AFL players have questioned whether on-field congestion is such a bad thing for the viewing public.

As Collingwood ruckman Darren Jolly used his Fairfax column on Monday to express the frustration many players are experiencing over the introduction of a cap on the number of interchanges next season – a move designed to ease congestion – AFL research shows there was an increase in players crowding contests last season.

There were ”regular occurrences of all players squeezed into a 60 metre x 80 metre section of the ground to place pressure on the opposition and generate their next scoring attack”, the AFL found.

A study by the AFL Players Association, however, says players believe congestion isn’t an entirely bad thing.

”There is substantial evidence that the game is in really good shape from a spectacle point of view backed on the information provided by the AFL and feedback from players and coaches,” the AFLPA said in its submission to the Laws of the Game Committee late last year.

”In any case, and particularly given that congestion is not presenting as a significant issue for the game at this time, players query whether some games that are more congested than others doesn’t have a positive impact on the AFL competition by providing a variety of games that fans are exposed to throughout a season.

”In other words, there are also things that fans may like about games that have increased congestion. For example, these games are often ‘great contests’ that highlight the combative nature of our game, producing close scorelines due to the intense pressure of highly contested football.”

Video-based TrakPerformance player density tracking said there had been a ”significant rise” since 2006 in the average number of players within five metres of the ball, and another ”significant increase” between 2011 and 2012.

Last year’s analysis showed there were five players within five metres of the ball 24.8 per cent of the time, up from 24.3 per cent in 2011, while there were between three and 10 players within five metres of the ball 34 per cent of the time, up from 29.9 in 2011.

In a bid to ease congestion, the AFL is set to cap interchange rotations next season, in the hope players fatigue and cannot get to as many contests. This has frustrated the AFLPA and most coaches, as Jolly reaffirmed. ”There’s a reason why we need to rotate as much as we do. It’s because you [AFL] have instructed the umpires to throw the ball up quicker; you’ve shortened the time allowed when kicking for goal; and kicking-in after a minor score.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

For a decade, Mark Webber has carried the weight of Australia’s high hopes of grand prix glory.

It is a load Webber has borne willingly and well, even if his compatriots haven’t always appreciated his achievements in one of the world’s most fiercely competitive sports.

Ill-informed pundits spout disparagement that he hasn’t won more formula one races, portraying him as a driver not good enough to be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Brabham and Alan Jones.

They are Australian legends because they won world titles – Brabham in 1959-60-66 and Jones in 1980 – but statistics aside, Webber is very much in the same league.

Just as Brabham and Jones were better known for being ruthless than gifted, Webber’s sheer talent is also underrated.

His sense of fair play is very much in the tradition of old-school Australian sportsmanship, whereas Brabham and certainly Jones didn’t mind getting their wheels dirty in the pursuit of victory.

The big difference between them is that ”Black Jack” and AJ were in the right places at the right times to win world titles.

What Webber’s critics don’t understand is that for most of his 11 seasons in F1 he has been with teams and in cars not capable of winning.

It wasn’t until Red Bull Racing hit its straps in the second half of 2009 that he had the equipment to convert his ability into victories.

Which he has done – nine times, including twice at Monaco – but not enough to convince the doubters.

The lack of respect in this country for what he has done is at odds with the reality of how far he has come since his gutsy fifth-placed F1 debut with minnow Minardi in the 2002 Australian GP.

Unfortunately for Webber, the rise of RBR also coincided with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel, whose brilliance has outshone – but not overawed or subjugated – him.

He has remained combative and assertive against Vettel’s blossoming talent and refused to be worn down by the team’s psychological favouritism of the young German.

Despite the internal friction – and the fact that he is an F1 veteran and not a product of Red Bull’s driver development program – the team can find no better alternative, and neither can Webber.

He declined the chance to join Ferrari this year and finish his career with the storied Scuderia, gaining F1 immortality in the process, because his priority is driving for the best team in the best car with the best chance of winning races and contending for the world championship.

And Webber firmly believes he can do it this year, despite all the talk about him being the oldest driver at 36 and heading into his final season.

Retirement – or being replaced by some young gun – is a touchy subject because the speculation is not based on anything he has said or hinted.

Signing a one-year renewal with RBR – along with the next wave of proteges such as fast-rising fellow Australian Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the Red Bull wings – is seen as indicative, yet, in fact, it is how Webber has plotted his course in recent years.

