Furner failed to prove himself as Raiders flounder

Greg Prichard Columnist

By Greg Prichard, 21 Aug 2013

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    Canberra Raiders celebrate a try during the round 8 NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and the Canberra Raiders. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Brett Crockford)

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    David Furner was lucky to last as long as he did as Canberra coach. Had the club sacked him at the end of the 2011 season, in which the Raiders finished 15th, it would have been fair enough.

    Furner had been coach for three years by then. Canberra finished 13th in 2009, and, given that results have to be catastrophic for a first-year coach not to continue into his second year, he remained coach in 2010.

    The Raiders made a late rush to qualify for the finals in seventh place that year, and beat Penrith in the first week before being eliminated by Wests Tigers. You may remember that being the game in which Terry Campese went down with the first of a series of major injuries for him.

    In 2011, Canberra finished on 16 points and only avoided the wooden spoon because Gold Coast, also on 16, had a worse points for-and-against differential.

    Furner had been re-signed before the start of the 2011 season until the end of 2014, but that shouldn’t have stopped the club from acting.

    He’d had enough time to prove himself as a first-grade coach by then, particularly at a club that had a very talented playing roster.

    The Raiders have always been a frustratingly inconsistent side under Furner’s coaching. The good days were great, but the bad days were awful, and Furner was never able to do anything about the wretched ups and downs.

    The Raiders have had injuries, but every club gets them.

    Furner is a good guy, and because of that a lot of people will have a lot of sympathy for him, but being a good guy is down the list of things you need to make a successful coach.

    Midway through last season, when the Raiders were in typically annoying form, Furner was under pressure to retain his job. Coming off the previous season’s 15th placing, they had lost eight and won just five of their first 13 matches, and were in second-last place.

    The result that really put Furner under the pump then was a 40-0 loss at home to Wests Tigers, in Round 13.

    But he survived, and the Raiders recovered to win four of their next seven before finishing off with a six-game winning streak that took them through to the second week of the finals, where they lost to South Sydney.

    That gave hope for this season, but it has just been another roller-coaster ride.

    Canberra have won two in a row three times, and three in a row once. They’ve also lost two in a row three times and three in a row once.

    That’s Raiders football. At least they’re consistent with their inconsistency. It’s the sort of stuff mid-table dreams are made of, and explains why they are in ninth place.

    Canberra should be consistently finishing high on the competition table and challenging for the premiership.

    Even when the club sacked Furner yesterday, it was inconsistent with how these things should be done.

    The board held an extraordinary meeting after Furner had taken the team to the South Coast for a training camp, so when they sacked him they had to send his brother, chief executive Don, to go and tell him the bad news.

    They might have done it when David Furner was actually in Canberra.

    Player power was a factor in the club’s decision. Plenty of people will say the players should have done better in terms of their form, and they probably should have, but when a team’s form is as wildly up and down as Canberra’s was I think the coach has got to take most of the responsibility.

    The Raiders have got to be very careful about their next coaching appointment. They need someone who can, and will, get the best out of their players on a regular basis.

    This season isn’t over for them yet, but their inconsistency and the fact they have to win their last three games to make the finals obviously isn’t a good mix.

    Next year, the Raiders are almost certainly going to have to do it without both Blake Ferguson and Anthony Milford.

    Ferguson had a get-out clause in his contract should Furner no longer be coach, and appeared to be already angling for a way out anyway, and Milford is determined to activate a release clause based on compassionate grounds.

    There is plenty of speculation that Ferguson will end up back at Cronulla, the club he left at the end of 2010 because, he said, he wanted to go to a club that could win a premiership.

    Ferguson also had a release clause at the Sharks, if Ricky Stuart was no longer coach. Will clubs ever learn about these clauses?

    But if Ferguson is planning on rejoining Cronulla, he might want to wait a while to see how their playing roster looks for next year, just in case.

    The loss of both Ferguson and Milford would have the capacity to blow a gaping hole in the Raiders from which the club could find it very difficult to recover in the short-term.

    That makes it even more important for them to find the right man as their next coach.

    Greg Prichard has spent all of his working life in the media, from way back when journalists were still using typewriters. He has covered rugby league, football, AFL and various other sports for News Limited and Fairfax newspapers and also worked for magazines, radio and pay television. He is now freelancing. Twitter: @gregprichard
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