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Last week’s rankings in brackets plus their win-loss record. 1 BRISBANE (2) 6-1

They are hard to resist when Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt and Justin Hodges start working their magic together in attack. Every other team knows those players must be stopped, but it’s a lot easier said than done. 2 BULLDOGS (3) 6-1

It’s fitting that Michael Ennis has a surname that rhymes with menace, because that is what he is to the opposition once he opens his bag of tricks. The Raiders prepared to deal with him, but still couldn’t reduce his influence. 3 ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (4) 5-2

Keeping the Roosters to zero put them back on top when it comes to least points conceded in the NRL this season. They have given up just 77 points in seven games – an average of just 11 per game. 4 GOLD COAST (1) 5-2

They went in without forward leader Luke Bailey and dynamic five-eighth Mat Rogers against the Panthers and it contributed significantly to their loss. Player ins and outs are critical in such an even competition. 5 WARRIORS (6) 3-1-3

They should have beaten the Storm in Melbourne. The Warriors finished the stronger and it was there for them to win in extra time, but Stacey Jones hooked a field goal attempt from in front and it hit the post. 6 NEWCASTLE (5) 4-3

Their loss to the Tigers, after leading by 14 points well into the second half, could come back to haunt them. There were extenuating circumstances due to injuries on the day, but you’ve got to finish games like that off. 7 WESTS TIGERS (10) 4-3

They were in big trouble against the Knights until Benji Marshall extracted a blinding last 20 minutes from himself to turn the game around. He can’t do that all the time, but it’s nice to know that he can do it. 8 PENRITH (12) 3-4

The introduction of Luke Walsh at halfback not only served them well in that key spot – it helped some other pieces fall into place, too. Their win at home over the Titans was solid – and something they can build on. 9 SOUTH SYDNEY (11) 4-3

They didn’t have a lot to spare in their six-point win over the Sharks, but at least it was an improvement on their previous form at night – three losses from three games and a total of just 28 points scored. 10 MELBOURNE (9) 3-1-3

Began well enough against the Warriors, but were going up and down in the one spot by the time normal time ended and were lucky to escape the extra 10 minutes with a share of the points. They’ve still got problems to solve. 11 NORTH QUEENSLAND (13) 3-4

They finished off their win over the Sea Eagles with two spectacular tries that were vintage Cowboys efforts. They are heading in the right direction, but still have a way to go before they find their best form. 12 MANLY (7) 2-5

They tried hard against the Cowboys and got down the opposition’s end often enough to win the game, but came up short. It was a game that cried out for Brett Stewart’s involvement – had he played, they probably would have won. 13 CANBERRA (8) 2-5

Flew out of the boxes to lead 12-0 against the Bulldogs, but were overhauled before halftime. They have only won one out of three home games this season and need to start turning that around against Penrith this weekend. 14 SYDNEY ROOSTERS (14) 2-5

Have not scored a point in their last three halves of football. Imagine if they came up with zero against the Sharks this weekend they would fair dinkum have to call it quits and become spectators like the rest of us. 15 PARRAMATTA (15) 2-5

They were willing against the Broncos, but they wasted opportunities and you’re never going to get away with that against top opposition. They are just going to have to keep working hard and hope to get a result that way. 16 CRONULLA (16) 1-5

They came up with easily their biggest total of the season against the Rabbitohs, but at the same time they allowed the Rabbitohs to come up with their biggest total since round one. They just can’t find a way to win.

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CRONULLA coach Ricky Stuart played an extraordinary role before last night’s NRL judiciary hearing, re-enacting the suspect tackle made by Paul Gallen and claiming his repeat offender was “playing on eggshells and broken glass”. And the coach’s starring role worked.
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Gallen was found not guilty by the panel, leaving him free to play for the Sharks in Saturday’s match against the Roosters.

Earlier, the judiciary also cleared Bulldog Michael Ennis, ruling that his alleged chicken-wing tackle on Canberra fullback Josh Dugan was tender enough to escape a one-match ban.

The dual “not guilty” findings were both achieved by counsel Geoff Bellew, who created enough doubt in the minds of the judiciary panel of Mal Cochrane, Sean Garlick and Mark Coyne to hand down the surprise findings.

Gallen claimed he didn’t hit Wing with his shoulder or arm, instead saying he hit Wing with his chest. Wing was concussed and missed a large portion of the game. “It was the pec [pectoral muscle] that hit him,” Gallen said.

The Sharks lock claimed the tackle was “a good tackle” and denied that his upper arm or shoulder hit Wing on the jaw.

