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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 looks were priceless. Tailenders Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark looked like they’d been asked to fill in a job application in Urdu as cricket’s newest doosra bowler, Saeed Ajmal, played with their minds in Dubai in the first one-dayer against Pakistan.
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They weren’t alone in having problems, as Ajmal completely unsettled the Australians. Leg-spinner Shahid Afridi claimed the wickets (6-38) but it was Ajmal (2-19) who started the mental disintegration. Captain Michael Clarke followed a doosra – the off-spinner’s googly, which turns away from the right-hander – from Ajmal right across the crease and edged it into the gloves of keeper Kamran Akmal. Nathan Hauritz shouldered arms to the one that broke back and broke his stumps.

Immediately, the Australians hit the video, to study this latest challenging off-spinner, treading the same path as South Africa’s Johan Botha, who caused plenty of headaches in the recent South African tour.

The main problem, coach Tim Nielsen said, was their batsmen were trying to learn the right techniques to counter it at the international level. Why can’t white men do the doosra – a fact which remains largely true with Botha having been reported for a suspect action when he bowls the delivery named from the Urdu and Hindi word for "the other one".

Flexibility was the key, said Hauritz, who has spent two years on an-as-yet unsuccessful search for the delivery. "A lot of the Asians are a lot more flexible than we are and I think they’re taught to bowl it a lot earlier," he said. "I think it takes a lot of time, a lot of practice and it’s a matter of trying to get all the body parts right."

Bowlers need flexibility all the way down their bowling side, in the wrist, arm and shoulder. Although Pakistani great Saqlain Mushtaq is credited with cricket’s version of patent rights for the doosra, Australian players first saw "the other one" on a tour of India in the late 1970s, although the as-yet-unnamed delivery didn’t make it to the Test arena at that time.

The other problem is bowlers need to be front-on at the point of delivery, which is difficult for Australian spinners, who are taught to bowl side-on. If you want to bowl the doosra, you have no choice: changing your approach for the other one would telegraph your intentions.

"I’ve been doing it now for about two years: trying to," Hauritz said. "It goes straight, it looks like a normal off-spinner, it just doesn’t spin. It takes a lot of time."

Time is the key to batting against it as well, with the Australians more settled on Friday night when Andrew Symonds, who top-scored with 58, and Clarke, who made 39 not out, beginning to read Ajmal out of the hand.

Doosra bowlers have long had trouble before cricket’s twin courts – both the ICC review process, after being referred by umpires, and the court of public opinion. Sri Lankan record-breaker Muttiah Muralitharan, who picked up the delivery after it was popularised by Saqlain, was banned from bowling it in 2004. After an investigation revealed many other bowlers were straightening their arm by more than the permitted five degrees, the limit was increased to 15 per cent, and the doosra show was back on, with Murali, India’s Harbhajan Singh and Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik employing it to great effect. Earlier, Saqlain had been so worried about being called by umpires he spent the entire 1999 World Cup wearing long sleeves.

Hauritz, who took 3-41 in the second match, reckons he’ll nail the doosra eventually, however retirement might beat him to the punch. "It would be good to have it. I try and practise it about two or three times a week, for probably 10 balls but it gets very painful because my body is not used to it.

"[Queenslander] Chris Simpson was probably the closest to it some years ago. [South Australian] Dan Cullen said he had it but I never saw it. I definitely don’t have it, and I haven’t seen anyone in Australia bowl it."

Australia play Pakistan tonight in Abu Dhabi, with the best of five-match series tied at 1-1.

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CHAMPION jockey Damien Oliver, back in group 1-winning form with success on Danleigh in the All Aged Stakes at the weekend, heads to the Gold Coast on Saturday in a bid to continue his winning charge.
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In addition to scoring on the Doomben 10,000-bound Danleigh for trainer Chris Waller, Oliver also won the Emancipation Stakes on Melbourne mare Amberino at Randwick.

