CANBERRA coach David Furner is unsure if NSW fullback Josh Dugan and halfback Sam Williams will be back from injury for Sunday’s elimination final against Cronulla – but on the evidence of yesterday’s second half against the woeful Warriors, they may not be needed.
No sooner had Furner seen his side score six unanswered tries after trailing 22-6 at halftime than he led the players quietly off the field halfway through a presentation to departing Warrior Micheal Luck, locked the dressingroom door and did his best to quell any over-exuberance resulting from the show two-try stars Reece Robinson had just put on.
The centre and fullback ran the Warriors ragged in a 42-22 win – one of the most remarkable games of the season in terms of scoring.
“Semi-finals are different altogether – I said that to the players,” Furner said. “That 26-round comp is gone. We’re in a situation which we’ve probably been in the last five or six weeks or seven weeks, where it’s sudden death.
“We certainly need a better start than we had today.”
Dugan (ankle) did not travel to Auckland yesterday due to an ankle injury while Williams (shoulder) was part of an extended party which included long-term casualties Terry Campese and Brett White (both knee). Williams, for whom Shaun Berrigan deputised, told reporters he expected to be fit.
Furner was not sure about Dugan. “I really don’t know, we haven’t got the scans back yet,” he said.
But Robinson’s performance was comforting for the Raiders. Captain David Shillington pointed out: “It was tough when Duges came back (from injury) to move Reece our of fullback, that’s how good he was going.”
Fighting to avoid a club record eighth consecutive defeat, the Warriors blazed their way to a big lead in the opening 35 minutes. Manu Vatuvei’s early score was countered by Shaun Berrigan pouncing on a kick from Josh McCrone but Ben Matulino (20th minute), Vatuvei again (28), and Pita Godinet (35) had the small 11,455 crowd on its feet and hopes high for a perfect send-off for the loyal and hard-working Micheal Luck.
The tide, however, turned six minutes after the resumption of play with lock Shaun Fensom driving in between the posts off Glen Buttriss’ pass. Jarrod Croker coverted but at that stage it seemed likely to be a mere consolation touchdown.
The locals started to get worried when Robinson crossed for another converted try in the 56th minute. By the time Sandor Earl expertly regathered a Berrigan kick and found Ferguson after another 10 minutes, and Croker added the extras, the Raiders had stunningly taken the lead.
Ferguson and Robinson weren’t finished, adding to their totals, before Kiwi Josh Papalii hammered the final nail in the Warriors’ 2012 coffin with a touchdown off a little kick with four minutes to go. “This season, for one reason or another, we haven’t been able to compete physically or mentally,” said caretaker Warriors coach Tony Iro. “There’s definitely a soft edge to the side.”
Asked if fitness was an issue, Iro replied: “It certainly looks like it. Confidence is a massive thing. We haven’t got much at the moment. Those nightmares from games past came back to haunt us … usually you just bash some hardness into them.”
Ferguson is already bracing himself for a week of questions about taking on his former club, the Sharks, which he left in a blaze of colourful quotes about wanting to win a premiership. “That was two years ago,” he said,” I just want to focus on what’s ahead.
Furner reflected: “Earlier in the year, we may have been in that situation and not known how to get out of it.”
It’s been a fairytale run from 15th earlier in the season for the Green Machine. Prop Shillington said he was “pleasantly surprised but I think earlier this year when we were struggling a bit, we did call for patience with our fans and with people judging us because I could see we had a good group of young players.
“Like Fursy says, those guys have all got experience as this year’s gone on … it’s just a matter of things coming together with us now.”
CANBERRA 42 (R Robinson 2 B Ferguson 2 S Berrigan S Fensom tries J Croker 7 goals) bt WARRIORS 22 (M Vatuvei 2 B Matulino P Godinet tries B Henry 2 J Maloney goals) at Mt Smart Stadium. Referees: J Robinson/A Devcich. Crowd: 11,455.
Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN