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Born that way

I reached the height of interest in football in 1997. I was 13, and the Bulldogs were challenging for the premiership for the first time since the ’50s. There was no religion in my childhood, but with the help of my father, I’d learned about mythology through the Dogs. Chris Grant occupied a good part of my imagination, a flawed god who seemed physically enormous and very impressive to me.

I sought out the strengths in the Bulldogs’ average players, too, sometimes irrationally, until I found a glint in the names across every line of the field. I even waved a flag, a good measure of fanaticism, and I was gutted in the preliminary final when Darren Jarman dipped and stepped and kicked three perfect, horrible goals that ended the Bulldogs’ season. Dad left matches early when he knew it was over, and when the siren went I was trailing him through the car park. I barracked for the Bulldogs because Dad did. Dad barracked for them because he played with the club in the ’70s.

I didn’t understand why the Bulldogs affected me, but they were certainly easy to cheer for and played what people now call ”a good brand of footy”. In other words, they did what every coach tells his players to do: they tried hard.

But I don’t care a lick for the Bulldogs now, nor for any side in particular. Now when I tune in to football I am distracted by the chatter, the process and fabrication and the checked sentences of struggling coaches or gagged players. There remains the ever-present interest in brilliant play, and the aching loyalty between teammates expressed this week in The Age by Bob Murphy when he described his Bulldogs’ near miss. But my interest is gravitating toward something linked more closely with reality TV than the Bulldogs of ’97.

Footy offers me an allegory, not of heroes and underdogs, but of gossip and trolling. I don’t know how many more programs discussing football are running today than there were in ’97, but it must be many. There were more limited opportunities to propagate and insinuate back then. Rex Hunt was fun on Sundays, and The Footy Show was only just beginning to take the midweek hyperbole seriously. Watching anything beyond that felt like overkill.

You sense a sudden jerk in the football dialectic towards the American mode of relishing and perpetuating bad news, of passing whispers. And there is a fluorescent thread running through these shows now that reveals a public preference for spilt blood and confrontation.

Through subtle methods and listener preference, the myriad football programs have begun rubbishing individuals and teams for entertainment. It’s as if a generic shift toward on-field marketability has seen the perversities and spite that were once exorcised during play be reserved now for the public forum. Otherwise timid voices are emboldened because the target cannot respond meaningfully. This is my understanding of ”trolling”. In recent weeks, Mark Neeld, Michael Voss and Brendan McCartney have all expressed the sentiment that they are not interested in discussions about their future, because they spend their time concentrating on coaching.

This is the only riposte you can hope for from a besieged figure in the AFL, a minor deflection that nowadays can only be partly true. If they’re not listening, they must be wondering what that humming noise is.

Mark Fine’s SEN program was on in my car after Melbourne lost to the Suns last week. I had tuned in deliberately in the hope of being entertained by some grim or dramatic news. And Fine dutifully hosted the show about Mark Neeld and his Demons like an evangelist would host a conversation about the devil – he allowed his callers to emphasise with passion that Melbourne is no good. While there is a certain vulgarity to hearing each caller try to outdo the previous one, I know as the listener what my interest is: I want to know how bad things can get, and how a person like Mark Neeld responds to a barrage of criticism.

The most outraged of the callers were, of course, Melbourne supporters, and the most verbose of them was a man claiming to have joined the Demons in 1965 – one year too late, as Fine pointed out. ”I’ve seen terrible times,” he began, ”through which I’ve always maintained my allegiance, and used to at least have Robbie Flower to cheer for.”

But now, he said, ”The club is not only losing, it’s toxic. It’s a dog, so abysmal and pathetic that no sponsor would go near it.” He was the best caller, the most articulate and entertaining.

Fine gave him rope and the Melbourne man ran with it until he had exhausted his adjectives. When he finished, Fine paused for dramatic effect and thanked him for his call.

I thought then about the Bulldogs of ’97. I recalled the strange pain in my chest when Dad said, ”Let’s go,” and we left the MCG to the Adelaide people. What was the nature of the Melbourne man’s allegiance? Was he born into his Demons, as I was to the Bulldogs, or had he simply liked Melbourne’s colours as a child?

Either way, he sounded without choice, like an atheist who had been christened as a baby. His type of angry allegiance is interesting because, unlike other allegiances, if he chose to support another football club, his decision would not be threatened by eternal hellfire.

And I thought also of those Twitter followers who attack a person they made the choice to follow. Allegiance can be beautiful, like my Dogs were in ’97, or it can be backwards and isolating. I thought of those poor Demons people still waving their flags in the Southern Stand with a blind and unceasing faith and how, like Mormons on New York stairs, they endure a winter of doors slammed in their faces.

Perhaps sensing that his callers sniffed more blood, Fine eventually announced that he would field no more calls about the Demons. At that point, I changed stations. I’d been in it for blood.

Regular columnist Timothy Boyle played 31 games for Hawthorn from 2005 to 2008.

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Training was bad … and so was the match: Hird

While Brisbane Lions coach Michael Voss declared his men had regained their mojo, Essendon coach James Hird was left to lament his team’s lack of intensity after the Bombers were stunned by the rejuvenated Lions in a bruising and controversial clash on Saturday.

Undefeated after six rounds, the Bombers have now suffered back-to-back losses, against Geelong and the Lions, while their last victory, against the winless Greater Western Sydney, was largely a struggle.

They must now try to regain their groove, possibly without concussed forward Michael Hurley, against a threatening Richmond in the ”Dreamtime at the G” clash on Saturday night.

