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Canberra cold perfect place to freeze out spotlight and regroup after Stuart ban




Being based away from Sydney has been a blessing in disguise for the Canberra Raiders, giving them the chance to regroup and reset after the Ricky Stuart press suspension that rocked the rugby league world.

The distance is often a disadvantage, but this time it seems to have been a positive. It helped the club avoid the media spotlight and stay on track for their win against the St George Illawarra Dragons last week, as well as with Stuart’s return and now giving them the ability to focus on the job at hand.

NRL Fox commentator Michael Ennis, a former member of the Raiders coaching staff and close friend of Stuart, agreed that the club’s location was a huge benefit for the unified group to block out the fallout from the infamous ‘weak-gutted dog’ press conference. 

“Definitely. That’s one thing I really enjoyed about working down there after being in Sydney for a long time, at Canterbury and Cronulla, just to get out of Sydney and go down there,” said Ennis.

“Just to see how tight they were, the players all only live 10-15 mins away from each other, they are always together. It’s one of those clubs, where the people in the office just get in, the marketing guy helps the membership guy, and the membership guy helps the team managers – everyone just pulls together. It’s a wonderful, tight, united club.”

Michael Ennis delivers his verdict on who the best fullback is in the NRL

Michael Ennis

After their heavy loss to the depleted Penrith Panthers in Round 21, the run to the finals became a lot harder for the Raiders.

Stuart’s outburst against Panthers five-eighth Jaeman Salmon, resulted in the Raiders coach getting fined and stood down for a week. The Raiders had a narrow win against the Dragons last Sunday and are again in a must win situation against the Newcastle Knights on Sunday.

But Ennis believes with how organised the club, as well as how close the side are, they always had the ability to get through.

“I think, obviously the circumstances last week would have been challenging for them. But with the people that are involved down there, you saw how they just galvanised in their game,” said Ennis.

“Rick has coached them for a long time. We are 20-odd rounds into the season and players tend to get themselves into a real groove by this time of the year and are pretty well structured and have got themselves sorted.

“One thing I love about Rick is how well he delegates and trusts his coaches. In terms of the overall running and the schedule of the week while he was gone, they’ve got some really wonderful coaches down there. He’s got plenty of hands-on deck.”

Many wrote the side off against the Dragons, assuming the overwhelming circumstances would have disrupted preparation and affected their game. But the side dug deep and got away with a close 24-22 victory to keep their finals chances alive.

“Not having Rick around during the week, it would have been unusual for them, and so the way that they fought, as I guy that’s got really good relationships with them all down there, I was really proud of them last week. It was a really courageous win last week.

“I think Rick would have come back into a side that’s got a lot of confidence. ”Ennis admits the week away for Stuart wouldn’t have been easy.

'It could have cost us': Ricky Stuart's frustration at Bunker's tip-offs

Ricky Stuart

“He would have missed those coaching conversations, those one-on-one moments with players, particularly the senior ones that drive all the standards this time of year. The ones that are essentially critical and just reminding them of what is important. He would have really missed those during the week.

“When kick-off came, I imagine it would have been a pretty uncomfortable 80 minutes for him, especially with how close the game was as well.

“He would have been a happy man getting in the car to go to work on Tuesday.”

Canberra’s run home is favourable, with their clash against the struggling Knights followed by Manly and Canterbury. But that fateful night against the Panthers may come back to haunt them if a few other results don’t go their way.

The Raiders need to ensure they are on the right side of the scoreboard for the next three rounds to give them every chance of playing finals footy, unlike last year.

“They just have to win. They know how important this is and as a player you look forward to a challenge. I can’t speak for Rick, but I believe he would enjoy this type of challenge too,” said Ennis.

“Every season presents itself with different opportunities and at the moment the opportunity for Canberra is that they are that unpredictable side that are uncomfortable to play against.”





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