Canberra’s senior playing group is just as anxious to get wayward centre Blake Ferguson back from suspension as coach David Furner is, according to prop Dane Tilse.
The veteran forward has denied reports that Canberra’s senior players had been left frustrated by the relatively lenient stance the Raiders have taken against Ferguson following his infamous night out with Josh Dugan last month. Ferguson was suspended for at least four weeks by the NRL and forced to face court on Tuesday to face an indecent assault charge – where he pleaded not guilty – stemming from that night.
Tilse admitted he had been disappointed by Ferguson’s actions, which came just three months after he was sanctioned for the infamous rooftop drinking session that led to Dugan’s sacking, but insisted the playing group was ready to welcome the troubled star back into the fray.
“It was disappointing when it happened,” Tilse said. “We always try and help him out and put him on the right path. That’s our job as the leadership group and that’s why we were so disappointed when it happened. But Blake’s troubles have been well-documented. We’re just trying to get him back on the right path as a footballer and as a person.
“It is in the NRL’s hands at this stage when he can come back to play footy again. We really need him, so it would be handy.”
Asked if he had spoken at length with Ferguson in recent weeks, Tilse replied: “Not too much – he hasn’t been around a lot – but in the past, yeah. He’s got a lot of people looking after him at the moment. He is spending a fair bit of time with Anthony Mundine who will get him on the right track as well. Blake has a good heart so hopefully we can sort his off-field issues out.”
However, Tilse insisted that fellow prop David Shillington’s decision to stand down from the leadership group at the Raiders had nothing to do with the action taken against Ferguson and everything to do with trying to regain his best form.
It had been reported last week that Shillington had stepped down over what he perceived to be lenient handling of Ferguson by the Raiders. He is the second man after Shaun Berrigan to stand down from the group in 2013.
“It surprised me that he did that but he just wanted to concentrate on his form,” Tilse explained. “He got put back to the bench and when he missed out on Origin that got to him so he was just concentrating on that.
“Obviously Shaun Berrigan was the other one [to step down] but he is winding up his career and he just wanted to concentrate on his footy and finish on a high. It hasn’t been anything major. There are still about seven or eight blokes there so there are plenty of voices and we’ve still got blokes like Campo and Brett White, so it doesn’t really affect us too much. We’re all still moving in the same direction.”
The next few weeks are crucial to the Raiders’ season as they look to build on their last-start victory over North Queensland and move back inside the top eight.
Currently locked on 20 competition points with four other teams, they will be expected to easily account for Parramatta when they face off at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night although Tilse said the side had learned a valuable lesson when they were upset by Wests Tigers in Round 15.
“We were probably expected to beat them and didn’t come away with the points so we definitely won’t be complacent this week,” he said, pointing to a horror run of games coming up against Melbourne, Sydney Roosters, Canterbury and Manly in consecutive weeks as the jolt they need to find their best form.
“I feel like whether we win or not tends to be in our hands. We’ve got the ability to beat most teams if we put it all together.
“I suppose the season is on a knife-edge at the moment for us. We lose the next two and it gets really tough, we win the next two and we’re looking okay.
“It’s so tight around there at the moment so you need to keep winning. We’ve got a reasonably tough draw coming home so every game is very important for us.”