29 Dec 18

Dragons No.1 for Dugan until he turns Blue

Scene stealer: Josh Dugan produced two tries on debut. Photo: John VeageDRAGONS recruit Josh Dugan admits the fire still burns to prove himself at State of Origin level.
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Had his career panned out differently, Dugan may well have been in camp with the NSW squad today, preparing to wear the sky blue No. 1 jersey for the second time, against Queensland at ANZ Stadium next week.

Dugan’s form in his two appearances for the Dragons suggests the spark is still there for the 23-year-old, who spent two months out of the game after leaving Canberra in controversial circumstances.

In 2011, Dugan made his first – and so far only – Origin appearance. He was hurt playing for the Raiders days after his NSW debut – a 16-12 loss to the dominant Maroons machine – and has not returned.

While Dugan continues his rugby league rehabilitation after the infamous social media outbursts and a rooftop drinking session with Blake Ferguson, his former Raiders teammate’s recent run of remarkable form earned him a place on the NSW wing.

Instead, Dugan will be part of St George Illawarra’s salvage mission on Friday night against the Bulldogs, after a 19-0 loss to Penrith at Kogarah. However, he admits playing for NSW again is a future goal.

“It’s in the back of my mind at the moment,” he said. “It’s always a goal for any player to play for their state, or whatever else. But at the moment, I’ve only been back two weeks, so I’m looking forward to playing good footy for the Dragons and [it] staying that way.”

A scene-stealing two-try debut for the Dragons not only reinforced Dugan’s immense talent but also warranted NSW great and Mercury columnist Steve Roach to say he could even play a part in this year’s Origin series. But NSW coach Laurie Daley last week revealed he only wanted Dugan to focus on his form with the Dragons without being distracted by any greater expectations.

Daley picked Jarryd Hayne at fullback, allowing Ferguson to make his Origin debut with Brett Morris recovering from injury in time for selection.

For his part, Dugan realises the importance of going the “right way” about making the most of an NRL lifeline.

“I’ve settled in pretty well,” he said. “It’s a big vibe around here and it’s good to be part of. I’ve been speaking to a couple of the players and a couple of the coaching staff, I’m looking to improve and go the right way about it. They’ve welcomed me well, I’m just enjoying each week getting back into the routine of things.”

While Dugan’s brilliant introduction was tempered by the 19-0 loss to Penrith, Kiwi international winger Jason Nightingale said the star recruit hadn’t put a foot wrong in the Dragons squad.

“He’s been great with the group,” he said. “Especially on the field he’s been outstanding in his two games so far. He’s a great individual player.

“He’ll spend a bit of time tinkering with the ability that he’s got and making sure we understand when to pop up next to him.”

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29 Dec 18

Neeld has two weeks, says Healy

As Melbourne president Don McLardy reiterated, there would be no “quick fixes”, club great Gerard Healy said the Demons must show improvement in the next fortnight otherwise coach Mark Neeld should be sacked.
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As the pressure mounts on Neeld after another heavy loss, Healy said clashes against heavyweights Hawthorn and Collingwood before the mid-season bye should determine whether the second-year senior coach is allowed to complete the season.

He also branded the Demons’ midfield “the worst midfield I have ever seen” after the club’s 90-point loss to Fremantle.

“Something has got to give at that club,” Healy said.

“If a decision hasn’t already been made, the coach has just two games left to get some improvement against Collingwood and/or Hawthorn.

“If not, it will be the bye for the players and bye bye for the coach before the club suffers the same fate as they are showing on the field.

“They are bankrupt on the field. They have got to make a move before they become bankrupt off it.”

Neeld’s contract does not expire until the end of next season but interim chief executive Peter Jackson has already made it clear no one is safe.

Neeld has only five wins – one this season – in 31 matches since taking charge. He admitted on Sunday the side had not improved since last year, claiming it would take another 12 months.

He also conceded his team “couldn’t cope” with the Dockers’ pressure.

Healy, whose brother Greg is the Demons football director, said on 3AW injuries could not be entirely blamed for the loss to Fremantle.

“You can be a lot more impressive than they [Melbourne] were,” he said. “They had five or six out but Fremantle had six of their best seven out.”

The dilemma for the financially struggling Demons appears to be whether they can afford to pay Neeld out and install Todd Viney as caretaker coach for a second time, or maintain the status quo and possibly risk losing contracted or uncontracted players because of the losing culture and ongoing uncertainty.

Healy indicated there had been a major post-match players’ meeting on Sunday but a club spokesman said the debriefing had been “nothing out of the normal”.

“Only the players can save the coach right now. They have to show something,” Healy said.

