Aug 10

Nuuausala a happy Rooster

”I wanted to repay the faith the club has shown in me and be that one man and one club like Anthony Minichiello”: Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Photo: Jonathan CarrollFrank-Paul Nuuausala walked into Trent Robinson’s office to tell his mentor he was joining Brisbane at the end of this year.

The conversation happened in the middle of the season when Nuuausala was considering his future. After much deliberation he had finally made up his mind that he would quit the Roosters and join the Broncos on a multi-year deal, ending his seven-year stint at the club.

This was before Robinson intervened telling Nuuausala to delay the decision.

”The coach fought for me and wanted me to stay,” he said.

”He told me to hold on and wait. He came back to my manager later that day and I stayed. I have unfinished business here.

”I wanted to repay the faith the club has shown in me and be that one man and one club like Anthony Minichiello. Robbo knows how much I love this club.”

Nuuausala has love for Robinson too. He credits the coach for revitalising not just the Roosters but his career too since Robinson’s arrival in the most recent off-season after slumping to 11th and 13th in respective seasons since their grand final appearance in 2010.

”My footy went on pause when he was away for two years and then he came back and pressed play again and reset it,” Nuuausala said. ”The way he speaks to us, he speaks to us like normal human beings. He is going to be a great coach and hopefully he’ll be in the game for many years.”

Meanwhile, fellow 2010 grand finalist Mitchell Aubusson said the team needed to absorb the lead-up to the premiership decider more than they did in before their grand final loss to St George Illawarra.

”I don’t think the sting of that loss will ever go away,” Aubusson said. ”A lot of us that are still here will probably do a few things different. We’ll relax and enjoy the week more and make sure we don’t let the occasion get to us. We’ll enjoy ourselves and do what we’ve been doing all year.

”In 2010 we knew had a really good team, to get to the grand final we were pretty excited. This year we have a team that’s been pretty good all year and we want to put in a performance and the type of game we want to play.”

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Aug 10

Mental and physical pain fuel Stewart

Sunny skies: Brett Stewart at Manly’s media day at Brookvale Oval on Monday. Photo: Marco Del Grande Still scarred: Brett Stewart walks away from David Gallop after Manly’s win in the 2011 grand final. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Grand final week: Read The Manly Mirror

Has Brett Stewart moved on?

For two years, he allowed David Gallop to live rent-free in his head, and on grand final day in 2011 it frothed to the surface.

Brett and his older brother Glenn made a very public statement in front of millions of people that night, even if Gallop was the only one who could hear it.

”You owe me an apology,” Brett told the former NRL chief executive on the stage as he collected his premiership ring following Manly’s win over the Warriors.

Glenn had told Gallop minutes earlier: ”You owe my family an apology.”

The ugly events of the past – from Brett being charged with sexual assault following the club’s season launch in 2009, to when he sobbed in the dock following his acquittal in September 2010, to Manly’s war with Gallop and the NRL throughout 2011 – seemed an eternity ago as the players stood in the middle of Brookvale Oval on Monday to talk to the media.

”It’s gone, I suppose,” said back-rower Anthony Watmough, whose bridal party featured both brothers. ”You’d have to ask them if they’ve let it go. I’m pretty sure they’ve let it go. David [Gallop] has gone and they’re playing great footy. I can’t comment on how he [Brett] is feeling.”

Brett and Glenn brushed aside any questions about that moment, which is entirely understandable. It was a chapter the Stewart family is more than entitled to forget.

”It will always be there, somewhere,” coach Geoff Toovey said. ”They’re humans and they can’t forget what went on. It was very tough for them, they’re tough individuals and they come from a very good family. While they haven’t forgotten about it, they’ve moved on.”

Yet the scar tissue remains, according to those at the Sea Eagles.

There’s certainly a belief from those in control of the game at the time that Manly didn’t let the matter rest soon enough, to the detriment of Brett Stewart, who struggled to leave his house because of the pressure that came from untested sexual assault charges.

The Sea Eagles were enraged when the NRL suspended Stewart for a month for being intoxicated at the club launch at the Wharf Bar, even though management had backflipped on an early decision to suspend him following a directive from its board. As other clubs seemingly slapped their players on the wrist for appalling off-field behaviour, Manly seethed at the lack of consistency.

When Stewart was acquitted, they wanted an apology. They wanted it from Gallop. It was an apology that never came.

Des Hasler, Manly’s coach at the time, went so far as to claim this: ”His soul hasn’t been cleansed because the game hasn’t apologised to him.”

It was an extraordinary statement from a coach who would throw himself in front of the Manly Ferry to save one of his players.

Indeed, he’s shown similarly devoted care for Ben Barba – another troubled fullback, albeit in entirely different circumstances – this season at Canterbury.

Whether the decision to turn Stewart against the NRL was wise is an arguable point.

The great shame of it is we will never really come to know one of the game’s most gifted players, who is adored by young fans because of his speed and should have played more representative football were it not for injury.

The latest one wasn’t his knee. It was his hamstring, and they’re the most slippery of all soft tissue injuries to handle.

Stewart admitted on Monday he was furious that Toovey didn’t play him against Cronulla in their epic semi-final.

