Like many of the kids born in New South Wales, David Furner no doubt lived and breathed rugby league. Son of Australian international Don Furner who went into coaching just before David was born, he’ll have wanted to continue his father’s legacy and did so with a magnificent career.
He made his professional debut in 1992 for the Canberra Raiders a club who would go onto define his career. All in all he made 200 appearances for the Raiders scoring over 1000 points thanks to his 49 tries and knack for kicking goals.
Amazingly just two years after making his debut he was part of the Canberra team that went onto win the 1994 premiership. It was a truly amazing night for Furner as he began his journey to achieve everything in the game whilst honouring his father’s legacy.
Furner was sublime in the final claiming the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match. On top of that he followed in his father’s footsteps as his showing in the Grand Final earnt him a first international call-up. He made his debut for Australia against Great Britain that October.
In 1996 he’d tick off another thing on his rugby league bucket list representing New South Wales as his father did before him. Interestingly Don finished his career with just one more appearance for the Blues than his son did.
2000 saw his time as a NRL player come to an end. He left Canberra having surpassed Bernie Purcell’s record as the highest scoring forward and was even awarded the Australian Sports Medal before moving to England to join Wigan where he looked to accomplish something his father never did: success abroad.
Success certainly followed. In his first season with the Warriors, he helped them to the Grand Final before guiding them to Challenge Cup success against bitter rivals St Helens. As his career came to a close, he joined the Rhinos revolution at Headingley.
Leeds were headed in a new direction in 2003. They were trusting the youth that went onto be known as the Golden Generation. But those early days for the likes of Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire needed to be guided by experience and that’s exactly what the arrival of Furner and Wigan teammate Gary Connolly brought.
Yes they slipped to defeat in the Challenge Cup Final but Leeds went onto record their joint-highest Super League finish at the time: second. A year later they’d go one better. Furner helped the Rhinos to the League Leaders Shield as Leeds won 24 of their 28 games only losing twice during the regular season. Then came the play-offs where many expected the inexperienced Rhinos to bottle it against older foes.
However, with the guidance of Furner, the Rhinos claimed the Super League title at Old Trafford ending a 32-year wait for the championship. In Furner’s last game he had created history by becoming one of the few men to win the Grand Final in both the NRL and Super League whilst also cementing his success in England – something his father never did.
But, as great as Don Furner’s playing legacy was, his true legacy lied in coaching. So, it was only natural that David would go on to try his hand at that. He went back to where it all started – the Australian capital Canberra. He became assistant coach in 2006 before taking over as Head Coach ahead of the 2009 season. Interestingly, his brother Don Furner Jr. had been appointed CEO of the club a year earlier leaving the Furner brothers at the helm of the green machine.
His first season didn’t go as planned. Fans criticised the way his side attacked believing it lacked the dynamism of previous years. Only 9 wins came their way as the sunk to a 13th placed finish. Another slow start followed in 2010 but victory over Manly towards the end of the campaign gave birth to a brilliant run of form that took the Raiders all the way to the play-offs. Ultimately their season was ended by West Tigers.
The way 2010 ended resulted in a lot of hype surrounding Furner and his players going into 2011. The Raiders were expected to be serious contenders and Furner was set to emulate his father’s coaching success. Unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass as another slow start derailed their season. His tenure there wouldn’t get much better and he was relieved of his duties in 2013.
He would then join North Queensland Cowboys as assistant coach helping them to the 2015 NRL title before enjoying further success as an assistant at South Sydney. An accomplished number two, Furner had yet to prove himself as a number one like his father.
A chance came for him to do so at the end of 2018. It was announced he’d be taking over at Leeds Rhinos from the beginning of 2019 as Brian McDermott’s permanent replacement. He came with a whole lot of hype as he was joined by a number of high-profile recruits such as Tui Lolohea, Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell. He was the man expected to bring success back to Headingley. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. He was relieved of his duties after just 14 league games. Furner had only led Leeds to four league victories and left them in a relegation battle.
Some wondered if Furner, a Leeds hero once upon a time, deserved more time. However, the decision was made to replace him with Richard Agar leading to Leeds’ 14th Challenge Cup triumph a year later.
He then joined Newcastle Knights as assistant coach and now plies his trade as assistant coach at the struggling Canterbury Bulldogs. As of right now Furner hasn’t achieved what he’d like to as a Head Coach unlike his father. I wonder if one day he might.