”I thought we lacked intensity in the way we went about our game,” Hird said of the 10-point defeat at Etihad Stadium.

”To a certain point, and I have said that this year, we have played the way we trained. I thought our training on Thursday was pretty disappointing and we went into the game with that sort of intensity.”

Skipper Jobe Watson also put the loss down partly to a sloppy training session and denied the ongoing joint AFL-Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority investigation of the club’s supplement use last season was beginning to take a toll.

”I don’t think so. It has been a challenge for us at different periods but, more specifically, Thursday’s training session was a poor training session,” Watson said.

”I thought the group a week ago was in good spirits going into the Geelong game and hopefully last week was a one-off. Our preparation this week translated into the way we played.

”But for the past seven or eight weeks, I don’t think the investigation and the side things that have happened have had an overly detrimental impact on the playing group.”

The Bombers will monitor Hurley after his day ended early in the first term through a sling tackle by Lions defender Daniel Merrett. It was one of several incidents set to be scrutinised by the match review panel.

Hurley, without the ball, was tackled on the boundary line in the forward pocket and his head crashed into the turf. He was initially subbed out for the 20-minute concussion test, only to be then told his day was over.

Minutes later Justin Clarke crashed into young Bomber Elliott Kavanagh, who required help as he left the field with sore ribs. The incident sparked a scuffle, and the Bombers were awarded a 50-metre penalty, with Watson converting to open his team’s account.

In what was one of the best games of the season, there were 18 lead changes but, in the end, it was a goal by Brent Staker, returning from a knee reconstruction, with 31 seconds left which sealed the win.

It was only the Lions’ third victory of the season, and temporarily eased the pressure on the out-of-contract Voss, who had begun the year well by winning the NAB Cup.

”Probably the most asked question has been – what’s happened since the NAB Cup?” Voss said.

”Well, we did lose our mojo. We have steadily been getting that back. To get that back, you have got to have a playing group that believes in what you are doing.”

Voss said he would not be distracted by contract speculation.

”I reiterate again: there is a job to do. That’s what I am going to do. My focus has not changed off that, the board’s focus has not changed off that, and we will continue to do it until I am told otherwise,” he said.

”But I believe in our guys, I believe in our players. We have got a good group coming through. They are capable of moments like that. I am glad. The work they have done, they have got a little reward.”

Only 25 free kicks were paid, and there were a number of confusing umpiring decisions in what appeared to be a relaxing of the rules on player contact.

This prompted AFL great Leigh Matthews to suggest on 3AW during the second term that B-grade umpires were in charge. The field umpires were Stuart Wenn, Troy Pannell and former Saint Leigh Fisher.

There also was controversy when Lions skipper Jonathan Brown was paid a mark seemingly after the three quarter-time siren, and again when Brown marked between the goal and point posts early in the final term.

Replays indicated Brown had marked behind the line but the video umpire said the footage was ”inconclusive”. The field umpire then awarded Brown the mark, which he converted into a goal.

”Obviously we would have liked it to have been a point but it was given a mark,” Hird said.

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Bitter tweet might cost Warner tour

David Warner might have surrendered his place on cricket’s most prestigious tour because of 56 minutes of madness for all his 192,000 Twitter followers – and the rest of the world – to see.

Warner launched a blistering attack in the early hours of Saturday morning, India time, against two of the Australian media’s longest-serving cricket writers, Robert Craddock and Malcolm Conn.

He will now almost certainly have to front a Cricket Australia code of behaviour hearing to explain why he should still be allowed on the upcoming Ashes series.

Warner’s rant began when he took exception to a piece by Craddock about corruption in the Indian Premier League, which was rocked by allegations last week of spot fixing by three players, including Indian Test paceman Sreesanth.

Warner’s Delhi Daredevils plays its final match of the tournament this weekend and he is expected to return to Sydney before heading off, if permitted, with the Ashes squad on Wednesday. Cricket Australia is staging a farewell event at Sydney Airport for Sydney-based team members and it is understood Warner was listed as a participant.

Officials, including general manager of team performance Pat Howard, were still trying to contact Warner on Saturday afternoon. It is believed the cricketer was still asleep. His manager, Tony Connelly, who is in India, did not return Fairfax Media’s requests for an interview about his client’s welfare. It was still not confirmed if the opener had sent the tweets, which were laden with vitriol towards Craddock, Conn and the media in general.

@malcolmconn wow champ all you do is bag people for a living and you say cricket is a real job!!! Bit rich CHAMP!!— David Warner (@davidwarner31) May 17, 2013

He began his tirade by tweeting ”Shock me @crashcraddock1 talking shit about ipl jealous prick. Get a real job. All you do is bag people. #getalife”. Craddock’s fellow News Ltd journalist, Conn, responded: ”@davidwarner31 cricket is a real job? Please. Most people pay to play. Million dollar cricketers milking the IPL are hardly the best judges.” Warner went on to write of Craddock: ”All he did was talk shit about the greats now he sucks up there [sic] ass. Talk more crap why don’t you”.

Among several other colourful tweets, Warner wrote to Conn: ”@malcolmconn keep writing paper talk trash for a living champ only thing you will ever do” and ”@malcolmconn are you still talking you old fart, no wonder know [sic] one buys your paper”.

Among Conn’s responses was: ”@davidwarner31 You lose 4-0 in India, don’t make a run, and you want to be tickled on the tummy? Win the Ashes and get back to me” and ”It’s becoming increasingly obvious why Brad Haddin was brought back as vice captain. Your [sic] lengths behind in that race”.

