New Canberra Raiders head coach Ricky Stuart has now got into the full swing with his new team at Raiders HQ, as he looks to establish a better platform for the future.
The Green Machine began their pre-season at the start of November, and running in line with what has always happened in the past, training has only involved fitness and strength building.
But all the while the training has started off slowly, there is no doubting it has been straight to the drawing board for Stuart.
And young star forward Jarred Kennedy has already been in awe of what the former Raiders great has brought to the squad.
“Everyone’s training really hard, and if anything it’s been really positive- the whole club just seems to have taken a change,” he said.
With Stuart has come Dean Pay and Matt Parish from the Parramatta Eels as well, two men in which former Raiders assistant coach Andrew Dunneman was forced to make way for.
Halfback great Brett Kimmorley has kept his position as another assistant despite having conflicts of interest with Stuart when he was playing for the Cronulla Sharks as Stuart coached them.
What has unraveled in recent months has certainly been the most significant shake-up in the Raiders’ near 33-year history, and all at the club seem nothing short of keen to move on for a better 2014.
A 13th place finish in the season with six straight losses to end it was just a symbol to how many distractions were faced during it, however Stuart’s ambition is to ensure there is no chance of that happening again.
He has already used strong words to indicate this:
“You can’t have dickheads in a football team. To see two fabulous, talented football players [Dugan and Ferguson] sitting on a roof, drinking alcohol in the morning… it was the most embarrassing moment for me in terms of being an ex-Raider,” he told Fairfax Media in November.
The no “dickheads” policy is Stuart’s foremost goal at the club, and should players in the future start behaving like former stars Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson, he will seek to act straight away.
He has stated that no player will put themselves before the team under his coaching.
“You have to get rid of people who think about themselves. You can’t get team results with greedy people. We’ve just got rid of that element and we need to move forward,” he said in November.
Already in four weeks of training Stuart has decided to fix the Raiders’ lacklustre defence of 2013- when it conceded a mammoth 624 points, which was 190 higher than their points scored.
He has made Pay the defence coach, and Pay will work with Milton Dymock- brother of former Kangaroo Jim Dymock and well known for wrestling tactics in rugby league circles- to ensure his huge forward pack bring out their best at the ruck.
Local mixed martial arts star Steve Babic has also been recruited by Stuart one day a week to work with Pay and Dymock, and these three have already put players through drills to erase their points differential next season.
Raiders prop Dane Tilse is a huge fan of the moves Stuart has already made, and said a fresh start with new ideas has brought a positive vibe to the squad.
“It’s good to have a fresh voice…there’s a real spring in the step,” he said.
He said Stuart has made getting to know his new playing group well a priority, and decision will be in the interests of the entire group.
“Ricky’s just learnt a bit about us, and we’ve learnt a bit about him.”
“He’s come in running things the way he wants, so it’s good having a strong leader at the top.”
In other Raiders news, machine-like lock Shaun Fensom is back into full training 14 weeks after surgery on his thumb.
The club has re-signed centre Jack Wighton and Kennedy until the end of 2015, while last week, while young stars Kyle O’Donnell and Kurt Baptiste, from the Penrith Panthers and Brisbane Broncos respectively, were signed on for one season each.
Training will break for two weeks over Christmas, and international representatives in the UK for the World Cup Brett White, Josh Papalii and Anthony Milford will rejoin the squad then.
Tilse expects an even greater hype around the squad once these players return.