Archive for April, 2019

Apr 10 2019

Barba still in favour at Bulldogs

Ben Barba wasn’t named to return against his future club this Thursday night, but Canterbury have not put a red pen through his name for this season.

Fairfax Media has been told only injury will prevent him from playing again this year, despite the ongoing controversy over his move to Brisbane.

Barba hasn’t played since suffering an ankle injury in the opening minutes of the round 20 clash against Parramatta at ANZ Stadium at the end of July.

It was believed he would be a chance of returning in round 26, in time to face the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium before he heads north to join the club, however, Canterbury coach Des Hasler has not named the fullback in his side for the final round of the regular season.

Barba is back training with the side and, while he is a slim chance of returning in time to take on the Broncos, he could be back in the side for the finals.

Meanwhile, Manly coach Geoff Toovey has rested fullback Brett Stewart for their final-round clash against Penrith on Sunday.

An ongoing hamstring injury, compounded by a hip injury suffered in the win against Melbourne last Saturday night, will put the former Blues No.1 out of action until the first week of the finals.

Canberra have reshuffled their side for Sunday night’s game against the Sharks, with Mitch Cornish to make his debut at halfback and Anthony Milford moving back to the fullback role.

Matt Scott will miss the Cowboys’ must-win game against the Tigers with a broken finger.

Nate Myles has been named for the Titans despite suffering an ankle injury last Sunday, however Jamal Idris is at least a week away if the Titans reach the finals.

Meanwhile, South Sydney have shot down any interest in recruiting Blake Ferguson, despite the wayward Raiders player being spotted at the club’s Redfern training venue on Tuesday.

The Raiders have all but issued an ultimatum to Ferguson, that he show up for Friday’s board meeting or be sacked. Asked if the Rabbitohs were interested in Ferguson, Souths chief executive Shane Richardson said: ”No, none whatsoever, can I be more specific or explicit than that.

”There’s no interest at all in any way shape or form.

”Why he was driving past with Grayson Goodwin I have no idea … there’s never been any conversation here. His name hasn’t been brought up once by anyone in our recruitment. It is a dead, final no.”

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Apr 10 2019

Coalition may strike on drugs policy

The AFL’s illicit drugs policy could be under threat, with expectations the Coalition will revive its bitter campaign against the contentious three-strikes component if it wins Saturday’s federal election.

The last time the Coalition was in power, in 2007, the AFL and the AFL Players Association successfully resisted government-led demands that its policy be dramatically stiffened, to punish and disclose the name of players who had failed drug tests earlier and ban them for at least eight years, and possibly for life, for a third breach.

The campaign was led by Howard government ministers George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, on the basis it undermined their anti-drug campaigns. They argued it was ”namby-pamby” and ”probably a soft-on-drugs approach”.

”A three-strike policy is not a zero tolerance policy,” said Brandis, the then sports minister. ”It is not … the toughest possible stance against drugs, it does not go far enough.”

The Coalition went to the 2007 election promising a year-round, $21million illicit-drug testing regime for Australian sports, with Brandis foreshadowing ”remorseless pressure on any national sporting organisation which stands apart from the consensus”. It did not get the opportunity to implement its agenda, but is strongly favoured to be back in power by next week.

The AFL and AFLPA would not be drawn on their expectations of the implications of a change of government, although it is believed players privately fear renewed pressure to significantly change the testing regimen they volunteered for.

Greens sports spokesman Richard Di Natale, a former GP and public-health specialist who has been a fervent defender of the policy, predicted Coalition members, if in government, would ”do whatever they can to basically dismantle what’s a very good public-health response”.

”I’ve got no doubt that the Coalition, and particular members of the Coalition such as George Brandis, would like to see what is a sensible public-health approach to the problem of illicit-drug use in the AFL turned into a huge political football,” he said.

”They’ll try and score a few cheap points, and as a result we’ll continue to see young men make mistakes and not get the support they need from the medical community,” Di Natale said.

The most recent AFL results, released in May, revealed the percentage of failed illicit-drug tests had tripled in 2012, with the overall figure of 26 failed tests equalling the number for the three preceding years. The AFL and AFLPA insisted that was because they had targeted their testing to specific players and periods (such as the day after a match) and conducted more hair testing.

The sports portfolio previously held by Brandis is now occupied by the Nationals’ Luke Hartsuyker. On Tuesday he commended the AFL for strengthening its illicit-drug policy but did not rule out seeking additional amendments.

”The Coalition has always supported taking a tough stance on illicit drugs in sport,” Hartsuyker said in a statement. ”I note the AFL has enhanced its out-of-season drug-testing regime and, if I am the sport minister in a new Coalition Government, I will work with the AFL to reduce illicit-drug use within the code.”

