Nic Nat tries to change family code

Eagles have landed: Nic Naitanui (centre) and his West Coast teammates have a training run at Greater Western Sydney’s Skoda Stadium in preparation for Saturday’s match. Photo: Wolter PeetersThe Giants have banked on the marketing appeal of Nic Naitanui to raise interest this week but the West Coast sensation is still trying to convert family members in western Sydney to the sport.
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Unfortunately for the AFL and its newest team, the Penrith-born Naitanui calls Perth home and has no intention of resettling in his birthplace.

”I’ve got a lot of uncles and aunties, a few of my cousins are still out that way,” he said.

But the AFL is not the sport of choice among his family, who have their roots in Fiji where rugby is the preferred football code.

”So as well as trying to educate the suburbs and the people of the community out there, I’m still slowly trying to communicate to my family what’s going on,” said Naitanui, who is a multicultural ambassador for the league.

”They’re slowly grasping the whole concept of AFL. Now that I’m playing, they’ve started watching. Coming from a pretty dominant rugby background they tend to watch a lot of that.”

This underscores the difficulty the AFL and the Giants have in drawing new followers while also highlighting the possible impact a big-name signing will have for their cause. Naitanui said his family rarely watched AFL games unless he was playing, but he understands why.

”If I’m someone who has watched football my whole life it’s pretty hard to switch off that and start watching soccer unless you know people who are playing or have a passion for it,” Naitanui said.

”They’re starting to watch a different variety of games, but I’m not sure if it’s their first choice if none of us are playing. That’s what we’re trying to convert them to and instilling in them to watch AFL a lot more often.

Naitanui has heard from Giants players about the difficulties they face at school visits ”because all they want to talk about is either rugby or soccer”.

”I think we’re slowly cutting into that market, it’s a long process,” Naitanui said. ”It’s not only the kids you have to convert but the families as well. GWS are doing a pretty good job over there, I reckon.”

Despite the enormity of the task confronting the Giants, Naitanui believes having a club based in the region is vital. The 23-year-old said he would likely have pursued his other childhood sporting loves, rugby and basketball, had he grown up in western Sydney instead of Perth.

”Unless there was a GWS or another side out there I don’t think I would have been exposed to it as much,” said Naitanui, who grew up on the same street as Carlton’s Chris Yarran and Fremantle’s Michael Walters.

”If you grow up playing the same thing your whole life you want to do it. If I was out in western Sydney it would have been the rugby or basketball.”

The Giants, who drew a paltry crowd of 5830 to their last home game at Skoda Stadium, have gone to great lengths to use Naitanui to sell Saturday’s game. Coach Kevin Sheedy penned an open letter to the All-Australian ruckman, and the Giants took the unusual step of placing highlights of him on their website.

Naitanui is happy to play a promotional role but has ruled out leaving the club he supported as a boy to cross to the Giants.

”’Sheeds can do as much as he wants … I’m staying put.”

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It’s more than a theme

Culture: Richmond’s Belinda Duarte with the cheer squad. Photo: Mal FaircloughThemed rounds of AFL football tend to contrive social sentiments and rivalries rather than celebrate them, but this cannot be said of the weekend that celebrates indigenous players and their vast contribution to the game.
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It is true that the now ”traditional” Dreamtime clash between Richmond and Essendon has been gleefully hijacked by politicians when it comes to the MCG pre-game function, but it is also true that the game is a genuine blockbuster boasting an atmosphere unique on the home-and-away calendar.

In a week in which Nathan Lovett-Murray made headlines for all the wrong reasons and Lance Franklin’s social behaviour was targeted again, two unheralded events deserve highlighting for the right reasons.

One was a meeting of the players and coaches at the Port Adelaide Football Club home of Alberton that this columnist was fortunate enough to attend. That club’s Aboriginal employment and engagement manager Paul Vandenbergh was explaining to a fatigued group of footballers the significance of his heritage and the heartbreak of the stolen generations. He kept their attention.

The footballers listened as Chad Wingard and Brendon Ah Chee explained their origin, while Vandenbergh explained the complexities of skin groups and how different again was the background of teenage gun Jake Neade, from Elliott, whose grandmother had been stolen as a young child.