Stuart then acted out the tackle with Gallen in the middle of the room and passionately defended his player.

Stuart spoke about Gallen “playing on eggshells and broken glass” because of his bad record and noted that, while the tackle looked poor, his player made no reaction to suggest he may be “stuffed”.

Afterwards, Gallen said he was satisfied with the result – but when asked about Stuart’s unprecedented demonstration, said: “I don’t know if it helped me, the character thing wasn’t the best”.

Earlier in the day, at a NSW State of Origin squad gathering, Gallen had admitted he might have to tone down his aggressive style after the Sharks threatened to fine him over his latest brush with the judiciary.

“It shocked me a little bit,” Gallen said when asked about the prospect of being fined by his club. “If I have to tone things down in order not to get fined, maybe that has to happen.”

Gallen will now have the chance to press for an Australian Test jersey, with selectors to name the team on Sunday for the Anzac Test on Friday week.

Meanwhile, Ennis will now take part in this Sunday’s clash against Wests Tigers, installing the Bulldogs as favourites – and setting up a head-to-head clash with Blues State of Origin rival Robbie Farah.

Ennis argued that he had been trying to remove the “forceful” pressure applied on his throat by the ball carrier, that he had tackled Dugan without significant force and that the arm had never been extended beyond his back.

“I am very grateful for the hearing … my representation was really good and I am very pleased with the result,” Ennis said. “This is another week, there are a few to go yet and it is important to get the preparation right and important to get back to training”.

When asked about the importance of clearing his name of being associated with the chicken-wing slur, Ennis replied: “I would rather scrub the chicken wing [talk]. I will talk about the tackle.”

Ennis said he had tackled Dugan to shift him onto his back, but also to remove Dugan’s hand, which was against his throat.

“I moved his arm to get it out of my throat,” Ennis told the judiciary. “The degree of force applied was not a great deal.”

Ennis told the judiciary he had never used wrestling techniques and nor did the Bulldogs coaching staff teach any wrestling techniques.

Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore, who was at the hearing, said after the decision was handed down that he was happy with the result. “I didn’t think there was too much in it,” he said.

Moore said the Bulldogs team had spent the past few days in recovery because the next match was on Sunday.

“Because of that, we haven’t had to move players around, so it hasn’t had any impact on our preparation for the Wests Tigers match,” Moore said.

with Glenn Jackson

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WHEN he was 10 years old, James McManus’s family decided to swap the drizzle of Scotland’s highlands for the stifling heat of Katherine in the Northern Territory. "It’s a bit out in the sticks, but I loved it," McManus says.
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He went from balancing a round ball on his boot to learning how to pass a Steeden. "I’d never heard of rugby league," he says. "I didn’t understand any of it. When I came to Australia, I played a couple of games and I spent most of it offside, telling people to kick me the ball."

Today McManus has firmly established himself in the Newcastle side and yesterday was sized up for his suits and uniform as a member of the 40-man Blues Origin squad. The 23-year-old is a strong chance to make the final cut and run out for NSW on the wing this June.

"First and foremost, I want to play well for my club," he says. "It really means a lot to me this year. We’re looking to do big things at Newcastle and we don’t want to be sitting there watching TV in September. I want to play well for my club and anything comes off the back of that is just a bonus."

Knights teammate and fellow Blues squad member Kurt Gidley thinks McManus is a fair chance for an Origin jersey.

"Since his debut, he hasn’t a missed a game playing first grade, which is a great achievement," Gidley says. "His rise to where he is today, it’s a credit to the hard work he’s put in. He’s one of the most dedicated trainers. He stays behind, as most blokes do, to do extras. But Jimmy has been like that from the start."

Today, only a slight tinge of his Scottish accent can be heard in McManus’s voice. His accent was so thick when he touched down in Katherine that, aside from his family, people really didn’t know what he was trying to say. "No one could understand a word I saying," McManus remembers. "A lot of the time, I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying as well. With time, two years, I lost the accent."

After spending three years in Katherine, surviving a flood that tore through the town, he went to Palmerston High School in Darwin, studied the game of rugby league on television and was chosen by the Northern Territory Institute of Sport on their rugby league program.

"It took me a lot of watching," McManus says. "A lot of following it on TV. A lot of schoolyard stuff and finally after that I put my hand up to play the game."

At an Australian schoolboys championship, he was spied by Knights recruiter Warren Smiles. "He’s studied the game hard," Smiles says. "He knew what he wanted and he knew he wanted to play NRL. He was very intense and mature. He’s always worked hard to do everything right."

