Despite being three weeks out from the start of the 2013 NRL finals, the Canberra Raiders have made the extraordinary move of sacking head coach David Furner effective immediately according to a press release from the club.
“The board made the tough decision feeling the team’s inconsistent performances were not reflective of the talent within the squad and have decided to pursue a different direction for the future of the club,” read the statement.
“[Furner] will leave his tenure at the club as one of the Raiders most loyal and respected figures.”
According to the statement, Andrew Dunemann will take over as interim head coach for the remainder of the 2013 season while the Raiders hunt for a new head coach.
And while Dunemann is capable of filling Furner’s shoes for the year, the biggest elephant in the room is clearly as to why Furner was even let go in the first place—especially if there wasn’t a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings.
Canberra are currently ninth and just goal-difference away from playing finals footy this season. With Manly Sea Eagles, New Zealand Warriors (in New Zealand) and Cronulla remaining on their schedule this season, you’d have thought that the Raiders would have done everything not to rock the boat over the final few weeks.
For just one little thing could have ended their finals’ chances.
Or so we all thought.
Now, the club will play their three remaining games against very competitive teams without their head coach.
For a club that’s already dealing with the Blake Ferguson saga and is still bearing some scars from Josh Dugan’s departure, it’s just not the move that few (if any) would have made. It’s just not a move that you’d make with finals footy firmly circled on the calendar and in the minds of the players.
It is believed that Ferguson has a get-out clause in his contract should Furner not be the coach of the Raiders, effectively making the NSW Origin player a free-agent, and a hot commodity for clubs.
Furner’s last three games in charge saw the Raiders beaten by a combined score of 124-42, with the 68-4 flogging to Melbourne no doubt affecting the board’s decision.
However, at the same time, it’s important to recognise that those defeats came against three of the best attacking teams in the league—the Bulldogs, the Storm and the Roosters. In fact, in the last eight rounds of the NRL, Canberra have lost just four games — all of which came against teams currently inside the top five.
Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, the one club that Canberra didn’t lose to in the top five over the past eight weeks is Manly—their opponents for this weekend.
Obviously it still stands to be seen how the decision to sack Furner and bring in Dunemann will affect the Raiders, but on the surface, it doesn’t look good.
Many pundits in Canberra have hinted at Furner’s man-management style driving players away, and his record has been ordinary at best.
But the timing still doesn’t make sense. Maybe it just was a trigger-happy finger from the Raiders’ board; maybe there was something more in the performances of Furner that we don’t yet know.
The obvious thought is that this won’t help the Raiders’ preparation for their now huge game against Manly on Sunday.