Raiders v Bulldogs
Raiders player Joel Thompson. Photo: Jay Cronan
RAIDERS centre Blake Ferguson abandoned Saturday’s NRL game at Canberra Stadium to travel to Sydney as speculation mounts he will seek a release from the club.
Ferguson was a late withdrawal from Saturday’s match against the Bulldogs because of injury, the Raiders losing 28-16 and falling further from the NRL’s top eight.
There were conflicting reports from Raiders officials about whether Ferguson, who suffered a minor quadriceps tear at training during the week, attended the match at all or left at half-time.
But a Raiders source confirmed to Fairfax Media that Ferguson did travel to Sydney and was expected to be in the Sutherland Shire on Saturday night.
Ferguson has refused to comment on media reports that he will seek a release from the final two years of his Raiders contract to be closer to family in Sydney.
Ferguson’s trip to Sydney on Raiders game day will only fuel rumours he wants out, with the Cronulla Sharks first in line to try and poach him.
The Raiders will be desperate for their star centre to be fit and stay out of trouble, given young centre Jack Wighton broke his leg in two places against the Bulldogs and will miss the rest of the season.
Wighton will require surgery during the week and will require a rehabilitation of 10-12 weeks.
Asked after Saturday’s loss to the Bulldogs whether Ferguson had asked for a release, Raiders coach David Furner was blunt.
‘‘No,’’ Furner bristled. ‘‘There seems to be these articles popping up. No one’s said nothing to me or the club or Blake.’’
Pressed on if he confronted Ferguson to deny the reports, Furner replied: ‘‘No, I didn’t ask him if he wanted a release.
‘‘We had to get on with football, it’s as simple as that. We got a scan on Wednesday, an MRI, it cleared any sort of damage, but for some reason he couldn’t run,’’ Furner said.
‘‘Then the captain’s run [on Friday], he did a little bit of footwork and couldn’t run.
‘‘We were going to give him until today, then he had an ultrasound and had a small tear of his quad.’’
Wighton left Canberra Stadium on a medi-cab early in the game after a nasty collision in attempting to collect a high ball.
The Country representative is the second Raiders player in as many weeks to be sidelined for the rest of the season after lock Shaun Fensom had thumb surgery earlier this week.
Throw in captain Terry Campese (eye) and the continued absence of prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, and they’re missing plenty of experience.
Yet there’s still more than enough talent in the Raiders to produce a better performance than the one dished out against an undermanned Bulldogs.
Fullback Anthony Milford is continuing to excel, despite the constant speculation he wants to leave the club at the end of the season.
The Raiders have knocked back his request for a release on compassionate grounds, but Milford’s management insists a get-out clause relating to family illness should be honoured so he can return to Brisbane.
The Broncos will jump at the chance to recruit Milford given the dazzling footwork he has showed in his brief NRL career.
It was Milford and St George Illawarra Dragons-bound halfback Sam Williams who kept the Raiders in the contest.
Williams showed several impressive touches in his first game for the Raiders since round seven. With Campese taking no chances with his eye injury, there’s every chance Williams will again be called on to steer the ship.
‘‘The Wighton injury rattled us and put us back a bit,’’ Furner lamented.
‘‘We’ve been through adversity before, but [the points deficit] was too great in the second half to get back.’’