Before he lived in the heat of the Top End, before league, he lived in Fochabers – a village in the district of Moray. "It was a pretty obscure little place but it was good." His childhood memories of Scotland? The "blankets of snow" in the wintertime, "drizzle and soccer".

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THE appointment of Andy Flower as England team director means that England now have the captain-coach combination they needed when Michael Vaughan quit last northern summer – but it has come about by outrageous fluke.
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Six months ago, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores were in charge and neither [Andrew] Strauss nor Flower was dreaming of power, let alone world domination, which will be demanded if they somehow manage to win the Ashes. Yet here they are, two hardy souls raised under a Southern African sun, daring England’s players to raise their game through a diet of hard work and tough love.

"I want an ethos of constant improvement within the side," Flower said at Lord’s this week. "I want our players to be constantly moving forward and challenging themselves and I want us to be physically and mentally strong. These are some of the principles that we’ll build this team on."

As Hugh Morris, the managing director of England cricket, who appointed Flower made plain, the coach-captain relationship is crucial to an international side. Show a united front and even the top dogs in the dressing-room will come to heel, and that is something that needs to happen if England are to perform as a team and not, as is increasingly the case, as a bunch of disparate, but not untalented, individuals.

"Captains and coaches don’t always have to agree or to get on perfectly," Flower said. "In fact, it’s healthy if there is always debate between the two of you and the rest of the management team and squad. I respect Andrew. I think he’s a very good cricketer and a very good captain."

One worry about Flower’s partnership with Strauss is that while they would have made a wonderfully contrasting pair as batsmen, they are perhaps too similar as thinkers.

Mind you, having too much integrity could be a nice problem for England to have.

As you would expect from a man who has just been handed an extra megawatt of power in his job, Flower refused to reveal his strategic plans, insisting that he had only just got the post. Yet, as Moores’s assistant for 20 months, and as interim coach on the tour to the West Indies, he has been involved long enough to know what he wants to change. His chief targets are "Player plcs" and the complacency caused by central contracts.

The concept of the Player plc, which has but one shareholder, is not new.

When he was England coach, Keith Fletcher was critical of Robin Smith for concentrating more on his business interests off the field than those on it. Most players are at it now and while few will blame them for maximising their profits in a relatively short career, it is easy to forget where priorities lie.

Changing that and dismantling the system of central contracts will not make Flower popular, but when you have defied Robert Mugabe and his henchmen by wearing black armbands to signify the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, you are obviously not easily swayed from your convictions.

England’s new team director possesses resolve and determination, which was also illustrated when he quit county cricket with Essex in 2007 to become a coach, forgoing a benefit worth at least £300,000 ($622,000). Success is never guaranteed when you move platforms, but with Flower you sense it has a better than even chance.

According to Morris, there were 30 applicants for the England team director’s post, although he would not reveal how many made it to the final interview in front of the four-man panel he chaired. He is confident that England have chosen the right man.

Flower’s appointment has not been universally approved, however. Duncan Fletcher, one of his predecessors, said he had been handed the job before proving himself under real pressure, although that is something that the Ashes and World Twenty20 tournament will surely bring.

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JOE PRIDE was left stunned when the trainer’s warhorse, Vision And Power, thundered home to win the famed Doncaster Mile at Randwick yesterday.
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For owner Nick Moraitis, whose galloper Might And Power won races such as the Caulfield and Melbourne cups and the Cox Plate, it was a moment to dream about.

For jockey Jim Cassidy it was another triumph. A time to give thanks to his personal trainer, the veteran Malcolm Ayoub. A time to thank Racing NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy for allowing him to ride Vision And Power half a kilogram over weight.

The grand slam-winning jockey, who was aboard Might And Power in the above triumphs, has been in sensational form, claiming group 1s at each of the past three Saturdays. Cassidy hadn’t wasted so hard to ride at 51.5kg for a long time.

"I knew it wouldn’t stop me if I remained strong of mind," Cassidy said before thanking Ayoub, who arrived from Perth to punish the jockey in early morning weight-reducing sessions at the Coogee RSL Club.

"I’ve been sucking on a grapefruit from Moraitis’s for a week," said Cassidy, who must now choose between Vision And Power and his AJC Australian Derby winner Roman Emperor in next Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick.

Moraitis wondered aloud: "Am I still dreaming, I can’t believe this has happened again."

