Don Furner died at 87 years old today, marking the end of an era. The Canberra Raiders are very much “the house that Don built.” The foundations of the institution, it’s place within the Canberra community and cultural was influenced at almost every point by him.
Don Furner was there from the start, when the Raiders were but a glint in the eye. He put together a roster from cast-offs and not quites to build one of the greatest football sides in human history. When his presumptive protege walked out the door at the end of the 1987 season, he found an equally good coach that was prepared to take the Raiders to the heights that he saw in them.
Don also brought Mal Meninga to Canberra, the most important signing in Raiders history. Gary Belcher, Gary Coyne, Peter Jackson, Kevin, Kerrod and Steve Walters, Sam Backo all followed, among others. Pillaging the QRL wasn’t new, but Furner made an art of it. The club would extend the logic in the years that followed, finding players where others weren’t able or interested to look. It’s hard not to see the Raiders raids on the Super League as part of Don’s influence. Building the Raiders from every inch of talent across the country and beyond is such a central part of who the Raiders are, and Don started it.
Don has been remembered by people of far more consequence than these pages. He had an impact beyond Canberra, as a coach, administrator, and as a player. Coach Stuart and Chairman Allan Hawke both made comment today about his importance to the Raiders. Mal Meninga, Steve Roach and Arthur Beetson all remembered him fondly. His influence and stature in rugby league and with the Raiders is undoubted and will be forever remembered.
Our thoughts go out to the Furner family, and anyone lucky enough to be close to the great man.
Vale Don Furner. He will he missed.