“I believe there was a players’ meeting [on Sunday night]. I believe some of the coaches may have been called into that meeting. If this doesn’t generate some sort of positive response on the weekend, then it’s curtains.”

McLardy said Jackson was continuing to review all internal operations.

“Peter Jackson is working hard on looking at all critical aspects of the club, in particular the football department, and will report to the board in due course,” he said.

“As we all know, there are no quick fixes from this position.”

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29 Dec 18

Tamou refuses to buy into Maroons’ perceived weaknesses

Not since 2000 have Queensland played an Origin game without one of Darren Lockyer or Petero Civoniceva, but Blues prop James Tamou dismissed the notion the Maroons would field their weakest team during their seven-year supremacy.
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The retirement of two Maroons greats over the past two years, as well as injuries to regular starters Darius Boyd and Ben Hannant, has given some south of the border added belief the Blues now have their best chance to end Queensland’s long-standing dominance.

Civoniceva and Lockyer have 69 games of Origin experience between them, more than the first 10 players named in Laurie Daley’s side combined, while Hannant (12) and Boyd (14) have been an integral part of Mal Meninga’s all-conquering side over the last four years.

Injuries to the pair have forced Queensland to name two debutants – Melbourne’s Justin O’Neill and South Sydney’s Chris McQueen – for game one at ANZ Stadium.

Tamou refused to provide his rivals with any ammunition leading into the opening game of the series by comparing the Maroons team to that of yesteryear.

”You can never say that,” Tamou said. ”If I come out and say that now and we go out and lose it will look bad. You can never say stuff like that. But I honestly don’t think so. Queensland have got all this firepower, in their backline for example. They have all these guys up front who can do the job. They have Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk at six and seven. We can’t take anything for granted with Queensland because you never know what they can bring, but I’m pretty confident with the team we’ve got we can finally do it.

”The reason Queensland have been so good is the depth. You take a gun player out and they’ll bring another one back in. Because Petero is not there, you can’t not bring your A-game. You can’t treat this lightly.”

While Tamou was arguably one of the form front-rowers of the competition heading into last year’s Origin series, he comes into camp this year after three months of mediocrity and plenty of criticism over his form.

”And rightfully so,” he said.

”No I haven’t, to be brutally honest … Hopefully I can forget about that and really step it up in Origin.”

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29 Dec 18

Brugge step up to make Ryan their No.1 gun

Central Coast Mariners goalkeeper Mat Ryan is set to end months of speculation over his future by signing with Belgian team Club Brugge.
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The highly rated shot-stopper left for Belgium on Monday to make the next step in his blossoming career by leaping from the A-League to the UEFA Europa League. Fairfax Media understands that Ryan will undergo a medical test with Brugge as soon as Tuesday and is expected to sign a four-year deal upon finalising personal terms.

The 21-year-old was close to joining Danish club Randers FC but turned down their offer at the 11th hour in favour of an opportunity to become Brugge’s first-choice goalkeeper.

Club Brugge coach Juan Carlos Garrido has identified Ryan as their prospective No.1 if he impresses during their pre-season campaign. The Blue and Blacks have struggled to find a long-term custodian, with three goalkeepers tested over the past three seasons. It is understood Ryan will be given a chance to assume a starting place ahead of 31-year-old Serbian goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic.

Ryan will sign as a free agent but the Mariners have agreed to compensation of $180,000 with Brugge for developing the player, and the A-League champions are also set to receive up to 20 per cent of his next transfer fee.

His imminent move to Brugge continues the trend of Australian players flourishing with the 13-time Belgian champions. Former Socceroos Paul Okon and Frank Farina enjoyed stints at the club. Okon spent five seasons there after leaving Marconi in 1991 and went on to win a league title and two Belgian Cups. Farina won a league title and cup as well as the golden boot for the top goalscorer in his two seasons at the Jan Breydel Stadium.

Ryan could become the third departure from the Mariners in less than a week after Pedj Bojic was granted a release and Patrick Zwaanswijk retired. The exits could continue as a host of foreign clubs have signalled their interest in young stars Bernie Ibini, Trent Sainsbury and Oliver Bozanic. The Mariners have re-signed 23-year-old defender Brent Griffiths on a one-year deal.

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29 Nov 18

Magpie defender Shaw on track to return against Lions

Collingwood expects defender Heath Shaw to travel to Brisbane this week, having overcome the lower back complaint that kept him out of last week’s loss to Sydney.
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But recruit Clinton Young’s anticipated return from a long-term hamstring injury remains about two weeks away, with the club hopeful it will get some football into the former Hawthorn wingman ahead of its mid-season break next month.

