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18-year career coach keeps suffering second-year syndrome

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Expert
1st July, 2020
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Canberra fans took away plenty from Saturday’s nail-biting loss to Parramatta, most notably a haunting sense of existential dread.

The 25-24 golden point slump was not like any other routine painful defeat, it sent a message that the Raiders are back – but not in a promising sense, more like how one goes back to reserve grade or living with parents.

After seeing off their demons last year with an emotional charge to the grand final, Canberra are displaying concerning signs they are reverting back to life as an enigma so frenetic it could make Prince Andrew sweat.

Corey Horsburgh’s tears at Bankwest Stadium were not for injury or the cruel taunts of cardboard, but for the emotion of contemplating a return to Jarrod Croker missed penalties, James Tedesco refusals and Joel Monaghan non-refusals.

Make no mistake, a Raiders relapse would be as disastrous as the new pig flu set to sweep the world post-COVID. Rejuvenated fans emerging from the darkness would be re-encased for another infinity, spending their days crying in to their last three squares of toilet paper as they withdraw from close family like Big Papa.

Josh Papalii runs the ball.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Green Machine began the season in barnstorming fashion with three straight wins headed by new English import George Williams, the man signed by coach Ricky Stuart to maintain the club’s official status as the fourth state of Great Britain.

The side looked set to cement its chops as a premiership heavyweight, leaving behind forlorn comebacks and inexplicable meltdowns for a life winning games it was intended to win and losing purely due to skill deficit and/or Ben Cummins.

But after two losses and a misfiring attack, rightly paranoid Canberra fans could be seriously considering minimising the pain using Trump’s coronavirus strategies, i.e. by watching fewer games for fewer cases, or by contracting coronavirus.

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So why have the Raiders lost their mojo forever? Should club memberships still come with an opt-out and Novocain?

Experts believe the recession could be down to one of three issues: the ongoing saga surrounding the departure of John Bateman, too much time spent in Campbelltown, or Curtis Scott. But for the purposes of this piece, let’s just blame the coach.

Across the years, Stuart-coached sides have suffered a sharp decline in performance following periods of widespread acclaim, much like a classic pump-and-dump securities fraud, except with people’s feelings.

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Ricky Stuart

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

It’s an old man’s bastardisation of second-year syndrome, the infamous concept in pro sports where dominant first-year rookies fall off the precipice because everyone decrypts their modus operandi, and/or they sign with the Gold Coast for a million bucks.

In Stuart’s case, he can deliver an encouraging window of success – one seemingly promising long-term health and stability – only to follow it up with a daunting cliff face marked with jagged rancour and overhead projectors.

For example, Canberra’s 2016 preliminary final season was backed up with a totally on-brand finish of tenth, while his 2008 top-four finish at Cronulla was trailed by a 15th-place finish involving a sex scandal, a drugs fiasco, financial woes and a sacked CEO, a year famously referred to as a standard Cronulla season.

Then 2013 saw Parramatta deliver a particularly strong example of Stuart’s second-year syndrome, with his decline so extreme there was no second year, nor any success. Thankfully he was able to save face by leaving on amicable terms, and by sacking a raft of players via a PowerPoint presentation.

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There are outliers, of course. He enjoyed a healthy stint as Kangaroos coach, plus guided the Roosters to three consecutive grand finals before being sacked in 2006.

But of course, nobody can fail to deliver four consecutive deciders at Easts and expect to survive.