Adamant that he is not even thinking that this is his last season in F1, he forcefully dismisses his age as a defining issue.

”It’s completely obvious that I’m not at the start of my career any more, but I’m also achieving some very good results and while I continue to do that and while I enjoy my work, I’ll continue,” he said. ”Whether I was born in ’76 or ’86 is irrelevant. It just so happens that Michael [Schumacher] has retired and all of a sudden I’m the oldest guy.

”Lewis [Hamilton] is one of the youngest guys [at 28], but I think he’s the sixth oldest or whatever.

”Jenson Button [33] is the most experienced on the grid with the most grands prix [228 versus Webber’s 196], so all those stats don’t mean a huge amount. And it’ll be on my terms – if I’m not happy with how I’m driving or performing, then I’ll do different things and we’ll make different decisions, as I always have done.

”So, yeah, it starts and stops with me. My first contract in F1 was for three races, so you always have to perform, especially when you’re aiming for podiums in this game and it’s no different this year. So I’m going to go out and enjoy it, but still obviously with that steely determination to make sure that we make every opportunity count and continue to do well.”

Webber heads into Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park confident that he’ll be in contention to finally win his home race.

”We’re definitely going to be in contention to put a strong weekend together, no question about that,” he declared. ”Testing’s gone pretty well for us. We’ve had some opposition – they’ve put some pretty good times in as well – so it’s going down to the details, all the little boring things that make the difference.”

While winning would rank with his Monaco and British GP victories as a highlight, Webber approaches it the same as any other race.

”Every grand prix’s brilliant to have a chance of winning,” he said.

”Obviously, the Melbourne event is in the top three for me in terms of winning.

”So it’d be brilliant to get an amazing result there, but it’s really only an extra one or two per cent stronger than any other victory at the other tracks that I’ve had.

”I can’t try extra hard or or do anything else than what I do at any other venue.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Adam Gilchrist believes Australia might have been better served by using the eight-day break between Tests in India to escape from cricket – and even get out of the country.

The captain of Australia’s only series-winning team here in more than 40 years, Gilchrist said the ploy had worked a treat for the successful touring party of 2004.

The Australians used a seven-day gap between the second and third matches to take off in their own directions, to Singapore, Mumbai, Goa and other destinations. They then regathered in Nagpur and won by 342 runs to clinch an unassailable 2-0 lead.

Michael Clarke’s side, by contrast, remained together in what turned out, due to a defeat in Hyderabad inside four days, to be an eight-day break before the third Test in Mohali.

They were given two free days but, aside from the captain who travelled to Delhi for promotional commitments and also took in the Taj Mahal with his wife Kyly, the 16-man squad stayed at the team hotel in Chandigarh. Some played golf or visited the zoo, and some – including Matthew Wade, of course – played basketball.

The difference between Clarke’s team and Gilchrist’s is Australia was 1-0 up at this point nine years ago and heading into Thursday’s third Test trails 2-0. There would undoubtedly have been outrage at home had coach Mickey Arthur told them to rack off for a week.

But the game’s greatest wicketkeeper-batsman, the captain of Mohali-based Indian Premier League side Kings XI Punjab, believes there is merit in getting away.

”The boys jumped into the nets [in Hyderabad] I believe half-an-hour or an hour after the game finished and the next day they were in there again,” Gilchrist said.

”Sometimes it gets to a point where you do need that time to clear your head and get away from it. India is that sort of venue that for all the wonderful things about India – the intrigue, and the fascinating country that it is – I find it is a place that becomes all-consuming and not just in a cricket sense.

”It really consumes every part of your day and your night and your life, such is the passion and the intensity of the place. So to get away and make a clean break for the purposes of freshening up for a new challenge there, I found it extremely beneficial and I think our team prospered from that in ’04.”

Gilchrist, who stood in for the injured Ricky Ponting in 2004, flew to Singapore in that break to see his family, while others took off for Goa or Mumbai.

”It really added a freshness to the tour and gave us the spark that we needed to get us back into that tour,” he said. ”I think that was of vital importance. Yes, we were 1-0 up but the Chennai Test, which was our second Test, was a really hard-fought, close match in the balance going into the last day and then it washed out.

