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Canberra coach Ricky Stuart.

Don Furner took the call driving between Canberra and Sydney and promptly swung the car around to the other side of the Federal Highway.

The Raiders' turnaround was on. After he turned around and drove three hours to tell his younger brother David he had been sacked.

Canberra's board then needed to make just one more call.

"There were a lot of names, it always happens that way, everyone gets tossed up," Raiders CEO Don Furner recalls of those seismic moves in August, 2013.

"But Sticky would have been our number one priority. We didn't look to anyone else because we didn't have to. And we didn't want to."

The resurgence hasn't happened overnight and wasn't expected to.

But lime green is now back in vogue. And as he did 25 years ago, Ricky Stuart is calling the shots once more.

Ricky Stuart and David Furner on the field together.
Ricky Stuart and David Furner on the field together. ©NRL Photos

Ricky is the Raiders

The Raiders needed Ricky Stuart late in the 2013 season. And Ricky Stuart needed the Raiders.

Canberra were beset with a disillusioned playing group and off-field dramas that saw Josh Dugan, Blake Ferguson, and in between head coach David Furner, all sacked.

Stuart had himself a wooden spoon, endless politics at Parramatta and vultures circling a 29 per cent win-loss record over his previous three seasons as coach.

But until taking up a 2012 invitation to address David Furner's players, he hadn't set foot in a Canberra dressing room for over a decade.

Stuart's exit as a player in late 1998 wasn't pretty.

Salary cap pressure borne out of the Super League war shunted he and fellow favourite son Bradley Clyde off to Canterbury.

The club's approach to Wallabies and Brumbies star Joe Roff sparked a dramatic falling out with Canberra's former CEO Kevin Neil.

And from those heady "chequebooks at 20 paces" days, as good a yarn as any to illustrate the regard Stuart was held in.

The stature his 175 centimetres truly counts for in the nation's capital.

In Paul Barry's Who Wants to be a Billionaire?: The James Packer Story, former ARL chief John Quayle recounts flying to Canberra in Kerry Packer's jet with Packer jnr, Bob Fulton and Phil Gould to meet Stuart in 1995.

"Ricky Stuart was offered half a million dollars a year and captaincy of the Australian team if he would stay with the ARL," Quayle told Barry.

If he had broken ranks with the Super League-bound Raiders, a spot at the Roosters awaited, with Canberra officials telling ARL chairman Ken Arthurson that a determining factor for the club joining the breakaway competition was to keep Stuart in the wake of a massive offer from Sunday's grand final opponents.

The heavy hitters could have gone for Laurie Daley or Bradley Clyde. Instead, they targeted Stuart as their circuit breaker to keep the Raiders with the establishment.

Offered the world, and then counter-offered by News Corp, Stuart chose Canberra over Bondi.

So, three years later when he was pushed out of his junior club, it stung.

David Furner is awarded the Clive Churchill Medal in 1994.
David Furner is awarded the Clive Churchill Medal in 1994. ©NRL Photos

The stars start to align

As Canberra made the finals, but never truly threatened for a title in the early 2000s, Stuart's coaching star rose rapidly.

The Roosters had their man by now, a large chunk of his first coaching deal with the Tricolours negotiated on September 11, 2001.

A little over a year later, Stuart was coaching them to their first premiership since 1975.

Two more grand finals, Origin series wins and Kangaroos triumphs followed for Stuart, while Canberra largely stayed the same middling course.

By 2013 though, Furner was watching his old schoolboy rugby teammate up to his neck in Parramatta's politicking.

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"I remember watching from afar, and to us, he never suited Parramatta," Don Furner says.

"Certain coaches weren't going to work at certain places. Ricky Stuart is more us than he was Parramatta.

"It was tough, but it would've been tougher if they had won the grand final."

The Furners, of course, had their own battles on the boil. A late-season winning run to the finals had saved David's position as Canberra coach in 2012.

And while ever his 1994 premiership-winning teammate, but far more tellingly, childhood mate was in charge, Stuart wanted no part in a Raiders return.

"I've always had a private goal to want to coach the Raiders at some stage in my career," Stuart told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2013.

"The other times I've been speculated about going back to Canberra they had Dave as a coach.

"I never wanted to have that on my head that it was because of me that Dave lost his job. I'm mates with Dave, I didn't want to jeopardise that friendship.

"This is the first time they haven't had a coach and the opportunity came up."

Putting those wheels in motion, that call to Don Furner as he headed along the Federal Highway.

'It was a horrible time. It was my family'

In late 2013, the  Raiders needed to win their last three games for an unlikely crack at the semis, having already lost three on the trot.

While the team went into camp near Moruya on the NSW south coast and Don Furner started his drive to Sydney, Canberra's board met on a Monday night and decided, for the first and only time in its 37-year history, to sack the coach.

David Furner and Alan Tongue in 2010.
David Furner and Alan Tongue in 2010. ©NRL Photos

Club icon and then long-serving chairman John McIntyre was in tears over the decision.

He resigned at the end of the Raiders' most turbulent season on record.

"For the first time since I've been involved with the Raiders, [I thought] perhaps personal emotion might be interfering with the proper process and decision making in the best interests of football team," McIntyre said at the end-of-year presentation night.

For Don Furner, the two hours driving down the Clyde Mountain and to the coast was spent wrestling with emotions even closer to home.

"I need to talk," he phoned ahead to David, saying nothing more until they were face-to-face.

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"It was all up front, we talked it out as men," Don says.

"It was a horrible time. It was my family. Kids and wives were upset.

"Letting anyone go is a terrible thing. People think 'they're just footballers or they're just coaches'. But they've got families and kids, and we see that as a club really up close.

"They're real people and that was as real as it gets for me for obvious reasons.

"We grew up around footy, we knew, Dave knew that as a coach, unfortunately, if results aren't going well it can go that way."

David Furner wasn't sacked to bring Stuart back to the Raiders. He's as happy as anyone to see the club reviving its glory days, though declined to comment for this story.

"He's a Raider," Don says. "As far as the club goes, Dave's still a 200-game player for us, a coach and always will be.

"He and Rick get on really well, as do Dave and I. But it's always tough.

"I always joke with Rick 'I'm going to have to do it to you one day' and he says he's well aware.

"But I say it jokingly because it's a horrible thing to have to go through."

Through it they went though, and a bit more as well. Stuart copped it for exercising his get-out clause at Parramatta.

Canberra copped it in some circles for bringing him back. High-profile signing falling over, another roster regeneration and until this season, just one finals series during Stuart's five previous years at the helm.

But now, 25 years since their last appearance on grand final day, lime green is back in vogue. And so is Ricky Stuart.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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