Inaugural Canberra Raiders coach Don Furner Sr. died at the age of 87 after a long battle with illness.
The former NRL coach, whose son Don Furner is the current Raiders chief executive, died on Monday evening.
Furner coached Canberra between 1982 and 1986 before leading the Raiders to their first grand finale with co-coach Wayne Bennett in 1987.
The club announced the devastating news on their website, along with a heart-warming tribute.
Inaugural Canberra Raiders coach Don Furner Sr. died at the age of 87 after a long fight with illness (Pictured with Canberra Raiders halfback Chris O’Sullivan (right) on February 8, 1986)
“The Canberra Raiders would like to acknowledge the death of inaugural coach and member of life Don Furner Senior (1932-2020), who died last night after a long fight against disease,” the statement said.
‘Don was born in Condobolin and had an impressive career in the rugby competition, where he played for various clubs in Queensland and New South Wales, including Souths (Toowoomba), Roma, Junee and Queanbeyan.
Furner Senior (photo) was then forced to retire after an injury
“He represented Queensland eight times and toured England with the Kangaroos of 1956-57.”
Furner Senior was forced to stop the sport after an injury and started coaching several teams before landing with the Raiders.
“Don inevitably became a fundamental part of the pressure from the Raiders on the NSWRL, recruited by club patriarch Les McIntyre to add real credibility to the bid.
“He was then named Head Coach when the club entered the competition in 1982.”
He was the Head Coach until the end of 1986 and then led the club to the grand finale in 1987 while co-coaching with Wayne Bennett.
Dr. Raiders chairman Allan Hawke paid tribute to Furner and said he had excelled in several roles in the rugby league.
“Don Furner Senior was a fundamental part of architecture when putting our club together,” said Dr. Hawke.
“He distinguished himself as a player, an exemplary Coach and then as a manager.
“Very few people would have the gift to excel in all facets of rugby league, but Don Furner Senior did it.”
Ricky Stuart, current coach for the Raiders, also praised his mentor Furner Sr.
“He had such a huge impact on the club and was in the club for many, many years after he finished coaching here before he got pretty sick,” Stuart said.
“His ability to recruit and manage players in the early years of the Raiders base years was years past himself.
“The number of Sydney players that he joined here early in the club, which was great for the club because it’s very difficult to rebuild a club, but it’s even harder to start a club.
The Canberra Raiders have issued a statement in memory of Furner Senior (shown in 1987)
“There was a very quick success here under Don Furner.
“I still remember winning that first grand final (in 1989) of the joy they got from what they had built and achieved and it was only seven years.
“It was five years to make a grand finale and seven years to win a grand finale. That is unheard of, that comes from great management and great coaching.
Furner coached Australia between 1986 and 1988 and his other son David coached the Raiders between 2009 and 2013.
Stuart, who grew up with Furner Jr. and has known the family almost his entire life, revealed that Furner Sr. was the reason he first played rugby union.
“I remember being offered a contract here. Then Don told me to try to get as much as possible out of the rugby union and then come back and talk to us, and that was probably the best advice you could get as a young boy, “Stuart said.
“That was Don’s man management; it wasn’t about the Raiders, it was about the person. He gave me a lot of advice and I always cherished that.
“He was a nice man to be with and I was lucky to have spent much of my childhood in Furner’s household and with old Don there as a father, he was a characterful and loving father.”