By midday, CA had issued a statement saying: ”Cricket Australia is aware of comments made on David Warner’s Twitter account overnight.

”Cricket Australia is attempting to contact Warner and will continue to investigate the matter.

”Cricket Australia will make further comment once it has conducted a thorough investigation.”

If Warner is charged with a breach, it will likely be under rule nine, Detrimental Public Comment, which states: ”Without limiting any other rule, players and officials must not make public or media comment which is detrimental to the interests of the game.”

He would face one of CA’s 18 commissioners.

Conn said on radio on Saturday he understood Cricket Australia ”wouldn’t be happy with an international cricketer using that sort of language on a public forum.

”It doesn’t worry me. He’s entitled to his opinion and good luck to him. I hope he gets some runs in England.”

Warner was out for a first-ball duck in Delhi Daredevils’ seven-run loss to Kings XI Punjab on Thursday night. He averaged 24.3 on the failed India tour recently.

The recall of Chris Rogers for the Ashes has placed his spot in the team under enormous pressure.

This is another public relations disaster for captain Michael Clarke and the team’s hierarchy.

Four players were publicly shamed on the recent fateful tour of India for having broken team rules, a move seen by many as a show of authority by Clarke, Howard and coach Mickey Arthur, and a statement about team discipline.

One of the four, vice-captain Shane Watson, left the tour and made his displeasure at Howard, especially, known upon arriving in Sydney. He returned to the tour – and captained Australia in the fourth Test when Clarke was injured – but later resigned from the vice-captaincy.

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The sinister shadow cast by towering teenagers

Anti-doping authorities might never interrogate headmasters or first XV rugby coaches. There will be no raids on classrooms or government ministers staging shocking news conferences about drugs and organised crime in the schoolyard.

But to ignore whispers about the use, and potential for use, of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements in schools may be as naive as believing Australian professional sport is squeaky clean.

One player manager involved in talent scouting, who wished to remain anonymous, said questions were murmured about a Wallaby, who ”finished at Shore, disappeared for a year, loaded up on everything he could, came back and started playing footy when he was 20”.

He said that was the only rumour he’d heard. ”That’s not to say a kid here or there isn’t getting his hands on hormones or something, or that a kid down the road isn’t selling them something. The thing is, until they’re contracted [professionally], no one really knows what goes on.

”That’s the greyness of the whole thing. Until they reach that level, it comes down to the school and the family. You’d like to think most people do the right thing.”

The issue of supplements and performance-enhancing drug use in schools is set to be discussed following an investigation by Fairfax Media that built on enduring rumours of drug and supplement use in schools. Among the revelations, the report revealed that Scots College had accepted a rugby tournament sponsorship from Ultimate Sports Nutrition, which sells supplements ”to deliver explosive gains in muscle size and strength”.

The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority conducts about 7000 tests each year, including testing minors, but none are conducted on behalf of schools.

Under legislation, the organisation tests ”any national or international level athlete who participates in a sport with an anti-doping policy”.

”Generally, the ASADA legislation allows ASADA to conduct testing on the basis of an athlete’s level of sporting ability and sport membership, as opposed to school membership,” the authority said.

Drug testing in schools would be a polarising move. Ross Tarlinton, the headmaster of St Joseph’s College, a prolific rugby nursery, said before the investigation was published he was strongly against testing.

”I don’t think it’s the right track at all,” Tarlinton said. ”This is amateur sport, not professional sport. That’s getting into the realm of professional sport and that’s not what school is about. You’ve got to remember these are kids.”

Tarlinton said students were often on medications, including asthma and acne treatments.

”Where would it stop? I wouldn’t support that regime,” he said. Fairfax Media was seeking a response from Tarlinton to Saturday’s story.

Earlier this month, two students in Brisbane were expelled after being found with steroids. Body image obsession was said to be the motivator. Days earlier, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton wrote of a ”disturbing email” he’d received from the parent of a child at one of the elite Great Public Schools.

”I just couldn’t believe that the development I was looking at was the result of gym work,” the parent said of a school rugby game. ”This sense was only exacerbated by an overheard conversation on the touchline: of a gym where drugs could be purchased to aid performance.”

Carlton’s column sparked interest. Among the responses was a note from a former GPS student, with children now at one of the Combined Associated Schools. ”I have had little doubt for years performance drugs were rampant,” the parent said.

”It’s also common knowledge amongst the kids themselves. I’m sure it exists to a greater or lesser degree in most of the top schools.”

The parent wrote that in a recent school match, ”it was fairly clear they’d been doing something more than a few extra squats and bench presses! The kids and parents know, or at least strongly suspect, what’s going on.”

No proof has emerged of doping or unethical supplement use in schoolboy rugby. Nick Farr-Jones believes it will stay that way.

The NSW Rugby Union chairman and World Cup-winning captain, a Newington College alumnus, said he would be ”enormously surprised” if performance-enhancing drug use in schools ”was at all widespread”.

”You never say never, but I’d be hugely shocked if it was involved in schoolboy sport,” Farr-Jones said. He added, however, that where coaches pushed children too hard, a win-at-all-costs mentality could pervade.

”You do get some lunatic coaches who get far too serious and forget that it’s to be enjoyed,” he said. ”Yes, winning is enjoyable. But the whole concept of sport being part of education is that you’d like children and young adults to understand life is about how you win, but also how you accept loss. Sometimes coaches, parents and schools can take sport way too seriously. To win at all costs, I’m definitely opposed to that.”

