Peter FitzSimons: A league of their own – it won’t last

SPEAKING of the NRL and its administration or lack thereof, my pound to your peanut says there will be a change in their scheduling next year. I refer to the A-League grand final being on when the leaguies had just about nothing on against it. In fact, just about nothing the whole weekend! There was the Kiwis Test on Friday night, which is always about as fifth as good as a State of Origin; a ”World Cup” game (no, really) between Samoa and Tonga; and was it the City-Country thing that only drew 4000? The net result, of course, was that the sleeping giant of Australian sport, soccer – now obviously awoken – was given a free kick.
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The AFL might feel equally aggrieved with the weekend. While the Wanderers have clearly captured the imagination of western Sydney and seem to have acted as a unifying force on a highly diverse population – even as they went within a whisker of winning the whole competition – the GWS Giants played to a paltry crowd and managed to become the only team to lose to the Melbourne Demons. And rugby in all that? Obviously struggling across the board. Crowds of 11,000 to 16,000 for the Waratahs speaks for itself. But, last weekend, at least a pulse! Queensland and the Brumbies played themselves to a standstill in a game where penalty goals were eschewed in favour of running the ball, and a fantastic game resulted.

BANNED DRUGS

Two months ago, as this column noted at the time, NSW Minister for Sport Graham Annesley was called with other sports ministers for an emergency briefing by the ACC on where the investigation into drugs in sport was up to. Coming out of the meeting, he went straight into a live cross with Channel Nine, where there appeared to be an expectation among panellists that he would confirm there was not much to it. But no. When host Karl Stefanovic asked the former league referee his thoughts, the obviously shellshocked Annesley replied: ”[It’s] quite serious … and scary in some ways.” Interviewed a couple of days later on the ABC why the ACC and ASADA had made their announcement seemingly so early, Annesley replied that it was better to go early than, ”have to explain to the coroner why we announced too late”. Tragically, this week, we may have seen something of what Annesley was referring to – the potentially lethal consequences of taking supplements on the banned list.

It is, of course, way too early to determine if – as reported yesterday – there might have been a causal link between the peptides and Cronulla player Jon Mannah in 2011, and the return of the cancer that killed him. In fact, it has not been confirmed that Mannah did receive any of the substances. However, it does highlight the fact that all the concern about such drugs is not simply to do with their effect on sport. The reason a lot of them are on the banned list is because they are dangerous and potentially fatal. If that link is established in this case, it will move the whole terrible saga into an entirely different realm. And there really will be a lot of explaining that needs to be done to the coroner.

Annesley’s words are looking tragically prophetic.

THE POINT IS?

Who knew? After TFF wondered idly last week why the AFL gives out four points for a win and two points for a draw, some readers pointed out that, pretty much across the world, soccer gives out three points for a win and one each only for a draw. Why, I wonder?

TOSSERS INC.

Dear TFF

Those bunch of d—heads prancing about a pub betting on the TAB and, of course, winning and ”impressing” the ladies, are in many ways just as annoying as the Tom Waterhouse ads. The TAB ad pretends the beautiful people are smiling indulgently at the d—heads – but that just proves what loveable, and winning, d—heads they are. Just shows you don’t have to do anything meaningful or challenging in life to be both loveable and a winner. Right?

Regards

Mike Sandy

NO EXCUSES

A point of order, NZRU chief executive Steve Tew, re your remarks after All Blacks and Hurricanes winger Julian Savea was charged last week with assaulting his partner. ”Without judging the rights or wrongs of this case,” you said, ”we are concerned that this is another incident involving a young player. We need to find out whether we are doing enough to help these young men cope with the pressures of the professional game.”

Can I say a word? That word is: ”Nuh.” Steve, that almost sounds like you’re excusing it. And yes I know that Savea has publicly apologised and begged his partner and her family for forgiveness, but the point remains. Playing a game for a few hundred grand a year, and being internationally famous is not ”pressure”.

Raising a family of five on the basic wage is pressure. And in either case, whatever the situation, real men do NOT hit women. No excuses, no exceptions. And of course it is for the courts to judge his guilt or innocence, beyond reasonable doubt. But the standard of proof required to stand him down from the team is a lot less.

Savea played last weekend, despite the Hurricanes knowing of the incident. He is due to play this weekend. A man who hits a woman sullies the jersey he wears. He should be stood down for a long time, perhaps doing volunteer work in a women’s refuge.What they said

Ray Hadley on NRL chief Dave Smith: “I will tell you what you want to do Dave; pull your head out of your bum and build closer links with the grassroots of the game, the people who will pay your wages for the next two decades.” And welcome to rugby league, by the way.

Former NRL chief David Moffett: “It’s like a coach losing the dressing room. I feel sorry for Dave Smith. He was pitched into a job that his background would indicate he’s not suited for or prepared for. It’s one of the toughest gigs in world sport. It will end in tears.”

Dave Smith on the structural changes he has made to the administrations: “But I feel really pleased that I put my stamp on it. This is me, this is Dave Smith, this is his leadership structure.” Talking about yourself in the third person? Mate, you’re going to fit right in.

Chris Gayle showing how it is done, after his unbeaten 175 runs from 66 balls: “Everything just worked for Chris Gayle today … I’m an entertainer, I try to entertain as much as possible.” Deep sigh. Thousand yard stare into the distance.

James Magnussen in an interview: “The Missile is a more confident and aggressive character than I am. The problem in and before London was my everyday life didn’t diverge from that persona.” Magnussen is my bet to recapture Australia’s affection, and still be selling undies when he is 40.