A recent Senate inquiry into sports science, devised by Di Natale in a bid to regulate supplements given to athletes, featured persistent questions by the Coalition relating instead to illicit drugs.

Di Natale said AFL players had made a ”huge concession” in agreeing to be tested for illicit drugs out of competition, and believed the Coalition members “don’t acknowledge . . . the AFL is doing something that other codes don’t do” with its out-of-competition testing. He urged the Coalition to clarify its stance on the AFL policy before Saturday’s election.

“I’d like the Coalition to make a very clear statement that they’re going to continue to endorse what is a public-health approach to the issue, to make it very clear where they stand on the issue, and that the AFL will continue to have its support in pursuing something that puts the welfare of the players as its central focus,” he said.

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Apr 10 2019

Slipper gets his head around taking on Boks at maul game

Up-and-coming Wallabies prop James Slipper is not shying away from the physical firestorm coming his way, promising to ”set a match” under Springboks enforcers Bismarck du Plessis and Coenie Oosthuizen on Saturday night.

The Springboks will be boosted by the return of 50-Test cap hooker du Plessis to the starting line-up this weekend but are not short of abrasive young characters in the pipeline, with 24-year-old prop Oosthuizen the latest formidable forward to walk off the highveld and into a green jersey.

Slipper, who has usurped veteran Benn Robinson at loose-head for the Rugby Championship, said he would relish the encounter with the notoriously fiery du Plessis.

”I’ll be trying to set a match under them, I enjoy that part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, they’re pretty good at what they do so you’ve got to be prepared to cop a few and I guess wear what you throw,” he said.

”He’s a very aggressive player and he’s always been very uncompromising, up in your face. A lot of Africans are, so some people shy away from it but as a forward pack you can’t. I think you’ve got to get in there and get in their face a bit. You’re not going out there doing anything illegal, it’s just not stepping back.”

The Wallabies pack has come under fire after a patchy start to the Test season this year.

After a disastrous finish to the British and Irish Lions series and a tough adjustment to new scrum engagement laws, Slipper is keen to restore the side’s reputation. ”Our squad is capable of being very physical. It’s not only about being physical in a way that the crowd can see, it’s about making your one-on-one tackles and not putting up with anything,” he said.

”Putting your head where you don’t want to put it, especially in the mauls. They’re a very formidable side with mauling and at the end of the day you’ve got to put your head on the inside, not the outside – that’s the easy option. That’s where you might cop a few things but that’s what has to be done.”

The Wallabies are preparing for the Springboks’ typical reliance on set-piece play and the driving maul but are also appreciating coach Heyneke Meyer’s emphasis on rounding out pressure with attack.

”They’re a very traditional team with the up-and-unders. They clear their 22 pretty efficiently and they tend to do it all the time,” Slipper said.

”But in saying that, they [put 70 points on] Argentina and there was a bit of running in that … I think it depends on how the game is going. If they have the momentum I’m sure they’ll throw it around, but if they’re under the pump I’m positive they’ll kick it and play that field position.”

Both teams name their starting line-ups on Wednesday, with the Springboks poised to name Zane Kirchner at fullback, moving Willie le Roux to the wing and squeezing out Bjorn Basson.

The Wallabies will name Quade Cooper at five-eighth, replacing Matt Toomua, while a back three shake-up is also expected after fullback Jesse Mogg was given two chances to make his mark against the All Blacks.

James O’Connor and Israel Folau are both possible options at fullback, with Joe Tomane or Nick Cummins probable wing replacements if coach Ewen McKenzie decides to move Mogg aside.

The Wallabies are confident that they are getting closer to the perfect balance of running rugby and playing for field position but will need to clean up their basic skills, which were found wanting in first two fixtures of the Rugby Championship.

”That’s the key to winning games, finding that balance,” O’Connor said. ”You want to play as much running rugby as you can but at certain times, when there’s too much line speed or pressure, you’ve got to be able to read the moment and clear the ball.

”I think we’re finding the balance better … but there’s definitely room for improvement.”

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Apr 10 2019

F1 in Schools battle of car design

HUNTER students battled it out yesterday to see who could design and build the best race car.

The F1 in Schools competition, held at Newcastle Panthers, challenged students to use computer programs and machine tools to create a miniature vehicle.

More than 15 schools took part in the Hunter finals, run by Regional Development Australia.

Year 8 students Connor Minchinton and Jarod O’Neill, of the Meteor Racing Team from Mount View High, scored high in the speed tests but lost out in the agility test.

‘‘It was a really good experience,’’ Connor said. ‘‘First we did a few sketches of our design, then we drew it up on the computer and then milled the car and painted it.

‘‘I’m really interested in the computer side of it, modifying the designs on the software.’’

Regional Development Australia Hunter program manager Ashley Cox said the competition was a chance for students to get a taste of manufacturing techniques.