At one point, Port’s football boss, Peter Rohde, interrupted and offered an intriguing insight into how far clubs had come in less than a decade in terms of understanding the indigenous culture. He turned to former Port star Byron Pickett, who had returned to the club for a day, and told him how embarrassed he was to have misjudged him only seven short years ago.

Rohde explained that when Pickett had told the club he had to attend the funeral of a grandparent, the Port football hierarchy on more than one occasion did not believe him because they believed Pickett had already mourned the deaths of his full quota of grandmothers.

The club did not understand that Pickett’s grandmother may have had two sisters and that all three, according to his culture, were grandmothers. Nor did the club understand why indigenous funerals required players to be absent for close to a week.

Pickett, said Rohde, was too shy to explain the different grieving process.

Pickett simply nodded at Rohde’s confession, but it was a poignant exchange.

More significant in terms of the Dreamtime game was the second of two unusual cultural-awareness sessions at Punt Road after Richmond cheer squad members put up their hands to learn what it was the club was trying to achieve.

Delivered by Tigers executive Belinda Duarte, the move has now seen cheer squad president Gerard Egan looking to educate all cheer squad presidents in a bid to eliminate racial abuse from behind the goals.

Tiger supporter Brett Beattie set the ball rolling after last year’s Dreamtime game, approaching Duarte and Richmond chief Brendon Gale.

”I said to them, ‘You guys will come and go, but we supporters will always be here’,” said Beattie, better known to talkback radio listeners as ”Trout” of Woodend.

”We cop such a bad rap as cheer squads, but we really wanted to be educated on racial vilification and what it meant and how we could try to stamp it out, and I wanted my club to be the first to try and learn something now we have this great game against Essendon as well as the indigenous institute. We are never going to solve the problem on our own, but we can make a start.”

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Cry from the heart fuels spirit in Boomerang mob

At four o’clock this afternoon, before playing the curtain-raiser for the Dreamtime at the ‘G game, 50 young indigenous men will perform a war cry.
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The young men are part of the Footy Means Business program which is run jointly by the AFL and mining company Rio Tinto. On Wednesday morning, when I attended the week-long Footy Means Business camp, former St Kilda player Xavier Clarke opened proceedings by asking the young men if they’d brought the suits they’d been issued with as well as their footy boots.

The morning had two aims. The first was teaching the young men the war cry. The second was an ”etiquette boot camp”. Dressed in their suits, the young men were served lunch by waiters while an etiquette consultant with an imperturbable smile told them how to hold their knives and forks, enter a room, button their coats, sell their personal brand, etc.

One of the young men, a West Australian, had never been on a plane before. Another, 24-year-old Juan Darwin, from Maningrida in Arnhem Land, ran the 2010 New York marathon as part of Robert de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Project. English is not his first language and the biggest city he had seen before New York was Darwin. When we spoke, Juan was anxious to get back to the etiquette session, saying the program was ”very good”.

But before the etiquette session, they were first taught – or drawn into the mystique of – the war cry. ”First,” said their teacher, a Queensland Murri named Mark Yettica Paulson, ”no hoods. By the end of today, the hoods and earphones are off.” His manner was friendly and patient. He told them how the Flying Boomerangs, the AFL’s indigenous under-15 team, went to play a team in Papua New Guinea in 2009, was confronted by a war cry and lost – badly. Feeling they had been intimidated, the Boomerangs decided to get up a war cry of their own.

First, they acquired some dance appropriate to the boomerang from an Aboriginal cultural centre in Cairns. Then they needed words to go with the dance. Four members of the team were fluent in their traditional languages and one of them offered the word ”kurrku”, meaning team or mob. Another, from the Torres Strait, volunteered, ”Ngalpa Ngiya”, meaning ”Who are we?” Then came ”dhu dhu” (strong), ”yindamala” (fast) and ”kulala” (hunting). They had the basis of a chant. Who are we? Boomerang mob. Strong, fast, hunting.

The Boomerangs have since performed their war cry in places like South Africa and Fiji. In 2010, for the first time, they did it at the MCG. Two players who were part of that described the experience. ”I was so pumped I could have pulled down houses,” said one. The other said simply of the war cry: ”Your spirit goes up.”

