From The Couch: Round 24

Filed in From The Couch, NRL by on August 26, 2013

Furner Fired … At Last: The Raiders have finally done the smart thing and punted coach David Furner. Furner became the first coach in the history of the Raiders to be fired mid-contract. He was informed by his brother.

While Furner should have been fired at least three seasons ago, it does come as a surprise. Raiders chairman John McIntyre did provide these quotes last year, after all.

David Furner will "most definitely" be in charge until the end of 2014.

"The winning percentage of a football team has got absolutely no correlation with the ability of a coach. None at all. It's more about the individual performances of those fellas to make up a team."

Fellow board member John Mackay provided this gem as well:

If we had a choice between David and someone who was there to win games and nothing else, we'd have David every time. He'd have to lose another 30 games…He has my support and the board's support, which runs deeper than a losing streak.''

Furner provided little for the Raiders and it is astonishing that he managed to remain for the better part of five seasons with a win percentage of just 43.5%. The constant slow starts to seasons merely highlighted how many pre-seasons Furner wasted. The team rarely had an identity. He did a poor job on recruitment and a horrendous job on retention. He rarely made the tough calls, allowing the playing group to get away with far too many bad habits and ordinary efforts. The attacking flair he inherited quickly dissipated but there was no notable improvement defensively.

The year before Furner took over the Raiders, the club scored 640 points in the regular season. The best they have managed on Furner’s watch was 545, a decline of 14.8% in his best season. Defensively, Furner’s teams were worse than in 2008 on three occasions (in 2011 96 points worse) and his best improvement was a mere 5.7%.

The Raiders made the smart call to sack Furner. He will never be a head coach in the NRL again, be sure and certain of that. It doesn’t appear that the Raiders have learnt too many lessons though with rumours swirling that they are prepared to offer Ricky Stuart – the man who has coached his team to the wooden spoon, who has a win rate of less than 40% since Brad Fittler’s retirement and who has had one winning season in his last six – an incredible seven-year deal worth $7 million.

If the rumour is indeed true, the Raiders are actually dumber than the Eels and they deserve to go broke and run last for many, many years. They would be better advised to pay Stuart $1 million to never set foot in Canberra again.

The Raiders need stability and they need experience but most of all they need talent – both on and off the field. Rick Stone is one man who should be looked at, as should Brad Arthur. The Raiders simply need to look outside their nest.

Don’t be surprised though if they make a bid to bring Tim Sheens back. It isn’t the long-term answer for the club but it would not shock if they were swept up in the romanticism of it all, bringing back their only premiership winning coach nearly two decades after he left. It would at least put some excitement back into a club that desperately needs it and it may see talent actually come and stay in the capital. At least for a little while.

Last week I wrote that the club was in crisis. They have made a positive step. Their next move, however, will be their most critical.

Drop Benji Now: Benji Marshall showed what he can do on Saturday. He ran the ball, he played with conviction and he played with conviction. It was the first time this year. He will play his 200th game this weekend. He shouldn’t be there. To sign the online petition demanding his dropping, click here.

Snowden Stiff: Kade Snowden is dreadfully unlucky to be facing a nine-week suspension from the NRL for his shot on Ray Thompson that left the Cowboys hooker nursing a broken jaw. There is no question the shot was late and it was high but it is debatable whether Snowden intended to hit Thompson. It is certainly not a win for the moralisers who have been trying to ban the shoulder charge. This is a penalty – and a send off – that would have happened in any era because the shot was brutal even if total culpability may not rest with Snowden. No, the politically correct moralisers are responsible for Josh Reynolds getting penalised for a wonderful shot late against the Bunnies and any other number of good defensive plays this year. Snowden deserves a penalty. But to give him nine weeks is insane.

What The Wallace: One of the saddest moments on the critically acclaimed and damn brilliant television series The Wire was when Wallace, a 16-year-old low-level peddler who looked after his brothers and sisters, was shot by friends Bodie and Poot. One of the saddest moments in Penrith’s history will be the day they signed halfback Peter Wallace for three years. Securing the slowest, least creative halfback in the game is not a smart way to build a roster.