‘‘Students who engage in the F1 in Schools program are more likely to choose maths and science careers, which is ultimately good for the region,’’ he said.

‘‘As careers become more focussed on technology our region will require a workforce with these skills and the competition is all about giving students experiences that will influence their career decisions for the future.’’

Team Super Sonic Speed, from left to right, Liam Ralston, 15, Joshua Beverley, 16, Daniel Bradley, 16. Students from 15 teams took part in the regional finals of F1 in Schools competition, which requires them to make their own unique race car using state of the art design and computer controlled machining technologies. Picture Jonathan Carroll

Students from 15 teams took part in the regional finals of F1 in Schools competition, which requires them to make their own unique race car using state of the art design and computer controlled machining technologies. Team Meteor Racing, Jarod O’Neill, 14, left, Connor Minchinton, 13, right, both from Mount View High. Picture Jonathan Carroll

Students from 15 teams took part in the regional finals of F1 in Schools competition, which requires them to make their own unique race car using state of the art design and computer controlled machining technologies. Team Meteor Racing, Jarod O’Neill, 14, left, Connor Minchinton, 13, right, both from Mount View High. Picture Jonathan Carroll

Students from 15 teams took part in the regional finals of F1 in Schools competition, which requires them to make their own unique race car using state of the art design and computer controlled machining technologies. Team Swift Ignition, from left to right, Abby Keppie-Watson, 15, Shani Searl, 15, Miriam Eveleens, 15, Kayla Crow, 14, Caitlin McMahon, 15. Picture Jonathan Carroll

Apr 10 2019

TOPICS: Knights rule media scrums

TOPICS spoke to some footballers and they gave proper answers. True story.

Half a dozen Newcastle Knights will complete a Hunter TAFE media course today after six weeks of study, and we caught up with three of them to ask what they’d learnt.

Joel Howlett performing the Indian rope trick with a tree kangaroo.

SURREAL: Pink crosses in the ‘pristine’ Sugarloaf State Conservation Area,

POLISHED: After completing a spot of Hunter TAFE media course training, Newcastle Knights players Tyrone Roberts, Alex McKinnon and Dane Gagai can also pass questions. Picture: Anita Jones

“How to structure a sentence so you don’t sound like an idiot,” offered utility forward Alex McKinnon.

He’s been trying to start his interviews strongly. Sounds like it’s working.

Halfback Tyrone Roberts said he’d improved at “getting a key point across, and not talking too much”.

Perhaps the greatest strides have been taken by centre Dane Gagai. When Topics asked which questions the players hate answering from reporters, he gave it some thought.

“If something happens with another player off the field, I don’t like being asked my opinion,” Gagai told Topics.

“Like, ‘do you think he should be given five weeks?’ I don’t think it’s my place to answer that.”

If Topics was a sports scribe, we’d prefer that kind of honesty to some of the sulking that goes on at press conferences. In unrelated news, Darius Boyd didn’t do the course.

By all accounts, Gagai is a vastly more polished media performer these days. A channel Nine commentator reportedly asked the Knights: “What have you done with Dane Gagai?”

The TAFE hopes to roll out the course to businesses that are keen to improve their media skills.

X marks the spot

“SURREAL” is a hackneyed word but if we could dust it off and use it once, it would be for this photo snapped by National Parks Association Hunter president Ian Donovan.

It’s of the grout glacier in the Sugarloaf State Conservation Area, crisscrossed with what look like surveyor marks. Keep in mind, that place is meant to be pristine.

Ropy old trick

GONE are the days when magicians were middle-aged men between jobs.

Now magic is in talent shows, Hollywood fare like Now You See Me and those Dynamo TV specials. Which are awesome. That guy walks on rivers.

So it’s a good time to be Joel Howlett, the Charlestown former boy magician who’s now a 20-something magician.

He reckons he’s just performed a world-first: the old Indian rope trick, with bonus tree kangaroo.

“The trick is performed by Indian street magicians, who throw a rope into the air and make it rigid,” Howlett explained to Topics.

“Then a small Indian boy climbs the rope.”

Howlett didn’t have a small Indian boy, so he enlisted the help of a Lumholtz tree kangaroo. On a visit to a wildlife rescue centre in North Queensland, he found the tree-loving marsupial was ideal for the trick.

Topics tried to suss out how he did it, to no avail. We can reveal that the rope wasn’t hooked on a tree.

Flat as a late beer

IT’s not just Topics who finds the match day ambience around Hunter Stadium a bit flat (Topics, September 3).

Reader Yvonne Smith has fond memories of the now-defunct Dungeon Bar, which was in the bowels of the old western grandstand.

“It stayed open after the game and we would have a couple of coldies, let the traffic get away and discuss the game,” says Yvonne.

“We really miss those times and feel very let down when we walk out of the ground to go home for a drink.”