Canberra Raiders: David Furner released from his contract

The Board of Directors of the Canberra Raiders have confirmed that they have today terminated the contract of coach David Furner and appointed Andrew Dunemann in his place for the rest of the season. The link to the official confirmation is here: http://www.raiders.com.au/news-display/Raiders-board-decision-on-Coach-David-Furner/82437

As a long time Raiders fan to say this is saddening would be an understatement. In his 5 years at the helm the Raiders may only have won 43% of their games. Terrible seasons in 2009 and 2011 were dovetailed with finals appearances in 2010 and 2012 against expectations and the team is still in the hunt for the finals this season. There are plenty of other coaches going around that would be very happy with that record given the player list Furner has had to work with.

There has been no other coach who has had to deal with more idiocy from within his own player group than Furner; such idiocy reached its epoch this season with the conduct of Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson and their clear lack of respect for him is a disgrace to say the least. Through all of that he acted in a reasonable and responsible way and always had the best interests of the club at heart.

I am stunned by this decision and can only hope now that the Raiders lift under Dunemann for the last games of the season and make the finals. Otherwise sacking the coach now has all been for nothing and could be considered nothing more than a disrespectful end for a wonderful servant of the club.

Canberra Raiders: Ferguson, Milford and the quest for players who want to play

Is there a week that goes by in the NRL at the moment where there is not some off field “news” about a Canberra Raiders player? Of recent weeks, whilst the team that I have followed for nearly two decades has been in the midst of playing the top 5 teams back to back and losing, the only news one seems to read is of players wanting a release from their contracts. Coming after the Josh Dugan debacle of earlier in the season, this constant cloud over the Raiders is almost becoming too much for this lifelong fan to bear.

I am not going to rehash all of the news of recent weeks save to say that it seems pretty clear that Blake Ferguson and Anthony Milford do not want to be at the club. In Ferguson’s case, whether he was on the grog at the weekend or not, he has shown nothing that could even be considered as resembling interest in being at the club since his return to the fold following his suspension over sexual assault allegations. The club stood behind him and now he, seemingly, not only wants to leave but cannot be bothered to watch a whole game that he was allegedly too injured to play? What a fine way to repay the faith the Raiders showed in him.

The Milford case is a sad one given his father’s illness. I would have more sympathy though if his manager was not in the press last week spruiking that his player, Milford, would consider boycotting the whole of the 2014 season if the Raiders did not grant him a release. It is important to note here three things:

1. Milford is a young man and is obviously close to his family. It is entirely understandable, as a human being, that he would want to be close to his father.

2. The Raiders have invested significantly in Milford given that they gave him an opportunity in their SG Ball side, after he had played with feeder club Souths Logan as a junior, and then the under 20 team before he hit the big time in the NRL this season. What I am saying is, this is not a player developed by another club who had been swooped upon when disaffected by the club. Simply: he was developed by the Raiders into the player he is.

3. It is pretty obvious that he does not want to be at the club next year.

That last point is the real issue for me: I just want to see a Raiders 17 on the weekend that wants to play for the club. Not one that is filled with players on the way out, wanting to be out or focused on their own agendas ahead of what is best for the club. If Ferguson and Milford do not want to play in the green jersey, then surely the best thing for all involved is to cut them lose and get players in that want to play for our proud club.

I know that is a painful suggestion given the players that the Raiders have had to give up in recent times but, in time, to have developed a squad of players who actually want to play in Canberra into a winning line up would surely be more satisfying that having to put up with the rabble we, as fans, have to put up with now.

I will always be a fan of the Canberra Raiders. It is striking though that this is the first year in my recent memory when I have not made a trip to Canberra from Brisbane to watch my team play. Indeed as close as two seasons ago I would travel to Canberra Stadium two or three teams a year. Maybe my disaffection with the NRL in general is colouring my love of my team but maybe, also, this seemingly constant wave of player disenfranchisement is also having an impact.

I crave the week, then month and then season where the team running out for the Raiders is one entirely united to cause of winning for the club and the fans. At the moment it feels like that week is a long way away.

Rugby League: Hey Channel 9, why do you refuse to play the Raiders?

