Jun 10

Shaw weighs up several options to fly Magpie nest

In demand: Collingwood’s Heath Shaw will meet with rival clubs. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoHeath Shaw will meet at least six other clubs at both ends of the ladder as he considers vastly different financial offers and vastly different futures.

Top four clubs in contention for the Collingwood defender include Geelong and premier Hawthorn. The Hawks’ interest in Shaw, and capacity to afford him, is likely to hinge on whether Lance Franklin stays or goes.

Shaw has a connection with the Cats football department through former teammates Shane O’Bree and Blake Caracella, who are assistant coaches.

Geelong on Monday delisted dual premiership defender Josh Hunt who as a free agent will explore possibilities of playing on somewhere else next year.

Paul Chapman is unlikely to be re-contracted and Joel Corey’s future remains uncertain.

If all three were to leave, Geelong would free up some space in the salary cap to accommodate a player such as Shaw, who is understood to be on about $400,000 a year for the next two years of his contract. The Cats’ first-round draft pick would be likely to be required for any trade.

Essendon has had preliminary discussions with Shaw and would consider an exchange of a draft pick the Dons would likely receive as part of a Stuart Crameri trade to the Western Bulldogs as a potential part of any trade.

Carlton has some interest in Shaw, while Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney are keen to explore a possible deal.

Shaw has to weigh up the choice of move to a top club in contention for a flag in his remaining playing years against the idea of working with young players and helping foster his ambition to become a development coach after football.

Shaw will this summer work with TAC Cup team the Oakleigh Chargers in a development role.

The choice of top or bottom club would also come at significantly different terms, with the two bottom sides likely to have to offer a longer contract.

GWS was believed to be prepared to do a straight swap of Shaw for homecoming midfielder Taylor Adams, who Collingwood is keen to secure during the trade period, as part of the Shaw exchange or not.

Given Shaw is a contracted player, any trade needs to be suitable to both player and club, so while Collingwood might have a preference for where he goes based on the best trade it can get, Shaw would have to agree. Similarly Collingwood is under no obligation to trade Shaw to the club he chooses if the deal is not right for the club.

Collingwood key defender Nathan Brown has agreed to a three-year deal, although the details have not been officially released.

Recruiting manager Derek Hine said the club could not confirm the contract until the situations surrounding Dale Thomas and Shaw were sorted out.

Meanwhile, Sydney has announced it has delisted defender Alex Brown.

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Jun 10

Pushed to the limit and beyond

Robert Walls coaches Fitzroy. Robert Walls coaches Fitzroy in 1981.

On the cold open tundra of Waverley Park, nearly 30 years ago, Robert Walls was as hostile as I’d ever seen. The Fitzroy coach’s usual demeanour was so grim that a scowl construed a positive comment.

Savage outbursts were not uncommon, yet Walls had raised the bar with this new level of seething hostility. He wrenched his hands open and shut, pacing in front of the race entrance, looking, it seemed, for someone to throttle. As players came onto the ground in dribs and drabs, they quickly averted their eyes and skittered away into their warm-up lap.

Fitzroy in the early-to-mid 1980s was a good team, with Roos, Pert and Osborne emerging, alongside old champions in Quinlan and Garry Wilson. The previous Saturday this team had put in a ”soft pissweak performance” and was easily beaten. Add to that it was against Walls’ old club, Carlton, and you start to understand Walls’ ignominy.

Yet what tipped Walls over the edge was finding a large number of players in the medical rooms, in high spirits, awaiting treatment for various injuries, real or feigned. Walls’ lividity at not having all the culprits from his team available for the torturous Tuesday evening training session he had so meticulously planned, was quietly terrifying.

As we gathered in front of Walls on this wintry eve, awaiting retribution, I realised this was the likely fulfilment of the nightmarish potential I had detected two years earlier.

My first clear memory of meeting Walls was arriving at Bulleen Park in January 1983 for my debut pre-season training session. He was wearing short running shorts and a singlet and was bellowing instructions at 60-odd Fitzroy hopefuls, all similarly garbed.