Winning at all costs may push schoolboys towards performance-enhancing drugs. Similarly the reality is, these days, a standout schoolboy player may be just a step away from a lucrative professional contract.

Tarlinton was troubled by Carlton’s column, as he felt it implied that schools were participating in unethical programs or turning a blind eye. ”Those suggestions I refute,” he said.

However, he conceded there were ”some big, well-built kids” playing schoolboy rugby who may have taken supplements or drugs. He said St Joseph’s had adapted to a changed environment and was educating students about the issue. Yet, he added, there was only so much a school could do to protect students.

”There is not, to the best of my knowledge – and certainly not at this school – any suggestions made to the boys that part of their program involve supplementation,” he said. ”In fact, we are absolutely overt in our conversations with the boys that supplementation programs are not part of our regimes.

”Can they get supplements? Well, they can go over to Chatswood to a gym and get them. Are they doing that? They could well be. But to suggest that schools are promoting that or turning a blind eye, not at all. We actively work against it.”

Tarlinton said supplements were available, but students were being taught ”these things are not necessary and the risks are unknown”. Each boy involved in a gym or athletic program at St Joseph’s, he said, had ”qualified staff” working with them, including ensuring they understood the problems with performance-enhancing drugs.

”Five years ago, we probably weren’t even talking about it,” he said. ”Now, we do talk about it and we talk about it in a positive way, that they are not part of what’s needed in terms of a healthy lifestyle. That is the proactive approach.”

The headmaster hoped parents, too, were educating children about the dangers, ”but just because a school and parents educate kids not to do something doesn’t mean they won’t do it. They’re exposed to them broadly. I couldn’t give you a categorical ‘No they don’t’, but I can tell you our approach.”

Tarlinton said the quality and knowledge of fitness and training had developed in recent years and to suggest ”the improvements only came about because of performance-enhancing substances, I think is a long bow”. Respected schoolboy coach Tony Hannon agreed. Hannon coached the likes of league and union stars Chris Whitaker, Craig Wing and Duncan McRae at Sydney Boys High School. He said the top schools should be commended for improving strength and fitness programs.

”With a school like Joey’s, you’ve got to respect what they do – they work so hard,” he said.

Hannon claimed he’d never encountered evidence of drug use, ”though many years ago there was a halfback at a certain school that suddenly swelled up and became very big. That was the only time I’ve ever seen anything that seemed wrong.”

All schools have access to ASADA’s e-learning module on its website. ”ASADA understands the kind of pressure up-and-coming athletes are under while they are trying to carve out a career, but wants to make sure these athletes know that being a cheat is not the kind of name they want to make for themselves,” the authority said. ”ASADA’s education program aims to reduce the number of athletes contemplating doping, reinforce health messages, reduce the percentage of inadvertent anti-doping rule violations and raise anti-doping awareness throughout the Australian sporting community.”

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Sunday Sin Bin: Sharks can’t give sponsorship away

Cronulla have tried to donate the club’s major sponsorship to charity for free … only for the offer to be rejected. The Sharks are the only team without a major backer after becoming the focal point of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s investigations into the NRL. Resigned to the likelihood that corporates will steer clear while the drug allegations hover over the club, the new board has opted to align the Sharks with a charity partner at no cost. It’s the same strategy employed by Canterbury in 2008. At their lowest ebb and also without a front-of-jersey partner, Bulldogs chief executive Todd Greenberg struck a deal with Camp Quality, an association that continues to this day. Camp Quality initially knocked the Bulldogs back, concerned about the negative publicity surrounding their brand. And it’s understood the Sharks have faced similar problems, with at least one potential partner baulking at the prospect of getting involved, even though it wouldn’t have cost a cent. In March, the club knocked back a sponsorship proposal put forward by Tynan Motors, claiming the offer was too low. At that stage they had already discounted the deal by 50 per cent.Trust me, I’ve a real hunger for politics

Glenn Lazarus is the latest rugby league star to turn his hand to politics. The ”Brick With Eyes” has joined another larger-than-life character, Clive Palmer, as part of the Palmer United Party senate team. While he has the backing of former coach Wayne Bennett, not everyone makes a smooth transition from the footy field to the even tougher world of politics. Lazarus’ former Canberra teammate Mal Meninga enjoyed what is believed to be Australia’s shortest political career. And it hasn’t taken long for Lazarus’ old buddies to have a dig. ”I hope it’s a big buffet down in Canberra,” Allan Langer told AAP during the week. ”He and Clive will cut big figures [in politics].”

Dank cites dissing

Why doesn’t Stephen Dank just come out and tell ASADA and the AFL his side of the story? It’s a question he was only too happy to answer. Dank believes both bodies have botched the investigative process and that he would have co-operated had they approached him respectfully early in the piece. ”The only reason I don’t speak to ASADA or the AFL is because of the lack of courtesy they’ve shown me,” he said.

Galloway on loose

As if there weren’t enough dramas in Tiger Town … NSW and Australian prop Keith Galloway (pictured) is off contract at season’s end and has piqued the interest of rival clubs. With their forwards stocks already thin, the joint venture can ill-afford to lose an integral part of their pack.