I am a Canberra Raiders fan of some 28 years standing and, if you follow my twitter feed, you will know my absolute disgust with the way this mighty club is being treated by the funder of the competition: Channel 9. For those who have missed it, the Canberra Raiders will be shown once this year on Free to Air Television by Channel 9. That is right: from 22 possible games this season the Raiders will be shown in 4.17% of those games on Channel 9. Now many fans out there are probably thinking: “who cares, the Raiders are crap anyway!” but that thinking belies the fact that with 6 rounds to go the Raiders presently sitting in 7th spot and have a real chance of making the finals.

For those wondering how their team fairs by comparison to the Raiders, the table is instructive:

NRL 2

Some very interesting trends flow from the table:

1. The games on Channel 9 that include a team in bottom 3 of the draw (33) account for more games than those of Sea Eagles, Sharks, Raiders and Knights (all of whom are in the top 8) combined.
2. The Eels may, depending on results, end up playing as many games shown on free to air TV as the number of points they win during the course of the season.
3. Statistically, if your team has historically hailed from the Sydney (Rabbitohs, Roosters, Dragons), Western Sydney (Bulldogs, Wests Tigers, Eels) or Brisbane (Broncos) areas you have a statistical probability of seeing your team play 52% of the time on Channel 9 (88 showings out of a possible 168 games) versus a probability of 29% if your team hails from areas outside of those historical geographic locations.

Now, the apologists for Channel 9 will say two things:

1. They have paid for the rights and they can show whomever they wish on their channel; and
2. They chose at the start of the year the teams that they thought would go well this season but they were wrong so stop whingeing.

The first argument shows the difficult conundrum that arises when the influences of commercial imperatives collide with the trusteeship of the game that goes with being the rights holder. I accept that there are commercial benefits to Channel 9 in showing the teams that they are showing however surely that commercial benefit outweighs the importance to the standing of the game and the future of said game that is secured by showing all of the teams that play it rather than just the chosen few that currently get airtime.

The second argument is a fallacy. That is because, whilst the Channel 9 had to set the schedule for games to be televised for the first 20 weeks of the season in October 2012, they have recently, with the knowledge of position of the teams on the ladder and their form had the ability to set the schedule for the last 6 rounds of the competition. It is that setting of the schedule armed with that knowledge that raises the question in the title to this post and the hackles of fans of the Raiders (and some other teams).

For the six games that Channel 9 got to choose who they showed on their station armed with factors such as position on the table and form line this is who they chose:

NRL 3

Can anyone explain to me why Channel 9 would decide to show the bottom dwelling Eels in 4 of 6 games on their channel? It just beggars belief that they would chose to show such a team instead of the Raiders who are in the top 8 or the Cronulla Sharks for that matter who are also in the top 8. The Broncos have received six games out of six on free to air television despite their woeful form and position on the ladder but that is understandable given the parlous state of the Queensland teams in this competition at the moment and the fact that Channel 9 have to show something watchable for Queensland fans (they can not all be fans of their original team still like me).

Some will argue that the Eels are being shown on Channel 9 because they are playing teams from the top 8 and thus Channel 9 showing the top teams despite their lowly position. That argument does not wash though when you consider the road to the finals that the Raiders face. Again, in case you missed it, the Raiders will play the Storm, Roosters, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs in the space of four consecutive weeks.

I know I am a strident Raiders fan, but can any fair minded NRL fan like me in the eye and say that the allocation of the games by Channel 9 on free to air is good for the game or, even, fair?

So with all of the facts above, I will finish by posing the question in the title again: Channel 9 … why do you refuse to play the Canberra Raiders on your channel? I, as a fan of the Raiders and the game, would love to know … and I am sure many others would like to know too!

Josh Dugan: will the real NRL actually stand up? We all know they will not!

I read today that Josh Dugan, a player recently fired by the Canberra Raiders and then inexplicably rehired by the St George Dragons, feels like he was hardly done by by the Canberra Raiders when they fired him.

In case you missed them, here are some of Josh Dugan’s comments published in the media:

He ‘‘didn’t really get too much of a chance to say anything,’’ as the Raiders were deciding whether to sack him.

