Rugby League


Unity, pizza and home truths inspired Raiders

Consistency was the crucial element the team lacked, writes CHRIS WILSON

RAIDERS coach David Furner says he's not a quitter and would never willingly stand down from his role at the club, despite admitting 2012 was the most frustrating of his NRL career.

Furner also denied he and his coaching staff had received a directive from the Raiders board to deliver results early next season or risk being replaced at the end of 2013.

Proud of how his side finished the season, Furner has opened up about the frustration of trying to establish consistency at the Raiders.

In second-last place at the midpoint of the NRL season and following a 40-0 loss to the Wests Tigers, there was speculation that Furner would stand down or be sacked.

The Raiders eventually clicked in the second half of the season to progress to the second week of the NRL finals, but Furner - contracted until the end of 2014 - said he had never contemplated quitting.

''That's never going to be my decision,'' Furner said. ''I'm all for the club. We all are, from the board, to the players, to the marketing staff. we all want one thing, and that's success.


''If I stood down it would have felt like quitting to me. I kept saying it and I believed it. I was never clearer what this side was capable of - to get to the semi-finals.''

Mid-season speculation linked Furner's former teammate, Ricky Stuart, to the post. Furner admitted he'd sought assurance from Raiders chairman John McIntyre, but he understood why there was speculation.

''[McIntyre] always said that I had his support, but I knew they [the board] needed results and I needed to get this team to the semi-finals. They're doing their job and I needed to do mine.

''With this job, if there are inconsistencies in wins and losses, there's always going to be speculation - that's the nature of the business.

''The board has shown support, but the board wants results, as everyone does, as I do. We're all committed to one result … we're all on one mission.''

Campo and the halves

FURNER admits that Raiders captain and play-maker Terry Campese is unlikely to be fit for Canberra's trial matches next season and is racing to be ready for the start of the season.

Campese has had follow-up surgery on his reconstructed knee and only returned to running this week.

Furner said the performance of young halfback Sam Williams in the finals had convinced him that there was no need to rush Campese's comeback. He said Campese would remain as a first-choice half when fit, while he has ruled out shifting Josh McCrone to hooker, a position he played for NSW Country. It will create competition in the halves.

''It's not only about Campo getting his confidence back, but also playing the footy we know he can,'' Furner said. ''It's a position where we're going to have competition. I thought young Sam Williams, his two semi-finals games were very good, and Josh McCrone had a really consistent season. It's a good position to be in.''


HAVING retained assistant coach Justin Morgan despite approaches from the New Zealand Warriors, Furner intends to bolster his support staff for 2013.

He has interviewed for a new strength and conditioning coach, whom he expects to appoint this week.

Furner also wants to appoint a sports-science guru and high-performance manager, which may be combined into one full-time role.

''It's just making sure that individually the players can be managed: their total recovery, the right foods, there's elements I think we can use as a team … it's about being at the forefront.''

The Raiders expect to announce soon the re-signing of veteran utility Shaun Berrigan and winger Sandor Earl.

The Raiders have also recruited backrowers Joel Edwards from Newcastle and Jake Foster from the Bulldogs, but Furner hasn't ruled out more additions when the NRL's salary cap figure is finalised.

The Raiders will be restricted, however, given upgrades to exciting rookies such as Jack Wighton and Edrick Lee.

The reward

WRITTEN OFF at the halfway point of the season, the Raiders won nine of their final 12 games to charge into sixth spot.

Watching his team win a home semi-final against the Sharks was the highlight of Furner's year, but he said he got no extra satisfaction from proving his doubters wrong.

''It's collective … we all needed that reward,'' Furner said. ''The satisfaction for me was seeing the players play that type of footy in front of their home crowd. They needed that as much as me.

''I said to the players after [the season], I'm very proud of what we eventually achieved but we can't be comfortable with that.''

He said it had been a frustrating search for consistency, but the team now finally believed in their capabilities.

''I think I was more frustrated because I just believed this group was capable of making the semi-finals. We just had to work through some adversity. If I was to sum up the season, it's that consistency week in and week out that we need to work on as a group.

''It was a concern because you could be brilliant one week then there'd be a blowout the next.''

Turning points

CANBERRA'S season was full of potential turning points that saw them eventually get the formula right.

Stars Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson were stood down in round 12 for breaching the club's alcohol policy before training, sending a message that everyone was accountable to the team.

But the biggest shift came after the 40-0 loss to the Tigers at home in round 13, the Raiders booed from the field by their fans. Furner took the team away into camp for a week, before their next match against Newcastle.

''I remember holding the door open and the players coming in. They were shattered,'' Furner said of the loss to the Tigers. ''There was some abuse [from fans] hurled at the players that didn't need it.

''When I drove home from the stadium I rang management and said I want to take the players away because I knew I couldn't build any confidence back into the side because everyone you bumped into would be asking, 'what happened?'

''I called a meeting on the Sunday and I think the players must have thought I was going to rip shreds off them, but I actually bought some pizzas and we just talked about the game.

''That [camp] started to build belief in the side … we felt more like a team.''

The Raiders also adopted the tactic for home games, turning around their horrible form at Canberra Stadium by going into camp on the eve of matches.

The Raiders won their last five home games after staying at Rydges Eaglehawk, but Furner hasn't determined if it will continue.

''We'll make a collective call on what's best for the team, but I think we can go past that.''