When asked about Cassidy, he replied: "He says it all himself. He has been unbelievable, he has been loyal, he is a real knockabout, Jimmy. He is a man’s man and he has ridden that horse to perfection again. He is class."

For the 36-year-old Pride it was a career highlight. He might never have touched a horse until he was 20 but Pride is on the rise.

"There are three races I’d like to win and this is one of them," Pride said – the others being the Melbourne Cup and the Cox Plate. "I’ve watched these growing up as a punter … you don’t even think you could win one."

Vision And Power has won the Goerge Ryder and Doncaster in consecutive starts, both group 1 races.

"It is unbelievable, I can’t believe this horse has done it," Pride said. "To go to the level he has gone to today is a fantastic performance.

"Great for my team at home, I’m just so proud of the horse."

Pride admitted having concern in the run, as Vision And Power was back and wide, but said: "He has this explosive finish. The last 200 metres was freakish."

Vision And Power was able to fend off the Con Karakatsanis-trained Black Piranha, which made its run down the outside of the track with the very unlucky Whobegotyou.

"The horse has run super," Karakatsanis said. "It is remarkable to run second in a Doncaster, but he is such an honest horse, he tried his heart out."

Connections of Whobegotyou viewed the stewards’ video in the hope of lodging a protest.

"There wasn’t enough to believe stewards would uphold a protest," Whobegotyou’s trainer Mark Kavanagh said.

"There was enough to say, he was deadset unlucky, several runs didn’t open. We’ll put it down to the one that got away."

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THE National Rugby League has banned two fans for life and sin-binned three others for five years over offences ranging from assault to streaking and ignoring a smoking ban.
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NRL spokesman John Brady said league representatives issued the banning notices to five men at their Sydney homes yesterday in the presence of police who are also prosecuting two for assaults following incidents at three games during the past three weeks.

The ages of the fans and the teams they support have not been revealed.

Mr Brady said the bans took the number of spectators excluded from matches for bad behaviour in the past three years to 16.

He said three banning notices were issued after the Rabbitohs-Bulldogs match at ANZ Stadium last Monday night, including a ban for life to a man who assaulted a security guard and a five-year ban to a man who became involved in the same incident.

Another man at the match was banned for five years after failing to follow instructions to leave ANZ Stadium after violating smoking regulations.

"The NRL is also proceeding with another life ban against a man for an assault in the car park at EnergyAustralia Stadium [in Newcastle] following the match between the Manly Sea Eagles and Newcastle Knights two weeks ago," Mr Brady said.

A man who ran naked onto the playing field at Parramatta Stadium three weeks ago has also been banned for five years.

"In all cases the NRL bans are game-wide and are in addition to any impending police or court proceedings. Bans are enforceable under the Enclosed Lands Protection Act and anyone who breaches a ban will be subject to criminal proceedings," Mr Brady said.

"It is important that people know bans on fans can be enforced. It is not something that we just do here and there. It is ongoing."

NSW Police major events commander Assistant Commissioner Denis Clifford said yesterday police supported the action by the NRL and worked with the league to identify those responsible.

"The decision by the NRL is supported by police and sends a clear message to those involved that assaults and serious offences won’t be tolerated at football games," Assistant Commissioner Clifford said.

"Sport doesn’t need these types of people ruining a game for others, and a ban will remind them for a long time that their behaviour is unacceptable."

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Having arrested lingering doubts about their ability to pick up competition points on the road, the Gold Coast Titans risk spoiling the good work of the past fortnight if they cannot bring their form back in their travel bags to Robina on Friday night.
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That is the message from the club’s veteran five-eighth Mat Rogers, who has helped guide the Coast franchise to successive away victories in Melbourne and Townsville that have earned them early-season status as equal competition leaders.

The Titans next play host to the scales-crushing Canberra Raiders, a club known as the Green Machine and now boasting a squad virtually full of Incredible Hulks.

"We’ve really got to make it count," Rogers said.

"If we go out and put in an ordinary performance this Friday then the previous two weeks really mean nothing.

"We know if we can win our fair share away from home and maintain our clean sheet at home then we’ll be thereabouts at the end of the year."

The dual international was forced from the field in the 14-10 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys on Saturday night with a gaping head wound but, describing it as "just a superficial cut", he was yesterday named at number six for the encounter with the Raiders at Skilled Park.

The bill of health is not as clean, though, throughout the Titans squad, with Brad Meyers poised to miss up to three games with an AC joint injury and forward trio Aaron Cannings, Mark Minichiello (ankle) and Michael Henderson (groin) all under injury clouds.

They will be given until tomorrow to prove their fitness.