Having watched his side survive, Stewart fumbled a high ball early against South Sydney in Friday night’s preliminary final, but then turned it on.

Glenn’s left-foot grubber kick presented his little brother with a try. In the second half, little brother deftly held up a pass from dummy half for hooker Matt Ballin to score the try that dragged the Sea Eagles back into the match.

They are big plays, in big matches, and the Stewarts have done them as much as any player who takes the field in Sunday night’s grand final.

”He’ll be the first to say he wasn’t at his best,” was Toovey’s assessment on Monday of this fullback. ”But geez … he was handy.”

When Manly won the premiership in 2011, the board was at war with itself. It still is.

When board members came in for the team photo, it wasn’t lost on anyone that positions were taken according to faction.

Darrell Williams, who has made a racial vilification claim against another director, Rick Penn, stood on the left. Peter Peters, who last month took out an interim AVO against Williams, stood on the right.

The premiership trophy stood in the middle. ”Don’t touch it,” Toovey ordered his players.

Winning the premiership for the third time may help Brett Stewart move on, just a little bit further.

But he will never forget.

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Aug 10

Jarrod Mullen Dally M modesty

KNIGHTS captain Jarrod Mullen has had his most consistent season but neither he nor his coach believe he will win the Dally M Medal as the NRL’s best player this year.

The NRL’s most prestigious individual award will be presented tonight at the Star Event Centre in Sydney, and Mullen and winger James McManus will fly the flag for the Knights.

Retired former captain Danny Buderus won in 2004 after another former Newcastle, NSW and Australian skipper, Andrew Johns, won in 1998, 1999 and 2002.

Mullen played 26 of a possible 27 games for the Knights this season, leading the NRL in total kicks (426) and kicking metres (13,625).

He also leads the league in try assists with 25, though Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce (24) and James Maloney (23) have the chance to pass him in the grand final against Manly on Sunday.

Two-time winner Johnathan Thurston (Cowboys), Souths pair Greg Inglis and John Sutton, Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk, Cronulla playmaker Todd Carney, Manly halfback Daly Cherry-Evans and Mullen are contenders.

Cronk (16) led Inglis, Sutton and Mullen (all 15) after round 16, when the voting tally was no longer made public.

‘‘He had a wonderful year and he was very consistent but I’d say probably not,’’ Knights coach Wayne Bennett said when asked about Mullen’s chances of winning.

Mullen, who did not speak to the media yesterday, said two weeks ago that he was pleased to have been invited to the presentation ceremony for the first time in his career but was not expecting to hear his name called.

Scoring 19 tries each, McManus, Manly’s David Williams and Penrith’s David Simmons finished in a three-way tie as the NRL’s top tryscorers and they will be acknowledged tonight.

After three straight years as Dally M winger of the year, Knights flyer Akuila Uate is expected to relinquish that title. Uate will represent Fiji at the World Cup later this month after fullback Darius Boyd and back-rower Beau Scott were the only Knights players added yesterday to the Australian train-on squad. That will be trimmed next Monday to a 24-man touring party.

Boyd has become a fixture on the Australian left wing outside Queensland team-mate Inglis. Scott’s only Test appearance was against Wales in the 2011 Four Nations tournament.

Uate’s omission cleared the way for his selection yesterday for Fiji, who will be coached by Knights NSW Cup coach and NRL assistant coach Rick Stone.

Korbin Sims and Penrith-bound winger Kevin Naiqama were already in the Fijian squad, and lock Jeremy Smith is a certain inclusion for reigning World Cup champions New Zealand.

McManus, who missed the last two finals due to an ankle injury, will undergo surgery to have bone fragments removed and cartilage repaired.

That will rule him out of Scotland’s World Cup campaign for a second straight tournament after groin surgery sidelined him in 2008.

Other Knights players in line to play at the World Cup include centre Joey Leilua, utility forward David Fa’alogo and Dragons recruit Peter Mata’utia (Samoa), prop Zane Tetevano (Cook Islands) and Gold Coast-bound centre Siuatonga Likiliki (Tonga).

Kade Snowden, Josh Mantellato and possibly Craig Gower are eligible for Italy, but Snowden will miss the World Cup due to suspension.

Meanwhile, Bennett said Buderus was making steady progress since being knocked unconscious in the 18th minute of Newcastle’s loss to the Roosters.

Buderus is back home after spending Saturday night at St Vincent’s Hospital.

‘‘He’s all good. A few headaches and that, still a little drowsy, but otherwise he’s fine,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I’m just trying to convince him his last game was Melbourne. It was a good game for him.’’

LEADER: Jarrod Mullen. Picture: Getty Images

Aug 10

W-League Jets count on young talent  

RETIRED: Hayley Crawford.

COACH Peter McGuinness and retired captain Hayley Crawford are confident the Newcastle Jets will be competitive in the W-League despite losing five of their best players.

The Jets, who avoided the wooden spoon only on goal difference to Adelaide in 2012-13, are preparing to kick off their new campaign next month without last season’s skipper Crawford, sole Matilda Emily van Egmond and Americans Angela Salem, Tori Huster and Tiffany Boshers.

