Canberra Raiders coach David Furner says the club’s mid-season spending spree on outside backs is not insurance for troubled centre Blake Ferguson.
Furner is optimistic Ferguson will meet the guidelines of his NRL-imposed suspension and be back playing for the Raiders when the four-week ban expires – as soon as Canberra’s round-19 home clash with Parramatta.
The New Zealand Warriors have released winger Bill Tupou to join the Raiders this week, on a two-year deal, while rugby union convert Jordan Rapana has signed with Canberra this week.
The Raiders also remain in talks with Penrith winger Travis Robinson, although time is running out for a mid-season shift.
Ferguson has been ordered to undergo alcohol counselling and has been suspended pending a court appearance on July 16 for an indecent assault charge.
But Furner insisted the recruitment strategy was not a contingency plan in case Ferguson did not return to football this season.
Canberra’s outside-back depth has been decimated by injury and suspension with Ferguson, Edrick Lee, Haydon Hodge and Dimitri Pelo unavailable. It has also been compounded by Canberra’s sacking of Origin fullback Josh Dugan just one week into this season.
Winger Sandor Earl will also leave the Raiders for French rugby at the end of the season.
”Fergo will play don’t worry about that,” Furner said. ”He’s got the court case, but I think he’ll be close to [to a return against] Parramatta. When you think about it, with Edrick Lee, Josh Dugan, Sandor’s leaving next year … if we get any injuries in our outside backs we’re a little bit thin.”
Ferguson’s suspension has denied him the chance to play in the biggest game of his life for NSW on Wednesday night, when the Blues are out to seal their first series win since 2005.
The Raiders had implemented a management plan for Ferguson before the alleged incident on the night before Origin II camp.
”We’re still using the psychologist here and we’re starting to put together what they [the NRL integrity unit] has put in place,” Furner said. ”We were already doing a lot of it, so not much has changed, it’s still ongoing.
”Everyone was saying he’s changed and he’s back, but I always said there’s still a long way to go, there’s no short-term fix.”
Tupou and Rapana have signed until the end of 2015 and next year respectively. Canberra also announced on Tuesday that it had signed Melbourne back-rower Lagi Setu to a two year deal beginning next year.
Raiders boss Don Furner said Setu would be an adequate replacement for St George-Illawarra-bound Joel Thompson.
”Lagi is a fine young player,” Furner said. ”We tried to sign him four years ago, but he returned to Brisbane and then headed off on his two-year Mormon mission. We are very happy to have secured him the second time around.”
Meanwhile, prop Brett White will be out up to three weeks after scans confirmed he fractured his eye socket in Saturday’s loss to Wests Tigers. David Shillington has been recalled to the starting line-up in place of White.
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