League On The Stump: Rugby league has been front and centre of the 2013 election campaign and was central last week with the second debate held at Broncos Leagues Club and both the Coalition and the ALP rolling out the pork in Brisbane. The Coalition have offered to contribute $5 million to a high performance unit for the Broncos while the ALP have offered $3 million for a Junior Academy in Logan. The Broncos look certain to have a new high performance unit. It is great to see league getting its due.

A Dour Challenge Cup Final: While we didn’t get a classic like the ’85 decider played between Wigan and Hull – primarily thanks to a rain-sodden London – it was an exciting and intense game with plenty of familiar faces. Gareth Ellis busted a rib, Sam Tomkins scored the sealer, Pat Richards took care of Wigan’s kicking and Daniel Holdsworth was typically horrendous. Wigan took the Cup 16-0 in the end, their second Cup in three years. There are few more compelling events than the Challenge Cup final.

Farewell, Brett Finch: Gee, if there was one player who was easy to hate, it was Brett Finch. A chatty, belligerent, cheeky whinger in his early days, it is easy to remember him in tears after he famously tried to kick an optional 20-metre restart out and put it over on the full, allowing the Knights a shot at goal to win the game. The play summed up Finch though. He was always willing to try his hand, back himself. And he did so during good runs with the Roosters and Eels, his most memorable moment coming in the 2006 opener when, as a late inclusion, he kicked the winning field goal. He moved to Melbourne mid-season in 2009 and was the perfect foil for Cooper Cronk, the duo combining to win a title. Finch returned this year after a stint at Wigan and after biding his time in reserve grade, has been brilliant as the Storm have made their title move. He remains cheeky, a real character, but it is hard not to love him these days, a player who prizes winning over money, his teammates over self-gratification, a character and a loyal one at that.

Farewell, Matt Cooper: He was loved by the ladies and revered by the Red V faithful after a career as one of the top defensive centres the code has known but leaves the game, sadly, in a whimper as injuries finally bested his over his last two seasons. While he was never the fastest or the most skilled, he was impossible to get past, a great reader of attacking play and a heavy hitter. A staple in the Dragons backline, he will be sorely missed.

Farewell, Scott Prince: Few players of Prince’s class have been the journeymen that Prince became – or the loser, really – but the halfback won a title with the Tigers in 2005 and while inconsistent, rated among the game’s best as late as 2010 after debuting in 1998. He represented Australia and Queensland – but never locked down a spot with either – and won a plethora of awards but will retire as the player who has endured the most NRL losses at 164. At his best, he was one hell of a player. It was a peak he could rarely find though.

Farewell, Matt King: Matt King also says goodbye to rugby league this week. King has struggled since returning to Souths but was a star who was a star between 2005 and 2007, playing for New South Wales and Australia and winning a premiership. While he will often be remembered for his silly haircuts but he was a quality centre/winger with great skill. He, no doubt, regrets leaving the Storm and Australia at just 27 though.

No Couch Next Week: Due to a non-rugby league engagement, there will be no From The Couch next week. The Willie M votes will still be filed at the regular time.

Fun Fact #1: The Melbourne Storm became the first team in premiership history to record two 60-point wins in a month and the only team to record two 60-point wins in a season when rolling the Parramatta Eels 64-4.

Fun Fact #2: The Storm recorded the 25th 60-point win in premiership history: of those, just four have gone on to win the title.

Fun Fact #3: The last team to score a 60-point win in August and go on to win the premiership were the Bulldogs in 1995.

Rumour Mill: Speculation over the future of Sam Tomkins continues to mount. After his Challenge Cup win over the weekend, there were indications from Wigan coach Shaun Wane that he would remain with the Cherry and Whites. Canterbury have also made a late bid for the superstar after resigning themselves to the fact Ben Barba will be a Bronco next year. All is not well at Manly with a major rift tearing the club apart. On one side, the prickly Stewart boys. On the other, up and comer Daly Cherry-Evans. Ricky Stuart has supposedly been offered a ridiculous seven-year deal by the Raiders, the most ridiculous coaching deal ever been put forward. Brian Smith, Michael Hagan and Andrew Dunemann have all been linked to the Canberra job, as has Tim Sheens. Expect Blake Ferguson to end up at the Sharks in 2014.