The Boomerangs then taught the war cry to the Aboriginal All-Stars, who performed it before crushing Richmond by 50 points in Alice Springs early this year. Dual Brownlow medallist Adam Goodes told the Boomerangs: ”This is the first traditional Aboriginal dance I’ve ever done and you fellers taught it to me.”

This week’s camp was held at the Korin Gamadji Institute at Richmond’s headquarters in Punt Road. After being told the story of the war cry, the young men were taken outside, within sight of the MCG, to practise. Yettica Paulson told them what it means to stamp your feet in a traditional dance. ”You’re saying: ‘I’m here to step out, to step up, to make you remember me.”’

He described the boomerangs the young men needed to imagine themselves holding. Not tourist boomerangs – flimsy, pretty things – but ”knock-’em dead” boomerangs, the old sort that broke bones when swung with precision. He got the young men to raise their right fists, as if holding boomerangs, to crouch, ready for movement to either side, to look their opponents in the eye. ”You’re looking for their vulnerability, their weakness,” he said. Being half-hearted about the dance was not an option. ”You’ve got to give that energy, otherwise you’re saying you’re embarrassed. If you make a mistake, don’t get shame. Stay strong for the culture.”

He taught them to advance, finishing the dance by leaping and holding the boomerangs aloft as if to strike. With each attempt, the group became more animated, louder, more lively. You could actually see a team spirit growing before your eyes.

Each team selects its own songman to lead the war cry. For Wednesday’s practice match, the group chose Chris Wailu from Karratha. His mother is from the Torres Strait and he’s been doing island dances for years. He’s danced at weddings and tomb rituals. ”I enjoy using song and dance to share culture,” he said quietly.

What is impressive about Footy Means Business is that, while strengthening the young men in their own culture, the program encourages them to step out into the world. When I left, the group was being addressed by Geelong premiership captain Cameron Ling. He was telling them about his time as an apprentice carpenter.

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Haddin: now, let’s win this

Brad Haddin flies out of Sydney en route to London on Saturday, and he will not be back for a while. Not until late August, in fact, when the Test leg of the Ashes tour finally ends.
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The greatest adventure for an Australian cricketer, it is a journey that, ordinarily, might have been front and centre on the gloveman’s mind for much of the past 12 months.

But it has not been any ordinary year for Haddin and his family. The corridors of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead became as familiar to the 35-year-old as the SCG training nets over the past 12 months. His daughter Mia’s cancer diagnosis, a blow more painful than any fast bowler could ever deliver, saw to that.

The anxiety and anguish brought on by her illness for a long time cancelled out the anticipation of a cricket tour, no matter how iconic. However, as the keeper departs with teammates – first to lead an Australia A squad in three matches prior to the main event – there is some brightness for the Haddin clan. Mia, now two, has finished her treatment for neuroblastoma and is back in the family’s Sydney home with him and his wife, Karina, and their two other children, Zac and Hugo. There remain complications with her health and a long way to go in her recovery, but the outlook is far more positive.

If it had not been, Haddin makes very clear, he would not be going anywhere, certainly not to the other side of the globe, and may have quit the game altogether. ”If I could only do things half-hearted I would have walked away from the game a happy man,” he said. ”But circumstances have allowed me to get back and keep challenging myself to be a better cricketer. And here I am.”

If Haddin has learnt anything about his occupation over the past year it is about context. The ferocious competitive streak will doubtless remain, and could be an important asset for a young Australian team searching for an identity, but events have conspired, however cruelly, to drum home the priorities in his life.

The ordeal in his personal life has made him view the sport, and his place in it, differently.

”I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said. ”I think I’m a lot more comfortable now with where cricket is at. Sometimes you can get caught in the bubble and think international cricket is the be-all and end-all. But with what happened at home it put things in perspective. And I’m very comfortable now with where my game is at and where my cricket is at. I’m lucky that I’ve got a very strong family at home. I’ve got a wife who has done an extraordinary job, who has gone through this journey with me as well. It does put things in perspective.”

His daughter’s health was, of course, not the only issue standing between Haddin and playing for his country ever again. Since he rushed home from the Caribbean in April last year, another Australian wicketkeeper, Matthew Wade, had been anointed as his replacement.

