NRL feuds: Wayne Bennett v the world
Ricky Stuart's feud with Trent Robinson is not new.
Sure, it seems fresh.
Almost as if these warring NRL coaches only ignited said rivalry during last year's run to that most controversial of Grand Finals - and in a swirl of barbs, big contests, even one unshaken hand by the Telstra premiership trophy.
But in truth?
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This is a stink stretching back almost three years.
Specifically, to Round 12, 2017.
Back when Roosters coach Robinson - having just watched his side beaten by Canberra away - then strolled into a post-match press conference to ignite what is undeniably this weekend's NRL playoff yarn.
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Was Robbo, undeniably among rugby league's best men, looking for stoush?
Regardless, they say, he found one.
In the space of only minutes, talking himself into a wonderful rivalry - is there any other kind? - which became a big story in last year's NRL Grand Final, with Stuart reportedly refusing not only to shake Robinson's hand at a midweek media opportunity, but even look at him.
At which point, we need to point out Sticky is no stranger to a stink.
For proof, think rugby league's most passionate - and, arguably, charitable - coach throwing down against the likes of Wayne Bennett, Ashley Klein, Graham Annesley, even plastic white chairs.
Yet the only one anybody cares about right now, it's on Friday night.
When those 2019 Grand Finalists again do battle in a blockbuster elimination final at the SCG.
More than a Last Chance Saloon for last year's two best teams, the Sydney showdown presents another chance for rugby league's latest version of the Hatfields versus McCoys.
A feud which, apart from making for wonderful theatre, has also seen Robinson teams dominate eight of 12 encounters between the pair.
Yet the game that matters for this yarn was a Roosters loss - on a Sunday afternoon in May 2017.
Officially, the record books will tell you Canberra beat the Chooks 24-16, with the latter was missing five of its biggest names, including halfback Mitchell Pearce, to State of Origin.
Which is where the fun begins.
Especially when you recall how only days out from that same game, Stuart was quoted slamming any NRL coach who wanted to bang on about losing players to Origin football.
While the Raiders were missing only Josh Papalii for the Roosters clash, their rivals were going to be without five representative stars - Mitchell Pearce, Blake Ferguson, Boyd Cordner, Dylan Napa and Aidan Guerra.
To which Sticky said what?
"All these coaches that complain about having their rep players out, they win grand finals because of rep players," he said.
"I know what I'd rather have. I'd prefer to have five rep players out than only one because rep players win grand finals.
"I keep hearing all that type of nonsense, rubbish talk - 'we've got all our rep players out'.
"I've got all my rep players out too - I've only got one."
So days later, and after having just been dusted by that Raiders side missing only one Origin player, Robinson was asked to respond.
So he did.
"Ricky recruits this team and he's built this team to what he wants it to be," Robinson said. "That's up to them to get selected or not.
"They had their chance a couple of weeks ago to play (in the City-Country Origin match) and they didn't. That's their team."
When a journalist then suggested the Origin period actually levelled the playing field for sides without many rep stars, Robinson added bluntly: "That's what the salary cap is for".
And from there, well, ding ding.
But as for who threw the first punch? Call that one however you see it.
Although know that in the years since Stuart has also taken umbrage at several more quotes by Robinson - including his labelling the Raiders "conservative" last year, while also questioning if their one-on-one stripping tactic was good for the game.
Which again, is not to suggest either man is in the wrong.
Nor that one wears the black hat.
Instead, we can only tell you how in that same 2017 presser, Stuart entered first and accused the Chooks of cheating at the ruck. Which wasn't exactly well received by the Bondi Junction mob.
Same as Stuart and his Raiders weren't happy when prior to last year's Round 12 clash, Robinson suggested the Green Machine were a little, err, predictable.
"They've been playing some good footy but we sort of know what they do - they're quite conservative," Robbo said.
"We know how we want to defend that and how we want to go after them there."
After winning the game, the Roosters coach also expressed his disdain for the undeniably contentious one-on-one strip - a tactic for which the Raiders had become undeniable NRL leaders.