Sweat dominated, dripping off hair-matted foreheads, rolling from under bushy armpits, glistening hairy chests, and staining those short shorts. I was late, lithe, and to be honest, a little scared. When he spotted me, and scowled, I knew then I should run, to get away from this dreadful man.

But no, I naively put on short shorts, a singlet, and joined in what was a hard and torturous pre-season training campaign. For months I slept, ached, ate and trained, which allowed me to survive the near on three hours while Robert Walls extracted his pound of flesh.

He hounded and exhorted us into exhaustion, using all the contested training drills he could come up with, including corridor football with full-on shepherding, tackling, bumping and, of course, one-on-one contested drills.

During a contested man-on-man drill something remarkable happened. You know the drill, where the coach would roll, flick, kick, handball, throw the ball out in any direction he chose and two players at a time would battle each other to give it back to him – only to see the ball slapped away again, and the battle resumed, and so on until the coach thought you’d battled manfully enough and looked thoroughly exhausted and then you rested while two others went through the same thing.

If your kick or handball back to Walls was inaccurate, he would just let it sail past, rumble ”not good enough” and make you battle it out all over again. If he thought you were waxing with your opponent, or were one of the particularly poor players on the previous Saturday, or were faking exhaustion, then he kept you going until you could barely get off the ground, just to make sure.

Sometimes when you won a clear ball, the desire was to run right up to Walls and slam it into that soft paunch of his. And, as he bent over, to drive him into the ground, such was the frustration of this training night. But of course this never happened.

What did happen, which seemed remarkable, was that the lights went out. The dark descended like a loving cloak, leaving only a small pool of light illuminating the ground near the players’ race. Walls’ curses echoed off the stands, rolling off into the distance, but the lights remained off.

Eventually, Walls went to find out the problem while players jogged a slow warm-down lap thinking training had finished. I wondered who had the temerity to switch the main light towers off? And would they be found out?

When Walls re-emerged from the race, preceded, I swear, by the silhouette of a large grizzly bear, and followed by all the ”injured” players from the medical room, I had an answer.

Relief immediately turned to apprehension. Walls arranged all players in a large circle with arms outstretched, crucifixion style, and asked us to think about our game and whether we wanted to be a part of this club. I thought about a warm shower, mostly, and about how hungry I was, and about my first game under Walls.

Fitzroy had lost the first four or five games of the ’84 season and Walls was at his wits’ end. He dropped a couple of senior players and picked a couple of kids. I came on in the second quarter and was put in the forward pocket, with the message to change on ball with Garry Wilson. All quarter I waited to get a signal from Wilson to change, but it never came.

Walls asked pointedly at half-time why I hadn’t given Wilson a rest. I replied he hadn’t asked for one. ”Well make sure you change this quarter. You signal him, OK?”

The third quarter passed while I tried to get Wilson to change, but he wasn’t about to change with a kid from the country. I told Walls at three-quarter-time I had tried but Wilson didn’t want to change. Scores were close and he gave me his scowl and said if I didn’t change this last quarter then I was off. Five minutes into the last quarter I signalled Wilson to change and didn’t get a response so went on the ball as well. Then the runner comes out and says, ”The coach wants to know why you’re both on the ball?”

Unbeknown to me, the coach was gauging my mettle. Wilson was renowned for not changing off the ball; he was a fitness freak and could manage it. Walls was just seeing what I’d do. I kicked two goals and we won the game and I’m sure I saw a glimpse of a rare smile. A feast for a frustrated young kid.

But this night was no feast, at least not for the players. Arms were trembling with fatigue. Backs were beginning to bend to ease our shoulders, not to mention the weather closing in. Walls had gone up the race and was most likely trying to find out who switched off the lights, or was watching us from the darkness of the stands. We didn’t know which. The urge to drop my arms for just a second was strong, but I wasn’t going to be the first. So we stood arms forced out horizontally, in a bedraggled Monty Python portrayal of pilgrims re-enacting a Biblical scene.

When Walls came back he said, ”Keep your arms up Micky”. To which Conlan replied, ”You’d struggle too Wallsy if you had arms this big”. Walls glared a minute before saying that as soon as the first person dropped their arms we could all go and have a warm shower, just be sure to let him know who that player was. Rain fell, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, as Walls disappeared up the race. Nobody dropped their arms.