Haddin had flown to the West Indies that month, after all, on the end of a home series against India in which he had scored only 86 runs at an average of less than 30, had question marks raised about his glove work, and then lost his place in the one-day team. Wade took his chance, making a century in his first Test series, then another last summer against Sri Lanka, and Haddin seemed destined to play out his days for NSW.

He accepted that scenario with utmost diligence. His pair of centuries in the Sheffield Shield, the first of which last September was compiled after a night in hospital with Mia, helped him to an average of more than 50 for the season. After Wade struggled in India, he was suddenly handed back the top job and after Shane Watson stood down, enlisted as vice-captain to boot.

In one way, Australia needs Haddin more than Haddin, seeing the game in the more sober light that he does, needs it. That, however, would ignore the toil he put himself through in the most trying of situations, reluctantly leaving his daughter’s side for training or a match when he could have given it away.

”From my point of view, I never doubted that I could get back to this level,” he said. ”It was just whether circumstances allowed me to get back to playing cricket.

”Now I’m back, there are no excuses. Things are going in the right direction at home and now it’s about winning this campaign.”

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Coalfields residents fight rezoning

TAKING A STAND: Greg Lewis, foreground, and Steve Meadows, centre with placard, join protesters at the proposed site. Picture: Peter StoopA RURAL hamlet in the Coalfields has again seen an uprising against a Hardie Holdings development.
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Residents say the future of the area is at stake, with plans for a 100-lot build at Millfield.

The site was part of Hardie’s proposed 700-lot Sanctuary Villages development, which fell over three years ago amid controversy over developer donations to the NSW Labor Party.

That plan, which involved average lot sizes of 700 to 800 square metres, would have doubled the population of Millfield and Paxton.

Hardie’s latest project proposes rezoning land from a minimum lot size of 40 hectares to 4000 square metres.

A Cessnock City Council report said the 100-lot plan was “a logical connection” of the large-lot residential precincts of Paxton and Millfield.

Greg Lewis, who lives close to Millfield in the Congewai Valley, said there were already 460 available lots zoned for housing in the area.

“There’s no need for this development and no demand for it,” Mr Lewis said.

Hardie development manager Jamie Boswell said there was a market for the land.

Mr Boswell said the company had developed 60 similar lots at Millfield.

“We’ve been doing these acreage developments because most other developers choose to do the 450-square metre small blocks of dirt, which not everyone wants to live on,” Mr Boswell said. “In the last 12 months, we finished building 21 lots and only have four or five lots left to sell.”

A group of residents opposing the development attended a recent council meeting, holding placards calling for no rezoning.

Steve Meadows, speaking for the group, called for the council to delist Millfield as a “proposed growth centre”.

“The village feel will be lost,” Mr Meadows said.

Council staff recommended approval, but councillors deferred the plan to consider residents’ concerns.

Daniher out to impress again

VFL
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Essendon’s much-hyped father-son selection Joe Daniher is showing form that warrants AFL selection, but he may not get an opportunity until the latter part of the season, according to Bombers’ development coach Hayden Skipworth.

Daniher, who has been a dominant figure up forward for the Bombers’ VFL team, with an average of three goals a game, faces a challenge to make his debut because other key forwards Michael Hurley, Stewart Crameri, Paddy Ryder and Scott Gumbleton appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order.

Skipworth said Daniher could easily step up if required.

“His [Daniher’s] form warrants talking about at selection. Whether Hirdy and the other coaches want to go down that path, I’m not sure,” Skipworth said. “But I’d have no problems putting his name up for senior selection … hopefully in the back end of the year, there’s opportunities there for the young forwards,” he said.

Skipworth said Daniher’s sometimes wayward kicking at goal was an area that he was looking to improve.

“It’s one of those things when you’re 201 centimetres and 17 or 18 years of age. We know a lot of the guys don’t kick the ball as well as him, he’s a nice kick. He just needs that time to get a little more consistent with his goalkicking.”

Daniher’s contested marking and defensive pressure in the VFL have been highlights.

“It [the hype] is not getting to him at all. I’ve sort of dealt with him over the last year and a half before he got to the club and Joe’s all about improving his game … He’s got a massive appetite to improve and better himself,” he said.