He has been booked to ride the West Australian Scenic Shot in the Hollindale Stakes at the Gold Coast as well as Skiddaw Peak for Mike Moroney in the Prime Minister’s Cup.

Scenic Shot is out to make it successive Hollindale Stakes victories after winning the race last year when Glen Colless was aboard. The gelding is a stablemate of Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap winner Scenic Blast, which is a chance to travel to the UK for the Royal Ascot meeting in June.

Sydney’s leading jockey, Corey Brown, will join Oliver at the Gold Coast with the ride on the Anthony Cummings-trained pair Prima Nova (Hollindale) and Miss Darcey (Gold Coast Bracelet) awaiting.

Prima Nova was a last-start winner of the JRA Plate at Randwick while Miss Darcey won the Adrian Knox Stakes en route to a third in the AJC Australian Oaks.

"Miss Darcey is racing in great form and while she’s dropping back from 2400 metres to 1800m she’ll be very hard to beat," Brown said.

Cummings will also start talented staying filly Nothin’ Leica Cat (Oliver) in the Bracelet. Brown links with Brisbane trainer Liam Birchley when riding Sarge In Charge in the Ken Russell Memorial Classic while stablemate Court Command, a former Golden Rose winner when trained by Darren Smith, resumes and has his first start for Birchley in the Prime Minister’s Cup.

Cummings will send Solo Flyer and Duporth, both of which were scratched from the All Aged Stakes, as well as Rose Of Cimmaron, to Queensland on Tuesday to be set for feature races up north.

The trainer said Solo Flyer missed the All Aged because "he just hadn’t recovered in time for the race after running in the Doncaster".

"And Duporth drew another wide barrier so I thought it would be best suited heading north too," Cummings said. "It should be a decent sort of winter up there for us. Prima Nova and Turffontein did well for us last year."

Saturday’s Gold Coast Guineas is shaping as a classy event with the Peter Snowden-trained Desuetude (Kerrin McEvoy) set to return alongside Youthful Jack (Robert Thompson) for Allan Denham and the Clarry Conners-prepared Court (Oliver).

Snowden will also produce last year’s Gold Coast Guineas winner El Cambio (McEvoy) in the Prime Minister’s Cup.

Rockpecker, from Victoria, goes around in the Prime Minister’s Cup with Michael Rodd while the jockey will also partner Sphenophyta in the Hollindale Stakes.

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NRL clubs have been asked to provide feedback on the effect two referees are having on games this season but a survey of coaches yesterday indicated that there was little support for Ricky Stuart’s call to scrap the system.
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NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley said speculation the dual refereeing model was due to come under review after the completion of this weekend’s round of matches was incorrect but revealed that clubs had been asked to provide feedback at tomorrow’s CEOs conference.

"It’s just the first time we’ve had the clubs together since the competition started so I wrote to the clubs and asked them to talk to their coaching staffs about it," Annesley said. "But we’re not anticipating any major changes and I don’t expect much to come out of that in effect to there being an immediate change to things."

The success of the dual refereeing system was bought into question by Stuart after his Cronulla side slumped to their sixth successive loss, against South Sydney on Friday night, and in his Sunday newspaper column he called for the NRL to revert to a single whistleblower.

But a straw poll of coaches conducted by the Herald yesterday found few others agreed with Stuart. Of the seven rival coaches to respond, only Parramatta’s Daniel Anderson thought consideration should be given to scrapping the system.

"Not yet, but there are some bumps," he said. "The bumps are still there with one referee."

However, Penrith’s Matthew Elliott, South Sydney’s Jason Taylor, Newcastle’s Brian Smith and the Warriors’ Ivan Cleary all offered strong backing for the system, while Roosters mentor Brad Fittler said he supported it "but in a different format".

Bulldogs coach Kevin Moore said he was "concerned about the experience of individual referees, but hopefully that will improve in time".

Annesley agreed, saying: "If we fast forward to this time next year when they’ve all got a full season under their belt, we might find that we’ve suddenly got 16 top referees as opposed to eight.

