Ricky Stuart during his playing days at the Canberra Raiders. The new Raiders head coach is trying to instill a sense of pride in the club within the current playing group.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has got his his current Canberra squad to phone dozens of ex-players as he looks to revive the club's culture and reconnect his team with the Green Machine's rich 33-year history.
Sixteen years after his own 203-game playing career at the Raiders ended controversially, Stuart will be back in the home dressing room at Canberra Stadium on Sunday for the first time as Raiders coach.
Stuart has deflected any questions about personal sentiment this week, declaring "it's not about me". It's a motto he's reinforced with his players too.
Stuart will take charge of his first game at Canberra Stadium on Sunday. Photo: Graham Tidy
The Raiders boast some of the greatest players of the modern era, such as Mal Meninga, Brad Clyde, Glenn Lazarus, Laurie Daley, Gary Belcher and Stuart himself.
But Stuart wants no past player forgotten.
So Stuart has had his players hit the phone, dialling former Raiders such as: Gary Coyne, 159 games between 1986-92; David Boyle 117 games between 1991-98; Phil Carey, 89 games between 1985-81; or Mitch Brennan, 8 games between 1986-88.
"The genuine respect and passion for the club from our ex-players is as strong as any club I've been at,'' Stuart said. "We just have such a great passion and genuine love of the joint, which is something I'm trying to breed into the players of today.
"Before Christmas we got every player in our top 25 to ring one or two ex-players each. They rang, introduced themselves, talked about special moments the ex-player had, what he'd liked about the club and what he remembered most. We've shared those stories amongst each other and we'll be doing more of it.
"It's about our players getting a little bit of education on the club's history and culture, but also telling our ex-players that they still belong here. Any ex-player at any game of ours is welcome into the change-room at any time."
It was in the corresponding game of 2012, round three against the Sydney Roosters, that Stuart took his own important step towards reconnecting with the Raiders.
Cut by the club, along with another Raiders great Brad Clyde, because of salary cap pressure at the end of the 1998 season, a bitter Stuart hadn't stepped inside a Raiders change room for 14 years.
But he accepted an invitation by then-Raiders coach David Furner, who Stuart has since succeeded.
At the time, Stuart told The Canberra Times, ''I don't want to go back over old ground that disappointed me, but the manner in which Brad and I had to leave the club left a sour taste in my mouth for a number of years''.
Stuart wants more Raiders players welcomed back. Carey, presented Brett White's jersey to the prop before his 50th Raiders game in Newcastle last weekend. Former Raiders skipper Alan Tongue will present David Shillington's jersey to him on Sunday night for his 100th game with Canberra.
"It was like a family, it was my life,'' Carey said of the Raiders. "They had a great culture and so many players from so many regions ... some of the boys ended up being closer to me than my brothers."
"I think with Ricky coming back, he's going to try and introduce the culture and family environment we had before and also the belief. They've just got to believe in themselves, that's what I told the players last week."
Stuart's command in Canberra has started promisingly, the Raiders showing grit with one win from their two road games to start the season.
Sunday's match against the Gold Coast Titans will be Canberra's only home game of the first five rounds. But Stuart again dismissed any personal significance of returning home, after coaching stints with the Roosters, Cronulla Sharks and Parramatta Eels.
"It'll be a special feeling if we win. It's not about me," Stuart repeated.
"The boys have had two real tough road trips, I believe they've done a good job. I'm very comfortable with both performances, that's all I'm asking for again."