Crawford, who was also an assistant coach last season under a female scholarship initiative, has retired from the national league, van Egmond is set to join Western Sydney Wanderers and the US trio are not returning.

Crawford, who also pulled out of the Jets’ 2011-12 campaign, said she had lost her passion for playing at the elite level.

‘‘It takes a lot of time and commitment, and if you don’t have that passion for it, it’s best not to play and give a younger player an opportunity,’’ the 29-year-old former Matilda said.

‘‘It’s a good chance for players like Maddy Searl and Stacey [Day] to step up and lead the team.

‘‘They also have so much young talent in girls like Tara [Andrews] to draw on, so they’ll be OK. They’ll do well.’’

Stalwart Gema Simon and last season’s player of the year Hannah Brewer will take over as captain and vice-captain respectively in a squad almost solely built on young Hunter talent.

McGuinness faces a huge task to make his young squad competitive but he was excited about the future.

‘‘No doubt the girls we’ve lost are quality and experienced players and we were hoping to retain them,’’ McGuinness said.

‘‘But we have plenty of other talented players and up-and-coming players.

‘‘It’s time really for those girls who have been playing for three or four years and been in and out of the team, like Maddy Searl and Rhali Dobson, to step up.

‘‘We are also looking to young players like Grace Macintyre and Jasmin Courtney to grow as players as they take on more game time.’’

The positive for McGuinness and the Northern NSW Football-managed Jets is the wealth of junior talent at their disposal.

Macintyre, Tara Andrews and goalkeeper Eliza Campbell are in the Young Matildas squad for this month’s Asian Under-19 Women’s Championship in China, while Sophie Nenadovic is part of the Australian under-17 team. Kally Lewis and Mikaela Howell have also been in national youth teams this year.

McGuinness will narrow his squad of 26 down to 20 in the coming week in preparation for the November 9 season-opener against Perth Glory.

Newcastle Jets player Hayley Crawford in action against Brisbane Roar player Vedrana Popovic.

Aug 10

IAN KIRKWOOD: Homes replacing farms

Monday’s reports by Newcastle Herald journalist Damon Cronshaw on the future of the Lower Hunter’s agricultural land reminded me of the changes I have seen over the years in western Sydney.

As a child growing up near Parramatta, my parents would often drive west to semi-rural Kellyville and Windsor, or north-west up New Line Road and Old Northern Road through Kenthurst and Dural, buying farm fresh fruit, eggs and vegies from honesty boxes or roadside stalls.

I remember my father, who spent much of his childhood on farms, saying it would all be gone for housing one day, and he was right.

Drive up the Windsor Road today and it is kilometre after kilometre of McMansions, the view enlivened only by the occasional cookie-cutter bulky goods shopping centre.

Online aerial photographs show the dense urbanisation clustered either side of the main roads, with pockets of green still plentiful in between.

But look more closely and it is evident that most of the green blocks are rural-residential, or hobby farms at best, and that the agricultural power of an area that once boasted of being Sydney’s bread-basket is all but gone.

It might not be pretty, but it’s progress, and Sydney’s experience tells me there’s not a whole lot we can do about it in the Hunter.

As much as the NSW Farmers Association might believe “the value of fresh produce from local farms” should lead governments to give farmland precedence over urban expansion, the modest revenues from our agricultural sector show that is unlikely to happen.

All up, the Hunter’s annual agricultural output is worth about $330million, with two thirds coming from cattle and poultry. Of the three dozen categories of primary produce listed, half returned $800,000 or less a year, with 10 products generating $200,000 or less.

Against these relatively meagre returns, the value of Hunter housing – like housing around the urbanised areas of our nation – is again rising rapidly, driven by the particular mixture of circumstances that have led Australia to have some of the most expensive house prices on the planet.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in unadjusted terms, the value of houses in Australia’s eight capital cities have all more or less doubled in the past 10 years.

At the same time, the seemingly inexorable squeeze of Australia’s retailing duopoly means food is costing consumers less and less, which means, logically, that less and less is available to the producer, even if the retailers argue they are gaining most of their price savings by squeezing the middle of the supply chain.

The ABS helps here again, showing that food and non-alcoholic beverage prices are steady or falling, and are in clear contrast with nation-wide housing prices, which have had an uninterrupted run of rises since 1998 – including the period during the global financial crisis – with a present rate of increase of about 5 per cent a year.

Despite the preference by planning departments for medium-density housing and high-rise apartments, the reality is that most of us enjoy living in freestanding houses on blocks big enough for a child or two to run around in.

As Phillip O’Neill pointed out in his column om Monday, the state government expects the lower Hunter to house an extra 130,000 people by 2031, a big increase on the 550,000 or so now living in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock, Maitland and Port Stephens.

If the past is any guide, much of the new housing land will be former farming estates, sold by farmers determined to balance the years of meagre returns with a decent payout.

As for the Upper Hunter, it, too, is facing a squeeze on its farming land, even if the state government remains resolutely optimistic that farming and coalmining can co-exist.

As Greg Ray, who is on holidays from this space for a fortnight, might say, “good luck with that one’’.