ALTHOUGH Dave Furner only arrived as Leeds Rhinos head coach less than three months ago, he has inadvertently been having a positive effect on second-row Carl Ablett for more than 15 years.
Indeed, the former England international – who kicks off another Betfred Super League season with his hometown club on Saturday – admits Furner helped form him into the player he is now without even realising it.
Ablett was still just a rookie in the Leeds academy ranks when he was tasked with analysing the Australia Test forward, who first signed from Wigan Warriors at the end of 2002.
New South Wales State of Origin star Furner initially spent two campaigns at Headingley, helping them win their first Super League title in 2004, but has now returned to try and reignite them after last season’s woeful form under Brian McDermott.
Ablett told The Yorkshire Post: “I made my debut in 2004 and remember coming through in the academy when Dave (Furner) first joined.
“I’d have been 16 or 17. As academy players, (coach) Daryl Powell used to make us come to games and he’d give us a folder.
“We’d have to watch certain players. One of Daryl’s things was you’d pick one out and watch him for the full game.
“You’d write down notes and see what he did well. He wanted me to watch Dave and pick up what he was doing so I watched him closely. I always remember thinking how meticulous he was in his work.
“He’s probably the same as a coach; he knows how he wants to play, leaves nothing to chance.”
Furner was renowned for his sheer toughness, work ethic and unfussiness, all traits that have underpinned Ablett’s own career, one that has gleaned seven Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge.
Kev obviously coming back – the changes made here – have probably freshened me up a bit, too. But it’s a club I love, that I’ve played at for a long time and I’ll be happy to see out my career here.Carl Ablett
“I learnt very early if you want to be part of a successful team there has to be people that want to do that dirty work and be consistent in small things,” said the 33-year-old, who has long been one of the unassuming heroes of Rhinos’ Golden Generation.
“So, looking back, I probably didn’t realise how watching Dave and seeing the stuff that he did probably had a massive impact on my career.
“When you’re casually watching you probably don’t notice the little things that he did.
“But I watched him closely. It was the start of my career and I thought there’s probably something in this ... going under the radar, doing the little things and just trying to be consistent which enables the rest to do their thing.”
He never got to line-up alongside the prolific former Canberra Raiders star, the highest-scoring forward in NRL history, given Furner did not play when Ablett made his solitary appearance in 2004, debuting in a 36-36 draw at London Broncos.
However, 322 appearances later in the famous blue and amber, they are now on the same page.
That said, before Kevin Sinfield’s return as director of rugby in July, Ablett had contemplated not just leaving Headingley but the UK.
He has successfully trained as a plumber and was contemplating emigrating to Australia to finish his rugby career in the Queensland Cup.
“It’s come to that point where you have to start thinking about life after rugby and preparing a little bit,” recalled Ablett, who hopes to be fit for Saturday’s opener at Warrington Wolves.
“The lifestyle’s good down there and it was a possibility and something I did look into. I had a few discussions halfway through the year but things happen and you need a lot of things to fall into place when you’re uprooting your family and kids.
“Kev obviously coming back – the changes made here – have probably freshened me up a bit, too. But it’s a club I love, that I’ve played at for a long time and I’ll be happy to see out my career here.
“We seriously thought about it (moving). I’ll definitely consider it in the future. My dad lives there and has since I was a kid. He’s in Cairns in northern Queensland so I have holidays out there.
“But ultimately a two-year deal here, and with Dave coming in and a new breed of youngsters, it felt right (staying). I know it will be an important two years as well in which I can help transit a few of these youngsters and help us push for honours again.”
That is the ultimate goal; Leeds finished in the bottom four for a second time in three years last season and they can ill-afford another year like it.
Legendary captain Sinfield, who played alongside Ablett in all seven of those Grand Final wins, returned to make the necessary changes after McDermott’s reign ended ingloriously and a feel-good factor has returned as the new season approaches.
Significant investment in a trio of NRL stars – marquee signings Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell plus Tonga stand-off Tui Lolohea – has helped as, of course, has the capture of Furner, whose CV also lists working as a Kangaroos assistant coach.
Ablett knows he must fight for a place in the new coach’s plans; former England team-mate Brett Ferres, Stevie Ward, new recruit James Donaldson and ex-Kangaroo Merrin all offer back-row options while his last remaining Golden Generation alumni Jamie Jones-Buchanan is also going around again at the age of 37.
However, if he continues mirroring the chief’s actions, surely he will be in the frame again.