"But it wouldn’t matter if we had one, two or 10 referees in a game – there is still going to be complaints about performances and there is still going to be controversy around refereeing decisions. However, having two referees is an attempt to reduce the number of errors that are made in games, just as the introduction of the video referee was. But anyone who thinks it is going to eliminate mistakes or eliminate controversy is kidding themselves."

Tigers coach Tim Sheens believes the NRL should have trialled the two refereeing system in the under-20s competition but is not opposed to the concept.

Meanwhile, Cronulla captain Paul Gallen and Parramatta’s Nathan Hindmarsh are expected to be charged by the match review committee today over incidents in Friday night’s games. Both face suspension.

Eels star Jarryd Hayne will also come under scrutiny for two high shots on Brisbane centre Steve Michaels in the 40-8 loss at Suncorp Stadium.

With his poor judiciary record, Gallen is likely to have to successfully challenge any charge arising from his high shot on Rabbitohs utility Craig Wing in the Sharks’ loss to be eligible for the Australian team to play New Zealand in Brisbane on May 8.

Hindmarsh also has loading and 68 carryover points that will impact on his likely dangerous conduct charge after striking Broncos captain Darren Lockyer in the head with his foot while trying to stop a try.

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EVEN though they have lost Mat Rogers and probably Luke Bailey, Gold Coast playmaker Preston Campbell believes his side has enough spirit to put his former club, Penrith, to the sword when he returns to the foot of the mountains tonight.
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Campbell expects the Gold Coast’s young talent will step up in place of the experienced heads at CUA Stadium.Co-captain Bailey is not expected to play as he is still recovering from a knee injury suffered against Canberra last round, while Rogers has neck and shoulder problems.

The in-form Campbell, who will play five-eighth tonight, says the Titans are confident they can counter the Panthers’ loose style of play.

"We are feeling pretty good," Campbell said. "We’ve got a couple of blokes that have been ruled out in Matty Rogers and Luke Bailey. With those two players in, we are at full strength, but we are still feeling pretty confident that we can go out and play well.

"[It’s] just one of those things in rugby league. We’ve got a couple of young blokes coming through. A couple of fresh faces in the team at the moment and they’re going really well. We are a bit careful, treading lightly, because the Panthers are that sort of team, it doesn’t look like they have any structure or anything … they like to play a game of touch. We hope to go out and play with a bit of structure. If the game’s played like that, I think we’ve got a bit more of a chance of winning. If the ball’s being thrown around and there is a lot of offloads, it’s going to be really tough to hold the Panthers back."

Six rounds into the NRL season the Titans have the best defensive record in the competition having conceded just over 12 points a match.

While the Penrith side is laced with new talent, Campbell said the Titans were acutely aware not only of the young, but also the more experienced Panthers.

"They’ve got a lot of fresh faces," Campbell said. "But then they’ve got blokes like Luke Lewis, Frank Pritchard and Trent Waterhouse, and obviously Petero Civoniceva, who are experienced campaigners. With the young blokes like Jarrod Sammut, young Michael Jennings, young Lachlan Coote, these guys can score tries from pretty much anywhere with the experience and the skill they have."

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THE Michael Ennis show screened at Canberra Stadium yesterday. It received five-star reviews for its all-round brilliance, but it remains to be seen if further scheduled screenings over the next week or two will go ahead.
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There is a possibility they will have to be cancelled after Ennis was reported for making a so-called "chicken-wing" tackle on Canberra fullback Josh Dugan.

That incident, in the ninth minute of a game in which the Bulldogs trailed 12-0 before hitting the lead 18-16 going to half-time and staying in front from there, was the only thing that wasn’t finger-licking good about the Bulldogs hooker’s game. Ennis scored a try, set up two others, made a 40-20 kick and came up with a crucial, smashing tackle on Raiders halfback Josh McCrone that forced a turnover when the home side was deep in attack.