”When we got back together it just felt like a new tour, a fresh, new beginning where we were obviously aware of the scoreline but catching up with each other was exciting.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Jobe Watson (extreme left) with other Essendon players at Monday’s family day. Photo: Angela WylieIf the fallout from the anti-doping investigation into Cronulla is starting to worry Essendon, midfielder Brent Stanton did his best to convince otherwise, suggesting there were reasons to hope the Bombers were not headed down the same path as the under-siege NRL club.
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Facing the media at Essendon’s family day at Windy Hill on Monday, Stanton was asked whether the players thought there was reason to be ”cautiously optimistic” that their case would have a different outcome to that at Cronulla.

”Possibly – it’s a whole different investigation,” Stanton said.

”We opened up our doors to be investigated. We’re doing everything possible to try to get that process under way and we’re fully co-operating,” he said.

”I think the AFL and ASADA are doing their job – so are we.

”The board, and [chairman] David Evans and [coach] James Hird and [chief executive] Ian Robson have been really confident and really good in the way they have handled the whole thing.”

Stanton stressed he did not know any details of the Cronulla case, which has exploded in the past week with reports that a number of Sharks players have been urged to accept six-month bans or else risk a longer suspension as they deal with the investigation into their club by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).

It’s been reported some Sharks players were allegedly injected with a substance used on horses and greyhounds to increase muscle growth, strength and endurance, and the club has already sacked several key officials.

The Bombers are also being investigated by ASADA over their supplement use last year, when they employed sports scientist Stephen Dank, who was previously with Cronulla.

Essendon’s decision to volunteer information to the AFL prompted the ASADA investigation, and the board has signed off on a full external and independent review of governance and processes at the club.

Stanton refused to say whether he had been interviewed by ASADA, although he did say the players had been kept up to speed as much as possible with the investigation by key Bombers officials and Hird.

However the message Stanton was trying to push was clear – as far as he and his teammates were concerned, the only point of focus was Adelaide in round one.

”As much as you guys want to talk about that, our major focus is about next week,” he said.

Stanton, the club’s 2011 best-and-fairest runner-up, said some young players had been given support from the coaches and other staff in dealing with the investigation.

A crowd of 8300 attended the family day on Monday, and Stanton said the players had been humbled by the faith the club’s members had shown.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Tasmanian stayer Norsqui defied the best local and interstate stayers to take out Monday’s Adelaide Cup at Morphettville, his second feature race win in 18 months.
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Trained by Walter McShane, Norsqui ($26) added the Adelaide Cup (3200metres) to the 2012 Mornington Cup, defying local Waratone ($15) to win by half a length with Victorian Dame Claire ($9.50) 1½ lengths away third.

”What a tough horse,” said winning rider Chris Symons. ”Every time I asked for an effort he gave it to me, he just kept finding the line.”

The victory was Symons’ first feature win back from an injury-enforced lay-off when he was hit by a car.

McShane was overjoyed with the win and said that he would continue to target feature staying races with the six-year-old while dodging the better stayers heading towards the spring.

”There are plenty of races for him,” he said. ”We don’t have to tackle the best.

”He’s such an honest stayer, he just gives his best whenever we ask.”

Victorian Lohnspresso, trained by Darren Weir, won the listed Centrebet Classic and will target more feature races during the Adelaide autumn carnival.

Another Victorian-trained runner, Gold Sand, won the C.S. Hayes Memorial Stakes at listed level for Lee and Shannon Hope.

■Having produced Super Cool to win the Australian Cup on Saturday, trainer Mark Kavanagh will set another of his outstanding three-year-olds on the road to the country’s most coveted races when Sheer Talent runs at Moonee Valley on Friday night.

Kavanagh said that despite Super Cool having run second in the Victoria Derby in the spring, he would now be restricted to middle-distances, leaving Sheer Talent to represent the stable in the Australian Derby in Sydney.

Sheer Talent takes another step towards that goal in the group 2 Alister Clark Stakes on Friday.

”Super Cool was my derby horse in the spring but Sheer Talent is the one that’s suited to the Australian Derby,” Kavanagh said.

Sheer Talent ran the race of his career when he won the group 3 C.S. Hayes Stakes at Flemington on February 16 and then ran right up to that effort next start in the Australian Guineas when third to Ferlax after coming from the outside gate in the 15-horse field at the same track.

”His Guineas run was as good as his win and he’ll be even better over more ground,” Kavanagh said.

