Ricky Stuart has always struck me as the kind of person who thinks the best way to achieve anything is through hard work. And when that doesn’t work his response to my mind would be to simply work harder. That’s what makes his reported recent attempt to bring notorious former Raider Todd Carney back to the team so odd. For a man so intent on hard work, that move was more akin to a hopeful short cut.
In the abstract the case for Carney is straightforward. Carney has admitted he’s desperate to return to the National Rugby League (NRL), and would likely come on a very team favourable contract. It’s conceivable that a return to his home ground, with the stability of the club culture that has been fostered by Stuart could see Carney return to his best form. Carney is good friends with Jarrod Croker – he was in his bridal party recently – and to paraphrase the excellent Rugby League mind Tim Gore, if Jarrod Croker thinks he’s a good bloke then he might just be a good bloke.
In short Stuart likely thinks that Carney would be all upside and little risk. He might return to his Daly M winning form of 2010, or the form that saw him selected for Origin in 2012. In his prime Carney was a devastating ball player, capable of being both the organiser and chief playmaker for multiple elite sides. Stuart may see him as the missing ingredient that could drive the Raiders to success.
Carney’s prime, brilliant as it was, is well behind him now. Seven years ago, for a brief flicker, he was the premier half in the NRL. It’s five years since he was an elite-level player. This year his Super League club decided to not resign him. At best this was because his performance no longer warranted his salary. Much of his ability comes from a brilliant running game. It’s not a stretch to think that at 31 that may be beginning to depart him. All reports are that he has been more serviceable than elite in the Super League.
The hope that he will again be elite upon returning to the NRL is just that – hope. That’s not even mentioning the problematic impact he could have on the Raiders culture that seemed frayed at times in 2017. Carney’s parting shots at Salford indicate that any belief that his behaviour has improved may be premature.
It seems Stuart thinks that the Raiders do not have enough skills in their halves to deliver a premiership. Even after signing Sam Williams, Stuart has gone looking for even more people to potentially play in the Raiders six or seven jersey. Even taking the fact that Carney would be a ‘long shot’ that might have never played first grade for the Raiders, it’s hardly a vote of confidence in the existing squad. And given that’s a squad that Stuart has built with no interference, it should draw questions to Stuart’s ability in roster building and the development of young players.
Stuart is stuck with his squad. And he should recognise that he has the best talent that the Raiders have had in years. There is a window for the squad for premiership success that may be closing after this coming season. Stuart should be putting all his thoughts into ensuring success with the current side at his disposal rather than hoping for a long shot.