A largely fortunate run with injuries to date this season – captain Scott Prince’s two-week stint in a suit and tie with a hamstring problem aside – has been a major contributor to the Titans’ lofty position on the NRL table, according to Rogers.

"We’ve had a little bit of consistency throughout the first part of the season, Princey being the obvious omission there," he said.

"It’s been a tough couple of weeks on the road but we that after this game we’ve got a 10-day break."

They may need each one of those days to nurse bumps and bruises from the clash with the top-heavy Raiders, who pose another physical challenge for a Titans pack already derided this year for a perceived lack of size.

"There are certain ways to play big sides and they are a big side, Canberra, and not only in the forwards – right across the park," said Titans coach John Cartwright.

"You look at Terry Campese, who plays in the halves, he’s over the 100kg mark and their wingers are about the 100kg mark.

"We’ve just got to be smart about things. We won’t be intimidated at all."

Cartwright insisted his forwards were big and ugly enough to withstand the Canberra stampede.

"If you look at our pack weight – you’ve got Matt White, Aaron Cannings, they’re both over the 110kg mark and Luke Bailey’s about 108kg," he said.

"So I wouldn’t say we’re the biggest side in the league but we’re not the smallest either."

Gold Coast Titans: Preston Campbell, Kevin Gordon, Esi Tonga, Brett Delaney, Chris Walker, Mat Rogers, Scott Prince, Luke Bailey, Nathan Friend, Aaron Cannings, Anthony Laffranchi, Mark Minnichiello, Ashley Harrison.

Interchange Matthew White, Josh Graham, Luke O’Dwyer, William Zillman.

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THE Western Force were stunned last night when told Brett Sheehan and not Test halfback Luke Burgess would be the opposing starting halfback when they play the Waratahs at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday night.
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When Force coach John Mitchell, who had just arrived in Sydney with the team, was informed of Sheehan’s promotion, he asked a journalist: "You’re not pulling my leg?"

When convinced Burgess was on the bench, Mitchell added that starting Sheehan for the first time this season was "surprising, to say the least".

This is not to say the Force don’t rate Sheehan, as, after all, they are pursuing the Waratahs’ No.2 halfback for next season. The startled reaction had more to do with the Test incumbent being dropped to the bench at a time when his form, after a slow Super 14 start, had picked up considerably.

Nonetheless Burgess had been under threat for some time. After just a few rounds, the Waratahs selectors were contemplating dropping Burgess and Kurtley Beale for Sheehan and Daniel Halangahu, but at the last minute opted against it.

A few weeks later, Burgess was informed by the Waratahs team management that his spot was again in jeopardy, but several prominent performances made his spot safe … until yesterday.

Sheehan’s promotion would also have a lot to do with who will run out in the Force No.9 jersey – Josh Valentine. The former Waratahs and Wallabies halfback is a pugnacious, cheeky performer who can antagonise his opponents, as shown several weeks ago when Reds back-rower Scott Higginbotham threw a punch at him during one ruck.

Sheehan is similarly aggressive and will not be intimidated by Valentine.

Waratahs coach Chris Hickey explained that Sheehan had been promoted because he "had been doing a really good job for us with relatively little game time this season, so we’d thought we’d give him the chance to rip in from the start this week".

Mitchell, meanwhile, knows that sooner or later Burgess will be on the field.

"The Waratahs are blessed with two very good halfbacks, and they probably complement each other pretty well," the Force coach said.

"Brett’s pretty good defensively, and also good in the carry. This may bring a little more patience in their phases because of that physical presence, and then as the game wears on, Luke can come on and be a significant threat around the ruck area."

The only other Waratahs change is Timana Tahu moving to outside-centre for the injured Rob Horne, while Peter Playford comes on to the bench.

Will Caldwell will become NSW’s most capped second-rower, with his 64th state appearance having him move ahead of Tom Bowman and John Welborn.

While the Waratahs are trying to overcome last weekend’s disappointing reversal against the Bulls, it was not as dramatic as the Force losing in the last seconds to the Hurricanes.

"Naturally we were gutted by last week," Mitchell said. "The guys played some good rugby and we were pretty unfortunate not to get the result.

"We haven’t been conditioned to that situation, and this has been a huge learning curve for us. It’s more about looking at the things we didn’t do during that late period. That has been the focus of this week, rather than focusing on the negative of not getting the result."