It may seem strange to hear that this article is a tribute to Robert Walls.

Yes, Walls gave many players the opportunity to push far beyond preconceived mental limits. And gave many players the chance to become far better than they were through sustained hard work and perseverance. Cheers Robert Walls.

Tim Pekin played 219 games with Fitzroy (1984-89, under Robert Walls in 1984-85) and St Kilda (1990-95).

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Jun 10

McKenzie ponders kick or run tactics

ROSARIO: Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie gave no guarantee Will Genia would regain a starting role for the Rugby Championship wooden-spoon clash against Argentina, despite putting some spark into his slumping team.

Long-term incumbent halfback Genia has been on the bench for Australia’s last two matches, including the demoralising 28-8 loss at the hands of the rampant Springboks in Cape Town on the weekend.

The Wallabies were down and out after only 19 minutes, trailing 20-3 as they stuck to a kick-at-all-costs mantra that was poorly executed by starting No.9 Nic White.

When Genia came on after half-time they finally switched to a running game and looked far more comfortable as he and Quade Cooper combined to spark the attack.

McKenzie said he was undecided what kind of game plan they would take into the Rosario clash against Argentina on Saturday, although he hoped the side could successfully execute both as required.

‘‘You saw against the Springboks two halves of footy; a kicking half and a running half,’’ said McKenzie.

‘‘Clearly, if we’re playing running footy Will’s our best exponent, but Whitey is with our kicking game so it depends on how we want to pitch the game.

‘‘We looked more comfortable running the ball in the second half, but the ideal game is when you’ve got variety in your game.’’

He acknowledged that Genia, who has captained the side, also offered unparalleled experience, which will be key at an Argentine rugby cauldron.

As for a swag of changes to the squad, McKenzie said the answers lay in the players he had.

‘‘Tell me who the other people are who are going to break the game open and suddenly give us the silver bullet. I think we’ve got the best players available.’’

Australia is ahead of last-placed Argentina on the Rugby Championship ladder going into the final round, but only by two points.

The Wallabies have four points from their sole win over the Pumas in Perth, while the Pumas have no wins but two bonus points.

The Pumas put world champions New Zealand under the pump in their weekend game, leading early in the second half before the All Blacks fired up for a 33-15 victory, which puts them in strong position to clinch the title against South Africa in Johannesburg this weekend.

McKenzie, who has stayed remarkably sanguine despite only having one win in the Rugby Championship, said he didn’t expect the Pumas to stray far from their usual forward-focused style. AAP

PRESSURE: Halfback Nic White tackles Springbok fullback Zane Kirchner on Saturday.

Jun 10

Jets ready to face Sydney FC 

NEWCASTLE Jets hired gun Nathan Burns is back training and on track to make a much-heralded A-League return in the round one blockbuster against Sydney FC.

On-loan from Korean club Incheon United, Burns strained his hamstring in the warm-up before the Jets’ 1-0 friendly win over Melbourne Victory almost a fortnight ago.

In a double blow, marquee striker Emile Heskey tore the medial ligament in his knee after being collected by Victory defender Nick Ansell in the opening 20 minutes.

It was feared both would miss the start of the campaign.

Heskey is out until at least round three but, in a major boost, Burns trained fully yesterday and only needs to get through an intra-club hit out on Thursday to get the green light for the season opener.

‘‘I’m back training 100per cent and am pretty happy with that,’’ Burns said after an hour-long workout.

‘‘Initially it was thought I’d be out longer.

‘‘It healed pretty quick, but we had to strengthen the muscle.

‘‘We worked pretty hard today – three on twos, four on fours, a bit of game stuff which involved shooting and sprinting. It’s ready to go.’’

Jets coach Gary van Egmond had no hesitation in declaring Burns a certain starter despite the winger having played only 45 minutes, which included a superb goal, in a 3-0 win over Sydney Olympic since arriving from Korea.

‘‘He has shown enough,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘If he can get 45 to 60 minutes on Thursday, that will make him cherry ripe for the following week.

‘‘He is going to be very important for us this year.