Exit is explained

I had the opportunity to sit down with Stephen Humphreys for an hour on Saturday morning at his office at Concord Oval along with Wests Tigers chairman Mike Bailey and deputy Nick Di Girolamo. The very fact that they presented a united front was significant and shows they are serious about putting factionalism aside. The outgoing Wests Tigers chief executive had planned to address the players and tell them of his decision to step down after Friday night’s clash with South Sydney, but couldn’t bring himself to do it then after the hammering they copped. He told several staffers after the game and started calling the players on Saturday. Humphreys – flanked by Bailey and Di Girolamo – was clearly weighed down by the mounting losses, the injury toll and the politics which had hampered the joint venture off the field. ”It’s a big call and one I make with a heavy heart,” he said. Your correspondent has had the opportunity to work with Humphreys over the years and has always found him to be honest, fair and – above all – a man who has always put the interests of the club first. ”My mum rang me last night to say somebody had said something [about his departure] on the radio and I hadn’t told her. She was a bit upset by that.” He hoped those he had not spoken to personally about his decision were not offended, but wanted to keep the decision quiet so as not to draw further attention to the club at a tough time.

Roy still keen

Roy Spagnolo might no longer be the chairman, but will continue to have influence at Parramatta. Despite missing out on a director’s spot at last weekend’s Leagues Club elections, Spagnolo returned to the boardroom via a loophole in the constitution. ”It’s a privilege to remain involved with the Parramatta club and I look forward to working with the new board,” Spagnolo said. Fairfax Media reported during the week that the constitutional clause Spagnolo exploited was one inserted by former CEO Denis Fitzgerald. This is incorrect. ”The Emperor” contacted us to let us know that the loophole has been in existence since 1959.

Clouded future

The future of veteran rugby league commentator David Morrow remains in limbo. Morrow has been suspended while the ABC investigates an alleged racist remark which was broadcast through the Illawarra by mistake. The incident occurred before the St George Illawarra-Manly clash almost a fortnight ago. ”David Morrow remains off air while the investigation into his recent on-air comments is continuing,” ABC Grandstand manager Craig Norenbergs said. ”While the ABC has worked to conduct the investigation quickly, under the terms of the ABC enterprise agreement, David’s response was only received by the ABC [on Thursday]. It is now being reviewed. Separately, the ABC has concluded that the material broadcast was in breach of the ABC’s editorial policies, specifically section 7.7 of the Code of Practice, where employees must ‘avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice.’ Once outcomes of both processes are known, further action will be determined.”

JT’s baby bonus

Could it be all of the planets will align and Johnathan Thurston’s partner Samantha Lynch will deliver their first child on Origin night? The Queensland star is expecting to become a dad in early June, about the time of the series opener. So if push comes to shove and the baby arrives on June 5, will he be at ANZ Stadium or the maternity ward? ”It’s around Origin but that’s still a few weeks away,” he said. ”I’ll be right to play that Origin. We’re pretty confident it won’t come around then, so fingers crossed.”

Mystery solved

We published a photo last weekend of what we believe to be the first female rugby league coach, of the Glenora Rugby League Club in Auckland. Unfortunately, we were unable to identify her. However, we were contacted by Mark Freeman, who was able to solve the riddle. ”That’s my mum,” he said of Dorothy Freeman, who passed away in 1990. ”I was reading the last line of your article about an unidentified woman and straight away I knew it was going to be mum. I looked over at the picture and sure enough it was. It made Mother’s Day, I looked up to the heavens and said: ‘Thanks Mum’. It was like she was saying hello.” The photo was taken in 1967 but it’s believed Dorothy Freeman picked up the clipboard for the first time the previous year. She went on to coach her son at schoolboy level and the pair enjoyed premiership success.

King of the carnival

Injuries have frustrated Matt King, although there is something bright coming up for the Souths star. The Matty King Shield, named in his honour, will be awarded to the victorious school in a competition next month in his home town of Casino in the Northern Rivers area. ”I’m proud as punch,” King said. ”All I wanted when I started playing first grade was a street named after me. Now I’ve got a footy carnival, so I’m happy with that!”

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Boilover: Bombers fall hard

Brendon Goddard Desperately trying to hang on … Pearce Hanley is tackled by Essendon’s Mark Baguley. Photo: Pat Scala

BRISBANE LIONS 3.4 6.5 11.7 14.12 (96) ESSENDON 3.1 7.6 10.9 12.14 (86) GOALS Brisbane: Zorko 3, Brown 2, Raines, Moloney, Staker, Lisle, Polkinghorne, Redden, Leuenberger, Hanley, Black. Essendon: Heppell 2, Crameri 2, Bellchambers 2, Howlett, Myers, Kavanagh, Hocking, Watson, Ryder. BEST Brisbane: Zorko, Brown, Merrett, Hanley, Golby. Essendon: Heppell, Goddard, Hibberd, Hooker, Hocking, Watson. INJURIES Essendon: Hurley (concussion). UMPIRES Wenn, Pannell, Fisher. CROWD: 33,915 at Etihad Stadium.

Two statistics best sum up the Brisbane Lions’ stunning 10-point upset of Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Saturday. One is that the team sitting 15th on the AFL ladder somehow managed to defeat one in second spot. The other is that the lead in this gripping, highly entertaining game changed on no fewer than 18 occasions.

This was one of the best games of the season to date, but perhaps even more so because it was so unexpected. Sure, Brisbane had rediscovered some competitiveness and Essendon had lost, but this was supposed to be all about the Bombers getting back on track against a team that had won just once in its past nine visits to the venue and lost both games there this year by more than 10 goals.

But you knew this wasn’t going to be all one-way traffic within 10 minutes. In fact, you could have argued a convincing case at that moment that if this game was indeed going to be one-sided, it would be Brisbane dominating. The Lions certainly had to that point. Incredibly, by then, Essendon hadn’t had a single inside-50 entry. Brisbane had had nine and scored two goals from them, both to livewire Dayne Zorko.

