A 15-year journey around the country and across the globe has led Rick Stone back to where it began as coach of the Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears.
Stone led the Bears for more than 200 games between 1995 and 2005, winning premierships in 1999 and 2004 before taking up an assistant coach position at the Newcastle Knights.
He went on to become head coach of the Knights as well as the Fiji national team, before heading to the English Super League to coach Huddersfield in 2016.
In 2019 he coached the Sydney Roosters NRLW team before agreeing to return to Burleigh on a two-year deal earlier this month.
“I’m just excited to be back and it’s funny how footy works sometimes and comes full circle,” he said.
“When I was at Burleigh I didn’t think I was going to move and then when I was at Newcastle I didn’t think I was going to leave there either, but sometimes you take that initial step and it turns into a really good adventure which it has for me over the last 20 years.
“I have followed Burleigh ever since I left and taken an interest in where things have gone to. It’s good to see Jimmy (Lenihan, former Bears coach who was recently recruited by the Gold Coast Titans) get some promotion in his coaching career and hopefully I can continue some of the success the boys have been having here over the last couple of years.”
Until Lenihan’s historic 2019 season, it was Rick Stone who held every measure of coaching success at Burleigh, taking the Bears to grand finals in 1999, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
In his years away from the club he has not been a stranger, regularly making appearances at club reunions and other functions over the last 15 years. His impact was felt long after his departure and he is excited to return to the fold for the 2020 season.
“The Q Cup has evolved into almost every club having a mini-NRL setup,” he said. “You’ve got the 18s and the 20s playing in parallel competitions as well, so it has evolved as everybody puts more time and resources into their Queensland Cup team.
“Probably the difference between the NSW Cup clubs and the Q Cup clubs is that all of these teams want to stand on their own two feet. Sure, they’ll get some help from some NRL players, but generally they are proud and successful clubs that have a good tradition that they want to continue.”
Burleigh’s ingrained culture and sense of identity was a factor in Rick’s decision to return and he said he was excited to get to know his playing group and help continue their success in the years ahead.
“I’m looking forward to taking care of a team that from the outside looking in looks like they have a strong culture and there are a few senior players that appear to be custodians of that culture,” he said.
“They’re proud of where they’ve gotten to and they want to continue going in the right way and I’d like to be able to help them with that and hopefully continue the success that they’ve had in the last couple of years.
“Jimmy and Drisco and the coaching staff have done a really good job of building a foundation of hard work, discipline and strong defence and they’ve made themselves into a really consistent, competitive footy team.”
Many players from across the senior divisions have already returned to training, with preparations for Burleigh’s 2020 Intrust Super Cup premiership defence to begin in earnest in early December.