Jorja BrinumsQRL lead content producer
A love for the game, a love for Burleigh Bears and a love for players he coaches is what drives Bears coach Rick Stone to continue doing what he does best.
Stone coached his 220th Intrust Super Cup game in Round 10, passing the previous record held by former Ipswich Jets coaches Ben and Shane Walker.
Burleigh Bears CEO Damian Driscoll said the Bears flew Stone’s family up from Newcastle for the occasion to help celebrate the milestone.
Prior to the Bears’ clash with Redcliffe Dolphins, Stone had 151 wins, eight draws and 60 losses for a 70.8 per cent success record – the best record of the 31 who have coached 75 or more games.
Stone said the milestone “just means I’ve been around for a while”, adding he was more focused on the game against the Dolphins.
“You can look back at milestones when you finish your career, but right now, our job is to win some footy games,” Stone said.
“We went to Redcliffe on a tough, competitive day and didn’t quite get the result.”
Stone led the Bears for more than 200 games between 1997 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 the Bears.
Driscoll said Stone laid the foundations for much of the success the Bears had experienced during the past five years.
“The success that the Bears have had in the last five years… Rick laid the foundation for those successes back in 1997 when the club first entered Cup,” Driscoll said.
“He’s quite thorough with his preparation of his own team and the preparation of the opposition… he certainly covers every angle with his coaching approach.”
Stone said the milestone did give him some confidence he was doing things right.
“Most of the time, it means you can do your job pretty well, if you’ve got some longevity,” Stone said.
“Obviously there was a big break between 2005, when I last coached, and 2020 – when we only got one game in before COVID… but it’s good to be back at the Bears… it’s a really comfortable feeling,” Stone said.
“I’ve got a good group of players, a really supportive club and a really supportive network of people working in rugby league down here. They’ve been a competitive team in the last couple of years and we strive to continue to be a competitive team as we move forward.”
Stone said he had every confidence in the 2021 Cup squad to step up.
“We had a bit of a slow start… we’ve had a few injuries recently as well, but we’ve fought our way back, to get back in the competition,” Stone said.
“Hopefully we can get a few of our injured players back on the park in the next couple of weeks. Obviously the bye next week helps. We can see if we can push towards being competition contenders at the back end of the year.
“We need a little bit of fine tuning in all areas… a little bit in attack, a little bit in defence, a little bit in attitude, a little bit in preparation. Just continually sharpening the pencil and making sure the boys give themselves the best chance to play well and understand what’s coming, as far as the opposition is concerned, each week.”
Seeing players improve and excel is something Stone said kept him coming back, week-in, week-out.
“Just the satisfaction of seeing young people improve, reaching some goals and possibly taking a step forward… to being the next generation of players at a higher level,” Stone said.
“Getting to the NRL is probably a big step for a lot but we’ve seen plenty of examples during my time. Definitely with Jamal Fogarty recently. Obviously there’s still hope for plenty of players who are playing in Intrust Super Cup.
“There’s plenty in the current team… Pat Politoni, Kurtis Rowe, Luke Page, in the current team, have been mainstays in this particular group.
“If I look back a little earlier, blokes like Reggie Cressbrook, Adam Hayden, Grant Adamson, Brent McConnell, Ali Brown, Shane O’Flanagan, Ryan Gundry… all those sorts of blokes, they played over 100 games for the club and made significant contributions when I was here previously.”
Stone said his focus was now on “getting a few more wins”.
“I’m most interested in the wins and games at the moment, starting with PNG Hunters this weekend,” Stone said.
Queensland Rugby League competitions manager Dave Maiden said Stone had made a significant contribution to rugby league in Queensland, in particular the Cup competition.
“Rick has always represented himself at the highest level of professionalism. He’s calm, he’s knowledgeable and he’s provided wonderful guidance to our players, who have gone on to NRL level, and he’s been to the next level himself,” Maiden said.
“To have someone of his calibre in our competition for such a long, sustained period of time, is fantastic for us and we appreciate and acknowledge the work that he’s done… he’s had a phenomenal winning strike rate over a long period of time.
“He takes over from the Walker brothers who have contributed to our competition immensely as well. Rick is delivering consistent high-quality work that produces NRL-quality players.”