Sick and tired senior players want Blake Ferguson sacked from Canberra, with Test front-rower David Shillington quitting the club's leadership group over the leniency shown by coach David Furner to the banned NSW State of Origin winger.
In a development indicative of tension behind the scenes in the national capital, it can be revealed senior players are unhappy they continue to be overruled in their efforts to come down hard on the wayward winger, and previously, their problematic former fullback Josh Dugan.
The final straw for fed-up Australian prop Shillington came when the 23-year-old was not sacked after police charged him with the indecent assault of a woman at a Cronulla nightclub last month. Ferguson, who was out with Dugan on the evening of the alleged offence, was to enter NSW Origin camp with his former club teammate the next day but subsequently had his registration suspended by the NRL.
He is due to face Waverley Local Court next Tuesday, the day before the third and deciding match of the Origin series in Sydney. While Ferguson has been sidelined by administrators since the incident, the issue of his future remains a bone of contention in Canberra. Shillington's standing down from the senior player group followed that of another former member of thatunit, Shaun Berrigan. According to club sources, the leadership group – which after Shillington's withdrawal comprises captain Terry Campese, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Dane Tilse, Brett White, Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone and new member Jarrod Croker – wanted Ferguson's contract torn up after he and Dugan missed a recovery session in March and posted a photograph online that showed them drinking.
Instead, only NSW fullback Dugan was sacked – he later signed with St George Illawarra – with Ferguson suspended for one match, fined $10,000 and ordered to undergo counselling. Sources say Furner told frustrated senior players at the time that Ferguson was on his last warning. It has left them incredulous that he has since been spared again – even though he is yet to face court – prompting Shillington's exit from the leadership group.
Furner said on Thursday he believed Shillington had left the senior players group because of his own poor form and not in relation to the Ferguson issue. ''I can understand if some of the players are angry because he's out for four weeks and the team wants to concentrate on playing good football without these distractions,'' Furner said.
The angst over the handling of Ferguson and until March, Dugan, spans back well before this season. Senior players had before the infamous rooftop session called for the pair to be sacked, such was their destabilising influence.
Last year, they wanted them stood down and playing reserve grade for three weeks over alcohol breaches – Dugan for drinking when injured; Ferguson for reporting to training still affected by alcohol. Instead, they were stood down for one match – a round-12 defeat to South Sydney – and had the weekend off rather than being relegated to the second tier. Players have also recommended Ferguson undergo counselling on a full-time basis but that has also been turned down.
Canberra have sacked Todd Carney and Dugan over off-field issues and seen both go on to perform well for other clubs. As a result there is a reluctance to essentially hand another young star to a rival but Ferguson's ''soft'' treatment is alienating other players. Shillington declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax Media.