He wasn’t treated fairly and ‘‘that’s on the NRL, and that’s on the Raiders’’.

He and Blake Ferguson’s choice to have a rooftop drinking session instead of going to recovery was ‘‘just two mates kicking back, having a drink and that’s all there is to it.’’

He did the right thing by choosing not to attend training because ‘‘both me and Blake were a bit drunk, we felt if we went to recovery it would’ve been worse than missing a half hour swim.’’

He was ‘‘thrown on the scrap heap and I wasn’t too happy about it.’’

So what do we glean from all of this? Obviously he does not think that he did anything wrong. Indeed he has the gall to defend his behaviour and therein lies my angst. I am a Canberra Raiders fan and have been since 1985: I continue to be astonished that he was allowed to remain in the game let alone rejoin a competing club some 4 weeks after he was sacked.

To add insult to injury whilst his removal is not “on” the NRL as Dugan suggests the fact that he remains in the game and obvious does not understand the gravity of his actions absolutely is “ON” the NRL. Given that the objective facts reported in the papers today do not go anywhere near supporting his delusions one wonders what steps will the NRL take to deal with said delusions?

Before I posit an answer, here are some of the objective facts:

Where Dugan suggest he was not allowed to speak in his defence he ignores that he was invited to a board meeting to plead his case but did not deign to attend the meeting.

Where Dugan suggests that the incident was nothing more than a couple of mates kicking back and having a drink, it has been widely reported that the drinking incident was the final straw in a long line of behavioural incidents. Indeed, as reported today, the Raiders sent a dossier of incidents to the NRL containing details of 18 infringements, five of which involved police.

In the face of those objective facts the NRL still deigned to allow him to remain in the game. That is entirely up to them obviously but given the delusions of the man that the NRL have inexplicably sought to protect in circumstances where they have not protected others (Carney and Monaghan from the same club in fact) and the damage that this fiasco continues to do to the game: should they now step in and actually take further action?

I think they absolutely should look at Dugan’s continued place in the game. His conduct before and at the time of his sacking from the Raiders was frankly bad enough BUT his absolute lack of contrition for his actions, delusion or otherwise, has to warrant action by the NRL. Any fair minded supporter of the game must be thinking the same thing: if nothing else because of the manifest injustice that has been done in not punishing Dugan as they did others in similar circumstances. AND lets not forget the damage this is doing to the game.

Of course we all know the NRL will do nothing: Dugan is a newly anointed State of Origin star and puts bums on seats and is, it would seem, a protected species. One wonders what it will actually take for the NRL to do something about Dugan’s conduct and how much more damage he will do to the game in the meantime.

Player Behaviour: Ferguson, Dugan, Tamou, Warner and the lament of a fan

The events of today in Rugby League in Australia have again led to a player being suspended from a representative game and have his contract, for all intents and purposes, ripped up (I am aware that his registration has been suspended and not cancelled but lets be honest, that is the next step). The punishment meted out on Blake Ferguson tonight, it must be noted, is as a result of a series of breaches of the rules surrounding player contracts regarding alcohol and bringing the game into disrepute. Tonight’s incident was just the straw that broke the camel’s back it seems.

If the ultimate outcome hypothesised tonight, that Blake Ferguson will be out of a Canberra Raiders jersey for at least the rest of the season, becomes a reality then the issue of player behaviour will leave the Canberra Raiders without, arguably, their two best players for the remainder of the season. I am a Canberra Raiders fan and as a fan of this proud club that fact leaves me feeling more than a little let down.

Add to that the fact that the other Canberra Raiders player to have his contract terminated this season is already playing rugby league for another club and, apparently, is about to rewarded with a multi-million dollar contract and my anger at the state that the conduct of these two players has left my club in rises.

Just to focus on the impact that player behaviour is having on the Canberra Raiders though it short sighted in the extreme though. The indefinite suspension of Blake Ferguson is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad player behaviour this season. Indeed until the Ferguson issue many thought the problems with player behaviour in the NRL had reached their epoch with the dangerous driving and unlicensed driving charges laid against James Tamou last week. I am sad to concede that this week’s events have raised the spectre of player behaviour to a whole new level.

