Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Raiders v Sea Eagles
Just when we thought Canberra’s season couldn’t get more tumultuous, the club board stuns us all by sacking David Furner! A statement released to the media late on Tuesday afternoon outlined the fact that the board believed Furner had underachieved given the talent he had at his disposal and, given the Raiders appear to be on a one-way ticket out of the finals race following three straight losses, they obviously felt it was time to bite the bullet.
The fact of the matter is that under Furner’s leadership, Canberra was up and down like a yo-yo and although they enjoyed some tremendous runs – none better than their charge into the 2011 finals – they never looked like mounting a serious premiership charge.
Nonetheless, few coaches have had to deal with what he has in 2013.
It began with the sacking of Josh Dugan after his infamous run-in with Furner on a Canberra rooftop and continued during Origin following Blake Ferguson’s big night out.
Having been stood down for five weeks for that episode, Ferguson returned to the field two weeks ago (and was subsequently injured) but has since been linked with reports that he wants out of his contract to be closer to his uncle Anthony Mundine in Sydney.
Likewise, star youngster Anthony Milford has confirmed he wants out to be close to his ill father in Brisbane. Nothing like the knowledge that two of your best players don’t want to be there to bring a team together!
With a mounting injury toll adding fuel to the fire, Furner simply ran out of time and he will no doubt look back on his time with the Green Machine wondering what might have been.
In the meantime, the players will trot out onto the field against Manly this weekend knowing it is do or die for their 2013 campaign.
Having worked their way into the top eight and at one point looking near certainties for the finals, three losses in a row, including two at their once impregnable home fortress, have their season hanging by a thread. And with no more room for error, that means they’ll need to produce something special to upset the Sea Eagles and keep their premiership aspirations alive. Then again, teams have a habit of causing upsets in the week the coach has been sacked so perhaps that was in the board’s thinking all along.
There have been no such problems for the Sea Eagles, who could very easily have found themselves riding a seven-match winning streak had they not been on the end of some desperately close calls in their 22-10 loss to South Sydney last Friday.
Coach Geoff Toovey might have stretched the friendship somewhat with his post-match tirade, earning a $10,000 fine, but it’s fair to say luck wasn’t on their side.
Nevertheless, the Sea Eagles have been playing some exceptionally good football of late and they will be keen to continue their preparations for the finals by getting themselves back into the winners’ circle.
They also have another incentive to win their final three games of the regular season. Although they won’t catch the top two and are safely entrenched in the top four, if they can manage to overtake Melbourne into third they will earn themselves another shot at Souths in Week One of the finals. No doubt Toovey would be salivating at that prospect!
The biggest change to the Canberra side this week is Andrew Dunemann taking over from Furner as interim coach; he has already shuffled his side with Anthony Milford moving into the No.7 jersey in place of Sam Williams and Reece Robinson returning to fullback.
Former Warrior Bill Tupou makes his club debut in the centres following Jack Wighton’s season-ending leg injury, while Paul Vaughan and Shaun Berrigan are also into the starting side with Joel Edwards and Glen Buttriss dropping back to the bench. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has been named to make his long-awaited return from injury but Ferguson is expected to miss another week with his quadriceps injury.
Manly have named the same 17 that lost to Souths last week with James Hasson the 18th man.
The Sea Eagles require just 19 more points to make it 1000 all-time against Canberra, while the Raiders will be looking to improve upon a 3-8 record against top-eight sides in 2013. Only once before, in 2005, have they lost three Canberra Stadium games this late in a season.
Watch Out Raiders: The battle to excel between Manly’s right edge and left edge this season has been thrilling to witness and it’s hard to ignore the influence of left winger Jorge Taufua in helping his side of the field close the gap. Taufua leads the Sea Eagles for tries (17), line-breaks (28), tackle-breaks (82) and average metres per game (138) and will take plenty of stopping again this week in the nation’s capital.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: If there is one man who can stun the Sea Eagles with some individual brilliance this week it is young Canberra fullback Anthony Milford. Boasting tremendous footwork and the ability to beat his man one on one, Milford boasts 14 line-breaks from 15 games in 2013 with seven tries and 72 tackle-breaks.
Plays To Watch: The Brett Stewart second-man play. This is a common play used by the Sea Eagles and they employ it with great success on both sides albeit more commonly on the left where Kieran Foran and Justin Horo have formed a wonderful combination with Stewart wrapping around the back.
Also watch for the impact of Glenn Stewart on the right edge. His ball-playing abilities provide another weapon for the Sea Eagles as he showed when he tore the Warriors apart two weeks ago.
Key Match-Up: Reece Robinson v Brett Stewart. Robinson’s return to the starting side at fullback could well spark Canberra’s attack given his ability to create opportunities and break the line, while that’s exactly what Stewart has done for Manly since returning from injury. Between Rounds 17 and 22 the Sea Eagles scored a massive 225 points at an average 37.5 per game.
Where It Will Be Won: The key positions will be crucial here and it will be interesting to see whether Canberra’s re-shuffle can resurrect their fortunes. Certainly moving Anthony Milford to half and bringing Reece Robinson back in to the side appears to provide many more options although likewise the return of Brett Stewart alongside halves Kieran Foran and Daly Cherry-Evans has worked wonders for Manly.
The History: Played 45; Sea Eagles 27, Raiders 17, drawn 1. Manly have won 10 of their past 12 games against the Raiders including their last three clashes at Canberra Stadium in which they have scored 113 points.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Gavin Badger & Reece Williams.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Raiders v Sea Eagles clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.
The Way We See It: It would take a huge effort for Canberra to reverse a three-match losing streak and upset top-four team Manly in this one. A host of off-field distractions combined with a growing injury list has them well and truly on the back foot and if anything they appear to be going backwards. More importantly, they face a team playing some high quality football and with a point to prove following last week’s controversial loss to South Sydney. Unfortunately this could be all one-way traffic. Sea Eagles by 16 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.