BLUES DROPPED BALL ON VALUES
IT WAS the night of March 11, 2013. Living in the nation’s capital, I’d just got home from a day covering the Canberra Raiders when my phone buzzed. “Have you seen this pic?” a Raiders fan on Twitter asked via direct message. It was to become one of the more infamous pics in rugby league history. Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson ( above) on the roof of Dugan’s Canberra home, drinking vodka cruisers and Dugan’s middle finger extended. They were supposed to be at training but instead chose to go on an all- day bender, showing blatant disrespect for their teammates and their club. Although on the atrocity meter it was on a far lower scale, the pair were at it again last week when it was revealed they had a few beers together five days before Origin III. While it is hardly the crime of the century, it shows they weren’t prepared to do everything in their power to be ready to take on one of the greatest Queensland teams ever. It’s a classic case of “spare the rod, spoil the child” which finally bit the Blues on the backside this time around. Five years ago, just weeks after their rooftop shenanigans, Dugan and Ferguson were welcomed back into the Blues fold.
They turned up drunk to training after celebrating their selections for Origin II but Ferguson didn’t play after he was charged, and later convicted, of indecent assault at a Cronulla nightclub.
Many feel their papers should have been marked then and there. Current Raiders coach Ricky Stuart, who was yet to arrive at the club when the pair were sacked, certainly believes so.
“Day one of the ( second) camp they both turned up to camp drunk,” Stuart told Fox Sports this week.
“They should have been eliminated from State of Origin there and then, and this wouldn’t have happened.”
A football team can be a very fragile organism. Like a stack of Jenga blocks if one isn’t aligned with the others, the rest can come crashing down quickly.
Dugan was Canberra’s highest paid player when he was shown the door. Ferguson had only just signed a new deal of his own when he was finally cut adrift later in the 2013 campaign.
One of their few representative quality players, the club knew they would experience some short- term pain by giving Dugan his marching orders. Yet just a few weeks later in Round 10, he was free to play for his new club St George Illawarra like nothing had ever happened.
The NRL missed a huge chance to show that disrespecting a club, and the game itself, would have huge ramifications by deregistering him for the rest of the year.
Instead, he was able to not only continue his career almost immediately, but play Origin football. Their defenders this week have protested that having a few beers didn’t cost the Blues the series, that they’re playing a once- in- alifetime Queensland team littered with superstars.
That may be true, but how did this Maroons team become champions?
By being ultra professional through their entire careers.
By making sacrifices and doing the right thing by their teammates and driving team culture.
By fastidiously ticking off every minute element of their preparation and striving to become better every day, not cutting corners and coasting by on natural talent.
I’ll never forget the words Dugan said to me after his final game for the Raiders, a 32- 10 belting at Penrith in Round 1, 2013. He had suffered a rib cartilage injury after being targeted by the Panthers.
“I will monitor it this week and do everything I’ve been doing, all the little professional things,” he said.
He showed talk is cheap the very next day by skipping training to chug down alcoholic lolly water on his roof.
The Blues had a chance that year to send a clear message to youngsters coming through by red penning the pair of them, for that series at least.
Queensland did that last year when eight players were ruled ineligible for selection for breaking team curfew at a Maroons emerging camp. It was a tough call and a harsh lesson, but no doubt it helped the likes of Valentine Holmes, Cameron Munster, Dylan Napa, Anthony Milford and Jarrod Wallace know the standards expected of them.
They all played major roles in Queensland’s series victory this year because they know they can’t take the jersey for granted.