Bomber defender Tayte Pears is in “unbelievable” form in the VFL, says Skipworth, but can’t break through in the senior team because of the form of defenders Dustin Fletcher, Cale Hooker and Jake Carlisle.

“The last two or three years, he’s had a horrific run with injuries … this pre-season he was on fire, he trained the house down, hardly missed a session, dropped a few kilos which I think helped his injuries as well and he’s been in unbelievable form for us,” Skipworth said.

The Bombers face Collingwood at Victoria Park on Saturday with the Pies set to showcase Brodie Grundy, their first selection in last year’s draft, along with the return of Lachlan Keeffe from injury.

Keeffe has not played since injuring his knee in round nine last year.

■Geelong midfielder Josh Cowan will return from an Achilles injury against the Casey Scorpions at Simonds Stadium on Sunday.

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Smells like team spirit: Blues rally to the cause

AN impromptu team dinner two weeks ago underlined the camaraderie and commitment NSW players will bring into camp when the team for Origin I is named on Sunday. Organised by skipper Paul Gallen, hooker Robbie Farah, back-rower Luke Lewis and centre Josh Morris, the dinner was attended by players who were in the Blues team last year or hope to be selected this season.
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Trent Merrin drove 90 minutes from Shellharbour after receiving a text message about the dinner, held at an eastern suburbs restaurant, while Tim Grant came from Penrith.

New NSW coach Laurie Daley was not present but he met some of the senior players this week to discuss preparations for the series opener at ANZ Stadium on June 5.

The gatherings continue a tradition started under previous NSW coach Ricky Stuart. Players and coaching staff have celebrated a Christmas lunch the past two years.

But it is going to take more than mateship and bonding to end Queensland’s seven-year domination of State of Origin. The Blues need to lift in five key areas or the misery will continue.

Most of the Blues players will enter this year’s series in better form than their opponents, and NSW assistant coach Matt Parish, who worked alongside Stuart for the past two seasons, says they need to maintain that.

”There has been some really good club performances this year from guys like Michael Jennings, Mitchell Pearce and whoever gets five-eighth, and they need to take that form into Origin,” Parish says.

”People keep going on about how good some of those Queensland players are but we have got good players, too, so it is up to them to step up.”

Parish says getting off to a good start in each match is crucial, pointing to some of the losses in recent years when the Blues were chasing their tails after conceding the early advantage to the Maroons.

”In a couple of those games they have buried us down our end so we are kicking from inside our own half, and then Slater catches the ball on his 20 metre line,” Parish says. ”By the time they got to the end of their set they were putting up bombs whereas we were doing clearing kicks, but I believe we have a forward pack that will stand up and be counted.”

NSW have the advantage of two matches in Sydney this year. Game two is at Suncorp Stadium on June 26 with the series finale back at ANZ Stadium on July 17.SEVEN YEARS OF HURT: FIVE AREAS IN WHICH NSW MUST EXCEL1. NO MORE EXCUSES

NSW narrowed the gap on the Maroons to such an extent under Stuart that only a field goal separated the teams in last year’s series decider, but the Blues can no longer be content with almost winning. Stuart oversaw a rebuilding of the NSW side and the nucleus of that team – headed by Gallen, Farah, Lewis, halfback Mitchell Pearce, fullback Jarryd Hayne, back-rower Greg Bird and centre Michael Jennings – have been together now for at least two seasons. ”Honestly, we’ve lost seven in a row, and I am sick of all the excuses about why we lost,” NSW great and The Game Plan co-host Steve Roach said. ”I want blokes who will get in there and tell me why we will win. It is all bullshit and cliched to say we haven’t got this or they’ve got that. Our halves and hooker have got to own the game and take ownership of how they play and the team has got to fit in around what they do good.”