What I Love About … Luke Brooks: Wowee! What a debut! The kid who has been compared to Andrew Johns was an absolute superstar on debut. At just 18, he has a future as bright as Broncos jersey. He could not have impressed any more in his two-assist, one-try showing. With a mop of hair and a willingness to take the line on, he looks like the No.7 for a decade at least. He has so much time and his directness was so beneficial to the Tigers’ outside backs. He is ready for the big time. It is just unfortunate that NRL red tape will keep him out until next year.

Funniest Eels Moment of the Week: Dreadful Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart was this weekend reportedly offered a seven-year, $7 million deal to coach the Canberra Raiders. And the Parramatta board have not already signed Stuart’s release and asked him to collect his belongings and say his goodbyes. Kerry Packer had just one Alan Bond. The Parramatta Eels are only going to get one Canberra Raiders. They had better not blow it.

Betting Market of the Week: After the Raiders throw $7 million at Ricky Stuart, other offers that will follow include:

$4.00: A $513 million investment for sideline icebaths at Canberra Stadium
$3.50: A $6 million annual payment to anybody named Furner who lives in Canberra or Queanbeyan
$2.25: A $1 million-a-season contract for Ben Roberts to replace Anthony Milford and Sam Williams
$2.00:  A grand total of $14.73 spent on hookers and quality rakes

Power Rankings:
1. Melbourne 15-6-1 (1)
2. Sydney Roosters 17-5 (2)
3. South Sydney 17-5 (3)
4. Manly 14-7-1 (4)
5. Cronulla 13-9 (7)
6. Canterbury 12-10 (5)
7. North Queensland 10-12 (9)
8. Newcastle 10-11-1 (6)
9. Penrith 10-12 (11)
10. Gold Coast 9-13 (10)
11. Brisbane 10-11-1 (9)
12. New Zealand 10-12 (13)
13. Canberra 10-12 (11)
14. Wests Tigers 7-15 (15)
15. St George Illawarra 6-16 (14)
16. Parramatta 4-18 (16)

Combo XIII of the Week: To honour the top-of-the-table clash between South Sydney and Canterbury – well, good clash at any rate – we look at the top players to have represented both the Bulldogs and the Bunnies.

1.Scott Wilson
2. Jason Williams
3. Bernie Lowther
4. Nigel Vagana
5. Paul Mellor
6. Neil Baker
7. Joe Williams
13. Phil Gould
12. Gary Stevens
11. Bob McCarthy
10. Peter Tunks
9. Fred Anderson
8. Roy Asotasi

Correspondence Corner: Penrith Fan, I don’t hate Manly at all. To the contrary, they would be in my top half of liked sides. On reflection, I may have gone off the deep end on Toovey. He was right on the diving and the leg pulling. The point is though that his massive blow-ups are covering up his failings as a coach and he did go to the integrity of officials.

Anonymous, I don’t know what a Dutch Rudder is and I don’t think I want to.

Anonymous, I never said GI and Souths were alone in this, merely the latest culprits. Jason Clark did it again on Friday. I listed two previous culprits. I agree that incidents of foul play need to be picked up by the four on-field officials.

Anonymous, when Paul Gallen feigned an injury, it was cowardly. As readers of this column know, I am a big fan of Gallen – gushing about his weekly performances. People who fake injury are cowards though. Full stop.

Anonymous, I agree that it was probably a try but I also support the new rules that give far greater consistency to their application.

WittyReference, it is too a shame Hoffman didn’t come down and a real shame if he is stuck on the wing because he is such a talent.

Anonymous, I do expect clubs to honour their word. Just as players who get paid out and coaches who get paid out do.

Anonymous, Michael Maguire is from the Storm school of discipline and I love that. He does take the thug thing too far though.

