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Raiders royalty: Stuart on verge of more Canberra history

Having steered the Green Machine to their only three premierships as a player and taken them to another decider as coach, Ricky Stuart's place among Canberra's greats is assured.

As a fiercely competitive No.7, Stuart joined forces with Laurie Daley, Mal Meninga, Brad Clyde and Steve Walters to lead Canberra through a golden era which delivered the club its maiden title in 1989 and two more in '90 and '94.

If ever a team was blessed with an abundance of on-field generals it was the Raiders of the late 80s and early 90s, from composed custodian Gary Belcher to Big Mal and Loz controlling the midfield to perennial winner Glenn Lazarus and Kiwi enforcer Brent Todd in the engine room.

Then there was Stuart, kicking long and running strong, revving up his troops and moving the chess pieces around the SFS dust bowl like he was Garry Kasparov.

And the man behind the Machine was the wily Tim Sheens, who took charge in Stuart's debut season in 1988 and spent nine years at the helm before heading north to the Cowboys and then to Wests Tigers, where he won another premiership in 2005.

Storm v Raiders - Round 22

Stuart played 203 games in lime green and Sheens was his mentor in 171 of those.

The bond between coach and playmaker was a strong one and remains so to this day.

Sheens' nine years in the national capital delivered 148 victories and as the Raiders face a moment of truth against the Storm on Thursday night, Stuart has the chance to become just the second Canberra coach to win 100 games with the club.

From the minute he returned to his spiritual home in 2014, Stuart's passion has been evident.

He rides the emotion of every game and you get the feeling that if the body was still able he'd love to don the boots and get out and help his boys.

After winning just five games and finishing 15th in Stuart's first year, the Raiders climbed to 10th in 2015 and charged into a preliminary final in 2016, going down 14-12 to Melbourne in a heartbreaker.

A couple more lean years followed in 2017-18 before hard-nosed Englishman John Bateman arrived on our shores and Jack Wighton and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad arrived as players to spark an emotional charge all the way to the decider in 2019.

In the days preceding the Raiders' showdown with the Roosters, Sheens spoke glowingly about the qualities his former No.7 had brought to the coaching gig.

"Ricky knows what to do, and he will do it his own way, not anyone else's way," Sheens told NRL.com.

Match Highlights: Tigers v Raiders

"That's how you're true to yourself as a coach. You don't change your personality, you are who you are and you coach accordingly. That's Ricky. Grand finals are big moments. They bond people for life.

"Mal said after '89 it was the best thing ever. It's just a unique feeling to win a premiership. With guys who aren't all rep players or internationals.

"Guys that are never going to wear an Australian jumper have won a premiership and walked away with a ring. Those sorts of things give a coach a lot of satisfaction."

Had things gone Canberra's way that night in 2019 then Stuart would already have raised his bat for the hundred wins but it wasn't to be, and you get the feeling some of his players are still haunted by the 14-8 defeat.

Having made four grand finals as a player and four more as coach, the NRL Hall of Fame member knows all too well the sacrifices required to get there and the immense feeling of satisfaction that comes with delivering on the biggest stage.

Ricky Stuart inducted into the Hall of Fame

As the Raiders continue to chase their first title since 1994, when Big Mal bowed out a winner and Sheensy made it three titles in six years, they have the perfect man in their corner in Stuart.

A man who knows the history of the club because he helped to write it.

A man who'd be honoured to join his old mentor as the only two men to win 100 games as Raiders coach.

 

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.