Canberra Raiders coach David Furner and his wife Kellie, who has been battling breast cancer. Photo: Lyn Mills
Canberra Raiders players have lauded the toughness and courage of coach David Furner and his wife Kellie in her battle with breast cancer.
During the most intense season of Furner's coaching career, Kellie underwent a double mastectomy in February after doctors found cancer in both her breasts, it was revealed yesterday. She has had three major operations this year and has another scheduled next month.
Furner kept the news of his wife's condition private, only passing on limited information to the playing group.
Prop David Shillington, who captained the team last season in Terry Campese's absence, said what Furner was going through put everything else in perspective.
''When I had a few tough times, I certainly wouldn't speak up knowing what he was going through,'' Shillington said.
''Other issues I wanted to whinge about I didn't, because it was minuscule compared to what he was having. You can't understate how much character he's shown in such a high-pressure environment.
''I've been amazed at his dedication and his relationship with the players never wavered during the year. His application to work too, coming in at 5 o'clock in the mornings sometimes and staying 'til five in the arvo and throwing everything into it.''
Furner had to contend with intense speculation about his coaching future after the club's embarrassing 40-0 loss to the Wests Tigers in June. The Raiders were second-last on the ladder and Furner's former premiership-winning teammate Ricky Stuart had been linked to the job.
Furner's resolve was justified as the Raiders stormed home in the second half of the season, winning nine of their last 11 games to earn a home semi-final against the Cronulla Sharks.
The Raiders beat the Sharks in front of a sold-out Canberra Stadium before they were knocked out the following week against South Sydney.
Just weeks before the start of the NRL season, Furner was by his wife's side when she underwent the operation in Sydney.
Due to hormonal cancer, she has since had her ovaries removed too.
Campese was one of the first players to be made aware of Kellie's condition. He found out soon after he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Brisbane Broncos in April.
''I probably knew a little bit more than everyone else because I wasn't playing and it didn't affect my preparation,'' Campese said.
''A few of the boys knew, but I don't think everyone knew the extent of how bad it was. It wasn't really discussed.
''I don't know if I could've kept it [work and personal life] as separate. It shows what a tough person he is to get through all that along with going through the tough time at the Raiders.''
Furner prefers to keep his personal life private, but went public to show his wife's strength as an inspiration for others.
He has been a long-term ambassador for the Eden Monaro Cancer Support Group.
The Furners are childhood sweethearts and have three children together - Maddie, 18, Kyle, 15 and 10-year-old Bella.
Front-rower Tom Learoyd-Lahrs said Kellie was as tough as her husband, who is a Raiders great.
''A lot of women would have asked for a bit more help, it shows how much character she has as well,'' Learoyd-Lahrs said.
''He does as much as he can, when he can, for her to give her blessing to keep coaching. Hopefully the worst of it is behind her and everything starts to come good.''