‘‘He is able to go past players, he is able to score, he is able to create things – everything you want from someone in that front third.’’

Burns, 25, was still a teenager when he burst on to the A-League for Adelaide United, scoring nine goals in 28 starts, before signed by Greek giant AEK Athens and eventually heading to Korea.

‘‘It will be a bit like making my debut again,’’ he said.

‘‘It has been a few years since people have seen me play live.’’

Burns is expected to start on the right of a front three alongside Adam Taggart and Craig Goodwin, who scored a double in the 2-1 win over Central Coast in Tamworth on Sunday.

The win over an under-strength premiers was the Jets’ final competitive game.

‘‘First half was good, 2-0 probably flattered them to a degree,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘We created a number of chances.

‘‘In saying that, they had a very young team and we would expect to dominate the match and control the match the way we did in the first half.

‘‘We probably should have scored a few more goals but overall it was good.

‘‘Second half we took our foot off the gas which is something we need to address, and again we got scored against from a set piece. That was not good enough by any means.’’

The win was the third straight over A-League opposition – they lost 1-0 to Wellington in Weston in August – and van Egmond was happy with their progress less than fortnight out from kick-off.

‘‘It was a bit of a set back with the two injuries, in particular to Emile – in light of the fact that he got here early, a good solid two months prior to the season beginning,’’ van Egmond said.

‘‘But from a fitness point of view, from a football point of view, from the boys in regards to their confidence, and really believing, and really buying in to everything. I’m very happy.’’

AQUATIC RELAXATION: Jets players recover in the Forum pool after an intensive pre-season training session yesterday. Picture: Ryan Osland

Jun 10

Anger at likely loss of art gallery director: poll 

POLL at bottom of page

ART lovers are up in arms about Newcastle City Council’s restructure of senior management, saying it will destroy the reputation of Newcastle Art Gallery.

The restructure coincides with news that the existing gallery director, Ron Ramsey, has secured the donation of an $850,000 Brett Whiteley sculpture for the gallery forecourt.

The chairman of the gallery’s fundraising foundation, Dr Robert Henderson, said Mr Ramsey had personally negotiated the donation of the sculpture by the artist’s widow, Wendy Whiteley.

Although the council is yet to publicly confirm the detail of the restructure, critics believe the gallery director’s role will be abolished and a ‘‘cultural facilities manager’’ appointed to oversee the gallery, Newcastle Museum and possibly the Civic Theatre.

Dr Henderson has written a scathing letter to Newcastle lord mayor Jeff McCloy about the impact on the gallery, saying the loss of a stand-alone director would ‘‘leave Newcastle open to ridicule and damage its reputation almost beyond redemption’’.

Dr Henderson said the foundation had raised the $40,000 or so needed to bring the sculpture to Newcastle from its present home at Millers Point, behind the proposed Barrangaroo development.

‘‘This will cost the council nothing,’’ Dr Henderson said last night.

‘‘Ron had been negotiating with Wendy and she wants to see it in Newcastle.’’

The art gallery dispute emerged last week after councillors voted in closed session to adopt a new management structure proposed by general manager Ken Gouldthorp.

Labor councillor Nuatali Nelmes said last night that she and other Labor councillors were considering lodging a recission motion on the restructure, although she acknowledged ‘‘we don’t have the numbers’’.

Cr Nelmes said she and the other councillors had ‘‘four minutes’’ to view the restructure before voting on it, which was a ‘‘totally unacceptable way’’ to expect democratic decisions to be made.

In a statement last night, Cr McCloy said the NSW Division of Local Government had confirmed the process as ‘‘appropriate and reasonable’’.

‘‘To claim council’s restructure is about one person (Mr Ramsey) is insulting to the 82 former staff affected by the restructure to date,’’ Cr McCloy said.

Newcastle Art Gallery director Ron Ramsey.

A sculpture entitled “Black Totem II”, made by Matthew Dillon from a drawing by the late Australian artist Brett Whiteley who died in 1992,

He confirmed that the latest phase of the restructure would result in 25 senior management positions cut to 19, which would all be advertised.