Richmond coach Damien Hardwick on their poor training last week: “We didn’t train well, but does that get taken into the game? I wouldn’t think so. It happens all the time; sometimes I like to make love to my wife, I don’t always perform at a high standard.” Across Australia, men shifted uncomfortably.

These lines were on the back of a T-shirt of a man struggling along in the London Marathon: “50. Fat. Diabetic. Ahead of you.”

Former Test umpire Dickie Bird, who turned 80 last week: “The characters have gone out of all sports haven’t they? There’s no [Allan] Lambs, [Ian] Bothams or Dennis Lillees any more. We used to have a laugh in Test matches, which they don’t today – they don’t even smile.”

Kiwi rugby commentator, as the Queensland Reds put the Waikato Chiefs to the sword: “Genia, he’s been busier than a fiddler’s elbow tonight.”

George Smith on how much more rugby he has in him: “I don’t want to sound like Johnny Farnham.”

Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo on NFL players coming out. “I think it will happen sooner than you think. We’re in talks with a handful of players who are considering it. There are up to four players being talked to right now, and they’re trying to be organised so they can come out on the same day together. It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy.”

Team of the week

Chris Gayle. In a game of bubblegum cricket in the IPL, the West Indian finished 175 not out from 66 balls, including 13×4, 17×6.

Jesse Williams. The Australian looks likely to be drafted to the NFL.

Melbourne Demons. Celebrated their win over Greater Western Sydney as if they won the grand final and to be fair it probably was.

Mike Denness. The only Scottish born captain of an English cricket team passed away last week. Denness once told the story of a letter addressed to him: “Mike Denness, Cricketer”. “If this letter reaches you,” it said, “the Post Office think more of you than I do.”

Central Coast Mariners. Finally savoured a grand final win and showed all knuckle-dragging Neanderthals of the other football codes – oh gawd, we hate you bastards! – just how well attended and enthusiastic a grand final crowd can be. And only 21 people arrested!

Mid North Coast Axemen. Just had their first victory in 13 years in the Country Rugby Championships. They defeated Western Plains 47-24. Let the word go forth from this place and this time: NO ONE beats the Axemen 14 years in a row! And good on yers.

The 18th Australian National Balloon Championships. Drew three times the crowd in Canowindra than rugby league’s City-Country game drew to Coffs Harbour.

RIP Margaret ”Nan” Barnes. (1919-2013). The greatest Cronulla Sharks supporter, ever, passed away last week. Vale.

Brumbies and Reds. Last Saturday night, the two teams played a cracker, spoilt only by the fact that itfinished in a draw.

Nic White. You all know the Beatles lyric: “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.” The Brumbies halfback looks like a terrier, thinks he’s a cross between an Alsatian and a sheepdog, but everyone can see he’s a great rugby player. And he should be Will Genia’s understudy in the Wallabies.

Jesse Mogg. Should be the Wallabies fullback. One of those blokes who sends a current through the crowd every time he touches the ball.

RIP Barry Taylor. 1935-2013. The well known Australian U/21, Manly and NSW Waratahs coach passed away on Wednesday. On ya, Tizza. You were a one-off.

Twitter – @Peter_Fitz

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Dank was ‘assured’ over Mannah supplements

‘Shattered’: Dank says his pain is with Jon Mannah’s family. Photo: Tim Clayton Sports scientist Stephen Dank believes he never compromised Jon Mannah’s health and says he consulted a leading oncologist before administering the late Cronulla forward with supplements.
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Cronulla’s supplement program has come under further scrutiny after a leaked internal report raised concerns of a potential causal link to Mannah’s fatal cancer. The front-rower, who played 24 games for the club between 2009 and 2011, died in January following a relapse of his Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Dank, who worked at the club during 2011, said he was “assured” that any treatments he administered to Mannah would not affect his health. “My sympathies to the family,” Dank said. “I consulted an oncologist in relation to treatments. I was assured what was being used wouldn’t affect Jon’s condition. Jon knew what was being conducted. We would never deliberately do anything to contribute to Jon’s illness, whether it be to accelerate or restore it.

“I’m shattered for the family more than for my own reputation or the damages it might have caused me. My greater pain is for the family at this difficult time.”

An independent report prepared by former ASADA deputy chair Tricia Kavanagh provides a timeline of events in an extensive document. Darren Kane, a sports and commercial lawyer at Colin W Love & Company Lawyers, was engaged by the Sharks to review it and report back to the board with any legal issues.

His leaked advice included the following: “A brief review of available published medical literature suggests an identified causal link between the use of substances such as CJC-1295 and GHRP-6 and the acceleration of the condition of disease Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Without knowing anything further about Mannah’s exact medical history and without seeking expert opinion from an appropriately qualified oncologist it is difficult to take this issue further. The issue of Mannah has the potential to be as serious as matters could get.”

Kane said he was not in a position to discuss the matter. “In respect to anything I have done for the club, it is all covered by legal professional privilege and that’s a privilege only a client can waive,” he said.

The developments prompted the Cancer Council Australia to release the following statement: “Based on an assessment of the evidence available, Cancer Council Australia says there isn’t any link between HGH-promoting peptides and a relapse or onset of lymphoma.”

The Sharks Unity ticket, which swept to power during the recent elections, campaigned strongly on the platform that the decision to sack four key staff members would be reviewed. It is unclear whether recent developments have changed that stance.