And while Ben Johnson has begun his journey back to the senior team, playing in the last two VFL rounds after two weeks off with a calf injury, he may be required to spend a third week there before being recalled.

Shaw missed Collingwood’s round-eight match through suspension, after he was rubbed out for striking Fremantle’s Hayden Ballantyne, and could not be considered for the Swans game due to his minor injury.

But football manager Geoff Walsh said he had trained well on Monday and looked capable of lining up against the Lions at the Gabba on Friday night.

The Magpies could this week consider promoting a fifth rookie to its senior list, with Kyle Martin’s impressive recent VFL form continuing with a six-goal game on the weekend. The club has already promoted four of its nine rookies, but has room for another upgrade given the recent injuries to Dale Thomas and Alex Fasolo.

■ Meanwhile, Collingwood has met the club member whose ”racially loaded” outburst during Friday’s win over Sydney was recorded by another spectator. The man has written to Swans players Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta apologising for the ”offensive” comments he shouted from the stands during the game.

”As a result of the meeting, a confidential understanding was reached which will see the man participate in education and counselling related to racial vilification,” the club said in a statement.

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29 Nov 18

High hopes but free agents failing to make their mark

Brendon Goddard (left) has been the best-performed of all the recruits brought in to be starting 22 players in new teams. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoRECOVERY SESSION
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Geelong charged home. It had a bad start but came home strongly. The elimination final last year proved a bridge too far but there was a momentum established that carried into the new year.

The idea of remaining in touch and not folding back into comfortable retirement took hold. Players were brought in to keep the Cats in the conversation at the very top.

Geelong has lost one game this year after an extremely taxing draw in the opening nine games. It is second on the ladder and now enters the downhill run of seven games at Simonds Stadium. And yet the players the Cats has introduced to keep them in this enviable position have largely done nothing.

Jared Rivers fitted in well without starring before he was injured, but his impact has been minimal. Josh Caddy was a long-term investment that was expected to have short-term benefit. He has had a smattering of games with middling to indifferent form.

Geelong has also taken over North Melbourne’s history of waiting patiently for Hamish McIntosh to one day play a game.

McIntosh was the most speculative purchase and may yet prove the inspired choice. Indeed, if he gets on the field he could outrageously improve the Cats. But to date Geelong’s outstanding early season has been built on the self-generated not the re-introduced.

It is not alone. Collingwood brought in two free agents, Quinten Lynch and Clinton Young. Lynch has had a couple of good games, one in particular when he took over from Darren Jolly in the ruck, but his form has tapered quickly. Young is yet to be sighted.

Sharrod Wellingham bounced himself out of early games for West Coast when he had a bizarre trampolining accident and then injured a knee.

Brian Lake has only latterly appeared in the Hawks team and has been steady and could well be the man to have the most profound effect on a side, for the tentative early signs are promising.

Danyle Pearce has given Fremantle more run and has been a serviceable selection since being enticed from Port without being a star.

Brendon Goddard has not been jaw-dropping but he has been the best-performed of all the recruits brought in to be starting 22 players in new teams and designed to make that team better.

Carlton did not bring in players. And for other self-inflicted reasons Adelaide was barred from injecting this sort of targeted talent.

Free agency was the tool introduced for clubs to ratchet themselves up the ladder. Nine rounds through a season and few sides that fancied themselves to be contending sides have been able to exploit a rise through the arrival of a free agent.

Richmond has been better from Troy Chaplin’s arrival and Chris Knights had some bright moments before injury, but Richmond remains in a mid-table limbo, uncertain if it has yet made the advance to be top eight contender – the Tigers’ six games after the bye will tell a tale.

The biggest wildcard of all was the one who was never going to make his side better by this stage of the year. He was a player not recruited to make an average side good, nor a good side better. He was recruited to make the premier the force that would not go quietly into the night. He is Kurt Tippett.

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29 Nov 18

Goodes’ critics way off mark

There are apes, and there are apes. From one white man to another, ”ape” mostly is a moderate, if unimaginative insult. Between friends, it might also be a rough endearment.
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From a white person to a black person, ”ape” is more pejorative by far. It is freighted with centuries of treatment as a sub-species, of oppression and subjugation, and in this country, of a history that began with near genocide, withheld constitutional recognition until 1967 and that leaves indigenous Australians still among the most disadvantaged in the nation.

It is not the word itself that cuts to the quick, but the attitude it entrenches.

The fact that the offender says she was unaware of the racist overtone of what she said makes it more important to address it, not less. It means the racism she gave voice to is deep-rooted, a peer legacy. It comes from us.