The battle between Ennis and Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah for the NSW job will heat up over the next two weekends. The Bulldogs are at home to Wests Tigers on Sunday, and they are the clear-cut selection choices for the City (Farah)-Country (Ennis) game the following weekend. What happens now is in the hands of the NRL’s match review committee, which will make a decision today on whether to charge Ennis.

The Bulldogs rake felt he had done nothing but complete a legitimate tackle. "I was just trying to get him on his back like every guy I tackle. I was surprised I got called out for it. There was certainly no intent in it. I didn’t feel like I grabbed his arm and twisted him. It’s just the way the game goes sometimes – these things just happen. It wasn’t as if I hit him in the chops or dropped him on his head.

"It’s never pleasant [to be reported], but I’m confident I haven’t done anything wrong. They’ll look at it and make their own decision – hopefully they’ll see some common sense and realise there was no intent."

Ennis, not wanting to appear presumptuous, didn’t want to get involved in a debate over whether he had the edge over Farah in the race for the Blues No.9 jersey.

"I haven’t got a great deal to say about Origin, because I haven’t been involved before," he said. "I’m proud to have been selected in the 40-man squad and given the opportunity. I would love to play, but you see a lot of guys get talked about for Origin and then they start to fall by the wayside. So I’m just concentrating on my footy. If I started wondering how other blokes are going or what the selectors think, it would all get too much to worry about."

Ennis revealed he had spoken during the week to his former Brisbane coach, Wayne Bennett, and that the conversation had touched on the hooker’s feeling that he was finding it difficult to adjust to the two-referee system. Bennett set him straight with some typical words of wisdom.

"I’ve got a very good coach [Kevin Moore] here, but I talk to Wayne occasionally as well," Ennis said. "And he said the great players, like Darren Lockyer, are able to play their own game regardless of the circumstances."

Canberra knew what Ennis could do. Their coach, David Furner, prepared the team to handle all of his smart plays.

"You know how dangerous he is," Furner said. "And when you talk about it and it happens, it’s disappointing."

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LUCAS PARSONS never did fulfil his potential as a professional golfer, but maybe a whole new career path beckons.
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His golf is now restricted to the odd pro-am as he and wife Simone establish a cafe at a Randwick bookshop – and tomorrow night we’ll discover just how good a cook he is.

Parsons is one of the contestants on Network Ten’s new reality show, MasterChef. David Rollo of IMG, who used to manage Parsons, says the golfer showed superb culinary skills when they shared a house with 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell in Christchurch a couple of years ago during the NZ PGA championship.

"His lamb shanks and mashed potato were fantastic, the best I’ve ever had," Rollo said.

Parsons played a year on the US PGA Tour without success while here at home he won the 1995 NZ Open and the 2000 Greg Norman International at The Lakes.

Unfortunately, The Sun-Herald couldn’t make contact with him through the week – he was probably too busy in the kitchen. PERRY’S PEN PAL HELP

Greg Norman couldn’t believe the support he received from people he’d never met after his 1996 Masters meltdown to Nick Faldo – now American Kenny Perry is experiencing the same thing.

In a conference call with golf writers through the week, Perry, who led the Masters by two shots with two holes to play before losing a play-off to Angel Cabrera two weeks ago, revealed he’d received 600 emails and hundreds more letters and cards after the loss.

Among the first to telephone was Norman and Phil Mickelson, who has had his share of disappointments despite a couple of wins at Augusta.

"It was an incredible outpouring of support. I had so many people just proud of the way I handled the loss," Perry said. NO BOOZE FOR DALY?

A scaled-down John Daly returns to tournament golf this week for the first time since his three missed cuts in Australia late last year and the controversy of smashing a spectator’s camera.