Meanwhile, directions were heard for a civil defamation action in the Supreme Court on Friday launched by Dank against Cronulla-Sutherland District Rugby League Football Club Ltd. It is understood further legal proceedings will be launched by the sports scientist as a result of News Ltd’s initial report about a possible link between Dank’s administration of supplements and Mannah’s death.

Twitter @proshenks

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I’m ready for the No.7 spot: Faulkner

Ashes tourist James Faulkner believes he is capable of holding down the number seven position against England, and he won’t be a shrinking violet if he gets the chance.
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Faulkner’s main skill is his slippery brand of left-arm pace, but questions about the form of Shane Watson and matters of team balance mean he could also be called upon to play a significant role with the bat.

Faulkner, the only uncapped player in the Ashes squad, said his batting had improved enough for him to feel comfortable slotting in at seven.

Tasmania was prepared to bat him in the top six for much of the summer before last, and he is coming off a 444-run Sheffield Shield season spent at seven and eight, culminating with 89 in the final against Queensland.

“I would be definitely be comfortable to bat No.7,” said Faulkner, “Wherever you can slot into an Australian team, I think you are pretty happy to play wherever you can. It was a reasonably successful year last year for Tasmania with the bat and hopefully I can make a few more big scores, that’s my aim at the moment.”

As national selector John Inverarity intimated when he described Faulkner, who turns 23 this month, as “a very competitive cricketer who gets things done”, he will bring a forceful attitude that has sometimes been missing from recent Australian teams.

“I like to think I’m a pretty strong competitor on the field and off the field I’m a pretty relaxed sort of character,” Faulkner said from India, where he is playing for the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.

“When the game is on the line, I’m pretty aggressive. I get on the front foot instead of being dictated to.”

Unlike many talented youngsters who get swept along by the Twenty20 wave, Faulkner has established a solid first-class career, averaging 22.34 with the ball and 29.11 with the bat, while earning a taste of international cricket in the shorter forms.

He is likely to continue his ODI career at the Champions Trophy in June, which precedes the Ashes.

“I’ve always tried to be as consistent as I can across T20, one-day cricket and four-day cricket and not specifically have a focus on any of the three. The IPL has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for all the countries … but I look at it as an opportunity to progress my cricket on different wickets. You get experience pretty fast,” Faulkner said.

“It doesn’t get any higher than Test cricket. I’ve been thrilled to play a couple of T20s for Australia and a full ODI series against the West Indies, I really enjoyed it and it tested my game out. But it’s a whole new ball game now with Test cricket.”

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

A charming little weepie

SONG FOR MARION (PG)
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Capitol Manuka and Palace Electric

***

Over the Christmas break, audiences flocked to see Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut film Quartet which was about, and just to completely dumb the premise down, a bunch of old geezers putting on a show. It was gorgeous and emotive, and there are many similarities between that and this, Paul Andrew Williams’s Song for Marion. Perhaps it was the presence of Maggie Smith in Quartet that makes me use Downton Abbey for a simile – if Quartet is like Downton Abbey, then Song for Marion is Coronation Street. But I do like watching a bit of Coronation Street, me.

The Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) of the title is a beautiful and spirited woman facing the pointy end of a long battle with cancer. Apart from her son James (Christopher Eccleston), granddaughter Jennifer (Orla Hill) and her cranky but loving husband Arthur (Terence Stamp), Marion’s great love is the choir run out of the local community centre by passionate music teacher Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).

Marion wishes husband Arthur could overcome his shyness and ingrained misanthropy to join in with the odd collection of characters who make up the choir and, seeing Arthur as a soul in need, choir master Elizabeth takes it upon herself to bring Arthur out of his shell.

Director Williams works from his own screenplay based around a personal family story. It is a pretty meat-and-potatoes script. Nothing too substantial, nor original, but offering a great platform for stellar performances from Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave.

Redgrave gives what film writers call a ”brave performance”, which is film industry euphemism for ”she’s not wearing any make-up”.

I could have done with a little less shaky cam from cinematographer Carlos Catalan. There is a reason music companies spend good money on elaborate music videos with boy bands pratting around on beaches in their underwear – it’s because watching vision of people sing only has a limited appeal. No amount of shaky camera sweeping across a choir will change peoples’ minds about that.

The choir, amusingly called the OAPz or Old Age Pensioners (with a ”z” at the end to make it sound fresh), is peopled with some fine British character actors and more than a few over actors.

My partner is in the middle of quitting smoking, again, and taking a course of Champix, which has been something of an emotional rollercoaster, with night terrors and waterworks at things as obscure as a passing mother with a pram, a bank ad or the opening credits to Survivor.

It is this doctor’s prescription to keep anyone on any similar medication away from this film. It was a full-box-of-Kleenex job for me, and I’m relatively emotionally stable. Lovely.

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

Rabbitohs win fiery Brookvale encounter

NRL. Manly vs South Sydney. Photo: Anthony Johnson Greg Inglis in a spear tackle by Richie Fa’aoso. Photo: Anthony Johnson
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Adam Reynolds attempts to break a tackle. Photo: Anthony Johnson AWJ

Sam Burgess gets to grips with Steve Matai. Photo: Anthony Johnson

MATCH STATS/AS IT HAPPENED

The battle of Brookvale II? Or, to put it another way, the match of the season so far, as South Sydney’s premiership credentials were given the sternest test. Not only did they pass it, they did so after overcoming lifting tackles, high shots, a rumble and a Manly performance which lost them no friends.

The Sea Eagles’ comeback from 20-0 down was stirring, if by the end of the match unsuccessful. The contest had everything, including, dare we say it, an obstruction controversy. But what was clear above it all was that both teams, along with Melbourne and Sydney Roosters, are so far clear of the chasing pack right now the rest aren’t even in the rear-view.