WARATAHS: Sam Norton-Knight; Lachie Turner, Timana Tahu, Tom Carter, Lote Tuqiri; Daniel Halangahu, Brett Sheehan; Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh (c), Ben Mowen, Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm, Dan Palmer, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Res: Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu, Chris Thomson, Luke Doherty, Luke Burgess, Kurtley Beale, Peter Playford.

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WITH the farewelling of Shawn Mackay complete, there was no more fitting person for his best mate, Morgan Turinui, to turn to than Mackay’s younger brother and fellow Randwick teammate, Matt.
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At Waverley’s Mary Immaculate Church in Sydney’s eastern suburbs yesterday, Turinui and Matt Mackay delivered eulogies for Shawn Mackay, who died in a Durban hospital last Monday week from a blood infection that followed surgery on injuries he suffered when struck by a vehicle on March 27.

As with Mackay’s uncle and godfather, John Hurley, who spoke earlier, and Brumbies coach Andy Friend, who read out the poem The Man in the Glass , emotion ran deep as Turinui and Matt Mackay spoke. In between, they embraced.

“Through every major moment of my life, he’s been standing next to me,” Turinui said of Shawn Mackay, whom he first met at kindergarten in Clovelly before forging a friendship that would endure the years of a journey with so much youthful hope, brazen ambition and wild adventure through Waverley College and their footballing careers.

With that journey over, it was fitting that Turinui and Matt Mackay led the team of pallbearers that carried Mackay’s coffin out to the hearse as Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me played.

With another heart-wrenching task over, Turinui and Matt Mackay again fell into each other’s arms – their emotions epitomising the sorrow shared by all in a gathering of close to 1000 mourners who gave him a champion’s adieu.

As Mackay’s coffin was driven through a 300-metre tunnel of past and present teammates, everyone who had filled the church to capacity for the service or stood outside to listen to it broadcast through speakers broke into applause. The Mackay family has been taken aback by the outpouring of grief and praise for their 26-year-old son.

As Hurley said in his eulogy: “We are only just realising what an impact he had on so many people.”

Yesterday’s funeral reinforced that. So many came to share the moment with Mackay’s family, which included his parents, John and Leonie, younger brother Matt, sister Kristy and his partner Trish Scott.

There were his Brumbies teammates who flew to Sydney from Canberra in the morning. There were the Waratahs with whom he played six games in 2006. Some came from the Western Force. Then there was past and present Roosters with whom he won a Jersey Flegg title; former and current players and officials from both codes.

Mackay’s footy ties were recognised with the placement on his coffin of the jerseys he wore – from Clovelly juniors, to Waverley College, the Roosters, Randwick, Melbourne Rebels, Australian Sevens and the Brumbies.

From Turinui, to Matt Mackay, John Hurley and even Fathers Nic Lucas and George Connolly, who shared the celebrant duties, all spoke of Mackay’s zest for life. They spoke of when he first laid a bet as a five year-old – “50 cents on the nose”, said Hurley. Of his favourite horses, which Turinui recalled were Sunline because it led from the start and Octagonal for the way it got out of impossible situations. Then of how he began footy aged six, won the CAS (Catholic All Schools) 1500m and 800m athletics titles and became known the “White Kenyan”.

Finally, his days with Randwick, the Australian Sevens team he captained and, according to Turinui, led “the same way that he led an 800m – from the front”, the Waratahs, the Rebels and then finally the Brumbies.

And, of course, there were the Wallaroos, Australia’s World Cup-winning women’s sevens team which Mackay so willingly coached in the Oceania qualifiers. The players said they would forever remember him as “one of the girls”.

As Father Lucas so profoundly said: “He might not have had a full life, but it sounds to me he was full of life.”

And John Worley said in his eulogy: “As we all know, rugby is the game they play in heaven and we know who will be the captain of the side.”

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WITH fewer than 200 adult southern corroboree frogs left in the wild, scientists have initiated an IVF program to try to bring the tiny black and gold amphibians back from the brink of extinction.
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The technique, carried out on the thumbnail-sized frogs in Sydney and Melbourne, involves injecting the males and females with a synthetic hormone under the skin.

Eggs are then collected by gently squeezing the females, and sperm are obtained by placing a catheter into a male's cloaca, or rear opening.

This was one of the trickier aspects of the method, said Phil Byrne, a biologist carrying out the IVF for the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

“They're tiny little frogs,” said Dr Byrne, of Monash University. “It's better if you have small hands.”

To mimic natural processes during the frogs' “nuptial embrace” the sperm are then squirted with force onto the eggs in the laboratory.

