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Faith in Furner rewarded: Tongue

Five weeks ago, Canberra great Alan Tongue took to the radio to declare the Raiders' NRL finals campaign dead should they fail to post victory over Newcastle on home soil.
Faith in Furner rewarded: Tongue
by NRL

By Crystal Ja

CANBERRA, Aug 31 AAP - Five weeks ago, Canberra great Alan Tongue took to the radio to declare the Raiders' NRL finals campaign dead should they fail to post victory over Newcastle on home soil.

They lost 36-6.

And so the club veteran called it: the Raiders would be playoffs absentees for the third time in four years under embattled coach David Furner.

But four games on and it's a very different story, with the Raiders seventh on the ladder and even poised to clinch what was once an unthinkable home semi-final.

"My first year of commentary and I've been made to eat my words already," Tongue told AAP.

"I actually said on ABC Radio I didn't think we'd be able to go on and play finals footy.

"To only drop one game in your remaining six, I just thought it'd be too hard.

"And they've won every game since."

It's been a staggering turnaround for the team dubbed the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde outfit of the 2012 season.

Canberra showed glimpses of greatness on the road - their most impressive away victory in round 18 when they notched a 40-12 win against Melbourne - but routinely followed them up with tepid losses at the fortress-turned-shanty of Canberra Stadium.

It took until the latter half of the season for Canberra just to post their first back-to-back victories.

At one of the low points, the Raiders had just gone down to Wests Tigers 40-0 on a chilly Canberra Saturday night, just the second time in their 30-year history they'd been kept scoreless on home turf.

They were in wooden spoon contention and not for the first time this season, Furner's job came under fire.

But Tongue said on Friday Furner deserved praise as the architect of their late-season rise, particularly given the critical losses of captain Terry Campese and prop Brett White - both to knee injuries.

"When you're down and out, lots of people start to panic and clubs look for answers and they start sacking people," he said.

"But their faith's been rewarded.

"Dave's stuck solid with the principles and the standards and the culture he's trying to set.

"It's great to see him come out the other side."

Entering his fourth year at the helm, Furner had a 39 per cent winning rate, having won 29 games from 74.

It's now up to 42 per cent with one regular season game to play against the Warriors.

If the Raiders take two points away from Auckland and Cronulla loses to North Queensland, they could pinch a home semi, their first since 26,476 watched them fall to the Tigers in the first week of finals in 2010.

There's no easy explanation for Canberra's transformation, but Tongue said - while he mightn't have picked it at the time - the combinations have slowly been building, with extra credit going to Josh McCrone in the halves.

Now with one week left, Canberra find themselves with huge momentum potentially heading into the finals, having accounted for ladder leaders Canterbury with a 34-6 drubbing in round 25.

"It was one of the best performances I've seen from the club in the last couple of years. It was that good," Tongue said of the Raiders, who are the only team to have beaten competition leaders the Bulldogs and the Storm this year.

"If they play like they did, the Warriors won't come close to them.

"They've set the standard for themselves. They've got to live up to that now."

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