Souths were superior on the night, but only just. Manly threw everything at the Rabbitohs, including a Brett Stewart elbow, two Richie Fa’aoso lifting tackles and the obligatory Steve Matai high shot – which sparked the equally obligatory scuffle between two top teams at Brookvale Oval on a Friday night. Thankfully, festivities were contained to the field of play.

Three Manly players on report over four incidents showed the intensity of the contest, as the Rabbitohs inflicted their own damage by putting on three tries on the Sea Eagles in the first 14 minutes of the second half.

Manly started as they always do at Brookvale; cocksure to the point of looking unbeatable. Winger Jorge Taufua busted through two forwards, then ran fullback Greg Inglis inside out, before the Souths star got his man. Manly centre Jamie Lyon’s grubber went just long, while Brett Stewart’s lunge went just short.

But the Rabbitohs responded. The Sea Eagles struggled to hold onto the ball, as the Souths pressure took its toll, and then frustrations led to ill-discipline. First, Richie Fa’aoso was placed on report for a lifting tackle on the fullback, who must be getting sick of watching the world upside down, while Jason King was penalised for another on the same player. The run of penalties, combined with the Sea Eagles’ handling, left the Rabbitohs camped in the Manly half for long periods. The first points of the contest, rather fittingly, came from Manly ill-discipline.

The Rabbitohs’ sixth penalty of the contest prompted loud complaints from Lyon to referee Phil Haines, but a warning from the official that the captain was close to the line: “Watch what you say,” Haines said. Reynolds kicked the ensuing penalty goal.

Just before the half-hour mark, Stewart was placed on report for his indiscretion, which on-field official Ashley Klein described as “unnecessary use of the elbow” on Andrew Everingham. Adding to the lack of necessity was the fact it was off the ball.

Manly are used to ending contests by the halftime break at Brookvale Oval, but on this occasion, they could not even score a point. The fact they still looked good for their duck egg showed the quality of the game, as well as their opponents.

But then, predictably, it only took a minute for one of the sides to finally break. With the queues for drinks on the hill still to subside, it was Inglis who was unshackled. He found space and then played with Brett Stewart, dummying a few times before, as the fullback finally dropped off the tackle, the Rabbitohs player bounded over for the first try.

Fa’aoso found himself on report for a second time for the first offence, a lifting tackle on Inglis, with five-eighth John Sutton taking full advantage by stepping to score, giving his side a stunning 14-0 lead, despite claims of obstruction.

Then came Matai’s moment. His high shot on George Burgess was ruled to have come off the ball, but he was still placed on report, while Sam Burgess was warned for being third man, but first brother, into the melee.

By that stage little was going right for the Sea Eagles, who appeared to have scored through Tom Symonds, only for the video referee to rule that Rabbitohs prop Roy Asotasi had been obstructed. Beau Champion scored a minute later, and – despite a late rally from the home side – their biggest scalp this season was achieved.

SOUTH SYDNEY 20 (B Champion G Inglis J Sutton tries A Reynolds 4 goals) bt MANLY 12 (D Cherry-Evans A Watmough tries J Lyon 2 goals) at Brookvale Oval. Referee: Phil Haines, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 20,510.

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Evans to gamble on the Giro

Cadel Evans knows he has taken a major risk by deciding only a month ago, to the surprise of many, to race the three-week Giro d’Italia starting in Naples next Saturday.
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It means the 2011 Tour de France champion – a stickler for long-term planning – will back up from the 3405-kilometre Giro after its finish on May 26 to race the Tour, starting on June 29. Claiming the double is a challenge that attempts in recent years have indicated is arguably too hard, even when planned in detail. The last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same year was Italian climber Marco Pantani in 1998.

Harder for Evans (BMC) is that he will race the Giro off a shortened preparation.

So why the late change in plan, announced on March 30, to include a three-week event before the Tour de France, rather than build up as normal with shorter races and training/reconnaissance camps?

Evans, who became the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011 but placed seventh last year, has heard all the speculation that his team leadership for the Tour is at risk of being lost to young American Tejay van Garderen (fifth and best young rider in 2012), and that racing the Giro is about fighting for his status, even though he and BMC have said he will be the No. 1 rider.

There have also been suggestions he is scrambling for a second grand tour win, in case he fails in the Tour, and that with his contract up next year, at 36 this may be one of his last chances.

But Evans is adamant the decision to compete in Italy is aimed at accruing the racing kilometres he lost after a virus impaired and ended his season last year, and that he will need to be at his best for the Tour de France.

Evans began this season well, finishing third in the Tour of Oman. But when his form failed to improve as expected in March at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, he realised the idea of racing the Giro, proposed by BMC management, was the best option to take.

”[It] is to recover the days racing lost last year because of the illness … and always to be at my best for the Tour,” Evans said.

”There is always an inherent risk that I will be overdone for the Tour, that I’ll have done too much racing; but I’d rather have done too much than too little. And I feel that making up for race days is what I need to get me back to my very best, and the Giro is a great way to do that.

”But after only two or three weeks’ preparation … I’ll go with high hopes, not high expectations.

”I will be taking it one step at a time – to first try and do a good Giro, do the best Giro I can. Anything that I do good in the Giro is only going to help me in the Tour. They are two hefty objectives, so you’re best to look at one at a time. Otherwise it can get overwhelming. I’m as curious as anyone to see how it pans out, how far I can go on hope.”

