Ricky Stuart has been praised as Parramatta’s best signing since Jack Gibson, but warns more suffering will come before the NRL club can achieve a return to the glory years.
There’s no doubting Stuart loves a challenge.
But even for someone who’s had a crack at breaking the long-standing droughts of Cronulla and NSW, accepting a three-year contract at the Eels, starting from next season, could be his biggest test to date.
Parramatta have churned through five coaches since 2006 with Stephen Kearney the latest to walk out the door last Friday.
And the board has shown time and time again how ruthless they can be in their pursuit of a first premiership since 1986.
Stuart had coveted a return to the NRL since being dumped by the Sharks midway through 2010, but stressed he wouldn’t jump at the first job offered to him.
So why Parramatta? Dead-last and as unpredictable as any team in the competition.
“Because I back myself,” said Stuart at a media conference on Friday, flanked by chairman Roy Spagnolo and chief executive Bob Bentley.
“I wanted Roy and Bob here because we’re united – we’re going forward.
“What’s happened has happened … sometimes emotions spill over. That’s probably what’s happened over the past … but we’ve got to be one family going forward.
“There’s going to be some tough times next year. There’s going to be still a little bit of heartache because that’s all part of the rebuilding process.
“We’re all very passionate about winning and that’s what we’re working for.”
Despite his Eels appointment, Stuart admits he’d like to continue coaching NSW as well: “There’s still a part of me that’s empty because I didn’t win.”
But he says a decision on his State of Origin future is in the hands of the NSW Rugby League, who have a policy of not employing club coaches.
Spagnolo said he’s yet to discuss the Origin dilemma with Stuart.
But regardless of what decision is made and whether he’d give him his blessing, he said the Eels have struck gold by signing the premiership-winning coach.
Spagnolo even went so far as to predict Stuart would defy recent history and enjoy a long stay at Parramatta.
“It’s huge. It’s probably the best signing we’ve had since Gibson … looking forward, I can see Ricky being here longer than his three years,” Spagnolo said.
“We haven’t negotiated (Origin) … and as far as we’re concerned at this stage, Ricky’s focus is to coach Parramatta and that’s all.”
Stuart hinted at change to the Eels’ underperforming roster and said it was up to off-contract players to perform and “pick themselves”.
The former Test halfback said he was excited at the prospect of working with under-fire No.7 Chris Sandow, who has endured a horror first season at Parramatta.
And the other man Stuart can’t wait to get his hands on is enigmatic superstar Jarryd Hayne.
Having coached him at international and Origin level, Stuart has long been of the opinion that Hayne’s best position is five-eighth.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with Jarryd,” said Stuart, before hinting at a gruelling pre-season ahead.
“What position he plays will be determined as we go forward but, if Jarryd Hayne is fullback, he’ll be the fittest he’s been.”