The Australian Derby (2400 metres) at Randwick on April 13 is also the target for Fiveandahalfstar, the Victoria Derby winner and runner-up to Super Cool in the Australian Cup.

With aap

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Star Collingwood forward Travis Cloke has been fined $1000 by his club for using the car park of chief executive Gary Pert once too often.
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In an extraordinary revelation late on Monday night, Fairfax Media understands the club’s leadership group handed down the sanction to their blue-chip key forward last week.

Car parks outside the club’s training base at the Westpac Centre are in short supply and it’s believed Cloke had been repeatedly warned about parking in the spot reserved for Pert.

It’s understood the All-Australian and premiership player had been parking in Pert’s spot on and off for more than a year.

The AFL Players Association released a statement suggesting Collingwood has no right to fine Cloke for what it sees as a trivial indiscretion.

”It sounds like a ludicrous situation,” an AFLPA spokesperson said. ”We can only assume there has been some kind of confusion – clearly the AFL players’ code of conduct makes no reference to players being sanctioned for parking in an executive’s car space.”

Cloke signed a five-year contract to stay at Collingwood late last year, but only after a season of protracted negotiations.

Cloke said last week that the uncertainty surrounding his contract status had affected his on-field performance and caused disagreements with his father, David.

It is the second time in recent days that the Magpies have fined a marquee player for non-football related indiscretions.

The Pies slapped Brownlow medallist Dane Swan with a fine for taking part, without the club’s permission, in a television interview in which he addressed rumours about alleged drug use.

Swan’s manager Liam Pickering said if Swan was fined the full permitted amount of $5000 by the club, he would take the issue up with the players’ association. It is understood Swan’s fine is less than that.

Swan’s interview aired on Channel Nine’s The Footy Show last Thursday and the next day Pies president Eddie McGuire warned that fines would increase for players who break club rules.

McGuire said the $5000 ceiling for fines that clubs could impose on players was inadequate.

”If I could make it 25 grand, I’d make it 25 grand to make the point,” McGuire said on Friday in relation to the fine imposed on Swan.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

POLICE have charged a Mirrabooka man who allegedly killed two dogs after they attacked and killed his dog.
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Lee Smith, 36, was charged with aggravated cruelty upon an animal and malicious damage.

‘‘If it takes me getting charged to stop someone else being bitten, so be it,’’ Mr Smith said on Monday.

Mr Smith added that relatives can be ‘‘in the yard now, without worrying about dogs knocking the fence down.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported last month that Mr Smith allegedly stabbed and killed two American Staffordshire terriers that had mauled to death his 10-year-old dog Buddi.

Two children, aged 12 and 10, were inside their house at the time.

A police statement said two dogs entered Mr Smith’s property on Mirrabooka Road, Mirrabooka and began attacking his dog, which was tied up in his yard.

Mr Smith, police allege, ‘‘came out of his home and stabbed one of the two dogs to death’’.

Police allege Mr Smith then ‘‘chased the other attacking dog off his property and down the road before inflicting fatal injuries on it before returning it back to his property’’.

It’s alleged Mr Smith then smashed windows of a neighbour’s house and car.

Mr Smith was given conditional bail to appear in Toronto Local Court next month.

Lake Macquarie City Council is investigating circumstances surrounding ownership of the two attacking dogs and how they escaped from a property.

As previously reported, the dogs that killed Buddi were the offspring of two dogs that attacked Mr Smith’s partner, Natalie Southam, in May last year.

On that occasion, two American Staffordshire terriers jumped two 2-metre fences and attacked Ms Southam.

Ms Southam was left with injuries to her ear, neck and arms that required 19 stitches.

The two dogs were destroyed, after a council investigation.

COUNTS: Lee Smith is charged with aggravated cruelty upon an animal and malicious damage.

MURDER accused George Robert Ballantyne once declared that his love for Clare Weston would last ‘‘forever and always’’.
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The couple had been together for just four months when Ms Weston’s body was found, partly naked, lying on the swollen banks of the Hunter River at Aberglasslyn.

Mr Ballantyne, 30, of Evans Street at Greta, was not brought into Maitland Local Court on Mondayto face a murder charge, and he was formally refused bail.

Police will allege that Mr Ballantyne scuffled with Ms Weston some time after 2am on Sunday before dragging her down an embankment and leaving her lying in a pool of water near the Melville Ford Bridge.