At least Evans knows what he is in for. He tackled the Giro-Tour double in 2010. While he failed to reap the success he hoped for due to illness and injury, he knows he can handle the load.

In the 2010 Giro, Evans placed fifth overall, won a stage and the points jersey after being struck by a fever. In the Tour de France that year, he took the yellow jersey on stage eight in the Alps despite a crash in which he fractured his elbow, only to drop off the pace on stage nine due to the pain of his injury.

Later that year, Evans also rode well in the world road championship in Geelong.

But Evans said of the toll such a schedule takes on a rider trying to win them all: ”It’s not easy to recover … and with the Tour a little earlier this year, it’s technically more difficult.”

There is also the issue of who Evans races against. In the Giro, it will include Briton Bradley Wiggins (Sky) who won last year’s Tour, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), the reigning Giro champion, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who won the recent Giro del Trentino.

Evans is unsure – or coy – about how he will race the Giro.

Will he be aggressive and seek early time gains as he did en route to winning the 2011 Tour? Will he pin his hopes on the 17.4-kilometre stage-two team time trial, and two individual time trials on stage eight (55.5 kilometres) and stage 18 (19.4 kilometres), the second being up a mountain? Will he risk all and attack in the Dolomites and Alps in week three, knowing win or lose it may sharpen him for the Tour?

”In any grand tour, where you can get time is [an opportunity] you need to use,” Evans says. ”It depends. Will the climbers be strong, or will they control everything in the mountains? The time trials aren’t exactly flat. Sky, you would expect to race how they won the [2012] Tour, but Ryder brings more interest. Then the Italians … you can’t believe how excited they are to be there.”

Don’t ignore Evans’ Italian ties as motivation either. A former mountain biker, his road career began as an under-23 rider in Italy. He turned professional with the Italian Mapei team, and in his grand tour debut, the 2002 Giro, he placed 14th and wore the leader’s pink jersey for a day.

His wife Chiara Passerini is Italian, and her parents often head out to watch him race.

”My roots as a bike racer are quite Italian. Italian cycling has given me a lot,” Evans says.

”I certainly hope to be able to give something back to it.”

Hence, he has always wanted to race the Giro since his last start in 2010.

”I thought I would come back but a bit later [than now], and [thought] when I do, I want to do well in the race,” he says. ”That’s why my hopes are higher than my expectations.”

Watch every stage of the Giro d’Italia live on Eurosport, and selected stages on SBS One.

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

This time, it’s personal

IRON MAN 3 (M)
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General Release

***

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: if you enjoyed the earlier Iron Man films, you’ll probably enjoy this one. But although it is fun in a comic-book kind of way, it’s not as good as its predecessors or The Avengers.

It follows on from The Avengers. Our hero, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey jnr) is still his cocky, wisecracking self (will he never learn?) but it seems he is not immune to the aftereffects of so much death and destruction. It’s an interesting notion that could’ve been carried further but Downey, talented though he is, doesn’t always seem up to things like sincerity and deep emotional pain, at least not here. But worse is yet to come for Stark. A new baddie known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) hijacks the airwaves and begins a wave of terror attacks. Stark won’t stand for this and issues a challenge, complete with his home address. You’d think this would have been fairly well known, but apparently not, and as well as a horde of media types, he also attracts an attack that destroys his home and nearly kills his beloved, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). His friend and security chief, Happy (Jon Favreau, who didn’t direct this third instalment: it’s handled by co-writer Shane Black) also ends up comatose in hospital as a result of the new threat. So, yes, this time it’s personal.

Paltrow has a bit more to do this time and Don Cheadle returns as Stark’s fighting friend James Rhodes, who has his own iron suit, and Paul Bettany once again voices helpful supercomputer Jarvis.

New characters include Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who doesn’t handle rejection well, and Ty Simpkins as Harley, a precocious kid who helps Stark out when he needs it.

The movie is overlong and slow in parts and the first half is largely talk and setting things up with lots of action in the second half.

The stuntwork and special effects are impressive but it can be hard to follow all of the action and some of it seems a bit farfetched, even within the movie’s own surreal universe.

But there are some good lines and interesting reversals and the obligatory cameo by Marvel Comics supremo Stan Lee and post-end credits scene (quite amusing).

If the strain is beginning to show a bit, it’s still not a dud like Green Lantern, which couldn’t even get one movie right.

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Downstairs kitchen comedy a French treat

HAUTE CUISINE (M)
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Capitol Manuka, Palace Electric

***½

For the French, food is no laughing matter, as we know, and their culinary arts have long been revered. However, as our own obsession with iron chefs, naked chefs, celebrity chefs and master chefs grows and grows, it is no longer clear any more that it’s just the French who obsess about food.

In this light and engaging souffle of a comedy from Christian Vincent, that screened during the recent French Film Festival and is now on general release, there are dishes galore from the French provincial cookbook, captured on camera in seductive close-up. The names of the best French wines, signature desserts and exotica are bandied around, so much so, that you feel you just have to alter travel plans and book that next holiday in France.

The kitchen goddess here is Hortense Laborie, played with aplomb by Catherine Frot, a chef and truffles specialist summoned from her farm in the provinces to provide the kind of spread the French president longs for, food like his grandmother used to make. Unfortunately the resident chefs at the Elysee Palace, an all-male team, give her the cold shoulder the moment she arrives, distinctly displeased by the new favourite in their midst. They nickname her Du Barry, after a mistress of King Louis XV, and SuperGran.