2. BELIEF AND ATTITUDE

No matter the situation, the Maroons always believe they can still win. Last year, they lost superstar Billy Slater for the series decider but called on Dane Nielsen to play centre so Greg Inglis could shift to fullback. Even after Blues five-eighth Todd Carney landed a sideline conversion to level the scores at 20-20, Queensland halfback Cooper Cronk still managed to kick a match-winning field goal. ”They have just got unbelievable self-belief and they know how to win,” Roach said. ”People say they always seem to get the bounce of the ball but the reason they get the bounce of the ball is because they make it happen. There is no reason why we can’t beat them, it is a mental thing. Once we win a series we will go on and win seven in a row, you watch. Ricky Stuart did an unbelievable job to get all the structures in place but we have just got to build that belief.”

3. KICKING GAME

The Blues earnt only one repeat set from a goal-line drop out in last year’s series – negating any advantage NSW hoped to gain with a mobile forward pack. By comparison, the Maroons forced drop-outs on three occasions in Origin I, six times in Origin II and once in the decider. According to statistics provided by Sports Data, Queensland’s Cooper Cronk and Johnathan Thurston found open field on 18 of 36 occasions. ”That was the difference between NSW and Queensland last year,” Parish said. ”When we were kicking down their end early on the tackle count we were turning the ball over whereas if they kicked early they either scored or got a repeat set. The thing about Thurston, Cronk and Darren Lockyer before last year was that when they got down there and got a sniff they just kept you down there for the next 10 minutes.”

4. DISCIPLINE

NSW have won the penalty count only six times in the 21 matches that comprise the Maroons’ seven-year domination, and did not finish on top in the penalties during any game last season. In Origin I, NSW were on top at the start of the game but Jennings’ 22nd minute sin-binning for running into a fight suddenly shifted momentum the Maroons’ way. While the decision seemed harsh, the Blues did not handle it well. Ahead 4-0 at the time, they conceded two tries in the 10 minutes Jennings was off the field, and Stuart and his players were so frustrated with the refereeing they did not speak to the media after the match. ”I always thought that a team should go into each game knowing that they were probably going to get three decisions by a referee that they will not be happy with,” former NRL referees boss and Triple M commentator Bill Harrigan said.

5. START WELL

The Blues need to get off to a good start in each match – and the series. The last time NSW won the opening match of the series was in 2008, when they beat the Maroons 18-10 at ANZ Stadium. Last year, they made such a deal of having to give up a home game to play in Melbourne that it might have had a negative impact but this season the Blues will have a capacity ANZ Stadium crowd behind them. ”The first game is the most important game of the series, I reckon,” Roach said. ”You win that and you have got two bites at the cherry so all of the effort has to go into that first game.” However, recent history shows that the Blues’ chances of winning any match are better when they start well – something they have failed to do since the final game of the 2009 series. In all nine games since, NSW have trailed at half-time and won only twice.

Twitter – @BradWalterSMH

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Max Presnell: Bowman can make colt sing from bad alley at Doomben

Easy as: Peter Robl and Your Song clear out in the BTC Cup a fortnight ago. Photo: Tertius PickardWITH bookmakers gambling against Your Song, Hugh Bowman will have to do a Mick Dittman on him in Saturday’s $650,000 Doomben 10,000.
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Your Song has drawn 15 in a sprint where barrier positions are important. After all, since 1983 only accomplished course specialist Chief De Beers has won the 1350-metre dash from a launch wider than 12. Though he did it twice. Dittman, a master at neutralising outside gates, came from 17 in 1995 to take the race on Chief De Beers, then, like Your Song, a three-year-old.

”Anybody want to bet against me being on the fence after going a furlong?” Dittman, known as The Enforcer, would taunt rivals behind the barrier before the start, according to folklore.

Bowman, is building a reputation in the Dittman mould, perhaps more on strength than mind games, takes over from Peter Robl, who handled Your Song when he bolted in on Eagle Farm heavy ground when resuming two weeks back.

Speedsters such as Buffering, Rain Affair and Sea Siren are drawn inside Your Song, making it an interesting tactical battle early. Bookies were keen to lay Your Song on Friday.

”Your Song had three hard trials before leading in the BTC Cup, so was primed to fire first-up,” Alan Eskander (Betstar) said. ”Back to a good surface at Doomben, with a horror draw, there’s not much upside to him … ”

With Betfair, the three-year-old eased from $3.15 to $4 to get ”any interest”, Daniel Beaven said.

Epaulette, another three-year-old, firmed to $6.80 to $5.20 with the betting exchange.