Her body was found about 8am the same day.

Police will allege she was found face down with her knees and back out of the water.

They allege women’s underpants were found nearby and a pair of denim jeans were in a nearby tree.

Mr Ballantyne and Ms Weston allegedly drove to the site to talk.

Mr Ballantyne, a store person at a mine, walked into Maitland police station about 5.30pm on Sunday and was subsequently charged.

Police will allege Mr Ballantyne later escorted them on a walk-through of the crime scene.

Police also seized clothing and a motor vehicle from his parents’ house at Greta, where the couple had been living.

On Facebook, Mr Ballantyne had appeared to post messages about their budding relationship in November and December, describing Ms Weston as ‘‘my soulmate’’ and ‘‘my world, my everything’’.

On a picture of the couple kissing, Ballantyne wrote: ‘‘Cant b broken forever and always’’.

Tributes poured in on Mondayfor Ms Weston, a 23-year-old mother of two.

Friends posted photographs and tributes on a Facebook page created in her honour.

‘‘Taken too early from this world leaving behind … the rest of the family who love her very much,’’ uncle Frank Weston wrote.

Jenny Sherwen wrote: ‘‘RIP Clare, loved you since you were born, loved watching you grow into the person that you grew to be.’’

Clare Weston.

Grant McArthurWomen who take aspirin have a reduced risk of developing melanomas, with the anti-cancer effect increasing each year they take the drug, new research shows.
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A US study of almost 60,000 women aged 50 to 79, published in the journal Cancer, showed that those who took aspirin regularly were less likely to develop melanomas over 12 years than those who did not take it.

Overall, women who used aspirin were 21 per cent less likely to develop melanomas – a figure that rose to 30 per cent in women who used aspirin for five or more years.

Researchers led by Jean Tang, of Stanford University, controlled for factors that may have affected skin-cancer risk, including tanning practices and sunscreen use.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence about the benefits of aspirin in preventing cancer.

Previous studies have shown that a daily dose of aspirin can reduce the risk of developing breast, lung and bowel cancer.

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researcher Steven Stacker said aspirin’s role in preventing inflammation probably had anti-cancer effects.

”Cancer is a whole raft of diseases and they all have particular characteristics, so it’s a bit hard to predict with accuracy whether [aspirin] is playing the same role in each of them,” he said.

”We certainly know from data coming through from these solid tumours – like breast, lung and colon – that aspirins are having a role in preventing metastasis, so preventing the spread from the primary tumour to another site. Whether it is playing the same role in melanoma, we don’t know yet.”

Associate Professor Stacker recently found that lymphatic vessels expand to allow cancer to spread through the body, in a process that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin may be able to shut down.

He said researchers were working to better understand the anti-cancer effects of drugs like aspirin, ”in the hope they can be boosted and replicated through the development of new treatments”.

Aspirin is recommended to patients with vascular problems because it helps prevent blood clots.

But doctors say it is too early for healthy people to take it daily to prevent cancer because it could cause catastrophic bleeding and slow bleeds that led to anaemia, particularly in the elderly.

Director of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s melanoma service, Grant McArthur, said the study provided important information to stimulate further research into the effect of aspirin-like drugs on melanomas.

”Preventing exposure to UV radiation from the sun and solariums remains the best way to reduce the risk of melanoma. We will, however, be watching further studies of this kind with great interest,” he said.

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world. It is the third-most-common cancer in Australia, with more than 10,000 new cases and 1400 deaths each year.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Melbourne Heart coach John Aloisi looks set to swing the axe for Saturday night’s crucial match against Western Sydney Wanderers after he lamented his team’s lack of fight after its 2-0 home loss to Adelaide United at AAMI Park.
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”We haven’t won coming from behind this season. When things have been going well we are probably one of the best teams to watch at home. Tonight when we went a goal down the team’s head dropped too easily, so that was disappointing. It’s happened a lot this year.

”It’s everyone together. I take full responsibility, it’s why I made a couple of changes [off the bench] early, I thought it would lift the team,” he said. ”Normally when a team doesn’t win you will make changes. If the boys don’t perform I will put someone else in.”

With the bottom six teams on the ladder locked in a dogfight for the last two finals spots Heart remains a slim chance, but can ill afford any slip-ups. It entertains the league leader on Saturday and then finishes with away games in Brisbane and against Central Coast Mariners.