The indomitable Hortense is not one to be put down by this, and she can give as good as she gets. The comedy widens to parrying between the factions, the scramble for favours, the army of functionaries that has to respond instantly to presidential whim, and to new era bureaucrats concerned only with the bottom line. Less effective is the awkward, stiff character of the president himself, played by veteran journalist Jean d’Ormesson, someone personally acquainted with French presidents in his time. And even less effective is the clunky comedy the film tries to derive from a phoney-accented Australian television film crew trailing Hortense once she has quit the palace and taken a job in Antarctica.

Haute Cuisine is based on a book by Daniele Delpeuch, a formidable former chef to Francois Mitterand, president of France from 1981-1995. I remember Mitterand, the first socialist president, as colourful with a larger-than-life personality, and hadn’t heard of his predilections in food. Predilections in other areas, but not gastronomy.

Restricting the comedy to the goings-on among the palace staff downstairs without a hint of what was happening upstairs is a missed opportunity, especially given what we now know of Mitterand, his political skeletons in the closet, his affairs, and his mistress and daughter who were a state secret. Haute Cuisine could definitely have milked more from its insider perspective in the corridors of power, however it is still light, lively and engaging.

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

On for all ages as Harvey baits Singo

Gerry Harvey has never had a super horse and it pains him that he will never get to find out if All Too Hard is that horse.
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But the half-brother to Black Caviar could give him something that money can’t buy if he can get the better of his old mate John Singleton’s pride and joy More Joyous in Saturday’s All Aged Stakes at Randwick.

”With all the horses I have had, I haven’t had a super horse and I truly believe this fellow could be it,” Harvey said. ”Singo has had his super horse in More Joyous and we have to beat it [on Saturday].”

Harvey and Singleton will be wired for sound by TVN as All Too Hard and More Joyous clash and the old mates will not hold back after the race, Harvey promised. ”I think gloating and bragging will be OK,” Harvey said. ”It will be no holds barred provided one of us wins.

”I have known Singo for a long time and I’m hoping to see that real look of inner despair that only comes when he loses a big bet or something that’s close to his heart.

”It is something you can’t hide, that look when something really hurts. If All Too Hard wins, I’m hoping there is a really good photographer around to [take] a picture of him. I will be putting it on my wall, so when he gets the better of me I can look up and feel better about myself.”

If More Joyous wins the All Aged, the picture will be given completely different treatment. ”I will be burning it because you can imagine what he is going to be like,” Harvey said.

Harvey had a win over Singleton last week when Royal Descent dusted Dear Demi by 10 lengths in the Australian Oaks but it counts for nothing going into Saturday. ”That’s in the past and I live in the present and the future and if More Joyous wins Singo would have completely forgot about it as well,” he said.

All Too Hard has proven a frustration for Harvey since he became an owner of the son of Casino Prince.

He was already a Caulfield Guineas winner and Cox Plate runner-up when the deal was done but the colt went to another level early in the autumn. All Too Hard was commanding in the Orr Stakes, then toyed with his older rivals again in the Futurity Stakes before a virus stopped his preparation on the eve of the Australian Guineas.

”The thing is I don’t think we are ever going to see the best of him,” Harvey said.

”I think we saw the best of Black Caviar and Pierro but this fellow [All Too Hard] was still getting better. I think he is something really special. A super horse. He didn’t get the chance to show how good he actually is because of the problem.”

Harvey would love to continue racing All Too Hard but the horse will only have this run and possibly one more at Royal Ascot before being retired to stud.

”There are [commercial] reasons why he won’t race on as a four-year-old but it’s a pity we won’t get to see him then because at a mile and beyond I feel he could be that super horse,” Harvey said.

Saturday is All Too Hard’s first run since his setback and Harvey labelled him the underdog against More Joyous.

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

Storm sale will be sooner … or later

The sale of the Melbourne Storm will be delayed for months if a deal is not done shortly.
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Negotiations involving the Storm, News Limited and a multi-national consortium, with London-based New Zealanders among the leading figures, are reaching their conclusion.

Fairfax Media has been told by a reliable source that conclusion will either be an immediate announcement over the sale of the NRL and world champion or a two- to three-month delay to suit the purposes of the new owners.

“We don’t want to jeopardise the sale by speaking publicly about it,” club chief executive Ron Gauci said.

Storm staff have been assured their jobs are safe but Gauci was hired to find the club a new owner and will walk out – along with directors – when the deal is done.

The change of ownership is not expected to have significant impact on the day-to-day running of the club.

Meanwhile, the Storm has a united approach to closing in on the record of consecutive victories. It is ignoring it.

Thursday night’s 28-18 win over the Warriors was the club’s 15th in a row – just four short of the mark set by the 1975 Eastern Suburbs side.

And if it continues on its winning way, it will have to beat Sydney Roosters, formerly Eastern Suburbs, on May 25 to beat their record.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that – I knew we’d won a fair few on the trot,” said coach Craig Bellamy. “I don’t think that will come into our consideration a whole heap.

”It’s just what we do each week and making sure we’re getting ready for the next game. If we can get there, that would be nice.

”But I’m not going to put pressure on the players about doing the next four games or whatever it is.”

Centre Will Chambers, who is off contract this year and scored two tries on Thursday, said: “We don’t think that far ahead. Now we’ve got Canberra.”