Indeed, twice during the Roosters clash, Canberra players turned the game's momentum in their favour with the ploy.
Yet when asked about the move, Robinson said: "Has that added to the spectacle of our game?
"It's extra weight the refs are constantly looking at the ball and who's stripping.
"So, it ends up being a strip, slow play-the-ball, people in the ruck - honestly has that added value to the game?"
Robinson stressed, however, that his criticism was not aimed at Canberra.
"It's got nothing to do with Canberra," he said. "The rule's come in and they've exploited it really, really well, so congratulate them for that.
"But who pressure-tested this to say, 'hey refs can you control the ruck, adjudicate on split-second guys coming in and out and is this adding value to the game?"
Asked to respond, Stuart described Robinson's assessment as "ridiculous".
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NRL'S GREATEST COACHING FEUDS
- Wayne Bennett v Anthony Seibold
Bitter rivals since the Great Coach Swap of 2018, these two blokes disagree on just about everything. Bennett's love of beating the man who replaced him at Brisbane - albeit it briefly, and terribly - is best defined by his now infamous dressing room dance at the end of last season's clash.
2. Wayne Bennett v Craig Bellamy
Just like Kung Fu Panda, this yarn involves the spectacular falling out between master and apprentice. Despite starting out as a Brisbane assistant coach, Bellamy has increasingly found himself at lengths with Bennett over their opposing views on wrestling in rugby league.
3. Michael Hagan and Jason Taylor
Halfback rivals from their playing days, the pair were famously involved in several heated verbals, including after passing one another following a game at Parramatta Stadium - when f-bombs were said to have been used as nouns, verbs, everything.
4. Anthony Seibold v Michael Maguire
South Sydney punted Maguire in 2017 for Seibold, a decision which created plenty of angst between the pair. According to old Bunnies boss Shane Richardson, Maguire blamed Seibold for his demise as head coach and "felt he was stabbed in the back".
5. Wayne Bennett v Ricky Stuart
Wayne Bennett referred to Ricky Stuart as a "drama queen" last year after the Canberra coach lamented yet another summer of off-field controversies involving NRL players. Asked to respond, Stuart said of the man he once replaced as Australian Test coach: "Wayne Bennett's irrelevant to me, so are comments he makes".
6. Wayne Bennett v Nathan Brown
Nathan Brown was coaching Newcastle in 2018 when he delivered arguably the greatest spray in NRL press conference history. Quizzed on a suggestion by Bennett, who preceded him in Newcastle, that he "unbuilt" the club, Brown went a tad medieval.
"It's a bit sad isn't it?" he began. "The old fox has won seven premierships, he has coached for 30 years, and I haven't publicly bagged Wayne or anyone.
"Then he comes and has a shot at me. I don't think he needs to bait like that.
"The reality is, when Wayne came to town, if he thought with his big head rather than his little head I wouldn't have had to rebuild the joint."
The sledge was widely interpreted as a reference to the breakdown of Bennett's 42-year marriage to former wife Trish and his relationship with partner Dale Cage, who he met while she was a staffer at the Knights.
7. John Lang v Tim Sheens
Good luck finding a coach anywhere in Australian sport who has so heavily - and consistently - beaten down one of his rivals like Langy did Sheens. Despite being regarded among the greatest coaches of the modern era, Sheensy simply couldn't take a trick against the 2003 Penrith premiership coach who not only beat him in 19 of 21 matches but went 16 seasons without loss in their contests.
8. Jack Gibson v Warren Ryan
While rugby league's first Super Coaches never battled verbally, there is no doubting they constantly went to war with what were contrasting styles and beliefs around what rugby league success should look like.
9. Anthony Griffin v Phil Gould
Okay, so Gus isn't technically a coach anymore. But he was. And you have to reckon that background was a big reason for his spectacular falling out, in 2018, with the Penrith coach he eventually marched as club boss.
Originally published as NRL feuds: Wayne Bennett v the world