Canberra coach David Furner is wrestling with a delicate selection headache that has polarised opinion in the nation’s capital ahead of the Raiders’ elimination semi-final against Wests Tigers on Friday night.
Skipper Alan Tongue has missed the last fortnight due to a calf injury but is fit again and agitating for a recall for the club’s biggest match in 15 years.
But his return would mean breaking up the hooking combination of starting No. 9 Glen Buttriss and reserve forward Travis Waddell, who have interchanged at dummy half with stunning effect.
Canberra fans have weighed into the debate, urging Furner in online forums to leave Tongue out and stick with the slicker Buttriss-Waddell union for the Canberra Stadium clash.
The Raiders coach will need all the skills of a seasoned diplomat to keep all parties happy.
Pressed on the make-up of his 17 on Monday, Furner said with an air of mystery: “There might be some subtle changes, there might not be any changes.”
“I need to have a look at it. You don’t want to put the team under pressure if he’s not fully fit and also ‘Tonguey’ is the sort of person who wouldn’t put his hand up if he wasn’t fit.”
“We haven’t got too many injury worries at this stage. Tonguey would probably be the closest to come back in the mix and then we just need to have a look at Wests Tigers and select our side.”
Tongue wasn’t about to ease the pressure on Furner, declaring himself a definite starter – if picked
“I trained really well at the back end of last week and I trained again yesterday,” he said.
“It went really, really well so it’s just up to the coaching staff now.”
While Furner mulls over his squad, he seems more certain about the Tigers line-up.
He expects game-breaker Benji Marshall to play despite the Kiwi star suffering a knee injury in the loss to the Roosters just two days ago.
Furner, who played under Sheens at Canberra in the 90s, knows the Tigers boss will take a gamble on Marshall.
The brilliant five-eighth believes he will be right but still needs to convince the Tigers medical staff of his fitness before receiving the green light to run out on Canberra Stadium for the do-or-die clash.
“Our report is it was a bruised medial ligament,” Furner said of Marshall’s injury.
“I know Sheensy quite well and if your player is half-fit you’re going to roll them out there.”
“He’s a crucial cog in their attack.”
“All I’ve said to the players is we’ll worry about that team sheet when we get in the sheds.”
“We’ll just prepare that he’s playing.”
Canberra fans have rallied behind their team on their Cinderella run to the finals and beyond, pre-purchasing 8000 tickets to Friday night’s game.
Raiders officials are quietly confident of testing the ground’s 28,000-seat capacity.
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