Raiders bunker down together in bid to bond
The Canberra Raiders are bunkering down and bunking together as they attempt to restore team pride and unity ahead of Saturday's must-win match against the Newcastle Knights.
The Raiders have set up camp in Swansea, just south of Newcastle, in response to the horror form slump that has seen them drop to second last on the NRL ladder.
In a further bid to have his players bond, Raiders coach David Furner has roomed the 20-man squad together in only three separate apartments - roommates decided randomly by drawing names out of a hat.
''Normally if you're allowed to just pick, you go with people you're most comfortable with,'' Furner said.
''We haven't had the luxury of rolling out the same side each week and although the guys know each other as a squad I think we've just got to gel a bit more as a team.
''You get to see another side to your teammates. It's a subtle change, it's nothing drastic. I just thought it was a good opportunity this change-up [camp].''
Furner confirmed Raiders coaching staff and players had held an ''honesty session'' following Saturday night's record 40-0 loss to the Wests Tigers. It sparked media speculation on Monday that Furner was going to stand down as coach.
But Furner has reaffirmed his commitment to the task, declaring, ''I'm not a quitter''.
Asked if the honesty session and camp would work, Furner said: ''Time will tell. The players know it [the performance against the Tigers] is not acceptable, so it's about moving on. I wanted to put that game to bed as quick as possible.''
Furner said this week's camp was not only about focusing the squad's game preparation, but also a chance for it to mentally relax outside of football.
''I just talked to them about getting some full focus on training and playing and then when we get away from training we just relax, that's the main thing. It's a young squad and no one likes the situation we were in last week, we've got to get that pride back in the performance.''
The Raiders trained yesterday before having dinner together at the Gunyah Hotel in Belmont, run by former Raiders forward Brett Hetherington. The Raiders will move on to Newcastle tomorrow afternoon to complete their preparation.
Furner yesterday named a 20-man squad for the Newcastle match, sending a message to all players in camp that they are in contention to play.
There are also injury concerns. Lock Shaun Fensom is carrying a persistent knee injury and the club is monitoring him after recent concussions. Forward Sam Mataora is also being troubled by a shoulder injury and did no contact work yesterday.
Despite the Raiders going scoreless against the Tigers, Furner has also maintained the experiment of shifting fullback Josh Dugan to five-eighth.
Prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and halfback Josh McCrone will share the captaincy in the absence of Queensland prop David Shillington, who is replaced in the starting team by former Knights player Dane Tilse.
''Shillo has probably been in career-best form on and off the field, he's been very strong for us, but this is where Tilsey gets an opportunity to start,'' Furner said.
''I'm still confident with Duges and Josh McCrone in the halves.''
The Raiders recently lost the race to sign axed Broncos centre Dane Gagai, who has been named to make his debut with the Knights.