Rugby League


Nice guys finish last

David Furner's sacking followed a number of incidents where a line wasn't drawn in the sand, writes Jon Tuxworth.

Sacked Raiders coach David Furner was told more than a year ago he faced the axe if the team didn't improve when the club called a secret emergency meeting about on-field performances.

Coaching staff were crammed into an office at Raiders headquarters where chief executive Don Furner told them the board wanted answers, and their jobs were in jeopardy.

More than 12 months later, David Furner became the first coach in the club's history to lose his job when the board decided one of the Raiders' favourite sons had to go.

Furner is regarded as one of the NRL's ''great blokes''.

But well-placed sources told Fairfax Media they believe an autocratic coaching style and preferential treatment for star players contributed to his demise.

Furner's five-year tenure was littered with off-field incidents and inconsistent on-field performances.


The board had been one of his biggest backers, but it was fed up last year and Furner and his assistants and strength-and-conditioning staff were summoned to a meeting.

In football manager John Bonasera's office, Don Furner delivered a simple message - all their jobs, including his as chief executive, were on the line. They had until the end of 2012 and the start of 2013 to save their jobs.

The Raiders turned things around on the field and won six of their last seven games to storm into the finals, but it was a Band-Aid solution.

D-day arrived last Tuesday when Furner was cut loose.

Former Raiders assistant coaches Andrew McFadden and Justin Morgan and strength and conditioning coach Matt Ford all left the club last year.

There was a consensus that the decision making process under Furner wasn't democratic enough. The coaches didn't meet for a season review at the end of last year.

Fairfax Media understands communication between Furner and his staff was almost non-existent at times.

And the playing group grew ever restless and sounded out board members to air grievances.

In 200 games for the Raiders, Furner was lauded as one of the game's most ruthless competitors. It seems his near-five year reign as coach came to an abrupt halt partly because he wasn't ruthless enough.

There's a widespread belief Furner paid the price for his compassion for wayward centre Blake Ferguson. But it was merely the last straw as frustration grew within the ranks over the double standards in professionalism allotted to the club's best players.

Some within the club thought there was too much time devoted to game analysis, and not enough on man management. Different rules for different players depending on their ability. A reluctance to punish marquee players heavily enough for a lack of professionalism.

Last year Ferguson and former fullback Josh Dugan, sacked after the pair's infamous rooftop drinking session in March, were suspended for Canberra's round-12 loss to South Sydney for breaching the club's alcohol policy.

Forced to confront the playing group, Dugan and Ferguson lied about the fact they had been drinking until 3am at Canberra nightspot Mesh Bar.

Dugan was set to be spared the axe until he turned up late for a team meeting the next day, giving Furner no choice.

Some other Raiders officials wanted Dugan to be banished to NSW feeder club Mounties for a month. He and Ferguson both returned to first grade the next week as the Raiders were belted 40-0 at home by Wests Tigers.

Ferguson was suspended ''indefinitely'' for his rooftop antics with Dugan. Canberra was thrashed 36-0 by Gold Coast in its next match. Staring at a 0-2 record to start the season, the centre was rushed straight back into first grade the next week.

Before last year's home game against Newcastle, Ferguson and housemate Sandor Earl went out drinking. Both players retained their spots for the game, and the Knights hammered them 36-6.

Some of the players who had always kept their nose clean were growing frustrated.

At the start of this year Dugan failed to show up for end-of-season shoulder surgery. He wasn't disciplined, and his rehabilitation was set back four weeks.

Well-placed sources believe it is the major reason behind Canberra's inconsistent displays, not only week-to-week, but year-to-year.

Several senior players weren't happy when Furner refused to tear up Ferguson's contract after he was charged with indecent assault in the lead-up to Origin II.

Ferguson didn't play in Canberra's horror 68-4 home loss to Melbourne three weeks ago, but the body language from his teammates after he walked out on the field afterward was telling.

Only housemates Earl and Jack Wighton gave him the time of day, the others ignored him.

Some players felt there were double standards in the professionalism expected, depending on ability.

The sight of Dugan regularly sitting out training early in the week was infuriating some of his teammates, who believed they wouldn't be afforded the same latitude. One former Raiders player who played under Furner told Fairfax Media this week: ''There needs to be steps and stages to discipline I think. The inconsistency, it does get frustrating and my whole career I've kept my nose clean, because if you're on that edge [of first grade selection] a club will make an example of you.''

Furner is a staunchly loyal man. He talks about the players like they're part of his extended family.

He said last week: ''You don't go into this job and not care for players. Some of these younger blokes, you're teaching them like they're your kids.''

Furner is considered one of the nicest men in the game and, unfortunately, he paid the price after some players used that to their advantage.