Semi Pro, it is a shame so many aboriginal greats go before their time.

Bear, I do agree that the Bunnies push the envelope but I feel they were far more ill disciplined before Maguire arrived. Remember Issac Luke losing the plot a few years back?

Anonymous, I have no agenda. Other than to defend rugby league. Benji played hard against the Dragons. About time as well. He is on $500,000-plus a year. He should be running that hard every week.

Anonymous, of course I don’t watch rugby union. I just deal in generalities and stereotypes. It is a soft sport for toffs and fools. I was disgusted at SBW, yes. But he was never one of mine. I was more saddened when Steve Price left. And you talk of managing people. That works both ways. And Canterbury should not pay and the Raiders should not pay and Barba certainly shouldn’t be able to profit with a bigger contract at Canterbury’s expense.

Tony Monero, I saw John Fordham in Redfern on Saturday with his grandkid. She didn’t know she was walking in the presence of greatness.

The Coaching Crosshairs: The shock loss to the Tigers last Saturday afternoon should see Steve Price terminated as the Dragons head coach. The calls to ‘Dice Price’  have been out for most of the season but an outrageous hammering at the hands of the Tigers will be the last straw. The club is going hard at Tim Sheens but will find an experienced mentor to coach the side in 2014.

The Life and Times of the Special Needs Penguin: Ben Pomeroy was “a certain selection” in ‘Something Clever’s’ Ben Roberts' All-Stars team, found here.”This selection was easy. When I told a Sharks fan I was writing this article the response was that Pomeroy and one other player (coming up later) absolutely had to be selected. Pomeroy is supposed to be a solid defensive centre but he honestly isn’t that good defensively and has never been good at attack. He is very similar to Kenny-Dowall in terms of his errors and brain explosions and Sharks fans can’t stand him. When I thought of doing this article, Pomeroy was never in doubt.”

Game of the Year Nomination, Round 24: St George Illawarra-Wests Tigers, 22-36. The game meant nothing in the context of the premiership but it was a remarkable game, a sunny Sydney Saturday afternoon at the SCG to honour the 50-year anniversary of the famous ’63 Grand Final. Luke Brooks was magnificent on debut, the Tigers played as well as they have all year and the footy was end-to-end. A great game for a great anniversary.

Beard Watch: Perhaps if Fuifui Moimoi spent as much time hitting the ball up and making his tackles as he does doing his hair perhaps he wouldn’t prove such a liability for a team who could desperately use him.

Watch It: Malcolm Reilly is, according to the great Ian Heads and any other number of good judges, the hardest player to ever play the game. The only Englishman to play in and coach an Australian premiership, Reilly did it all. Brian Carney revisits his time in the game with his outstanding interview. Watch it here.


Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Snowden's punishment is more than fair. You drop the shoulder, you run the risk. I do agree that Reynolds penalty was ridiculous. But they are 2 contrasting examples of a shoulder charge gone wrong and one done right.

    The Penguin man handled the franchise SBW on Monday night. As a Sharks fan I want him gone due to his hands, or should I say flippers and his terrible defensive instincts, or lack there of. I do think he deserves a wrap for containing one of the games best though.

    Ferguson coming to Cronulla. I dread the thought. I'd rather keep the Penguin! Ferguson is an immature, out of control moron. He will take a level headed, grown up Carney and drag him back into alcoholism. Alot of Sharks fans seem to be excited about his, they are idiots!

  2. SemiiPro says:

    I’m overseas again but the debacle in Canberra has made news everywhere. Ricky Stuart’s latest book – ‘How to be a complete failure and garner multi-million dollar contracts’ – is selling like hot cakes all over the place. And every tv in the universe is tuned to ReversoWorld.

    Seriously, there is only way to stop this madness: bring in the death penalty for stupid RL board decisions. I’m guessing it would only take 10-20 executions of dumb board members before people would stop offering Ricky Stuart a job.

    But, I could be wrong on that. There will always be RL board members willing to risk their lives to insult the fans of their club.