The first came after Bomber skipper Jobe Watson got a little too cute for his own good, dummying a handball inside his defensive 50, Zorko smothering and pouncing on the spoils. The second was a classy right-foot snap. With a Jonathan Brown poster and another behind, Brisbane was 14 points up and looking good.

The Lions had been on the angry pills, too. Daniel Merrett slammed Michael Hurley in a sling tackle, forcing the Bomber forward off the ground, and eventually to be substituted out of the game. Only a couple of minutes after that, young Lion Justin Clarke, playing only his fourth game, came in even later than the Metro timetable on Elliott Kavanagh, conceding a 50-metre penalty and the Dons’ first goal.

This was feisty stuff, and it seemed to spur the Bombers into action. Essendon proceeded to take control at ground level, if not on the scoreboard, enjoying the next seven inside 50s before David Myers converted some of that dominance with a thumping left-foot goal from beyond 55 metres. But from that moment, until half-time, these two teams were pretty hard to split, going virtually goal for goal.

Brown gave the Lions a little breathing space, Tom Bellchambers promptly closed it. Kavanagh put the Dons in front, Matthew Leuenberger snapped a response. Dyson Heppell, one of the Dons’ best, snapped off one step. Jack Redden clawed it back with a goal from a free kick and 50-metre penalty. Bellchambers kicked a second from a tight angle, and veteran Simon Black, having a big influence, had no trouble popping one through after a clever pass from the impressive Ryan Lester.

Stewart Crameri’s snap just on half-time for Essendon made it seven lead changes. But by the final change that had become 14, Brisbane determined to make its clearly greater levels of commitment count for something a lot more substantial than just honour. Essendon had key midfielders David Zaharakis and Brent Stanton subdued and even skipper Watson a little quieter than usual early, and by the time the urgency of the situation appeared to dawn on the Bombers, they were up against a side just as confident it could prevail in the end.

Essendon began hammering the goals, but the Lions defence was superb, Joel Patfull and Merrett resilient, Mitch Golby tough and productive when opposed to either Zaharakis or Jason Winderlich. Essendon finished the game with 61 inside 50s for 26 scores, the Lions went in just 39 times for the same number. At one stage in the third term, they’d had five entries for four goals.

There was controversy when Brown converted a mark that had appeared to be taken over the goal line, Ben Howlett pounced on a bungled kick-in from Jed Adcock, but the lead changed hands for a final time when Zorko, reprising his dynamic start, put Brisbane in front again after a rare turnover from Bomber defender Michael Hibberd.

And the exclamation mark was a beauty, a set shot from Brent Staker from just inside the 50, hard up on the boundary line, with less than a minute to play. It was only the second time in the entire game one side had led by a double-figure margin. And the closeness will have Essendon rueing a lost chance. But the Brisbane the Bombers met on Saturday was a far tougher proposition than the one they expected to be taking on. And the price paid for the underestimation was fair enough.


With their season on the line, the Lions chased the ball – and man – with vigour, as shown when Dayne Zorko booted the opening two goals of the match. The first came after Zorko smothered a Watson kick at half-back, collected the loose ball and ran into goal; the second after he scooped up a loose ball as the result of pressure in the forward pocket. The Lions had been slow starters this season.


The Bombers were forced to reshuffle their forward line when Michael Hurley (concussion) was forced off. This prompted James Hird to use Tom Bellchambers, his premier ruckman, predominantly as a key forward, alongside his best ball winner, Jobe Watson, through the first half. This seemed an odd move considering the contest was tight and there had been few smooth passages to goal. Hird changed tactics in the third term and shifted the pair into the middle. Watson helped the Bombers to a staggering 41-19 advantage in clearances by three-quarter-time.


Leigh Matthews maintains he has no interest in joining the Lions’ board as a director – despite repeated entreaties – or eventually becoming chairman. ”I haven’t had the motivation, I am away all the time,” he said. The Lions need someone of Matthews’ stature on their board to help impart football knowledge, and to help sell the club. What concerns the club’s triple-premiership mentor is that few leading business types in Brisbane want to join the board, unlike in Melbourne where all clubs generally have a long list of candidates. ”The Lions are struggling to get people to put their hands up. It’s not the AFL heartland,” he said on 3AW. – JON PIERIK

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It’s not just a league of extraordinary gentlemen

Passionate: Manly captain Jamie Lyon with Layne Beachley. Photo: James AlcockStanding on a beach in France in 2003, I was asked by a group of male surfers to stand aside because the waves were ”too good to be wasted on the girls”. This didn’t shock me – I’d had this attitude thrown at me throughout my career and many women in all sporting codes have encountered the same sentiment.

As a tragic Manly Sea Eagles fan, I’ve loved rugby league my whole life. Alongside surfing, it’s one of my biggest passions, and as we are in the midst of the seventh annual Harvey Norman Women in League round, it felt timely to speak to the thousands of young women who play the game and hope to represent their country.

There were times in surfing where I simply wanted to quit. It was too difficult, the divide between men and women in the sport too stark. In 1997, I sat down with my trainer Rob Rowland-Smith, who I count as one of my closest mentors, and waved the white flag. I wanted out. Rob asked me two things – how much are you investing in this, and how much do you want out of it? If these two elements weren’t equal, it was never going to work. Finally, he told me if I were to walk away, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I still carry Rob’s pep talk with me, and it’s his message I’d like to share with the women of rugby league.

