WHATEVER happened to Rick Stone?
Eight months after he was controversially sacked by the Newcastle Knights, the 49-year-old coach agreed this week to his first interview.
In a candid conversation with the Newcastle Herald, Stone revealed he was still involved in rugby league, working in a part-time role for the Roosters, has secured a day job with a labour-recruitment company and is about to launch a pilot program of junior coaching clinics with former Canberra and St George Illawarra hooker Simon Woolford.
He has knocked back offers to coach Queensland Cup sides, would welcome the chance to take charge of an English Super League outfit, and still has ambitions to again be a head coach in the NRL.
“Never say never,’’ he said.
Stone admitted he is disappointed about his sudden departure from the Knights last year, less than halfway into a two-year contract, but added philosophically: “That’s footy.’’
This time 12 months ago, the Knights were preparing to win their fourth successive game of 2015, at which point they were unbeaten competition leaders.
Three months later, Stone was out of a job and Newcastle were on their way to the wooden spoon.
Asked what went wrong, Stone replied: “It’s hard to actually put your finger on it.
“We did start the season well, but even then we didn’t do a lot that was super flash. We played pretty steady but competed really hard, and that effort might have taken a bit of energy out of us.
“But a couple of injuries knocked a bit of confidence out of us, and all of a sudden things started to spiral in the wrong direction.
“That puts pressure on the coach and the board and the whole club. Obviously I’m not comfortable with how things panned out at the end, but when you’re head coach, you’ve got to win some games. That’s the crux of the story, really.’’
Whatever disappointment Stone experienced has not transformed into bitterness. After saying: “There’s a few people that I trusted who let me down a bit’’, he quickly followed with: “But that’s finished for me and I’m concentrating on getting on with things.’’
Obviously I’m not comfortable with how things panned out at the end, but when you’re head coach, you’ve got to win some games.
That means staying involved in rugby league, which has been part of his life since his days as a Lakes United junior.
“It [coaching in the NRL] is probably on the backburner at the moment, but I still am interested,’’ he said.
“England is something that really interests me, and I’m hunting around a bit for an opportunity over there.
“Obviously the right sort of job has to come up, but that’s something I’d like to have a crack at.
“I’ve knocked back a couple of jobs to go into the Queensland Cup, and the work I’m doing with the Roosters has whet my appetite, for sure.’’
Stone’s official job description with the Roosters is Central Coast coaching-and-pathways coordinator, a part-time role he was offered last last year by the club’s former CEO, Brian Canavan.
“The Roosters in the last couple of years have linked with Wyong in the NSW Cup, but they’ve also put a lot of time and resources into the local competition on the Central Coast, and also the junior rep teams,’’ Stone said.
“This is the first year I’ve been involved. Particularly with the 18s and 16s program, I’m monitoring that and how we can improve it, and trying to identify good kids for them.
“I’ll be looking at kids from 13s to 18s, and I’ll help out a bit with the NSW Cup side, Wyong, and do a couple of days a week down there with them.’’
Despite his commitments with Wyong and the Roosters, Stone still keeps a keen eye on the Knights, which is hardly surprising, given that his sons Ben and Sam are in their NSW Cup and under-20s teams respectively.
“I get out and watch them play when I can, when my commitments with the Roosters don’t clash,’’ he said.
“Last week I had a big day at Wyong so didn’t get to see any footy, but hopefully I can get to Wentworthville on Sunday and watch Ben play … I switched off for a little bit [when he first left the club] but obviously I still want the Knights to do well.
“There are people in the club I’ve known for a long time. Some of the boys I’ve known since they were 15 and I formed really strong relationships with them, so you always want to see them do well.’’
Stone estimates he had a six-week break after leaving the Knights before he was offered a job with Alliance Labour Solutions, whom he described as “a local, Hunter-based mining labour-hire crew, who are branching out into construction’’.
“I just thought I had to get into something, earn some income like anyone else, and move forward,’’ he said.
“If I didn’t get another full-time job in football, I knew it wasn’t going to kill me. I’ve got a few other skills to keep me going.’’
But with his knowledge and passion, he still feels he has something to offer in rugby league. Hence his decision to launch DNA Sports Coaching with Woolford. They will hold a four-day clinic at Smith Park, Broadmeadow, from April 11.
“We’re trying to give younger kids an insight into what an NRL training session would look like,’’ Stone said.
“Once kids get into junior rep level, there is plenty of quality coaching.
“But for the kids who aren't at that level, we’re hoping we can help advance them and accelerate their progress a little bit.’’
- Further details on DNA Sports Coaching’s Facebook page.