He is playing the Spanish Open on the European Tour and will then play the Italian and Irish Opens followed by the British PGA championship at Wentworth. Daly, in a bid to curb his eating, had a silicone band tied around the upper portion of his stomach, and as a result has lost 18 kilograms. And, he’s almost completely off the booze. He says he doesn’t like the taste now. CHOOK’S HALF CENTURY

The big day for Peter "Chook" Fowler is June 9. That’s when he turns 50 and is eligible for seniors golf and, to prepare himself for it, he’s been getting the body in shape with a bit of hip surgery.

If that’s not enough for Fowler, his 17-year-old daughter Georgie is modelling in New York and Paris.

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WITH Australian rugby standing at a fork in the road, there’s one important issue that we can’t afford to overlook: the value of developing a strong feeder competition to provide players for the future.
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As ARU chief executive John O’Neill moves to have the Super 14 become a winter-long competition, concerns are being raised over the effect it could have on the club scene in Australia.

The O’Neill model features the Super 14 running from March to August, with the Tri Nations at the end, in direct competition with the AFL and NRL. A definite advantage is that it would fill that black hole for rugby in June, July and August when all attention is focused on league and AFL.

But the problem it presents is that it would take 125 players out of club rugby for the entire season. That could have a detrimental effect on the quality and support of this level of the game, with some clubs already struggling with Super rugby taking just 25 players from their competition. Then there’s the model put forward by former CEO Gary Flowers three years ago, which involved the implementation of the Australian Rugby Championship, running the Super 14 competition from February through May and the Tri Nations slotted in, with the Super players dropped back to club rugby after the season and the rest donated to the Australian cause. It also gives us a jump on the other codes early in the year.

This, New Zealand and South Africa argue, is the preferred method, with these parties in the SANZAR agreement having strong domestic competitions. But, like O’Neill’s model, it also has its cons. While all top 25 players are available for club rugby from May, the other codes will continue to grab the spotlight for the remainder of the year.

The South Africans are clear on what they want; they’re happy with an expanded Super 14, but the competition must start in February and finish in time for their strong domestic competition, the Currie Cup in July.

Australia and New Zealand want to start later, with a winter-long season from March through to August, but nine New Zealand provinces have expressed concern at the damage a winter-long season would have on their domestic competition, which is regarded as one of the strongest in the world.

There are three very different points of view and just how it’s worked out could have a major effect on any of the three domestic competitions. New Zealand have stated in no uncertain terms that they’re not prepared to compromise their domestic competition. All Blacks great Colin Meads has come out strongly in opposition to the ARU’s plan, declaring: "Aussies always struggle when [South Africa and New Zealand] are playing Currie Cup and NPC. It’s up to them to develop another competition to boost their numbers. They had one [ARC] and canned it. It looked good for rugby. I suppose it was a financial thing but they should have built on it."

He also said any nation pulling out of SANZAR would be a bad move and he’d be dead against it.

It’s clear his point of view is that more compromise has to be made.

The problem with the ARU placing all its focus on the top is that this is one of those rare occasions where the blood flows from the bottom up. We can’t lose out focus on the development of players through the club system.

No matter which model the ARU and SANZAR agree upon, the development of new players in Australia cannot be overlooked or it could be disastrous – whether it means strengthening the club rugby scene or re-introducing the ARC.

The amateur game needs to drive the professional game and in doing so become professional itself.

Club rugby needs to be nurtured. The individual states look after their Super 14 clubs, but it’s the ARU’s responsibility to look out for Australian rugby as a whole.

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PARRAMATTA chief executive Denis Fitzgerald admits he must take "a lot of responsibility" for the club’s 23-year premiership drought, a stunning admission on the day his future will be decided at the ballot box.
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Eels fans will effectively decide the future direction of the club at the Parramatta Leagues Club elections today, with rebel ticket 3P – endorsed by former Eels Ray Price, Eric Grothe, Brett Kenny and Terry Leabeater – attempting to overthrow the long-serving Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald, who has been the CEO for the past 30 years, remains adamant he can ensure Parramatta’s future success, on and off the field. And he admits he made mistakes that contributed to the club’s premiership drought.