I’ve watched at play pre-schoolers from vastly different backgrounds, who by their words and actions show that they see not the slightest difference between one another, not even in appearance. It is adults who, mostly unwittingly, teach that there is difference, and worse, constructs of superiority and inferiority.

The idea that Adam Goodes needs to harden up is absurd. Firstly, it is a critique mostly made from a flabby armchair.

Secondly, Goodes was not whimpering about a shirtfront, or losing, or being dropped.

He was protesting the fact that racism exists at all in football, and had manifested at the beginning of a round set aside to celebrate the progress football has made in combating it and to reset the vigil against it.

It would have been easier for Goodes to laugh it off, or pretend not to have heard it, or perhaps reacted violently against it, as black men on and off the sportsfield were expected to do since forever.

Instead, he dealt with it. He hardened up all right.

The young woman caught in the centre of this drama seems to understand all the hurt that the exclamation of a single thoughtless word can cause. The sad thing is that a vocal and hysterical minority still does not. With any luck, she will fade graciously into the backdrop again now. But they will not relent.

There are apes, and there are their Darwinesque descendants.

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29 Nov 18

Tough pick: Gumbleton or Daniher

When Essendon lost one mainstay forward, Stewart Crameri, to injury earlier in the season, Scott Gumbleton was chosen ahead of feted teenage teammate Joe Daniher to replace him.
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The Bombers are set to face the same dilemma this week because of Michael Hurley’s likely absence.

The pair ranked among the Bombers’ top three in the VFL at the weekend, with Gumbleton the best and Daniher kicking five goals.

While Essendon has been cautious in promoting the lanky 19-year-old Daniher, in spite of the significant raps on him and his encouraging VFL form, it now has an opportunity to give him his debut against the club that lost out in the father-son draft duel for his signature.

”We’ll have a look,” Essendon coach James Hird said on 3AW on Monday night of the prospect of recalling Gumbleton or promoting Daniher for his debut.

”Scott was probably best on ground … and Joe was probably second-best, so there are a lot of decisions to make there.

”There’s … very good reasons to play either player, but in saying that we haven’t ruled [Hurley] out definitely yet.”

The likelihood of Daniher or Gumbleton being included has increased due to Essendon’s suspicion Hurley will miss one match after aggravating a left-ankle injury last weekend.

”It is very disappointing. He has done that ankle before [and faces] a real struggle to get up this weekend,” Bombers football operations manager Steve Alessio told the club’s website.

”He is pretty sore and proppy today, but they are going to do some further tests later on in the week … we will see how he goes.”

Of the seven matches Hurley has played in 2013, he has had to be substituted in three of them – twice due to the ankle injury that flared against Richmond after he fell awkwardly in a marking contest, and the other after he was concussed in a sling tackle by the Brisbane Lions’ Daniel Merrett in round eight.

Hurley has missed six matches due to injury in each of the past two seasons.

Since he made his debut in 2009 his longest unbroken streak of matches was 12 in 2010.

Alessio was more optimistic about the likelihood of Ben Howlett recovering from a blow to his shoulder and Paddy Ryder from a rolled ankle in time to face Sydney at the SCG on Saturday.

The Bombers also declared that small forward Alwyn Davey had recovered from the hamstring strain he suffered against Geelong in round seven.

One player whose immediate prospects are still to be determined is David Hille.

The ruckman was due to return on Monday from a fortnight in Europe for family reasons.

His training and playing schedule will be discussed with coaching and fitness staff when he returns to the club on Tuesday.

Hird predicted Hille would be ready to return to playing soon.

Stabbing victim Nathan Lovett-Murray is also still on track to resume running this week as part of his recovery from the biceps wound he suffered almost a week ago.

Sydney will also lose key forward Sam Reid to injury this week, but filling that void will not be the reigning premier’s only headache as it chases its first top-four scalp of the season against the Bombers.

The Swans will need to restructure their forward line after Reid was ruled out until after the bye at the earliest due to a quadriceps strain he suffered against Collingwood.

He will miss the games against Essendon and Adelaide but the Swans are aiming for him to return in round 13 against Port Adelaide, which is also when prized recruit Kurt Tippett is due to make his long-awaited debut in the red and white.

In the meantime, Jesse White and Tommy Walsh could deputise for Reid.

Further up the ground the Swans will be searching for a way to stop the red-hot run of Jobe Watson.

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29 Nov 18

20% of solar panels substandard 

ALMOST 20 per cent of solar panel installations in the Hunter may not have been installed correctly, a parliamentary committee has heard.
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The federal Clean Energy Regulator told a budget estimates hearing in Canberra on Mondayhat random checks of 7000 solar units across Australia revealed 19 per cent were substandard.

