Members of Jack Gibson's premiership-winning Eels teams have expressed their sympathy for Ricky Stuart, who yesterday took on the expectation of the club when lauded as the ''best signing since Gibson''.
If the responsibility of trying to end Queensland's long-standing Origin dominance wasn't pressure enough, the comparison to probably rugby league's greatest coach is sure to test the resolve of Stuart.
Parramatta didn't waste any time, just 12 minutes and 33 seconds after the club announced Stuart as coach for the next three seasons, to heap the pressure on their new leader.
''I think it's huge,'' chairman Roy Spagnolo said of Stuart's signing. ''It's probably the best signing we've had, probably since Gibson. For us, it's a really positive way to go forward and return the club back to its glory days.''
Gibson led the club to three consecutive premierships from 1981.
But Ron Hilditch, who played under Gibson, said it would be foolish to expect similar results from Stuart, who is inheriting a team that is a shadow of the side Gibson took over three decades ago.
"There will only ever be one Jack Gibson," Hilditch said. "That comment has probably put extra pressure on Ricky but, to me, Ricky seems like the sort of guy that will take that in his stride. With the mammoth amount of pressure he's going to be under, you have to be a truly hard person or you just won't last.
"The thing to remember, when Jack took over, Parramatta wasn't on its knees like it is now. We had some good players there."
Former five-eighth Brett Kenny, who played in all of Parramatta's triumphs under Gibson, was critical of Spagnolo's summation of the signing.
"It's obviously a very big signing for the club getting someone of Ricky Stuart's calibre," Kenny said.
"But he doesn't need any more pressure with comments like that. The expectation is going to be very high as it is.
''Coming into a club, you don't need people, especially the chairman, saying it's the best signing since Gibson. The guy's not going to be able to create miracles.
''Just look at Wayne Bennett with Newcastle. Nathan Tinkler expects him to win four premierships in his four years, but it's been proven that not even he can create miracles."
But dealing with the weight of expectation isn't the only obstacle confronting Stuart as he prepares to take over the reins at Parramatta.
"He has a few hurdles there," Hilditch said. "He's got a board to answer to, which might make things a bit difficult. He needs to be strong, and Jack was special, very special. But I think Ricky is the best bloke they could've got. The team needs somebody like him."
Stuart fronted yesterday's press conference with Spagnolo and chief executive Bob Bentley. The Parramatta board have long been criticised for meddling with the operation of the football department, but Stuart believes he is on the same page with the hierarchy.
"I wanted Roy and Bob here because we're united in going forward," he said. "What's happened has happened and we're one club going forward here. That's the way we've all spoken about it. I've sat down with Roy and Bob and said 'I can only work with everybody being on board'. Everybody is a passionate Eels fan here and everyone cares about the club and sometimes emotions spill over. That's probably happened over the past.
"I'll sit down with the board at some stage. I'll get to know them, they'll get to know me. I like working as one, and we have to be one family going forward. We're all very passionate about winning and that's what we'll be working for."
- FFX Aus
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