The Jillaroos, Australia’s women’s rugby league team, are in for a massive year in 2013. They head to the UK in July for the World Cup in what will be their fourth international competition. I met three of the ladies in the squad earlier this week. One of them, Ruan Sims, has three brothers playing in the NRL – Ashton, Tariq and Korbin. Now this is a family born to play league. Ruan will play for Australia this year, something her brothers are yet to achieve. Her story is one of many emerging in women’s rugby league – they can play this game, they can be as successful as the Kangaroos.

For the first time this year, the Australian Women’s Rugby League will be integrated under the governance of the Australian Rugby League Commission and the changes are already being felt. The Jillaroos received funding from the ARLC for their World Cup campaign this year, and coming from someone who worked 60 hours a week to fund my place on the professional surfing tour, this is a huge support for the talented women.

With the Women in League round, we see NRL clubs across the nation turn pink with jerseys and socks and boots, all auctioned off for charity. Many cry this round is tokenistic; it’s all lip service and no action. But sitting on the panel of the annual Women in League lunch in Sydney earlier this week, I saw first-hand the groundswell of support the NRL has for women in the game, from players to the board room. I spoke with NRL CEO Dave Smith, who addressed a room of 200 women and outlined ambitious plans to ”add more women to boards and create more pathways for women in the game … see female CEOs and more female coaches and referees rising through the ranks”.

There is a healthy base of women’s engagement – female participation is at record levels, 41 per cent of fans are female and the number of women in senior executive and board positions has increased to 19 (almost double what it was two years ago with 10 in 2011). As women, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, on the shoulders of those women who paved the way for us to fulfil stronger and more senior positions among our male counterparts. I encourage today’s female players to use the platform the NRL is offering them and take it to the next level, not just for themselves but for the next generation of girls aspiring to make league their game. It’s great to have the support from the top levels of the game, in fact, as someone who has worked their way through a male dominated sport I believe it’s critical.

But if there’s one message I have for the women rising through the ranks it’s to keep that momentum going. Keep agitating for change and better sponsorship deals. It’s up to you to use this support and drive it forward. Prove to yourself and to the fans of league this wave is one you deserve to be on.

And as for those waves back in France in 2003, we stood our ground, won the fight and the boys were astonished by how well we surfed. Amazing what good waves can do for you.

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Students send message to rivals by toppling Southern

Sydney University signalled a warning to their Shute Shield rivals after inflicting Southern Districts’ first loss of the season in a thrilling game at Forshaw Park on Saturday.

In a rematch of last season’s grand final, University’s dogged defence proved the difference, limiting the Rebels with a brutal lesson in tackling and determined forward play.

The line-ups differed significantly from those which contested last season’s decider with Southern Districts fielding nine from that game and Sydney University five players in the highly anticipated match.

The quality was plain to see as Waratahs stars Ben Volavola, Lopeti Timani, Jed Holloway and Grayson Hart started for Southern with Tom Carter, Michael Hodge and Tom Kingston on the field for University.

The first half was characterised by University’s defence, which was able to contain the dangerous Southern back line by slowing the ball down at the breakdown. By containing the pace at which Southern spread the ball, their back line was able to set itself and deal with their rivals’ use of the ball.

University crossed the line first with some typical forward play. The Students’ rolling maul laid the platform for a try by prop Sam Talakai.

Both teams lost key players in University second-rower Sam Jefferies and Southern’s inside-centre Apo Latunipulu, both leaving the field with knee injuries.

But Southern were able to enter the sheds trailing 8-10 after Alex Gibbon crossed the line in the corner following good hands from Volavola and Rohan Saifoloi.

The Students continued to dominate after the break, through their disciplined defence. They then caught the tiring Rebels defence off-guard as winger Greg Jeloudev streaked away to score, opening up a 10-point margin.

The Students let Southern back into the match in the final 10 minutes after captain Tim Davidson was yellow-carded for committing a professional foul.

But despite conceding a brilliant second try to Gibbon in the final moments, University showed more defensive grit to see off the table-topping Rebels by five points.

Both teams had several chances to win the match but it was the defensive qualities of Uni which proved decisive in the end.

In other matches, Warringah succumbed to West Harbour 46-40, Manly accounted for Penrith 44-29, Randwick overcame Norths 39-20, Easts outlasted Parramatta 40-31 and Eastwood outscored Gordon 49-22 in what was a very high-scoring day all round.

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Dugan’s Dragons debut a pearler

Dream debut: Josh Dugan ran in two tries. Photo: Adam McLean Nathan Fien spreads the ball. Photo: Adam McLean

Josh Dugan Photo: Adam McLean


Forget just rescuing his new club’s season, if Josh Dugan’s form on his Dragons debut is any indication, he may be the man to end Queensland’s Origin dominance and says he is ready if called upon next month.

While it is highly unlikely he’ll play in State of Origin I, Dugan could be selected should NSW falter in the series opener after starring for St George Illawarra in their win against Parramatta in Wollongong on Saturday night. He scored two tries, carried the ball in a strong fashion and attacked from fullback, adding an extra dimension to a once-stagnant Dragons attack. His counterpart Jarryd Hayne was superb, too, denying Dugan a try with a lifting tackle just short of the line, and ending another Dugan 40-metre charge from a kick return. Either way, if their form continues, NSW coach Laurie Daley will have to find a spot for both.