"I’ve got to take a lot of responsibility for the situation," Fitzgerald said. "There are a number of other clubs that haven’t won the competition in that time. Like all clubs, we’ve had our ups and downs.

"I’ve made mistakes in times gone by. During our great run in the ’80s we had a number of good juniors coming through … but we didn’t do enough to go out into the marketplace to get players.

"We thought we had enough juniors here and we wanted the fans to identify with the locals. We should have been more active in the market."

Fitzgerald and current directors Ron Hilditch and Geoff Gerard outlined the vision of the current board before the latter two fielded questions from Eels fans at a "Team PLC" function on Thursday night.

The trio acknowledged the need to recruit new talent and revealed that the Eels were in negotiations with several marquee players for next season. "We need to get some more players with the line-up we have now," Fitzgerald said.

"It’s not as strong as other clubs’ player strength, I would say.

"There’s a few key positions which need filling and [coach] Daniel Anderson is the guy to advise us on it. For 2010, we’re having some heavy discussions now about who might be a possibility."

The incumbents are expecting a backlash at the ballot box.

The Brett Finch walkout, poor performances on the field and revelations of a $9.1 million leagues club debt have helped the 3P cause.

While Fitzgerald has a water-tight contract as CEO, there’s no love lost between the former Australian league representative and the ex-players attempting to oust him. There also have been accusations of a "votes for vouchers" campaign, a claim vehemently denied by the incumbents.

And there has been niggle between the protagonists.

"It’s difficult to know who’s pulling the strings [at 3P]," Fitzgerald said. "The current board members speak for themselves, not people outside the situation."

The main focus, however, has been on the performance of the leagues club. Fitzgerald denied reports it was as on the brink of insolvency. "Our cash flow is very good," he said. "We do have $60 million in fixed assets of properties and buildings, which is very strong in anyone’s language.

"We had the loss of $9.1 million …St George Bank is fully supportive and confident we can pay any debts as they become due."

3P ramped up its election campaign on the night of the Dragons match, distributing pamphlets on their reasons for challenging the current board. Chief amongst them was Fitzgerald’s assertion that he could not guarantee that the Eels would be around in five years’ time.

"I can’t be guarantee I’ll be here in five months’ time," Fitzgerald quipped. "But I’m very confident the Eels will be here in five years’ time and I’m certainly confident that Parramatta Leagues Club will be as well."

Price stressed 3P’s campaign was not a personal vendetta against Fitzgerald. "The club is floundering and it needs change," he said. "This is not about Fitzy, he’s not standing for the board. After we get control of the Leagues Club and he doesn’t toe the line, then it’s about Fitzy."

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IN-FORM Wests Tigers prop Keith Galloway admits he needs to "man up" this season and make good on three years of promise.
Nanjing Night Net

In his fourth season at the Tigers, the 23-year-old is thriving in his senior role at the club and says he owed it to teammates, Tigers fans and himself to step up.

"I am a bit more confident in my ability this year – it’s probably due to the fact I re-signed for another three years and know I need to man up," said Galloway, who has been named in the Blues’ 40-man State of Origin squad after displaying career-best form this season."I never really believed that stuff that props get better as they mature, but I think now that I’ve played a few years you start to realise that.

"I came in pretty young and now I definitely feel like I’m maturing. I’m one of the senior guys now and I need to start coming through with my potential. And I think maybe I’m slowly starting to get there."

Affectionately nicknamed "Sauce" by teammates because of his red hair, Galloway is four kilograms heavier this season, and credits his weight gain for his form.

"I just feel a lot stronger and fitter," said Galloway, who played through the pain of a broken foot, taking match-day injections, in the tail end of the Tigers’ 2008 campaign. "I’ve done a lot of strength work this year and put a lot more emphasis on weights.

"I was playing lighter last year at about 104 kg, but I’m up to 108 kg and it feels good. It makes a big difference, especially with contact up the middle."