Some form students figure Your Song spiked, a top form rating, last start and is unlikely to produce that second-up, whereas Epaulette was flat when sixth to All Too Hard in the All Aged Stakes at Randwick on April 27 at his second start back. Peter Snowden is using new headgear, a visor, to get Epaulette focused to the pitch he showed chasing Black Caviar home in the T.J. Smith. From four, he should get a good run off the pace.

The key lies with Bowman and it’s a gamble I’m prepared to take.

Verdict: Your Song ($3).

LOOKS TOO GOOD

Only Black Caviar overshadowed the effort of Arinosa, a strong fancy in Saturday’s Glenlogan Park Stakes up north, on the same Randwick program on April 13.

Arinosa came home quicker over the last 400m in the Sapphire than the champ did in the T.J. Smith.

Arinosa is a Chris Waller success story and only the gap between runs is a query, although she has had the benefit of a tune-up barrier trial.

A black price looks a good price, and Tom Waterhouse, back on the Racenet poll of leading betting houses after an absence, reported he ”can’t write a ticket on anything else in the race”.

Verdict: Arinosa ($2).

ONE FOR VALUE

Zoustar, the Waller two-year-old in the BRC Sires’ Produce, has been backed from $4.50 to $3.60 but Shaun Felgate (Sportsbet) isn’t keen. ”He is awkwardly drawn here [10] and seems under the odds,” he said. Beware of improvement from the Snowden-prepared Paximadia, a distant fourth behind Zoustar at Hawkesbury last start. Stewards reported Paximadia reared on jumping, lost ground and had to be steadied off heels at the 1000m.The Commands colt had scored impressively at Warwick Farm. However, the locals hold a strong hand, particularly with Missy Longstocking, a Doomben winner last Saturday after being three wide throughout. The filly has the rails gate on Saturday.

Verdict: Paximadia ($35).

PUMPER’S PICK

Waller obviously has Hawkspur prime for the Grand Prix Stakes in which the durability of Dear Demi, triumphant in the Doomben Roses last Saturday, should come to the fore. Also, Rhythm To Spare must be considered on comments from jockey Glen Boss, regarding his last-start Sandown win. ”Gee he gave me the feel of a very good horse that day,” Boss said. ”He sprinted like a good one. I wanted to stick with him because he’s obviously progressed with each start.” Jim Cassidy gave Hawkspur the run of the race to take the Rough Habit and from the three barrier gets an opportunity to repeat the effort. Dear Demi didn’t have nearly as easy a passage last Saturday but is one tough filly.

Verdict: Hawkspur ($4).

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Loving coaching and in for the long haul: Bombers coach

Labour of love: James Hird enjoys a light moment with Brendon Goddard (second from right) and Dyson Heppell (right,) on Friday. Photo: Justin McManusA defiant James Hird has defended the honour of departed chief executive Ian Robson and denied his removal weakens his hold on the senior coaching position at Essendon.
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Robson’s resignation on Thursday as a result of the supplements scandal and subsequent Ziggy Switkowski investigation was widely seen as the first major domino to fall.

However, Hird was dismissive of questions about his tenure in light of Robson’s decision at a scheduled press conference at Windy Hill on Friday.

”I’m the coach of the Essendon Football Club, I love coaching the club, I intend to coach them for a long time and coach them for the supporters, the players and everyone involved,” Hird replied when asked if the pressure on him had intensified.

Hird confirmed that former Tattersalls boss Ray Gunston would fill Robson’s role in the interim.

”I know Ray from previous dealings outside of football,” he said. ”I think Ray’s a fantastic person and will do a great job. It’s something the club has obviously spent a bit of time thinking about.”

Hird said that he stood by the board’s decision to accept Robson’s resignation, but admitted he was saddened by his departure.

”In all my dealings with Ian he’s a man of high integrity, he’s a good person with a fantastic family and it’s disappointing for he and his family, but the issue is for the board.”

The besieged coach has had to deal with yet another turbulent week at the club as he prepares the Bombers for Saturday night’s Dreamtime at the ‘G clash against Richmond.

ASADA investigators have grilled his players and Nathan Lovett-Murray was in a late-night altercation in which he was stabbed in the upper arm.