Dr Byrne and his colleague, Aimee Silla, of the University of Western Australia, had initial success in a pilot study of IVF on corroboree frogs in Melbourne earlier in the year.

About a dozen IVF embryos were obtained. “We got fertilisation, which was exciting. But the embryos failed during the early stages of development,” Dr Byrne said.

For the past fortnight they have carried out IVF with a further 38 corroboree frogs bred in captivity at Taronga Zoo, but no embryos had formed, Dr Byrne said yesterday.

A Department of Environment scientist, David Hunter, said the development of frog IVF was part of a multi-pronged strategy to try to save the southern corroboree species, which is found only in Kosciuszko National Park.

“Scientists believe its sudden and dramatic decline is due largely to the effects of a fungus known as the amphibian chytrid, which has devastated frogs worldwide,” Dr Hunter said.

Installation of 25 large plastic breeding ponds at five sites in the park began last month. Eggs collected in the wild will be placed in the ponds to grow in fungus-free water until the corroboree frogs are big enough to hop out.

In addition to the Taronga captive breeding program, there are three in Victoria, which release frogs back into the park. However, breeding rates are lower than in nature.

“IVF offers the prospect of improving our captive breeding success,” Dr Hunter said.

Dr Byrne said they want to test whether it is better to raise the IVF frog embryos on sphagnum moss, as in the wild, and will try to refine the hormone injections so the males and females release their eggs and sperm simultaneously.

“Timing is everything.”

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AUSTRALIA’S Casey Stoner, the 2007 world champion, began his campaign for a third Qatar MotoGP victory by setting the fastest time in practice.
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The Ducati rider, runner-up to Valentino Rossi in the world championship last season, clocked 1 minute, 57.053 seconds, dazzling his rivals beneath the floodlights preparing for tonight’s desert race.

Rossi, twice a winner here, was second fastest in 1:57.439 on his Yamaha, with Colin Edwards, also on a Yamaha, in third, 0.782s off Stoner’s impressive pace.

With all riders on Bridgestone tyres, Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, the pole-sitter here last year, took fourth just ahead of Honda’s Alex de Angelis.

"The bike is working very well," said 23-year-old Stoner.

"The settings that we found in Jerez seem to be working quite well here also, but we still need to improve a couple of things, like everybody.

"The track conditions are not perfect yet, though by the time we arrive [for qualifying] it should be fine."

Stoner added he was happy with his recovery from winter surgery on his wrist.

"There’s no problem with my wrist," he said. "I would like to be able to do more physical training but that is not an excuse and the wrist is not causing any issues.

"So we are looking forward to starting the season and we will see how things go."

Rossi said his Yamaha was improving all the time.

"This evening I am quite happy because at the test we were one second from Casey, but now the gap is much less," said the eight-time world champion.

"We had some ideas after the test to improve our pace and I am happy to say that they all seemed to have worked. I am fast, I have a good pace and I am happy with this opening session."

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Hamilton 400 in New Zealand, reigning V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup has declared he has unfinished business across the Tasman.

A year ago, the only black mark in an otherwise perfect campaign came for Whincup on the streets of Hamilton after he crashed out of the weekend during qualifying. Before hitting the wall, writing his Ford off in the process, Whincup had looked like the driver to beat after setting impressive times during practice and qualifying.

Instead, arch-rival Garth Tander went on to win all three races.

But Whincup said he was determined to make amends.

"Crashing out at the Hamilton was a big black mark on what was otherwise a fantastic year," Whincup said.

"At the same time, it was probably the event that really turned my year. We promised ourselves from there on in that we would do whatever it took to win the championship."

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The Cranbourne Royal Botanic Gardens’ arbour garden.LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE THE AUSTRALIAN GARDEN Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne
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NESTLED amid native bushland as surely as Versailles was carved out of French forest, the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne is a highly stylised intervention. Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean and plant designer Paul Thompson make no pretence of giving us the naturalistic or the wild.

Like their first stage of the garden (which opened in 2006), this second and final instalment is a formal, carefully resolved space that – with much artistic licence – interprets the diverse land types and plantings of Australia.

We get lakes, estuaries and the seaside. We sample forests and tree-lined avenues. We peruse the suburban backyard. But – and this is the really clever thing – such theme-park juxtapositions don’t come at the expense of unity.

Visitors will wander from the Melaleuca Spits up to the Weird and Wonderful Garden and through Casuarina Grove and cross no definitive dividing lines. Arid rock outcrops seamlessly descend into inland rainforest and coastal estuary. Such merging is largely through the ever-shifting textures and paving types: crushed shell gives way to super-smooth concrete, to gravel, to stone, mulch, steel-grill and (my personal favourite) pock-marked concrete.