”If my name got tossed up I’d grab it with both hands,” Dugan said. ”I would like to think that I’d warrant it. I thought my fitness would be a bit underdone. I’ve had a whole week to learn [the structure] as I went. Our trainings went a bit longer to help me out. I’m very appreciative of it.”

By the time Dugan touched the ball his new side had already scored a try thanks to good footwork by lock Trent Merrin. He had to wait until the 10th minute for his first carry of the Steeden and got on the outside of the Eels’ defence after a wide shift attacking Parramatta’s line, only to lose the ball as he drifted towards the touch line.

”I’m looking to improve and get back in the groove of things,” Dugan said. ”I was a bit nervous for the first 10 minutes trying to get my hands on the ball.”

But from there his touches and game involvement improved in between short stints on the wing, running for a game-high 202 metres. His coach Steve Price said there was still plenty of improvement left in his star acquisition.

”He is a winner,” Price said. ”He has played Origin and he fitted in really well. He is a great communicator and he is steering the guys around. He will get better as the players around him understand his strengths and weaknesses.”

The Eels struggled with poor discipline and their right-hand edge failed to contain a rampant St George Illawarra attack. The Dragons’ first four tries all came on that side of the field as the hosts targeted one of the most inexperienced edges in the NRL. The trio of Kelepi Tanginoa, Api Pewhairangi and Vai Toutai are all first-year debutants, while Chris Sandow – a natural attacking player – offered little resistance to a running Jamie Soward, who returned to form to torment the Eels’ defence.

Following Merrin’s early try, the Dragons struck three more times before the break through Ben Creagh and Daniel Vidot with the latter two tries scored in almost identical formations. Vidot bagged his second three minutes before half-time to gift his side a 20-0 lead.

While the Dragons were flimsy at times in the middle, the Eels failed to capitalise on multiple good situations. Eventually the middle opened, handing the Eels two tries.

When the Dragons’ defence fires, their attack follows. In three of their four wins this season they’ve completed a first half shut-out.

The Eels will be without Tanginoa who sustained a suspected broken hand. Coach Ricky Stuart was critical of where the game is headed.

”Daniel Anderson and his little rules committee wanted to speed up the ruck,” Stuart said. ”[It was a] tough game of touch football.

”The first 25-30 minutes was frustrating. We lost the game there.”

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ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 32 (J Dugan 2 D Vidot 2 B Creagh T Merrin tries J Soward 4 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 12 (P Terepo 2 tries C Sandow 2 goals) at WIN Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 17,458.

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Matthew Burke: Lions taming needs muscle – here are my tips

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the series against the British and Irish Lions in 2001 was the speed of play and physicality. We were shell-shocked walking into the sheds after losing the first Test in Brisbane. To put it simply, we were out-muscled.

We Wallabies had to ask some serious questions about how we could get tougher in a week. We knew we had the skill to deliver something that would stress the Lions, but it came down to being able to dominate your opposite number, especially in the forwards. The coming series will be no different as size will be a factor. Here are the forwards I’d call up to wear the gold jersey.

Tight-head prop: James Slipper. If you are looking for the combination of a solid scrummager and mobility, Slipper has all the necessary attributes. He has shown at the Reds he can get into a position of support to the ball players.

Hooker: Stephen Moore. It’s all about experience and Moore has that mantle sewn up with 76 caps to his name. He will face a wily front row that will use all the tricks of the north to unsettle the Wallabies pack. His ball running is a feature of his game and he will pop up in support.

Loose-head prop Benn Robinson. Coming into some good form after an indifferent start to the Waratahs’ season. He’s not only an accomplished scrummager but very solid in defence. Mobility is one of his best attributes and he often steals the opposition ball at the breakdown. As a replacement Ben Alexander would be vital as he can play loose- and tight-head.

Second-rowers: James Horwill. Perhaps some time on the sidelines through injury has given him a new lease of life. The skipper cuts an imposing figure and players follow his actions. His physical presence will be enough to match the Lions and continues the theme of size throughout this pack. Sitaleki Timani. Included for his pure size and physicality – sometimes you just need a bloke who is going to be intimidating. His intensity at the breakdown and his defence will be felt for 60 minutes, then he can rest. Step up Hugh McMeniman, otherwise known as ”Madness”. He is overcoming a shoulder injury but before that, he was proving his worth at the Force in his ball carries and lineout ability.

Blindside breakaway: Dave Dennis. An impressive man on the field who came of age last season and was rewarded with his first Wallabies jersey. Captaining the Waratahs has brought a new sense of awareness without reducing his aggression.

Openside breakaway: Michael Hooper. Have to go with the youth call here. If we remember back in 2001, George Smith was the baby assassin of the Wallabies and no doubt Hooper would be able to handle the pressure of coming up against Lions captain Sam Warburton. He played incredibly well last season in the absence of David Pocock, and has relished the role as the scavenger at the Waratahs. Smith has to be in the 23 for his experience alone, not to mention how effective his play has been since he took up a contract with the Brumbies. Fotu Auelua is my bolter. Playing a supersub role is simple – smash the opposition whenever possible. His ball carrying has been top class and his effectiveness at the breakdown and in defence has left players reeling.

No.8: Scott Higginbotham. Big, dynamic and fast, exactly what the Wallabies need. He has been imposing in a Rebels side that has been dominated in most areas around the park. He is at home at blindside breakaway as much as he is at No.8. He will be an important cog at the back of the scrum as well as dominating at lineout time.

The difficulty for the selectors will be how to find places for the likes of Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas, Liam Gill and co, who have all excelled at Super Rugby level this year. This is a nice dilemma for them compared with last year.

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