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Why Stuart won’t understand his petulance but consider himself a martyr after being banned


When I was 11, I was bullied off my soccer team. Being by far the slowest player on the team, with an almost total lack of foot skills, I became a target for my more talented and confident teammates – who also knew I was not the type to fight back.

My soccer career ended one night at training when my comrades’ taunting graduated to physical assault and I trailed off the field in tears, never to return.

At the time, I might’ve referred to those teammates as “weak-gutted dogs”, had I heard of the phrase and not found it as weirdly inelegant as I do now.

What I would not have done is label them in that way as an adult, when a decade or more had passed since the incident. Why not? Because as awful as I felt when I was 11, having grown up I knew they were kids being dickheads as kids often are, and even the most dickheady of kids can grow into a reasonably non-dickheady adult.

I also knew I wouldn’t want to be judged on my worst moments as a child for the rest of my life, and that to do so to someone else would be absurd.

This is, clearly, not the view of Ricky Stuart, nor of his bosom buddies in the rugby league media, led by his good-bloke-in-chief, Paul Kent. In their view, a kid who has been a dickhead needs permanent tarring, and we must hold everyone accountable for every misdeed of their childhood, in perpetuity.

One can only imagine the incredibly upright citizens Stuart and Kent must have been as kids, to live with the overweening oral righteousness they do today. If they were ever dickheads back then, they have no recollection of the fact.

Maybe that’s why they’re working so hard to make up for lost time now.

Stuart has been hit with a $25,000 fine and a week’s suspension from coaching, which is thoroughly deserved – he’s lucky he didn’t get more.

But the trouble with punishments, of course, is so often they serve only to convince a wannabe martyr of their martyrdrom.

Given the Canberra coach’s “apology” after the fact was really just an expression of regret he said what he said in a press conference, rather than any kind of acknowledgment he was being a petulant, immature fool or of the hurt he may have caused Jaeman Salmon, it seems doubtful he will come away from the affair with anything but an even greater persecution complex than he already had – which is saying something, when we’re talking about Ricky Stuart.

No, with his players coming out to declare they “have his back”, and his media mates manning the barricades on his behalf, Sticky will just come to the conclusion he is a courageous truth-teller, exposing the foul deeds of the Under-12s to the light of justice, and those who would punish him for his honesty are simply little people desperate to tear down a titan of the game.

(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

So there’s probably no point in making the criticism, as even if Stuart read it he wouldn’t take it in, but what the hell …

Stuart’s behaviour on Saturday night was absolutely pathetic.

A 55-year-old man sat down in front of the whole country and declared himself incapable of anything like a mature response to the events of the preceding game.

When given a choice between angrily denouncing an on-field transgression, or diplomatically declining to comment, he did neither: instead he attacked the character of a young man based on events of more than a decade ago, when the young man was a child.

Of course, Stuart’s claim is he let his emotions get the better of him. That happens a lot with Stuart. Not always, of course. He manages to control himself pretty well most of the time.

But sometimes, when your team has been beaten embarrassingly in a game they should’ve had a chance in but instead folded without firing a shot, and your finals chances are almost gone, and you’re feeling under pressure as a coach, and you’d really rather not talk about your shortcomings or those of your players … well, under those circumstances that deep passion just bubbles to the surface and you simply have no choice but to bring up an incident from a kids’ footy game 12 years ago.

What else could he do? As Kent repeatedly pointed out on NRL 360, he was defending his family. From what, few people know.

What man would do anything else but leap to the defence of his family when no one has said anything about them in relation to events they wouldn’t be aware of if you hadn’t brought them up yourself?

Now, according to Kent, if more people knew what had happened back then, we would completely understand Stuart’s actions, and support him entirely. His view is it is a testament to Stuart’s fine character that he didn’t tell us all what Salmon did to his children all those years ago.

I am here to say if Kent or Stuart wants me to swallow that, they damn well better tell us what he did. Because I can’t imagine what an 11-year-old could say or do that would mean I still held such a grudge that when the boy was 23 I thought slandering him in public was a reasonable course of action. Maybe there is something.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 06: Jaeman Salmon of the Panthers scores a try during the round 21 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers at GIO Stadium, on August 06, 2022, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Jaeman Salmon scores a try. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Maybe Salmon’s acts as a child were so sickeningly heinous that they are simply unforgivable, now or ever. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence: until I’m told what this ultimate sin was, I’m not buying.

Until I’m informed otherwise, I’m going to assume this is exactly what it looks like: a gutless and pointlessly nasty attack from a man who needs a crash course in integrity, grace and honour.

This was not an involuntary scream in the heat of the moment. The coach didn’t see Salmon’s boot connect with Tom Starling’s tender portions and yell “weak-gutted dog” before he had a chance to think. He came into the press room after the game, sat down and made a conscious decision to bring it up.

Back in 1991, I might’ve called my teammates weak-gutted dogs. If I told the world who they were, and I was still holding it against them all these years later, I’d know deep down who was being weak-gutted.

Deep down, I wonder if Ricky Stuart knows too. Because the dog in this fight isn’t Jaeman Salmon.





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