Ricky Stuart says he is prepared to cop the criticism surrounding his exit from Parramatta to take up a three-year offer with Canberra, admitting it was ''one of the most difficult periods of my career''.
The former NSW State of Origin halfback and coach is returning to the club where he made his name as a player, cutting short his tenure only a year into his three-season contract at the Eels.
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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.
As Canberra confirmed they had commenced formal negotiations with Stuart, he said on Thursday that he expected to be heavily scrutinised over the move from the wooden-spooners.
''There was always going to be criticism. I understand that and I've got to wear it,'' Stuart said.
''If I have to cop criticism and the backlash for my own decision to coach the Raiders and for my family to be comfortable, I'm happy to cop it.''
While the factional instability in the boardroom at Parramatta has played a part in Stuart's exit, another factor has been family - his teenage daughter Emma is autistic, and the fact that both his parents and those of his wife Kaylie live in Canberra will offer support they did not have in Sydney.
''I'm disappointed with the timing of it … I know I'm going to cop some heat, I've just got to be a big boy and cop that. I've copped it all my career as a player and coach, I've got to wear that. But at the end of the day when I look my family in the eyes and know they're happy, I'll cop as much criticism as I have to.''
Stuart, who will join his fourth NRL club as a coach when he relocates to the national capital, maintained he did not seek out the job at the Raiders after former teammate David Furner was sacked on August 20. He said the decision to quit the Eels, which was confirmed with a phone call to Parramatta chairman Steve Sharp on Wednesday night, was not a straightforward one.
''It's one of the most difficult periods of my career and it hasn't come easy,'' Stuart said. ''Parramatta is a good club but I did not ask for this opportunity to arrive.
''It's not a matter of being unhappy or unsatisfied. It's just an opportunity had come up after the departure of Dave Furner and that's how all this has eventuated.''
Stuart planned to address Eels players about his decision to leave before the club's presentation night at Rosehill racecourse on Thursday night.
Stuart stood by his ''tough decisions'' to release as many as 12 players at Parramatta for 2014, claiming they ''had to be made''.
''I feel their roster will improve next year and that was always the plan. There's been a plan set in place - I started it and it needed doing.''
As far as his new club is concerned, Stuart said it was too early to predict how far the Raiders could go next year. ''There's no use making rash calls now,'' he said.
''The critics are out there in regards to my win-loss record over probably my last three years, but nobody talks about the time we were equal-minor premiers in 2008 at the Sharks.
''It's easy to be critical of coaches and find the negative side of coaching. Nobody sees the day-to-day work. The one thing I'm never embarrassed about or fall short in is effort. I give plenty of hours and plenty of heart and soul into every coaching job I've had.''
Stuart said he did not foresee any problems with Canberra's Josh Papalii, the player who reneged on a three-year deal with the Eels to stay at the Raiders. He compared Papalii's situation to the one he now faced leaving Parramatta. ''There's nothing to clear up, I understood his decision,'' Stuart said.
''If I wasn't disappointed from a Parramatta point of view at the time, why was I chasing him? He's an extremely talented footballer and he's proven that by being able to play Origin. I get it, I understand why he stayed. There's a lot of these types of scenarios and I find myself in one now.''