PLAYED THURSDAY:Storm 28 (Chambers 2, Fonua, Waqa, Slater tries; Smith 4 goals) d Warriors 18 (Henry, Tupou, Johnson tries; Johnson 3 goals)

Roosters 54 (Milne 2, Noble 2, Elliot, Asiata, Goodsell, Thomas, Martin, Langi tries; Langi 7 goals) d Dragons 10 (K Seru 2 tries; S Crook goal)

FRIDAY:Rabbitohs 20 (Champion, Inglis, Sutton tries; Reynolds 4 goals) d Sea Eagles 12 (Cherry-Evans, Watmough tries; Lyon 2 goals)

SATURDAY

Cowboys v Raiders, 1300smiles Stadium, 5.30pm

Wests v Broncos, Campbelltown, 7.30pm

SUNDAY

Titans v Knights, Skilled Park, 2pm

Sharks v Bulldogs, Bluetongue Stadium, 3pm

MONDAY

Panthers v Eels, Centrebet Stadium, 7pm

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

Malthouse wary of Crows forward

While delighted by the return of one of his own key forwards from injury, it’s the threat posed by a visiting marksman that has Mick Malthouse concerned.
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That threat comes from Taylor Walker, Adelaide’s big-marking tall who will play a crucial role in the Crows’ bid for victory when they face the Blues at the MCG on Saturday.

Malthouse lavished praise on Walker after a closed training session at Visy Park on Friday, just as he did on the mulleted South Australian last year in his role as a media commentator.

But it was hard not to think Malthouse may also have been playing mind games when he compared the emerging Walker to two of the AFL’s great forwards, Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall.

”I made a comment some time, I think it was last year, and I had the luxury of making it without reference to being not attached to any football side – he reminds me of a modern-day version of a Lockett or Dunstall,” Malthouse said.

”Let’s not get caught up in this – they are out-and-out champions and he has a lot of time to prove that. But he is only a young bloke, he is powerful, he is not six-foot-six. He is the traditional, front-end player that has great strength, great kicking power, plays for his teammates and kicks goals.

”When you trace it back along the lines of those players [Dunstall and Lockett], he is as close to those type of players physically as any player in the competition.”

Walker, at 192 centimetres and 100 kilograms, is an imposing figure, and will almost certainly match up on full-back Michael Jamison, who has had a superb year.

Last year, Walker booted 63 goals in 19 games, with his average of 3.3 goals a game second only to Lance Franklin.

This year, his role has changed slightly, with more of an emphasis on winning the ball up the ground.

He won 51 per cent of his disposals inside 50 last season, this year it’s slipped to 38 per cent. This may have contributed to the average number of goals per game dropping to 2.5.

While Malthouse’s immediate focus will be Walker, this will turn to Jarrad Waite on Sunday when he resumes from a calf injury for the Blues’ affiliate, Northern Blues.

As Malthouse said, it’s been a long wait for Waite, the key forward who is crucial to the Blues’ finals hopes.

”He has trained very well over the last couple of weeks [but it’s been] the old saying: ‘When they are ready, give them another week’. He will play as much as he can,” Malthouse said.

Waite, 30, remains the Blues’ premier forward but since 2008, when he managed 21 matches, he has logged only 48 senior appearances, including 11 last season.

Small forward Eddie Betts has recovered from a fractured jaw and will line up against the Crows.

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

Cats coach has Scott all the right moves

Chris Scott is coaching very well. When hasn’t he, it could be argued, given that he won a premiership in his first season as coach of Geelong and backed it up with a finals appearance the following year?
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While there were plenty of opinions proffered to suggest the great Cat era was coming to an end, Geelong sits undefeated after four rounds, its extraordinary ability to win games from seemingly hopeless positions handsomely enhanced.

Scott, as is his nature, will deflect credit for their position, preferring to point to the players’ unbelievable resolve and their faith in one another. It is indisputable that the winning culture that permeates every part of the football club was well and truly established before he arrived to take over from Mark Thompson.

But to maintain it, and to infuse a new group of young footballers with a similar mindset, was always going to be a mighty task. It helps that there is a leadership group of rare quality that inspires, and demands, nothing less from its peers, regardless of age or experience. It would be a very brave, or dumb, footballer who defies the example set by his captain, Joel Selwood. To get a simple nod of approval from Selwood would be enough to nourish a youngster’s career for a year.

Taking all of that into consideration, Scott’s coaching still deserves recognition. And the thing that I’ve enjoyed most about the way he is managing his side is the proactive nature of the way he is going about it.

In recent times, Hawthorn’s Alastair Clarkson has provided the best example of an AFL coach being ahead of the game, with his radical decision to implement an aggressive, zone-based defence that was pivotal to the Hawks’ unlikely 2008 premiership.

Scott’s ability to maximise the exceptional talents of key defender Harry Taylor in recent weeks has been a joy to observe. Taylor has long been recognised as one of the elite defenders in the competition. What we are coming to appreciate is that he could be equally effective at the other end of the ground. He should be acknowledged as one of the most valuable footballers in the competition.

Last week, against the Swans Taylor continually went on searching forays deep into Geelong’s attacking 50-metre zone. To be able to do this, Scott has to first trust that Taylor picks the right time, so that he is not left with the embarrassing sight of his opponent taking an uncontested mark, with him 100 metres away at the opposite end of the ground.

Taylor picked his moments perfectly. It was fascinating to watch the mind games being played out between him and his direct opponent. Whether it was Lewis Roberts-Thomson or Adam Goodes, you could see them wrestling with the notion that they were the attackers; therefore Taylor was obligated to chase them.

What happened was actually the opposite, for Taylor is such a dangerous marking option that to risk not chasing him was to flirt with disaster. The fact that he ended up kicking 2.4 from centre half-back would suggest that his opponents lost the mind game.

