Working out what is the root cause of Canberra’s current malaise is an inexact science. Like most things, it’s more complicated the closer you look. If you want to keep it simple you can talk about handling errors. Maybe you want to talk about how many points they’ve scored in the second half of games. Or perhaps you want to talk injuries, playing styles, and ageing rosters. In truth they all play a part, and there are plenty of other reasons too. They all form together like some terrifying Voltron sent to torture fans of God’s football team. It’s a complicated story, and if the Raiders are keen for it to be a cautionary tale rather than a way of life, they’ll be considering all parts of it.
If you go by Michael Chammas’ reporting though, you would not get the impression that is occuring in Canberra. During Channel 9’s Sunday footy coverage, he relayed a message from the Raiders’ Head Honcho which was very pointed. He said Furner told him
It was dreadful, that players should be embarrassed with themselves’ because he was embarrassed to watch the game…Ricky’s not the one out there making dumb decisions and throwing stupid passes. He said the losses the last two weeks were inexcusable.Chammas relaying Furner’s message
For some it was the kind of kick up the backside the players needed to hear. When threats to lineup spots go unheeded, then jobs – which Furner also alluded to – is the next step up. There’s little doubt the players have already heard similar messages in the last few weeks. Sticky gave them a proverbial shot across the bow not a fortnight before. For others it was infuriating to see Furner put the blame on a playing group that is merely the front-of-house expression of what appears to be a misfiring kitchen.
This message came from Furner for a few reasons. Firstly it was an acknowledgement of the despondency of Raiders’ fandom right now. I wouldn’t say we’re angry (though no doubt many are). What this feels like is different and more debilitating than any feeling I’ve had in the eight seasons we’ve been chronicling this side (eight? Get a life right?). This feels hopeless. Utterly hopeless. When Canberra was leading in the second half during the Warriors I wasn’t hopeful. I was watching a family member walk the plank. They may not have been at the end of the walkway but you knew there was only one way this was ending. So Furner’s message was a deliberate one to signal the organisational wing of the club feels the pain we do. And I have little doubt they do, if not moreso.
Furner also said it because the media’s noise is now starting to circle around Stuart’s role in this mess. As we’ve seen with other sides in recent times (let’s say W Tigers, no wait that’s too obvious. How about Wests T) when the media’s focus shifts to the coach it can create a built-in excuse for players to switch off while they wait for a new leader to be installed. Furner’s comments were pointed because he wanted to make sure the players knew that Sticky is going nowhere, and that there’s no excuse for switching off. While Canberra are in spoon bowl contention, they’re also only a couple of wins out of sixth. Such is the competition this year.
From that perspective I understand Furner’s approach. The fans are upset, the club is angry. There’s a mental deficiency in this side that one could perceive at coming from making excuses rather than taking accountability. Furner’s injection is jarring because it’s meant to be. It’s rare that the CEO talks about player performance. This is meant to be a firecracker thrown amongst the playing group. I don’t know if it’s the last resort but it can’t be far off.
The main issue I have with it is the ongoing avoidance, at least publicly, of coach Stuart’s role in the downfall of the Milk. We’ve written about this here and here, but we find it galling that again Stuart avoids the gaze of responsibility. The club is falling apart mentally for the third time in Ricky’s tenure and no questions are being asked as to what his role in it is. Of course, as we noted for above, there’s a myriad of interlinked reasons this. One can’t consider how important injuries and some key players departures have been. But Stuart has played his part too, and as the media is belatedly starts to shift their gaze to him, his accountability has already been ruled on by his employer. Decisions have been made. Fingers of blame have been pointed, and Stuart again isn’t part of the discussion.
Publicly at least. That’s the rub. I’m demanding accountability (note – this is not calling for his job) and Furner is managing the importance of Stuart’s performance alongside with the expectations of players and hopes of the fandom. Furner is aiming to repair the plane mid-air. To do so he’s balancing player performance against club accountability and choosing a pathway that (hopefully) allows him to achieve both. It’s a balancing act, and Furner likely has a plan for how he talks to Stuart about how things get better and what his role is in that. It’s unsatisfying for those of us watching, because we have to trust this is being solved rather than see it in action. Given where we are this season, and the fact that each week seems to be worse somehow, it’s a big leap of faith.
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