Aloisi rued his team’s inability to take advantage of its early momentum when it was twice denied by the brilliance of Adelaide goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic.

”Galekovic kept them in the game. We should have punished them, we had three great chances … they got the penalty and from there we struggled. They were better than us after that. They were finding little holes, Marcelo Carrusca and Dario Vidosic started getting on the ball … When you are playing at home you should be the one dominating possession and the attacking play.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

A goal in each half was enough to give Adelaide United its first away win in almost four months and see off Melbourne Heart 2-0 in front of a poor AAMI Park crowd of 5393 on Monday night.
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The 7.30pm kick-off on a public holiday for a team that struggles to attract big gates outside of the derbies against Melbourne Victory is something the FFA might want to reconsider – even if both sides had requested the fixture.

The win cements Adelaide’s place in the top four and the Reds are certain to now host a home final.

Heart, which hosts Premiers Plate-elect Western Sydney Wanderers on Saturday, now has a mountain to climb if it is to make the play-offs for the second season in succession.

That only one goal separated these sides at the interval was something of a surprise, given the open nature of the game.

That Heart had to be adventurous was a given. With Sydney and Perth both having won earlier in the round and Brisbane picking up a point, the red and whites had slumped to second-last on the table when this game began.

Still, such is the congestion in the lower half of the table with five of the six clubs scrambling for the final two spots in the play-offs, the home side also knew a win would lift it above Sydney and Newcastle into fifth position.

Heart coach John Aloisi raised plenty of eyebrows with his starting line-up. First-choice centre-back Patrick Gerhardt was left out, with Aloisi preferring to recall teenage centre-half David Vrankovic. Eli Babalj, a regular since his return from an unhappy six months in Serbia, was another to face the axe. He was relegated to the bench to make way for a fit-again Josip Tadic.

Skipper Fred was also left on the sidelines, with Nick Kalmar’s good form continuing to earn him a starting berth. But at least the Brazilian had a part to play. His South American compatriot, Jonathan Germano, usually in the heart of midfield, was not even in the match-day squad.

Aloisi may have had one eye on the fixture against the Wanderers, but he has always insisted he has full confidence in any of his players to do a job when required. And for much of the opening 45 minutes they did in a contest where both sides tried to take the game to their opponents.

The visitors almost broke the deadlock in the second minute from a terrific long-range strike by young striker Tomi Juric.

Kalmar has been in rare touch and weighed in with some important goals from midfield. Alas for him and Heart, his touch deserted him in this game, and he failed to convert three good opportunities in almost as many minutes before the quarter-hour mark.

The Reds struck the woodwork for the second time when Dario Vidosic’s drive hit the bar with goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne beaten. But it wasn’t long before the Socceroo midfielder put his side in front from what looked like a soft penalty after Jeremy Walker challenged Carrusco and was judged to have caught him high by referee Chris Beath.

The Reds were always going to be dangerous on the counter once they got their noses in front, and it was not a shock when they doubled the advantage in the 53rd minute after Iain Ramsay found himself in space in the penalty area and shot past Redmayne.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

IT has taken them a year to get there but the Newcastle Knights are at last looking like a Wayne Bennett-coached team.
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After a frustrating, anti-climactic 2012 campaign that started with a golden-point loss to St George Illawarra and ended with Newcastle a lowly 12th on the ladder, the Knights kicked off this season of redemption in emphatic fashion on Monday night.

The Wests Tigers, admittedly, were awful and there will be far tougher tests for Newcastle in the six months ahead – starting with Manly at Brookvale on Sunday.

But their 42-10 win at Hunter Stadium can only have reassured Bennett, his players, and the 21,935-strong crowd that the Knights are heading in the right direction and capable of doing some serious damage this year.

There were some nervous moments for the home team in the early exchanges.

After playmaker Jarrod Mullen skewed his first clearing kick of the year out on the full, the Tigers opened the scoring in the sixth minute when forward Adam Blair crashed through some flimsy defence.

For a few minutes, there was enough deja vu in the air for the Novocastrian faithful to lose their voice. But tries by wingers James McManus and Akuila Uate had Newcastle in front after 22 minutes and from that point the Tigers rarely threatened.