May 09

Bushfire closes Pacific Highway: photos

AN orange glow of flames beneath a thick haze of smoke signified the official start of bushfire season had come a day early.

Water-bombing helicopters were called in to help more than 15 NSW Rural Fire Service crews battle a blaze at Doyalson on Monday.

The fire, which started near Ruttleys Road, quickly spread through more than 20 hectares of grass and fire during the afternoon, with thick smoke forcing the closure of the Pacific Highway in both directions for several hours.

As traffic was diverted, Rural Fire Service crews worked to get on top of the blaze, which crossed the road north of the Lake Munmorah power station.

Crews began gaining the upper hand as the sun set and conditions eased, employing back burning in an effort to contain the flames.

The blaze was being controlled last night and had spread to more than 20 hectares of grass surrounding the highway.

RFS spokesman Brendan Doyle said no residential properties had come under threat.

The blaze comes just a day before the official start of bushfire season, with the RFS and Hunter Water calling on residents to ensure they are properly prepared for the threat.

NSW has already faced more than 2500 grass and bushfires this year with more than a thousand of those occurring within the last month.

At the official launch of the state’s bushfire season on Monday, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that weather forecasts had been ‘‘dramatically revised’’ and indicated a tough season ahead.

‘‘We’ve gone from an 85 per cent probability of above average rainfall down to about 35 per cent in some parts of NSW,’’ he told reporters.

Hunter Water CEO Darren Cleary urged residents to ensure their water hydrant was clearly marked so in the event their house was under threat of fire, fire fighters could access the hydrant without delay.

The statutory bush fire danger period runs from 1 October to 31 March.

Helicopters dropping water on a fire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Firefighters backburning to prevent a bushfire from further spreading at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Firefighters backburning to prevent a bushfire from further spreading at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Firefighters backburning to prevent a bushfire from further spreading at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Firefighters backburning to prevent a bushfire from further spreading at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Helicopters dropping water on a fire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Helicopters dropping water on a fire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Smoke from a bushfire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

helicopters dropping water on a fire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Smoke from a bushfire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Smoke from a bushfire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

Smoke from a bushfire at Doyalson on the Pacific Highway as the sun goes down. Picture: Simone De Peak

May 09

Julia Gillard defends legacy, criticises Kevin Rudd in first public comments since her defeat

Anne Summers with former PM Julia Gillard before the event at Sydney’s Opera House. Photo: Ben Rushton julia-gillard

julia gillard

Full political coveragePolitics Live with Stephanie Peatling

Julia Gillard has thrown a thinly veiled barb at Kevin Rudd for disloyalty and for destabilising her prime ministership, declaring the difference between her behaviour and his was that she always worked for the re-election of the Labor government.

She said while it was difficult to accept the outcome of the ballot which returned Mr Rudd to the prime ministership, she had quickly concluded the best course was to give her party “the gift of silence” deciding not to make any public comments before the election.

In the only public comments she has made on the explosive events of June and Mr Rudd’s role in eventually replacing her, she justified her original move on Mr Rudd in June 2010 as “legitimate”.

“To ask your leader to have a leadership ballot, that’s legitimate, to do things continuously that undermine the Labor Party and the Labor government, then of course that shouldn’t be done by anyone,” she said.

“The key difference is every day I was deputy prime minister, I spent all of my time doing everything I could to have the Labor government prosper.”

She also used the opportunity to hit out at media reports that she had split with her long-time partner Tim Mathieson, declaring the rumours completely untrue and claiming the original report in the Woman’s Day magazine had been written without contacting her.

In her first serious interview since her removal from office on June 26, Ms Gillard told a sell-out audience at the Sydney Opera House that she was all too aware of the sexist treatment of her on the internet and elsewhere but chose not to engage despite a feeling of “murderous rage”.

However, she expressed the view that it would hopefully be easier for a woman to follow in the future, all but endorsing Tanya Plibersek as a future female prime minister describing her one of the nation’s most gifted communicators.

She said there was “an underside of sexism, really ugly, violent sexism” in Australia but it was not clear that it was merely a function of the new media age.

“I would have thought we were beyond that and it’s kind of depressing that it’s not,” she said.

