It’s not my job to judge whether Ricky Stuart is the best coach to take the Canberra Raiders into a new era.
But neither should it have been my task to inform interim coach Andrew Dunemann that he had not been judged best man for that job.
But that is how things eventuated on Wednesday night, as the Raiders administration and board dropped the ball at its annual presentation, which added another farcical chapter to an already tumultuous season.
The Raiders board had met prior to the presentation evening to rubber-stamp the official offer to Stuart, a three-time Raiders premiership winner as a player.
As the evening wore on, Raiders chief executive Don Furner, a friend of Stuart’s since school, could be seen working the room, floating between individual board members, showing them details on his phone and whispering in their ears.
No doubt it was the final details of the three-year deal, which Stuart desperately wanted ticked off that night, prior to Parramatta’s presentation evening on Thursday.
News started to spread throughout the arena at the AIS that Stuart had been appointed coach of the Raiders.
Stuart’s manager, John Fordham, even issued a media release at 10.48pm stating: ‘‘This evening Stuart through his management received advice from the Canberra Raiders that its board had voted to offer him the position of head coach for a three year term.’’
Even confronted with that evidence, Raiders board members and staff refused to comment or acknowledge the validity of any deal.
They had been hoping to keep it mum, with a grand official announcement planned for Friday.
So when did they think to tell Dunemann, the rookie coach thrust into the job for the last three games when coach David Furner had been sacked?
They hadn’t. Still haven’t.
Dunemann had got up earlier in the evening, spoke at length about the troubled year, but his excitement and promise for the club’s future.
Player of the Year, 19-year-old Anthony Milford, had stood on the same stage and, when asked the person who had most influenced his rapid rise into the NRL, he nominated just one – Dunemann.
Milford, who has asked for a release to rejoin family in Brisbane, later told reporters he would wait to see who the new coach was before deciding his next move. He, like many at that time, did not know it had already been decided.
Milford’s manager Sam Ayoub plans to meet with Raiders officials on Thursday.
Dunemann had just ordered a champagne to toast Joel Edwards, the player he’d judged as coach’s pick for the year when I approached him on Wednesday night.
I asked him his reaction to missing out on the top job to Stuart. His face went blank. It was news to him.
To his credit, Dunemann maintained poise and declined to comment, although he was visibly disappointed.
The Raiders players were just as shocked by the secrecy of the announcement, captain Terry Campese huddling them together in small groups to discuss the situation.
As revealed in The Canberra Times, chairman John McIntyre had earlier announced his retirement, after a 32-year association with the club.
McIntyre claims he had chosen to stand down because of the decision to sack David Furner, one of the club’s favourite sons.
His final consolation, instead of a retirement gold watch, will be embracing Stuart back into the Raiders family.
McIntyre, known as JR, has long talked about recruiting Stuart back to the Raiders, the return of a prodigal son he regards virtually as his boy. He jokes and calls him ‘Junior JR’.
The Raiders board has appointed Allan Hawke as the new chairman and fresh faces on the board in the past few years have started to initiate change and a more proactive approach.
But changing a board set in its ways can be like turning the Titanic. On Wednesday night, they were lost at sea, looking for a leader to stand up and speak. No one did.
Stuart’s appointment will come with mixed reaction. He won a premiership in his first year with the Sydney Roosters and took them to three successive grand finals.
He had early success at the Cronulla Sharks too. But he was eventually sacked from both jobs when results began to deteriorate.
Stuart is quitting Parramatta one year into a three year deal with the Eels, having cut 12 players from their roster this season.
Stuart cites instability in the Eels board as a major reason for leaving Parramatta.
His arrival at Canberra is likely to spark change at the Raiders too, to support staff and the playing roster.
Is Stuart the right man to return stability to the Raiders? That’s not a job for me to decide.