If the presence of strategically recruited enforcers Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith gave the Knights a menacing edge and sense of confidence, it was the survivors from last year’s annus horribilis who appeared to revel in a clean slate.

Uate celebrated the four-year deal he signed last week with a hat-trick, while McManus bagged a double, as did young centre Dane Gagai.

Fullback Darius Boyd was a class act from kick-off to full-time, troubling the Tigers every time he touched the ball and producing a bone-rattling try-saver on his opposite number, Tim Moltzen.

Mullen and skipper Kurt Gidley were generally creative and composed, no doubt enjoying directing traffic behind a dominant pack.

Up front, Willie Mason and Kade Snowden lumbered forward with power and intent, while workhorse Chris Houston toiled away in trademark style.

Hooker Travis Waddell, expecting to play the season with Souths Logan in the Queensland Cup, made the most of his opportunity in the absence of the injured Danny Buderus and Matt Hilder.

Bench players – Neville Costigan, Alex McKinnon, Robbie Rochow and Tyrone Roberts – all provided impact and spark when they entered the fray.

The positives for the Tigers, in contrast, were few and far between. Under debutant coach Mick Potter, the eternally enigmatic Wests were regarded in the pre-season as an unknown quantity.

Last year they finished 10th, a performance so disappointing it cost Tim Sheens his job.

On Mondaynight’s display, as Tigers skipper Robbie Farah admitted afterwards, ‘‘we need to turn things around quick or otherwise it’s going to be a long year for us’’.

The match was only round one of 24, and come the business end of the season will have been forgotten by most. Bennett, who has been involved in 26 season-openers since he launched the Brisbane Broncos in 1988, was not getting carried away.

When it was pointed out Newcastle were on top of the points table, he deadpanned: ‘‘Wow’’, with perhaps the hint of a smirk.

‘‘I know this much,’’ he said. ‘‘What starts off in March doesn’t really equate to what’s going to finish up in September.

‘‘I’ve seen teams go off on day one looking like how are you going to beat them and by the end of the season they haven’t even made the eight.

‘‘So there’s a lot out there in front of us yet, for all of us that may have had wins.’’

Maybe so, but they say you get only one chance to leave a first impression. Compared to last season, last night’s was a dramatic improvement.

TAKE THAT: Knights enforcer Beau Scott comes in for some attention from the Tigers players during their NRL opener last night. Picture: Peter Stoop

Ah, fatherhood. Such a rewarding experience – until you’re on national television, cooking for YOUR LIVES. Of course, it isn’t that extreme (despite what the TERNIGHT voice-over man would have us believe) but Mick and Matt, those wholesome Tasmanians are really under pressure tonight, from none other than the Cupcake Queen and her friend, Joanna.
Shanghai night field

Mick and Matt are “humble Tasmanians” but even this humble Tasmanian is not beyond stealing the quotes of criminals. Matt, commenting on the task ahead, says if their best is not good enough, they will be gone.

Mick’s response? “Such is life.”

Repetition by contestants and judges of the tasks ahead and the eventual outcome of the episode? Such is life.

Extra-long episodes padded out by meaningless waffle? Such is life.

Wailing from Jenna? Such is life.

Matt is the leader of team tonight – or so he thinks. Mick at first says he backs his son, saying it will be him on a plate. I hope not. Cannibalism is so three millennia ago.

Joanna begs Jenna to harden up for the sake of their future in the competition. Viewers beg the same; for Jenna’s ongoing wailing may cause hundreds of thousands of televisions to be thrown out windows in frustration. Just me, then?

Samuel whips out the trademark MKR motherhood statements about the need for the teams to hold their nerve, but it is just a secret plot to impress Ali. They’re not a couple. Or are they?

Mick and Matt now turn to conversation about not wanting to go home. Home. Such a terrible place, evidently. Everyone in this contest talks it down so much you would be forgiven for thinking they all lived in hovels and backwaters. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so tough. It must be desperately difficult to deal with Ashlee and Sophia every day for months on end.

Mick contracts early-onset dementia and forgets a couple of things. Matt is scared into submission by previous bad experiences of correcting his father. “Dad has a short fuse,” he explains. “I’m going to tread lightly and try not to rock the boat,” confusing his position in the kitchen for the bass-voiced Old Spice ambassador. I’m on a boat.

