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Salt air to find winning ways

Canberra Raiders training at Raiders HQ. Coach, David Furner.

Canberra Raiders training at Raiders HQ. Coach, David Furner. Photo: Graham Tidy

Nothing like a quiet week off the field to get a team ready for a big game, and this is exactly what the Raiders have had after spending the week on the Central Coast before their clash with Newcastle.

Despite Knights’ up and down season, this Saturday night’s game seems set to be a high-scoring one. There was an incredible 72 points scored in the Brisbane-Newcastle match last week, with the Raiders involved in a game that produced a combined 40.

This means that we can expect an attacking affair, as both clubs look to start the second half of the season with some momentum.

Raiders by 24.

As a well-respected rugby league guru, I am regularly asked for my thoughts on current issues. This week, many fans have sought my opinion on sacking an NRL coach, which I can only presume is a response to the woes of Stephen Kearney, coach of the Parramatta Eels.

When things go badly at a club, the coach is always the first person blamed. However, I judge a coach on the following two criteria:

1. How is his development of junior talent?

Kearney has not fostered many juniors during his time at Parra instead persisting with oldies like Nathan Hindmarsh and Fui Fui Moi Moi, who are no longer able to produce their best (which was overrated anyway).

Compare this to Dave Furner, who has successfully overseen the blooding of Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker, Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone, Joel Thompson, Josh Papalii, Sam Mataora and many others, and Kearney’s effort looks very poor.

2. Who has he attracted to the club and how have they performed?

Kearney brought across Chris Sandow from Souths for an outrageous price, only for Sandow to spend the first half of the season alternating between playing in reserve grade and playing reserve grade quality football in first grade.

Compare this to Dave Furner who has taken Dave Shillington, Bronson Harrison and Tom Learoyd-Lars from bench players to internationals, and Blake Ferguson from erratic talent to the cusp of State of Origin. Again Kearney's effort is ordinary.

So it seems there is some evidence to suggest Kearney should get the axe. However, I do think the playing group should take some of the responsibility for their team’s performances this year.

A coach sets the game plan, leads the training and makes team selections but there is little he can do on game day to prevent his team dropping the ball at key times, giving away silly penalties, defending weakly or generally not showing pride in the jersey. Any player worth his salt should be able to motivate himself to put in for the full eighty minutes regardless of what the coach is or isn’t doing.

I admit that if a team is really not performing over a long period of time, sacking the coach becomes the only resort for a battling club.

However, unless there is a proven NRL coach waiting in the wings, I don't see the point of doing it halfway through the season. What Kearney needs is a leader in a key position like 5/8th. Someone who has proven he can organise the team, make decisions in attack and solidify the defence. Without someone like that, it's hard to build a young team no matter how good the rest of the players are.

In other news: David Gallop has stepped down as chief executive of the NRL, in a mutual decision decided for him by the ARL commission chairman, John Grant.

Gallop will be remembered fondly for his tough stance on wayward players, such as Todd Carney, Greg Bird and Willie Mason, who he punished by helping them leave the clubs that developed them and who refused to abide by their misbehaviour, and allowing them to go to cashed-up rivals.

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