The events of last week though also show that the issue of player behaviour is NOT isolated to the NRL. David Warner’s alcohol fuelled punch of an opponent should leave watchers of sport in no doubt that it is not just the NRL that has a problem.

Now many will say that to suggest that a particular sporting code has a problem because of the conduct of a few is a sweeping statement that is ill considered and ought not be made. However, I am not just saying that: the facts indicate a much worse scenario; that sport (in general) in Australia has problems with player behaviour. I have mentioned four examples from a veritable smorgasbord of conduct that goes to this point. If you need any further convincing you can easily add the drugs in sport scandals that are going in the AFL and the NRL, the issues had by the St Kilda AFL club a couple of years ago and the ongoing poor conduct of Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane in Rugby Union to the list of conduct that even to a sight impaired observer must be indicative of a broader problem.

I think it can be plainly stated, and I am not going to shy from saying, that there is a problem with behaviour in the ranks of professional sportsmen in this country. As a fan of sport I openly lament that the conduct of whom I believe to still be a few in a minority has such a broad impact on the standing of the whole of codes of sport and indeed sport in general but that is where I think we are at at the moment.

As a sports fan I have heard every excuse under the sun for poor player conduct from the players have too much spare time on their hands through to it is society’s fault for placing these young men on pedestals. I am sick to the back teeth of the excuses: just because players have a massive disposable wealth, only work a couple of days a week and are treated like gods does mean that they can, without penalty, break the law and last time I checked kids are still taught at school that breaking the law is wrong.

That fact gets me to the second lament of this post: have we as a society moved so far that the players of our sports actually do not believe that the law applies to them? I heard a very interesting interview with the player welfare officer from the Parramatta Eels on the weekend (on ABC Grandstand) in which he mentioned that getting young players to actually get a license, despite the often high powered cars they drive at least to and from training, was a massive problem for clubs. If it takes a player welfare officer to ask for a copy of the license of each player to start the process of actually getting these 18-25 year old men their first license is that not indicative of a disregard for rules and the law that is both alarming and also obviously has the potential to escalate into incidents such as those of yesterday evening?

I have no solutions that have not already been raised or that are not obvious. The fact is though that if these young men do not respect the basic laws of the land such as having a license to drive a motor vehicle will any of the solutions work? I am a strong advocate of a duel approach of holding all but money for the bare essentials in trust for young players until they are retired from the game coupled with forcing young players to have a job outside of the sport they play. Whether this would have the effect of stopping the players breaking the law I do not know. What I do know that making the players live on $50K a year out of their contract surely would make it less likely that they would on the grog on Sunday night before going into State of Origin camp, for example.

Sport in this country has problems and player behaviour is right at the forefront of those problems. With competition for kids activities never stronger from the likes of Apple, Nintendo and the like why would an unknowing parent chose to place their child into an environment as obviously troubled as one of the sporting codes when they can stay at home fully supervised? I know that is an extreme example but can anyone tell me that is not where we are heading?

The fact that things seem to be heading that way is an abomination and an affront to the 99% of sportsmen who work extremely hard to play the games that they love and who do not wantonly break the laws of this country. It is those players for whom I lament the state of the games they play because all of the good that they do is washed away by the conduct of a few. It is easy to forget that almost 250 players took the field in the NRL at the weekend and only 1 has been suspended indefinitely because of his conduct off the field at the end of said weekend.

So I leave this post with a challenge for readers: whilst we, as sport fans are lamenting another case of poor player conduct bringing one of the games we love into disrepute, do not forget the exemplary conduct of those many many players who do conduct themselves in a manner befitting their station in life. To forget such conduct means that sport in this country could find itself in serious trouble sooner rather than later!

I am a rugby league fan: but only just after the 2013 draw announcement

If you did not know this already, let me be clear: I am a Canberra Raiders fan and I always will be a Canberra Raiders fan. I am also a Queenslander and nothing gives me more joy than watching Queensland defeat those who reside from below the Tweed. I am not, however, a fan of the NRL and have not been for many years.

