Cronulla circling for Fergo raid

Night out: Todd Carney (left) and Blake Ferguson (right) on Saturday.Blake Ferguson did not attend Canberra’s match against Manly on Sunday due to a family matter and received permission to do so from Raiders chief executive Don Furner.

While photos of Ferguson at the Clovelly Hotel on Saturday night with Cronulla five-eighth Todd Carney sparked speculation his days in Canberra were numbered, Fairfax Media has been told the reason he was given leave from attending the match and it has nothing to do with his playing future.

However, the 23-year-old NSW Origin winger has a get-out clause in his new two-year contract with the Raiders if sacked coach David Furner is not in charge and the Sharks are favourites for his services next season.

Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said the club would not make an offer for Ferguson while he remains contracted to Canberra but coach Shane Flanagan has expressed interest and Fairfax Media revealed last Friday that Sharks captain Paul Gallen had phoned him while he was training with Tony Mundine.

The fact he was with Carney at a Sydney pub the night before the Raiders played further fuelled rumours about Ferguson’s intentions and his availability

for the clash with Manly was subject of much debate after their 36-22 loss to the Sea Eagles. Interim coach Andrew Dunemann was adamant Ferguson was fit to play, while giving the strongest indication that Ferguson was not selected regardless of his injury status.

Fairfax Media understands the photograph with Carney was taken about 9pm on Saturday night. Witnesses said they were unaware if Ferguson, who was also forced to defend himself after being spotted at a pub in Cronulla after leaving last Saturday’s match in Canberra, was drinking.

He was also spotted at city nightspots later in the evening.

Raiders chief executive Don Furner was comfortable with Ferguson’s reasons for not attending Sunday’s match at Canberra Stadium but did not want to disclose details of what he said was a private matter. Fairfax Media was told that he had a family commitment.

”I rang him to see if he’d be at the game,” Furner said. ”He rang me back and told me where he was … I spoke to him [on Sunday morning], and he told me why he couldn’t make it. I passed it onto ‘Dunnes’, and they were happy with it, and I believed him. ”

Dunemann added: ”He had a prior commitment, and he let us know that. Everyone loves Fergo, but we all know that he needs to get off the field right as well as on the field.”

Dunemann suggested that he had decided Ferguson should not be selected for Sunday’s clash.

”I wasn’t informed [that he could not be selected],” Dunemann said. ”That was the decision that was made.”

Furner added weight to that when he said: ”The coach picks the team.”

That will likely save Ferguson from any sanction over being out on Saturday night.

”He wasn’t picked to play footy,” Furner said. ”I don’t know if he’s drinking beer or not. I’ll have to check with him .. If he’s sitting there having a meal, that’s his prerogative.”

Furner was not aware of Ferguson being out the previous night with Carney until shown the photograph. Noyce said Carney and Ferguson were simply mates.

”I am sure with all the newspaper headlines about David Furner losing his job because of Blake Ferguson that is a time when you might gravitate towards your mates, they are not the easiest headlines to wear if you are a player and that is all it might be,” Noyce said.

”Obviously Todd is a mate of his and I think a few blokes here know him but at this stage he is contracted to the Raiders for another couple of years and that is where it is at.”

While the Ferguson soap opera plays out, the Raiders also have the issue of Milford to consider. Playing at five-eighth, Milford showed what a talent he is against the Sea Eagles. Yet Dunemann said he believed Milford, whose manager has requested a release on compassionate grounds, would remain at the club next year.

”He’s a talent,” Dunemann said. ”It’s been played out in the press probably for too long. I know the kid just wants to get on with it … my opinion is that he’ll be here.”

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