Cowboys coach Paul Green could very easily have been coaching the Raiders this weekend, rather than against them. Copyright: Cowboys Media

Furner: I wanted Green at Canberra

In a parallel rugby league universe somewhere out the back of Neptune, Paul Green is this week preparing the Canberra Raiders to take on the David Furner-coached Cowboys in Round 1 of the Telstra Premiership.

You see, what happened was that having joined the Raiders coaching staff at the start of the 2013 season as his assistant, Green was thrust into the top job when Furner was sacked with three games remaining in the season and was subsequently handed a three-year deal.

Having overcome the initial shock, Furner applied for the Cowboys head coaching position vacated by Neil Henry following their controversial exit from the finals and relocated to Townsville with his family.

Back here on Earth, however, things worked out slightly differently.

"Going into last year, going into 2013, I was looking for an assistant coach," Furner tells NRL.com. "I know Greeny was deep in conversation there with the Roosters so when I rang and had a bit of a chat to him I said, 'I've got a couple of other people there to interview but I'd be interested. I just need to interview these people and I'll get back to you next week.'

"I think he had to make a decision, which I understand, and he went to the Roosters.

"So I was looking for an assistant coach and there was Greeny, and then now the role reversal; obviously I didn't think I was going to be in that position. That's the nature of the business and now I find myself talking to Greeny about ways in which I can assist him."

Having worked on the coaching staff that took the Roosters to an NRL premiership last year, Green was handed the reins to North Queensland after an exhaustive recruitment process and offered Furner the very same role that Furner wanted Green to fill at Canberra.

"I was happy to get him. He's been good for us so far. He's experienced a fair bit as a head coach so he'll be a great support to me," Green says of Furner's appointment.

"He's been through the ringer a bit as a head coach so I think for me personally he'll be a great support, just to help me manage whatever may come up. He's certainly had to manage a few issues down there at Canberra in his time as head coach.

"He was certainly a great player as a forward and played in some great sides under some good coaches as well so I'm sure he'll bring that experience that he's had as a player and playing with those sorts of guys."

Furner and Terry Matterson are Green's two assistant coaches as the Cowboys endeavour to deliver results commensurate to the strength of their playing roster. It's been a bright start to the new regime with an Auckland Nines trophy at their Townsville headquarters and two impressive trial wins over the Broncos and Titans.

Somewhat ironic then that Furner's first assignment in the premiership proper is to take down his old club – and former teammate Ricky Stuart – on Saturday night.

Although he struggled to come to terms with his axing initially in what was a tumultuous season for the Raiders, Furner embraced the opportunity to adopt a similar role to that which he serves as Kangaroos' coach Tim Sheens's assistant.

"Tim and I have talked about it and the difference between being a head coach and an assistant coach is that as an assistant coach, it's just pure coaching," Furner says. "I like being a head coach but that role as an assistant is exactly that, I just coach.

"I still wanted to be involved so I had no problems about stepping down from one seat to another, that was never my problem, it was just about choosing what I thought was going to be the best club to go to.

"Early on when it was first announced of me not coaching at Canberra, I pretty much got a phone call the first three days about whether I'd be interested in going overseas. I wasn't at that time – the first two weeks I just wanted to get away from footy I suppose – but then there were a couple of offers about being an assistant coach, one being the Cowboys. I know Greeny, I played with him back in the days."

But it's not the first time that Furner has had to play second fiddle to his former Australian teammate at the Super League Nines tournaments in 1996 and 1997.

"I won the Rothmans Medal in '95 and I think he ran second," Green recalls. "I haven't brought it up with him, I don't know if it's a sore point or not."

Except in that parallel universe, where it was Furner who finished 1995 with that medal around his neck.