Week one of the finals is upon us as Glenn Jackson and Phil Gould take a look at the eight contenders and examine Ricky Stuart's decision to leave Parramatta.PT6M30S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2tmen 620 349 September 12, 2013
Like people tend to do when they approach a major fork in the road of life, Ricky Stuart's decision to quit Parramatta for the personal escape slide that is Canberra was made after consultation with others. And the universal message from his closest confidants was this: Get out while you can.
Worn down by the interminable infighting of rival factions in and around Parramatta's management and worried his career would go down in flames if he stayed, he took their advice, confirming his move with a late-night call to Eels chairman Steve Sharp on Wednesday.
Whether he was aware that it just happened to be Sharp's birthday was unclear. As a present Stuart's correspondence was not ideal; the chairman would have preferred a gift voucher.
Greener pastures: Ricky Stuart leaves Parramatta for Canberra just one year into a three-year deal. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Sharp is the kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get character you might expect from a former premiership-winning forward. Three months into what increasingly appears a quixotic ambition - to end the civil war ripping apart a proud western Sydney organisation - he said on Thursday he had been taken aback by Stuart's decision to leave, only a year into his three-year contract worth upwards of $800,000 a season. Interim chief executive Matt Phelan said the same thing on the club's website.
In reality, they really shouldn't have been surprised. If the writing was not already on the wall when David Furner was sacked by Canberra last month - the Raiders' chairman John McIntyre making no secret of a desire to lure the three-time grand final winner back to the capital, and Stuart running a sinking ship at Parramatta Stadium - it was in the past week. Stuart sat down and told a handful of senior players, including star fullback Jarryd Hayne, that if the Raiders offered him the job as Furner's replacement he would be seriously considering it. He had made the same thing clear to Canberra. Translation: If it's there I'm taking it.
That formality arrived with a phone call late on Wednesday afternoon from Don Furner, the Raiders chief executive and David's brother, to Stuart's manager John Fordham, offering the 46-year-old a three-year contract.
The departing coach was due to address the rest of the Eels players - and explain to them his reasons for leaving - before Thursday night's club presentation night at Rosehill Racecourse.
Whether the players and officials had noticed them or not there had been other signs that the coach's exit was in the works. In recent weeks Fordham has held almost daily discussions with Sharp about Stuart's predicament at Parramatta.
Others point even further back. As in, why Stuart was allowed last year to sign a contract that he was permitted to terminate - without showing cause.
''That was the amazing thing that the previous board, the [Roy] Spagnolo board, had just allowed him to presumably opt out of it whenever he wanted to,'' said former chief executive Denis Fitzgerald, himself a factional warrior around Parramatta. ''It just showed the desperation of trying to sign the most available, high-profile coach in the business at the time last year when they sacked Steve Kearney. It's a very good contract John Fordham drew up for Ricky anyway. I haven't seen [anything like] it.''
Cast as a villain in the wake of his decision - the ''Keyser Soze'' of rugby league according to one social media scribe - Stuart had made an appearance at the Eels' offices earlier this week, continuing the team's pre-season planning and catching up with several players from NSW Cup feeder side Wentworthville, who have a semi-final this weekend.
Where he was not was at the Royal Oak Hotel in Parramatta, where the first-grade team's post-season drinks were held on Monday. It had been reported Stuart had cancelled Mad Monday because of the wooden-spooners' 54-6 thrashing by Newcastle on Sunday. But in a sign of the mixed messages spewing out of the club the players went ahead with letting their hair down and departing forward Reni Maitua on Wednesday even posted a run sheet of the festivities on Twitter - on Parramatta club letterhead.
''Here's the proof that Mad Monday was not cancelled, now cut the crap and get off our case,'' Maitua tweeted.
It was not obvious who the message was aimed at, however, it added to the consistent rumblings about player discontent that have been circulating since June when Stuart told up to a dozen players, Maitua included, that they were not required next year.
The fact the players were left in the dark about Stuart's decision to join Canberra, as Raiders players were on the other side of the transaction, only further fuelled suggestions he had lost the support of some of them. In the end, though, it was clear Stuart simply wanted to make a clean break. The family element of his decision cannot be ignored - Stuart's teenage daughter Emma has autism and the support of his parents and those of his wife Kaylie will be key.
''Ricky's parents are there in Canberra,'' Fordham said. ''Ricky's in-laws are in Canberra. The family consideration is certainly a factor.''
The warring, toxic factions at the Eels, the revolving door of directors and chief executives, were also central to the switch. It got to the stage where Stuart could not even bid for a player without it being leaked to the media, the bitterness from the boardroom down spreading throughout the organisation
Offered a life raft of relative stability, Stuart did not hesitate to go overboard.