants to provide some free advice. It is a job like no other where you are judged on a weekly basis, but take a step back for a moment: is there another sphere of life where there is such a contrast between the highs and lows than the life of a professional sportsperson or a coach?
Heading out to Raiders’ training, the atmosphere after a win is completely different than after a loss; there is no middle ground. After the loss to the Sharks, the mood was sombre, to say the least. It was Ricky’s job to get the players’ minds around to playing the following week.
The result then dictates much of the questioning for the following week in the lead-up to the next game. If they win, it’s along the lines of maintaining the momentum, while if it’s a loss, how are you going to turn things around? This goes for 24 weeks or longer if the side makes the finals.
People only see the coach and the players on match day or in media sessions through the week. There is so much more going on behind the scenes. In the case of the Raiders, there are seemingly constant negotiations with players and player managers about not just next season but the season after that. There has been the Jack Wighton affair; juggling the salary cap; player injuries; and players leaving, such as Charlie Gubb, mid-season. Explaining the salary cap and why the Raiders won’t be in the market for high profile players next season after losing Boyd, Austin and Paulo, is taking a fair bit of oxygen at the moment.
It is simply relentless.
Most high profile coaches will tell you that it is hard to switch off and mentally get away during the season, especially this one for the Raiders with so many highs and lows. Even during the off-season, there is little chance to avoid scrutiny as disappointment turns to expectation.
Knowing Ricky Stuart as I do, he is thinking 24/7 about the Club, the past game, the game ahead, and getting the best out of the players on and off the field. As Raiders supporters, we should be grateful to have somebody as passionate and committed in our corner.