But Scott provided Taylor with the perfect safety net. It appeared that every time he ran forward it was a signal for James Podsiadly to head back and provide cover, picking up Taylor’s opponent. It provided Taylor with the confidence to run, and then to spend extended time in the forward half, secure in the knowledge that Podsiadly had his back. The effect was twofold.

Taylor, obviously, posed an enormous attacking threat. But it also gave Podsiadly a focus, other than the need to hit the scoreboard. The ”J-Pod” has been a terrific story, but he can go for long periods of a game without exerting a great influence. The momentary change of focus, to be able to lock down on an opponent, can be a stimulating match-day experience. It can free the mind of concerns about winning possessions or kicking goals.

The change of on-field scenery for a player can lead to dramatic results, and should be exploited more. The Cats now know that they have a goalkicking weapon up their sleeve in Taylor, and may continue to explore Podsiadly’s ability to defend. Luke McGuane, at the Tigers, is filling the role of the third tall in the forward line. Kyle Hardingham started as a high-flying forward for the Bombers and is now an integral part of their back six. Daniel Merrett went from forward to back with great results.

Travis Varcoe was going to be another of Scott’s successful, proactive decisions. Varcoe gave every indication, in the pre-season and the couple of games he played before injuring his shoulder that, by the season’s end, he could have been the most dangerous running half-back in the game.

The Cats are, and have been, all about ”team” for a long time. Scott has been happy for Jimmy Bartel to play in the back half this year. Last week, in the second half, he played in the back pocket. If there has been a more decorated or skilful back-pocket in the modern era, I’d like to know who it is. But Bartel was happy to play his role.

George Horlin-Smith played his best game for the Cats, winning a Rising Star nomination for his 23-possession game on Swans superstar Josh Kennedy. He was one of seven Cats who made his debut last season under Scott, and one of 12 who have played their first game under him.

Scott has moved Joel Corey from the midfield, but still found an important role for him, primarily as a defender, or defensive run-with player, while injecting some pace through the middle with increased responsibility handed to Mathew Stokes and Allen Christensen.

While coaches are ultimately judged on their ability to win games, they are also judged on their ability to develop talent. What we have witnessed from Mark Blicavs in the first four weeks of the year has probably not been fully appreciated. This former Olympic aspirant, with just a handful of football games under his belt at any level, has held down the No.1 ruck position in one of the great sides of the modern era. And yes, injury to the rucking stocks played its part, but Scott has said that Blicavs was shaping as preferred choice regardless.

With seven home games to come in the back half of the year, the 4-0 start to the season has the Cats well placed. They play the struggling Dogs on Saturday night, and Taylor will be darting forward, Bartel might be patrolling the back half, Horlin-Smith might be running with Matty Boyd and ”The Blitz” will be running Will Minson from one end of the ground to the other.

I suspect Scott will be thinking, proactively, about what else he can do to make this outstanding side even better.

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

Young guns the key to keeping Saints on the march

Kiwi Saint: new signing Joe Baker-Thomas (right) with Nick Dal Santo in Wellington on Friday. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoHowever you dress it up, Nick Dal Santo believes St Kilda’s injection of new faces is the only way forward for a team that showed improvement in Thursday’s honourable loss to Sydney, and must bring the same commitment every week throughout a challenging season.
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Coach Scott Watters had been proud of the effort, from his leaders through to first-gamers Brodie Murdoch and Josh Saunders, and Dal Santo echoed his vision as the Saints farewelled New Zealand with a well-attended kids clinic at Basin Reserve.

”Whether it’s called rebuild or whether it’s called fresh blood, it’s needed, there’s no doubt about that,” Dal Santo said, having joked that ”rebuild” was a dangerous word. ”In the past, we’ve had a pretty solid, set team for quite a while, and things have changed a little bit. That’s just the way footy goes. At some stage, you do need new guys to come through and take some responsibility, and that’s happening a little bit.

”We always strive for a premiership, so it doesn’t really change my day-to-day actions or my thoughts on where we’re at. On our day, we’re capable, and I think even last night, even though we didn’t get the win, we were a lot better.”

Saunders and Murdoch took to four the number of debutants played by the Saints this year, with Nathan Wright and Tom Lee also in the team that went down to the Swans by 16 points.

Dal Santo said the showing by the new faces was a big positive of the club’s first game across the Tasman. ”Brodie and Joshy last night, playing their first game, they found their feet and knew what was going on,” he said.

The Saints face a testing stretch of games, against Collingwood, Carlton and away to Adelaide, and Dal Santo said the focus would be simple – keep improving. ”We’ve just gotta get better. Even years ago, when things were going pretty well, we never looked outside what we could do that next day.”

Nick Riewoldt won plenty of new fans at Basin Reserve, as he had the night before in a gut-busting game that Dal Santo said was simply typical Riewoldt. Asked if the captain, who even took a kick-out during the last quarter on Thursday night, could be trying to do too much, Dal Santo said it would be pointless trying to rein him in. ”The issue with that is, good luck trying to tell him not to. That’s just how he plays footy. He does what he thinks he needs to do at a particular time – he’s been doing it for 12 or 13 years and does a really good job at it.”

Dal Santo confirmed he had a clause in his contract that would lead to him playing on in 2014 ”if I’m able to keep walking. I’m feeling OK.”

The Saints made their first inroads into the local talent pool on Friday by unveiling their first international scholarship holder, 16-year-old Wellingtonian Joe Baker-Thomas, who described the game as ”mean”.

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