Ms Gillard also spoke of the difficulties of managing the minority parliament revealing she had needed to have the Prime Minister’s office rewired to have the division bells ring when a vote was on in the House of Representatives because the numbers were so finely balanced the government could have been defeated at any time.

Ms Gillard said she regarded her April trip to China culminating in a new special relationship between Beijing and Canberra to establish annual meetings at prime minister level as her biggest foreign policy achievement.

The good natured exchange also brought out an admission that her first meeting with US President Barack Obama almost went awry when she asked him if he was “mad” for expressing jealousy about the parliamentary tradition of Question Time.

While the questions were almost universally friendly, it was a question from a boy not even tall enough to reach the microphone, that stumped her.

Why, he asked, did she oppose gay marriage?

As she had done during her prime ministership, Ms Gillard fumbled her way through an answer that ultimately went nowhere, and singled itself out as the only question for the night that received a qualified applause.

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May 09

Fa’aoso takes bad luck in stride

Character: Richie Fa’aoso at Manly’s media day at Brookvale Oval still manages to give the thumbs up despite missing the grand final with a broken neck. Photo: Marco Del GrandeGrand final week: Read The Manly Mirror

Richie Fa’aoso didn’t realise he had broken his neck when he ran headfirst into the teeth of the South Sydney defence. Or while he was throwing his children around after being discharged from Concord Hospital.

It was only when he drove himself back to get further tests the next day that the Manly prop realised this wasn’t your garden-variety football injury.

”They’ve released me and then I’ve driven for the MRI in the morning then went in for the CT.

”And they’ve said, ‘Don’t move, you’ve got a broken neck’,” Fa’aoso said. ”When they said I had a broken neck I thought, ‘It can’t be too bad, I’ve been walking around and throwing the kids around’.

”I just thought, ‘You’re kidding me’. Obviously I was in pain but, to be honest, I thought I was carrying on a bit.”

But not even a fractured C7 vertebra was going to stop Fa’aoso from attending Manly’s media session on Monday. The journeyman prop was the beneficiary of a Jason Ryles injury, which allowed him to play in last year’s grand final-winning Melbourne side.

However, the chance to go back to back at two different clubs ended when he ran into what he described as the ”Samoan wall” of Jeff Lima and Roy Asotasi.

”Basically, I took a short ball and got absolutely lifted,” Fa’aoso quipped. ”I was more upset that I dropped the ball. That’s the way footy goes, mate.

”I obviously wanted to keep going, I didn’t realise how serious my neck was. I knew it wasn’t right but I didn’t think I broke it. What do you do? Shit happens.

”My luck had got to run out some time. It’s unfortunate it had to run out now, but life goes on.”

Wearing a neck brace and his football gear, Fa’aoso surprised many with his presence at Brookvale Oval. He has a year remaining on his contract and is hoping to again run on to the ground in a playing capacity.

”I’ll be back,” he said.

”I’m missing out on a World Cup but I’ll get to spend time with my family over the off-season.

”I’m sweet. Hopefully everything goes all right, it all heals properly and I’ll be back. I’ve got to pretty much take it easy, which is hard in such a big week. There will be some full-on stuff going on but I’ll try to stay calm.”

Fa’aoso has carved out a reputation as one of the hardest men in the game during stints at the Eels, Roosters, Panthers, Raiders, Knights and Sea Eagles. He is also one of its greatest characters, always up for a chat or a joke, even after what appeared a catastrophic injury.

”I’m jumping on the bandwagon,” he quipped upon his arrival for the team photo. ”I’m a bit of a journeyman, I’ve been to a few clubs before I ended up here.

”We’ve got a great bunch of boys and a great team and coach.

”Thanks to everyone for their support, but I’m good as gold.”

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May 09

Even as skinny schoolboy, SBW was destined for top

Early days: Main pic, Williams (front row, centre) and Matai (middle row, second from right) at Mount Albert Grammar. Photo: SuppliedSteve Matai will tell you Sonny Bill Williams was always destined for greatness – as long as the skinny high school boy put on some size.