Tigers assistant coach Royce Simmons said Galloway’s damaging running game and brutal defence had made him the NRL’s form front-rower, declaring he was ready for the step up to State of Origin.

"He’s fitter, faster and more mobile than ever before and he’s very close to the form front-rower in the competition," Simmons told The Sun-Herald .

"No way would he be out of place in a Blues jumper. The game’s made for him. He’s tough, he takes it forward, he’s reliable. If he can remain consistent over the next few weeks and have a big game for City [v Country Origin] then hopefully that can cement a representative future for him.

"He’s done a lot of extras away from training this year. He does a lot of boxing and he’s always on the rower doing extra work. He’s really picked up his work and it’s showing on the field. We bought him a long time ago because we thought he had a lot of potential and now he’s starting to realise it."

¡ Former Sydney Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan says he would like to become involved in top-flight league administration again – and could be a contender for the vacant Wests Tigers job.

The resignation of Scott Longmuir, who fell out with Tigers coach Tim Sheens, has left the club without a chief executive. The role is being shared on an interim basis by Andy Timbs, the CEO of Wests Ashfield, and Balmain Tigers boss Tim Camiller.

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On March 23, Australia was officially acknowledged as the top-ranked men’s road cycling nation, overtaking traditional powerhouses Spain and Italy. Six days later, Australia claimed first place at the track cycling world championships in Poland. Within the week, former track star Jobie Dajka was found dead in his Adelaide home. He was 27.
Nanjing Night Net

The extremes of the sport’s triumph and the disaster of an ostracised competitor seemed to suggest cycling’s success had come at a cost. Media coverage of the Dajka tragedy unearthed stories of cycling’s brutality, ongoing disputes and lack of safeguards for those who fall away. Feuds and controversies were revisited. Names such as Gary Neiwand, Sean Eadie, Mark French and Ben Kersten were again raised in a context other than their achievements.

Cycling Australia’s (CA) response to Dajka’s death was, at best, peculiar. Officials offered that "our thoughts and wishes are with his family and friends at this sad time", adding Dajka never recovered from his axing from the Athens Olympic team, a result of the AIS "shooting gallery" drama, which went as far as the Senate and sparked legal actions that still continue. On the CA website, under the headline "Vale Jobie Dajka", just two paragraphs formed a "tribute" to a young man the authority admits was "one of Australia’s best sprint cyclists of the past decade".

The cool response became clearer when Dajka’s parents declared CA officials unwelcome at their son’s funeral. Then, at the funeral, Dajka’s father, Stan, removed any doubt about whom he thought was responsible for Jobie’s death, saying: "My heart will never forgive them for taking your life’s dreams away from you. They tore out your heart, put you in a heap and closed the door. I hope the guilt torments them forever, as it has done to us."

Perhaps the family’s sentiments were best summarised by respected commentator Phil Liggett, who said by email last week that, "clearly the extent of his illness, which I think was what it was, should have been realised and perhaps more understanding made and help given".

Just days before Dajka’s death, CA president Mike Victor was discussing cycling’s new era, telling The Sun-Herald : "It’s pretty good not to get negative reports in the media at the moment. It seems every sport has its turn."

Victor was referring to the remarkable resilience of a sport that, despite its murky history, had somehow emerged on top of the world. The good press was short-lived.

Cycling’s Australian history stretches back over a century. In the early 20th century, as in Europe, bicycles were a major form of transport. People could respect and relate to it as a sport. Australia’s first superstar, airforce officer, politician and diplomat Hubert Opperman was idolised in the 1920s and ’30s.

Cycling drew big money and thousands of people to regular events in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. There were bike tracks around ovals nationwide. However, problems with gambling and the emergence of the car reduced the sport’s appeal. Cycling re-emerged leading up to the 1956 Melbourne Games but faded again in the 1960s.