This last – weathered and covetable – is central to the Gondwana Garden, which also gets one of the new shelters designed by BKK Architects. This multi-purpose space has a roof like a leaf and airy walls composed from poles of timber and steel. It’s less angular and minimalist than some of the other new shelters but, like all of them, it is assiduously unobtrusive and blends the indoors with the out.

The indoor element is critical when the plants themselves cast little shade. For while there are plenty of trees that will ultimately lend height, few do so yet. It’s one thing to talk about the gardens now, only three weeks after they opened, but the really interesting thing will be to see how the mood shifts, and some of the hard edges soften, as the plants (even the highly manipulated ones, and there are many of those) grow.

At this point, however, the gardens are still largely dominated by the hard architectural elements. And how can a young plant compete with vast walls of rammed earth, expanses of Corten steel and towering shards of Castlemaine stone?

The Arbour Garden, for example, has a long line-up of wire-grid walls, all the better for showcasing the vigour of Australian climbers. Ultimately we can expect a series of green walls with a verdant tunnel for a pathway. But right now only the kennedias have really taken and there is more grid to be seen than green.

Similarly the formal avenues of Hill’s weeping figs (Ficus microcarpa var. hillii) are not yet lush and luxuriant in that Queensland forest way so that the chairs below them (Tuileries-style) aren’t as inviting as they might be when the trees fill out.

There is a playfulness to the Australian Garden though that doesn’t rely on the plants alone. Water forms puddles in dips in the gravel and – in the rain – cascades over a rocky outcrop into a lake below. Paths wriggle in crazy hairpin turns, a bridge takes the form of lily pads and pairs of thongs adorn the seaside area.

Like many of the spaces here the seaside garden does not differentiate between path and plant bed. For a central tenet of these gardens is that you get right up close to the plants and experience them in new ways. There is extensive labelling and a multitude of information panels, all the better for trying it out at home. But the theatre and ambition of the space mean the gardens will also appeal to those not intending to toil their own soil.

For while the new areas might not yet be verdant enough for lolling and lazing, they make the perfect outdoor art installation. There is also plenty on offer for the active, curious child. My own teenagers opted for the nearby indoor skate park instead.

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Retail power prices are on the rise.SO, VICTORIA is the place to be when it comes to electricity market reform.
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”Victoria in many respects has led the way,” was Martin Ferguson’s conclusion when he released the long-delayed energy white paper outlining the state and future of the Australian energy industry.

”The willingness of other state governments to take on these hard reforms will be essential,” the minister said. ”It will take political courage where others have failed.”

Victoria deregulated its retail electricity prices in 2009 and became a beacon for deregulation advocates in Australia and beyond.

The trouble is Victorian electricity consumers are hardly better off than their interstate cousins, copping much of the same 50 per cent rise in power prices over the past four years that has stoked anger from household and business users alike. And the near-term projections are, if anything, worse for Victorians.

The energy white paper relies on the same Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) numbers released this time last year, which forecast retail power prices between 2011-12 and 2013-14.

Victorians can expect retail prices to rise 31.5 per cent over the period, not far short of triple the average projected national rise of 12.1 per cent, AEMC said.

NSW and Queensland – ”gold-plating” central when it comes to excessive investment in those poles and wires by their state-owned power companies – will see retail price increases of just 7.1 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively.

Victoria is clearly leading the way on that one. But just where is something of a guess. The AEMC’s footnote to its table of price increases strikes this rather plaintive note: ”In Victoria, the entire retail margin is included in the retail component and should be treated with caution given the absence of access to data.”

That’s a polite way of saying, we only know what the companies want to tell us.

And what might be causing such runaway retail price increases? Competition, oddly, appears to be driving costs up rather than down even as wholesale prices slide.

Recent Victorian data suggest the annual churn of customers amounts to 28 per cent, and probably costs the retailers $200 for each client change. Think about that the next time you answer the door to someone hawking (on commission) the benefits of switching.

To be sure, Victoria does have one advantage over the other states that Mr Ferguson was keen to stress – the mandatory rollout of ”smart meters”. The meters provide two-way information that may one day provide the opportunity for consumers to respond to higher prices by reducing their consumption – and get rewarded for it.

More to the point, peak wholesale electricity prices, which apply for just 30 hours per year, account for 30 per cent of wholesale power bought for households and small businesses – a ratio that could sink if users can respond to price changes.

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