Luke, “from Bondi”, says he bonded with Jenna and Joanna during the instant restaurant rounds and is backing them. Apparently his idea of support is patronising comments. Jenna is waiting for an opportune time to hit him over the head with a saucepan.

Ashlee and Sophia are not impressed by the South Australian cupcake queens. They have done the best they can do, they say. There are no tricks left up their sleeve, they add, confusing the planned mango mousse and sago dessert for a set of scarves and a top hat.

Matt cooks the rice for his team’s main. Mick always cooks the rice at home – so what could go wrong? Surely nothing! Joanna delays cooking beef ribs, prompting Luke to issue instructions in his to-camera interview. Memo Luke: she can’t hear you!

Jenna finally deigns to help Joanna by making salad for the entree. Ashlee and Sophia are perplexed by Jenna and Joanna’s thinking about cooking the beef ribs. I’m perplexed by Ashlee and Sophia’s constant negativity. Oh wait, I’m not – it’s right out of central casting.

Mick piles the pressure on to Matt. There’s just nothing like paternal support. Matt has overcooked the rice, prompting Kerrie to gasp. She hasn’t seen a culinary sin this heinous since she ate at Jessie and Biswa’s instant restaurant.

The judges – nameless – arrive for tasting. One of them is Guy Grossi and the other is Karen Martini, but who knows who the other two are? Certainly not the casual viewer.

Mick and Matt’s chilli sauce is widely panned as being too sweet. Jenna and Joanna’s side salad is praised for its crunch. Yes, really. It’s a salad.

Cooks return to prepare the main. Mick feels the pressure of serving fish. “I’d never be able to show me face at home again if I can’t fillet and skin fish,” he says. Never fear, Mick, I’m sure Matt still loves you.

Jenna and Joanna – well, mainly Joanna; Jenna just wails at the issues with the beef ribs – fear the meat juices won’t thicken, and make an abortive attempt to cook bread. It doesn’t cook and it promptly dispatched to the bin. Joanna swears off bread for life. Coeliacs everywhere celebrate.

In another case of bad timing, the chick peas Jenna and Joanna planned to serve with their beef ribs are not cooked and won’t make a tasty puree. She contemplates serving them whole, which does sound appealing, doesn’t it. In the end, she has run out of time for the puree. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Matt is also having issues with pulses being cooked, although could someone please check the pulses of the viewers? The “action” is particularly lacking.

Joanna’s summation of the beef is succinct. “It’s shit.” Mick and Matt argue about whether the pan for the fish was oiled properly and about efficiency of serving. Mick tries to wrest control from Matt but the bloodless attempt at a coup is short and fails.

The judges decry Mick and Matt’s chalky lentils and inconsistent fish but are largely impressed by the beef ribs of Jenna and Joanna. Their cupcake rises.

In a move that seems too nice for this most bitchy of reality programs, Matt asks Jenna if she’s keeping it together as the teams move into dessert. “No,” she replies, “but that’s normal.”

The disasters continue into dessert, with Jenna’s illustrious plans for sago being a component of her mango mousse and Matt’s cream cheese topping consigned to the bin. Quelle dèsastre!

Matt reinvents his cheesecake with an Italian meringue topping but there’s no points or support from Dad. “Our ship’s sailed if we stuff this up,” says Mick. Gee, thanks!

The support continues as Matt pipes the meringue – Mick notices and shouts that it needs to be done neatly. As further punishment, Mick burns Matt with the blow torch as he toasts the meringues atop the cakes. Third degree burns won’t land you in court, Mick…

Jenna garnishes her mousse with dehydrated pineapple and toffee, but there is no cupcake, so this sudden death contest becomes exactly that, and Jenna is never seen again.

As the judges deliver their final marks, with Jenna and Joanna first to receive the news, Mick and Matt grow increasingly worried about their fate. Matt is considering moving out of home to avoid future burns to any other parts of his bodies. Mick considers evicting Matt anyway – he overcooked the cheesecake, and that’s just not on. Can’t a father get a decent dessert these days?

The blonde, unnamed judge forgets her manners when she tells Jenna that having the sago would make the dessert more playful. Don’t play with your food!

Jenna and Joanna score 42/60, with Mick and Matt winning just 31/60.

As the platitudes for Mick and Matt flow, Craig says he will miss them. “You don’t see honest people that often,” he says, which suggests he needs new friends, or to stop hanging around with Ashlee and Sophia.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.