Well, he hasn’t failed in the greatness department, and the fact the Roosters stop him from doing excess weights so he doesn’t get too big is a reflection of the specimen he is.

Matai and Williams, as well as Warriors five-eighth Thomas Leuluai, played schoolboy football together at Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland. The Manly centre was a grade above Williams and had already been playing in the school’s first grade side for two years before the Roosters back-rower was called up to the top side, however Williams and Leuluai made an immediate impact.

”I’m a bit older than the boys, so I was playing in the First XIII before them,” Matai said on Monday. ”But they came straight into the team and were named captain and vice-captain. Sonny was the captain. I was like, ‘C’mon man I’ve been playing here for two years’. But they played for New Zealand all through the grades. They were the ones with all the experience. I think they deserved it.

”We were close … it’s good to see us playing in the top level.”

Matai insists there was never any doubt over Williams’ ability, with everyone at the school aware of what he would likely achieve as a professional.

”He was a gun, he made all the teams,” Matai said. ”We knew he was going to be big, he was a bit skinny but we knew if he started doing a bit of weights he was going to be a machine. You can see that now.

”He was here with the Bulldogs when I first came [to Manly]. We hung out a lot and met up to have a few beers. He was at my 21st. We lost contact when he went back to rugby but I’m just glad we’re playing first grade and we’re here for the big game. We message each other every now and then, we haven’t had heaps to do with each other. We just say g’day and how you going after the game.”

Williams has managed to gain a large posse of admirers since returning to rugby league this season. The Roosters enforcer has rebuilt a reputation severely tarnished after he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008 to play rugby union. But Matai is adamant it came as no surprise to see Williams achieve success in both codes.

”It’s not hard with him, he’s an athlete, and athletes can fit straight into anything,” he said. ”He went to boxing and fit in there, he went to rugby and fit in there. It just shows what an athlete he is. Hopefully we can do a job on him on Sunday.

”They adore him here [in Australia] and it’s nothing different back home.

”They love him there and I’m sure they want to see him back in rugby over there. But hopefully we can keep him here.”

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May 09

Sky still looks blue as Farina shrugs off form

Sydney FC coach Frank Farina insists his team will perform in their A-League season opener despite finishing their preseason campaign with four successive defeats.

The Sky Blues ended their preparations for the new campaign with a 3-0 loss to Perth Glory on Sunday, which raised questions over their readiness for their opener at home against Newcastle Jets on October 11.

The defeat left the club still searching for their first win since returning from their six-game tour of Italy in late August and have since conceded 10 goals and scored just two in their final four friendly games.

However, Farina shrugged off concerns regarding their form and said their gruelling preparations affected the players in recent matches.

”Players are probably a little bit flat from a long preseason but, as I said, the important thing is from when we start,” Farina said. ”Nobody remembers preseason results. It’s always nice to go in with a bit of momentum but the season is what is important.”

Sydney’s coaching staff prioritised solving their defensive woes from last season and signed four new defenders during the break, but Farina is disappointed with the manner in which his team leaked goals in recent friendlies.

He lamented individual errors in their 4-1 defeat against Brisbane and Sunday’s loss to Perth but hopes those mistakes served as lessons for his new-look back line.

”Three or four of them were schoolboy errors, bad mistakes, that’s not structural,” Farina said. ”It’s decision-making, decision-making more than anything.

”Everyone’s going to make mistakes at some stage but, as I said, you hope to get them out of the way early.”

Captain and marquee player Alessandro Del Piero played his first game since returning from Italy and emerged unscathed after lasting the full 90 minutes against the Glory.

The Italian showed a few moments of brilliance, including a classy long-range strike late in the first half, in his new role leading Sydney’s attack but otherwise struggled to break through Perth’s defence.

Del Piero is expected to start against the Jets and Farina says he is close to finalising his starting line-up. Midfielders Terry Antonis and Peter Triantis are the only players ruled out through injury at this stage. Goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic is in doubt due to a ligament injury in his foot and will have scans on Monday evening.

Farina has not yet confirmed his first-choice goalkeeper for the season but his decision could be made for him should Janjetovic be forced to withdraw, paving the way for Ivan Necevski to start between the posts for the second successive season.

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