Yet, even in the so-called "innocent days" cycling was tinged with tragedy. In 1958, "The Geelong Flyer", Russell Mockridge – who became Australia’s first dual cycling gold medallist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics – died after he collided with a bus during the Tour of Gippsland, leaving a widow and three-year-old daughter. More than 20 years after that tragedy, cycling’s new era began, when Phil Anderson became the first non-European to wear the Tour de France yellow leader’s jersey in 1981. He announced modern Australian cycling to the world.

"I was handed the yellow jersey on the podium and went to a press conference down the mountain afterwards," he remembers. "They’d never had an Australian up on stage before, and they thought I was pretty unusual, so they began asking me questions like how long I’d been racing. Then they asked me where I was from, but when I told them there were quite a few confused faces around. So somebody brought out a world map and asked me to point to where Melbourne was, which I did. Of course, Australia was pretty small because it was a French map …"

Anderson’s legacy became rich. These days triple Tour de France green jersey winner Robbie McEwen can invite the Prime Minister of Belgium to his house for a barbie, Cadel Evans is preparing to better his second placings in the past two Tours de France, Anna Meares, Oenone Wood, Ryan Bayley, Michael Rogers, Sara Carrigan and Brad McGee are among a long list of recent world champions. There are 26 Australian riders involved with pro tour teams this season, and our track stars are world-beaters.

Anderson’s five top-10 Tour de France finishes were the foundations for the current success. But another result consolidated his achievements.

"I wouldn’t say cycling was a backwater sport in Australia before 1984, but it was certainly not recognised as mainstream," says Mike Turtur, who, with Dean Woods, Kevin Nichols and Michael Grenda, won the 4000 metres team pursuit gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, a victory etched in lore because their muscle and grit defeated superior technology.

"We got to LA and the Italians, Swiss, Germans and Americans all had disc wheels and aerodynamically designed bikes," he says.

"We were riding standard pursuit bikes with normal wheels."

Their win caught the nation’s attention and led to cycling’s inclusion in the recently established Australian Institute of Sport in 1987. Full-time coaches and federal funding would propel the sport to a higher level.

The momentum continued after LA when Anderson claimed fifth at the 1985 Tour de France. The trailblazing 1980s opened the door for Australians such as Neil Stephens, Allan Peiper and Stuart O’Grady to become professional. Anderson showed Europeans that Australians were versatile, tough and talented, and Turtur’s team drove home the fact.

Liggett admires those attributes in the Australian road riders, who leave young and survive in a cut-throat environment far from home. Evans calls it his "Tyranny of Distance" – from age 17 he has travelled five months every year. As in any professional modern sport, those who fail can find it hard to readjust, while those who succeed enjoy great spoils. McEwen, who married a Belgian, speaks fluent Flemish and is one of Belgium’s most popular sportsmen, earns an estimated $2.5 million a season.

But with success comes challenges. Australian cyclists are now hot property and Victor, the CA president, says a club versus country-type struggle is brewing.

"Our best young riders are being chased all the time, and they now have bosses to answer to who run pro teams in Europe," he says. "It’s something we’ll have to overcome."

Funding is another issue. Victor claims an updated track program is necessary if Australia is to stay on top, but the finances aren’t available.

The toughest challenge could be to overcome the issues that have resurfaced since Dajka’s death.

"It goes without saying that there is still resentment and grudges within the sport," says Turtur, who is the Oceania Cycling Confederation’s president.

"In some people’s eyes, the issues haven’t been dealt with correctly or appropriately. In other people’s eyes, they have been. There will always be conjecture over who’s right or wrong.

"It’s a rocky road. But it’s not only cycling. Swimming’s had some major issues, rugby league, rugby … we can go on.

"The reality is that the majority of athletes do the right thing but it’s the controversial issues that make the headlines and, unfortunately, cycling’s been tarnished by negative attention. If you take a step back, though, you would see that the sport is strong, we’ve got vibrant athletes who’ve done well and are continuing on to the next Olympics.

"We’ve got record participation, the federation is very strong at the moment and we had a great result on the track in Poland. The timing is perfect for us to move to the next phase."

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