Four per cent of the units were found to be unsafe and shut down on the spot while others required retrospective work.

There are now more than a million solar photovoltaic units installed nationwide.

About 15,000 Hunter homes now have rooftop solar panels. The majority were installed during the ill-fated solar bonus scheme that was scrapped in 2011.

The Newcastle Herald has fielded numerous complaints from customers unhappy with the quality of workmanship they received.

General manager (renewables and carbon farming) at the Clean Energy Regulator Andrew Livingston said the majority of installers did high quality work.

However, some homeowners risked being left with substandard work because there was no way for the regulator to compel installers to fix their work.

Geoff Evans, manager of the advocacy group Solar Citizens, said he was surprised at the regulator’s estimate of substandard work.

‘‘Most people that I have spoken to have been happy with the service they have received,’’ Mr Evans said.

‘‘If someone does get a raw deal there are avenues to get it fixed,’’ he said.

The Clean Energy Regulator can fine licensed agents that contract installers to do work. Agents can be fined $3500 or face losing their certificate.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received 1613 complaints about solar systems in 2012, up from 1229 the year before.

These are in addition to complaints made to state-based fair trading authorities.

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28 Oct 18

Time is a great healer but some pain can haunt you

Former premiership player and coach Robert Walls had some idea what might have been going through North Melbourne coach Brad Scott’s mind moments after his Roos had lost the seemingly unlosable match to Adelaide on Sunday evening.
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For a coach, a missed goal here, a failure to prevent one there, and a consequent narrow loss is the stuff of nightmare. Not that it’s much fun for the players, either, left slumped on the ground in disbelief at yet another episode of ”missed it by that much”.

No wonder Scott was prepared to concede ”a resounding no” to the question of whether his players were mentally tough enough. And that North skipper Andrew Swallow on Monday said the playing group had been left the ”flattest” he had ever seen it.

And Walls has seen it from both a coaching and playing perspective. As coach of Carlton, he led the Blues to the 1987 flag. They were third the following year. But in 1989, luck certainly wasn’t falling the Blues’ way.

They lost to St Kilda by two points at Moorabbin. Then to Melbourne by a goal at the MCG. And when Brisbane scored the unlikeliest of three-point victories in round 10, Walls not only lost some more life expectancy, but his job.

Not that the Blues started winning the close ones under his replacement, Alex Jesaulenko. In fact, Carlton would finish that year having lost five games by less than a goal and drawn another.

As a player a decade earlier with Fitzroy, Walls had seen it from another angle. Indeed, only one team has lost more close games than did the Lions in 1978. That was Footscray in 1950, which managed to lose seven games by single figure margins.

Fitzroy in 1978 wasn’t a bad side at all, managing to twice beat eventual premier Hawthorn. But as early as the halfway point of the season, the Lions had well and truly shot themselves in the foot.

Walls had left Carlton early that season for a second playing home at the Junction Oval. When he debuted in round 10, his new team had already lost games by eight, four, three and two points.

For a team that knew it had talent, the frustration was overwhelming. And it showed. ”I remember Bob Beecroft nearly strangling someone in that first game I played with them,” Walls chuckles.

”I didn’t really know the guys, and he’s got someone in a choker hold on the ground and the guy was turning white. I thought, ‘Bloody hell, he’s going to kill him’!”

Walls’ second game for the Lions was a six-point loss to Richmond. The following week, Fitzroy lost by three points to Geelong. After 11 rounds, Fitzroy was bottom of the ladder with a 2-9 record, yet only 32 points shy of a win-loss status of 8-3, enough to have it third.

Indeed, the Roys share an unwanted place on the list of most frequent losers of close games, having in four different seasons lost half-a-dozen games by single-figure margins.

But the latter-day North Melbourne is beginning to challenge for that status. Since the beginning of 2011, the Roos have been involved in no fewer than 13 games decided by single figures. They have won a paltry two, both last year, against Gold Coast and Richmond.

”Surely they have to do a lot of game simulation at training,” says Walls. ”It’s chip the ball around, take as much time as you can, kick it to the boundary, knock it out, get numbers around the stoppage and force another throw-up.

”I mean, these guys are full-time professionals. We used to do it in the days when you only trained on Tuesday and Thursday nights.”

Walls has one ray of hope to offer the shattered North Melbourne. That Fitzroy, after its series of nail-biting losses of 1978, managed to make the finals the following year.

”You just hope they learn from these near-misses. But gee, after what happened against West Coast and now this, it makes you think they haven’t learnt much!”

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