Raper gets two years to put bite back into the Sharks
By Brad Walter
December 3, 2003
More than three years after first being promised the job, Stuart Raper was last night announced coach of Cronulla.
Raper, 37, was appointed to the position for two years following the sacking of Chris Anderson at Monday night's board meeting and he immediately set his sights on restoring the club's standing as regular finalists after last season's disastrous 12th place.
Celebrating at home with his family - including brother Aaron and their famous father John - Raper admitted it had been a long and frustrating wait after being told at the end of the 2000 season that he would be the next coach after John Lang.
Instead, the Sharks opted for Anderson when Lang stood down the following year - forcing Raper to remain two more seasons in England.
"That was a big disappointment for me but looking back now I can say that it was worth the wait, and I got a lot of experience coaching Wigan," Raper said. "But to coach the Sharks has always been my goal and I think I'm the first local to do the job for a long time, so hopefully I can bring a bit of passion into the club."
Raper, employed by Anderson to oversee off-season training for the past seven weeks while the Test coach was away on the Kangaroo tour, knows most of the Cronulla players although few remain from before his departure in mid-1997 to coach Castleford.
Despite the turmoil associated with Anderson's sacking, Raper said there was a positive vibe at the club about next season and he was looking forward to working with the likes of Test stars Brett Kimmorley and Phil Bailey.
"I'm not going to come in and be too radical, I think my first priority will be to build a relationship with the senior players, and I'll discuss with them what style we'll play," Raper said.
With the appointment of Raper, the only loose end remaining for the Sharks is the future of Bailey, who has a get-out clause in his contract if Anderson is not coach.
Cronulla general manager Steve Rogers spoke to Bailey several times yesterday and said he was confident the Australia and NSW representative would remain at the club.
But his agent, George Mimis, who also acts for Anderson and Kimmorley, said he had received expressions of interest from rival clubs should Bailey become a free agent.
St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust confirmed that the Dragons would try to accommodate Bailey if the opportunity arose.
"If there was some conclusion to his reported position with Cronulla, we would be interested in talking to him," Doust said.
Raper's appointment was endorsed by the club's other senior players yesterday.
"I had the pleasure of being coached by Stuart when I first came down from Dubbo, he's had a lot of experience since then - he's been over to the UK - so I think he'll do a good job," fullback David Peachey said.
Kimmorley, the Cronulla captain and the player closest to Anderson, will attend today's annual NRL conference with Raper. Kimmorley - away on holidays with his family after returning last week from the Kangaroo tour - was the only player club officials were unable to contact before announcing Anderson's sacking, but Mimis said the player was committed to the Sharks for the next four years.
Former Cronulla hooker Dean Treister, whose departure from the club in April was the beginning of Anderson's downfall, has expressed an interest in returning to Toyota Park next season.
Anderson, meantime, is yet to consider his future coaching options but he is believed to be interested in leading a new Gold Coast team should they be admitted to the NRL in 2006.
A decision on whether to expand the competition is due midway through next season.
The NRL will announce the 2004 draw today.