Townsville Bulletin - - SPORT -

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.

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