”We can’t deny it’s been a distraction, because it has been,” Hird said of the interviews.

”This is not a normal routine in your weekly routine for football, but the majority of those interviews are now done. The players have now got through that part of the process.

”ASADA will go away and contemplate their report, but for us now it’s about playing football.”

Lovett-Murray had surgery to repair the wound to his right bicep and will return to full training next week.

”It’s never good to get a phone call at midnight from one of your players,” Hird said of the incident that occurred on Tuesday night in Reservoir.

”Not that you favour any player over another, but Nathan is a very special person for this club [because of] where he’s come from and what he’s done for the club, the way he’s enhanced relations between indigenous people and the rest of Australia – what he does for young people is incredible.”

Hird said that the club was always mindful of the deeper meaning of the Dreamtime at the ‘G blockbuster, but maintained his focus was on returning the Dons to the winners’ list after successive losses.

Courtenay Dempsey and Leroy Jetta return to the line-up with Dempsey having served a club-imposed suspension for being out late while injured and Jetta rewarded for good VFL form.

Michael Hurley, who was knocked out in the loss to the Brisbane Lions, is ”an absolute certainty” to play against the Tigers, according Hird.

”He was tested on Monday and Tuesday with the concussion test and the doctor is very happy that he’s ready to go.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

TOPICS: Self-starting lifts a ghostly mystery

NEXT STOP HABERDASHERY: The lift at the David Jones building has been operating on its own accord. NEW BITS: An Axolotl.
Nanjing Night Net

CREEPY things have been going on in Hunter buildings this week.

Lifts operating on their own accord. Bank doors enticing criminals and opening after business hours.

It’s all happening and Topics is screaming ghosts.

We’ve never encountered someone from the other side or had a paranormal experience and feel a bit unloved.

First up is Maitland’s NAB branch, which mysteriously opened its doors on Monday night, offering opportunistic robbers the chance for a perfect crime.

Luckily they were only open for about an hour and no one took advantage.

The freaky opening could not be explained by a branch spokesman but was blamed on a power cut.

As far as Topics is concerned, that leaves the door wide open for a ghostly explanation.

On the other side of the Hunter there have been reports of spooky happenings in the old David Jones building in town.

Olive Tree Market founder Justine Gaudry has been preparing the space as a permanent home for her local artists’ works, which is open Thursday to Saturday every week.

As they set up in the dark every morning, a rogue elevator has caused quite a stir.

“It keeps going up and down on its own accord and a lady makes announcements of what floor it’s on,” Ms Gaudry said.

“We’re still deciding what to call her – maybe Ethel.”

Topics would freak out if we heard a lady announcing “women’s underwear” while in the dark.

We suspect that a David Jones ghost, either an obsessive shopper or a former worker who won’t let go, is operating the lift. Or it’s just faulty electronics.

Out on a limb

TOPICS wants a new foot. We’re currently nursing a terrible ankle injury and we’re not keen on the rehab process.

We want to play football.

So it would be ideal if humans had the ability to regrow limbs.

Salamanders can do it, as well as regenerate parts of major organs. So why can’t we?

Enter science. This week a study of the axolotl, an aquatic salamander, found that immune cells called macrophages were critical when it came to regenerating lost limbs.

The best news? These cells exist in humans.

Apparently further study could provide insight into treating spinal cord and brain injuries.

And perhaps lead to Topics growing a new ankle too? Probably not, but we can dream.

Robyn my identity

ENVIRONMENT Minister and Member for Maitland Robyn Parker has either had an astonishing makeover or her Wikipedia profile has been hijacked.

When you type the minister’s name into Google, a brief profile of her career will pop up, accompanied by a photo.

The source says Wikipedia and the text seems legit, but when you look closely at Robyn’s face there’s something terribly amiss.

The photo looks old, the lady’s hairstyle comes straight from the 1980s and her smile is nowhere near as charming as our Robyn’s.

A few clicks and all is revealed.

The lady in question is actually assistant professor Robyn Parker at Kent State University, Ohio, America.

How the mix-up has occurred is anyone’s guess. But rest assured that Ms Parker has not undergone drastic plastic surgery in an attempt to escape to a new life.