I was lost to rugby league during the Super League wars and went from watching just about every game on free to air TV at the time to only watching my beloved Raiders and the State of Origin games. Rugby League test matches do nothing for me and I can’t say I have watched one in the last 3 years.

I was waiting with baited breath for the introduction of the ALRC to the game in the hope of some encouragement arising from their management of the game that might pull me back into the fray as a fully fledged NRL fan. To say that they have not done so would be an understatement.

Before we even get to my disgust with the draw, two other issues need to be mentioned in passing: the outlawing of the shoulder charge and the change in venue for the 2013 State of Origin series.

Rugby league is a tough game played by hard men: it involves body contact and one only needs to see the advertisements for the game run by Channel 9 and Foxsports to see that it is that one on one contact that sells the game. Fans of the game do not remember and do not discuss around the water cooler a tackle around the waist; they do however exclaim “did you see that big hit!”. I can not understand what the ALRC are trying to achieve by banning a form of tackle that has been part of the game since it started.

The State of Origin was meant to held with two games to be held in Brisbane this year. The commercial imperatives that relate to this decision I understand and frankly I could not be happier that Queensland will win their 8th series in a row at Lang Park in the second game. Will make the 3rd game a fizzer won’t it?

My major problem and why I can feel no attachment to the game is the way the ARLC treat their fans. There is no more clearer example of this than with the 2013 draw. The draw put out recently is frankly a travesty if you are a fan of any team other than Brisbane, Bulldogs, Titans or West Tigers. As a Canberra Raiders fan I have taken some time to consider when Canberra Raiders fans might get to see their team on free to air TV during the first 20 rounds of the season and it does not make for pretty reading. That is because, from the look of the draw, during the first 20 rounds of the season the Canberra Raiders will appear only once on Free to Air television. To put that in context: Channel 9 will have the rights to 60 games during that period and only once will the Canberra Raiders play in the 7:45pm Friday night or 3pm Sunday afternoon slots that get shown on Channel 9.

Mark your calendars those of you without Foxtel who follow Canberra because the only chance your going to get to see your team play on Channel 9 will be on 28 June against South Sydney. That is of course unless you go to the games or buy Foxtel. This is the way the ALRC have treated a team that came 6th on the table last year and made the second week of the finals.

It is not good for the fans. It is not good for the sponsors of the Canberra Raiders. It is not good for the game.

This fact has raised in my mind a broader question: is it just the Raiders that the ALRC is happy to ignore or are their other teams in the same boat?

I concede that I understand some of the commercial imperatives that sit behind Channel 9 showing the Broncos 14 times and I can understand showing the grand finalist Bulldogs 14 times. The problem though with scheduling is clearly broader than just a problem with the Raiders when you consider that the premiers, the Melbourne Storm, will only be seen on free to air TV 7 times in the first 20 rounds of the season whilst other teams that made the top 8 like the Sea Eagles (6 times), the Sharks (4 times) and the Cowboys (5 times) also receive only limited airplay.

Paradoxically, being a non-performing team does not seem to effect your exposure to the free to air television audience with the West Tigers (10th in 2012) to be seen on free to air TV 11 times.

This is a game built around its fans and the entertainment given to those fans. However it is clear that for the ALRC some fans mean more than others.

Now I know many readers will just consider this to be a whinge of disenfranchised fan looking for an outlet and part they will be right. The fact is though that I am sure I am not alone as a fan of a rugby league club who is not, in fact, a fan of the game any more. Am I the only one who now only watches my team play? Am I alone in only watching the Channel 9 coverage when my team plays?

This is obviously an issue for the grassroots rugby league fan base but it does not appear to be across the ALRC’s radar. If it is on said radar then clearly they have just been blinded by the wad of money coming from David Gyngell. Until the voices of the fans are heard I can’t say I expect to return to the fold as a fully fledged rugby league fan. This is something that saddens me because some of my favourite memories as child are of sitting with my dad watching Friday night football and talking to him and my mates in anticipation of the games ahead.

And with that there is nothing else really to say except go the mighty Raiders and bring on Super 15 season.