Player power shouldn't make coaching a popularity contest
David Furner ... managed to overcome difficult relationships with some of his players at the Raiders. Photo: Karleen Minney
As the Raiders prepare for Saturday night's clash with South Sydney, Canberra officials should be grateful fate intervened to prevent them from listening to disgruntled players and sacking coach David Furner.
Brian Smith's axing last week has highlighted the rise of ''player power'' in determining the future of coaches, with Sydney Roosters officials saying they had no alternative because he had ''lost the dressing room''.
It was a similar situation with Brian McLennan at the Warriors - ''Bluey'' was a popular figure at the start of the season but the Herald has been told that by the time of his departure the players ''couldn't stand him''.
Relationships may have not been that strained at Canberra but support for Furner was tested when he stood down Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson for disciplinary reasons mid-season. After winning just four of their opening 12 matches, the Raiders began lining up Ricky Stuart and only his decision to accept the Parramatta job after Stephen Kearney's sacking changed those plans.
But what gives any player the right to decide the fate of their coach if their careers haven't reached any heights of greatness or aren't performing on the field?
At the Roosters, veteran fullback Anthony Minichiello is the sole survivor from the 2002 premiership-winning team and while skipper Braith Anasta won a grand final with the Bulldogs in 2004, he is leaving to join Wests Tigers next season.
Halfback Mitchell Pearce has worn the NSW No.7 jersey in the past eight Origin matches but the Blues have not won a series since 2005 and his spot in the team is far from guaranteed next season.
After returning to Sydney with the NSW team after Origin III, Pearce had to be convinced to go from the airport to a meeting with Smith about the Roosters next game against Cronulla, which ended in an embarrassing 14-all draw after neither he or Blues five-eighth Todd Carney could kick a field goal in extra time.
The Roosters, who boast the NRL's youngest roster, won just two of their remaining eight games.
After negative feedback from the players during a review last week, the Roosters reversed an earlier decision to give Smith a chance to work with Sonny Bill Williams next season and fired a coach who had overseen more than 600 premiership games and taken three clubs to four grand finals, including the Roosters in 2010.
In his place, they have appointed Trent Robinson - a coach with great promise, who has taken Catalans to back-to-back finals series in Super League and was a popular choice among the players.
But Robinson and the Roosters need only look across the Tasman to see how fickle players are, as McLennan's appointment to replace the hard-nosed Ivan Cleary this season was enthusiastically welcomed at the Warriors. Like the Roosters, the Warriors have a young squad that this season featured 11 members of their 2010 and 2011 under-20s premiership-winning teams.
The Herald has been told McLennan changed almost everything the Warriors had done under Cleary and the players initially appreciated that they trained less and the sessions weren't as hard.
But they failed to perform for him and in hindsight some within the club feel the Warriors should have promoted Cleary's assistant coach Tony Iro, in the same way Manly replaced Des Hasler with his offsider Geoff Toovey.
Toovey lobbied the Sea Eagles board to ensure key members of the coaching staff remained and he has maintained most of the structures Hasler put in place with great success this season given what the club has had to endure on and off the field.
The Warriors retained Iro as McLennan's assistant and he is now the preferred choice of the players to take over next season.
Iro is considered a good coach who is ready for the step up to the top job but coaching in the NRL shouldn't be a popularity contest.