Kurtley Beale and Peter Betham find schooldays fluency against Reds

NSW winger Peter Betham says playing with former high school teammate and born-again Waratah Kurtley Beale feels as natural as “backyard footy”.
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It looked that way on Saturday as well, when Betham and Beale combined to score the team’s third try in easy style in the 34th minute.

Betham, who played two years with Beale in the first XV at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, hovered just off his centre’s right shoulder, watched as Reds defenders zeroed in on Beale and then tore through the gaping whole that had opened up as a result.

“As soon as they saw KB go into the first receiver role, all eyes were on him, so it gives me the opportunity to sneak through,” Betham said. “Guys like Izzy [Folau] and KB get a lot of the attention; it’s when myself and [winger Alofa Alofa] and the other back-line players can actually capitalise on that, because they’re not guarding us.”

It is not quite as easy as the rangy winger makes it out to be, requiring a mountain of work off the ball to pop up when needed. “It comes with responsibility – we have to be on our game chasing the support lines and finishing off the little things, because it’s the blokes who are in the middle who basically get our tries on the board,” Betham said.

But the result is a pleasure to watch – the Waratahs have scored 10 tries in just two rounds – and appears to be bringing out the best in the back line. Betham said he was loving playing outside Beale and learning all over again to read the playmaker’s unpredictable moves.

“I’m used to some of his traits and some of his shimmies. It makes it a bonus knowing what he’s going to do and being in the right position to capitalise on what he does,” he said. “It just comes instinctively. Kurtley is an instinctive player so you just have to jump on board and grab the opportunity. It was like being back at Joeys, playing first XV rugby and not caring what the opposition is, just playing our own game, backyard footy.”

The numbers told the same story, with NSW making double the number of run metres than a static Reds side and more than three times the number of offloads and linebreaks.

There was more kicking than usual in the Waratahs’ performance, some of them better executed than others when NSW found themselves pinned inside their 22.

“Maybe in some positions we thought ‘we won’t let [Reds flanker Liam Gill] have a shot at us in this part of the field; we might put that one in behind’ . . . We’re still learning about whether we should be doing that or not,” Cheika said.

“But if you run hard and get in there and are physical at the rucks and give good ball placement to your halfback, we’ve got guys who can play. It’s a matter of getting that momentum.”

Folau’s second try, when the Waratahs kept the ball alive and moving over 75 metres through the hands of forwards and backs alike, was a classic example.

“That’s the game we’re trying to expose teams on and that’s our brand of rugby,” Betham said of that effort.

“We’re not going to shy away from how we play, whether it’s rain or sunshine.”

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Cheika plays hard to please

Everyone can see it but no one inside the Waratahs wants to say it.
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Wycliff Palu is different this year.

The NSW No. 8 is still imposing, built like the proverbial, with the same bulging eyes and appetite for contact he’s always possessed.

But so far this season he has been running around like a player half his age, tearing through defensive lines and busting up the mid-field with defenders scrambling to keep up.

As winger Peter Betham puts it – very quietly – ‘Cliffy’ is in “career-best form”. But try to get Michael Cheika to acknowledge the same and you run out of luck.

The NSW coach expresses only perfunctory satisfaction with his back-row veteran. That’s because he has come to see the Waratahs’ fortunes inextricably tied up in Palu’s.

“He’s a bit of a mirror for our team; consistency is key and every week we make sure the performances are tuned in for him,” Cheika said. “He’s doing well for us now and I’m sure if he keeps doing that we’re going to get advantages out of his play.”

Palu has been through enough hopeful pre-seasons and endured enough season-ending injuries to know to never count his chickens. With almost 10 Super rugby seasons under his belt, the 31-year-old takes each week as it comes, dismissing Betham’s statement of the bleeding obvious. “I think they say that every year at the start of the year,” Palu said. “We’ll just give it another couple of weeks.”

There is no denying, however, that the No. 8’s vintage form could be the foundation of a resurgent season at Moore Park. His performance alongside Michael Hooper and Stephen Hoiles and the rest of the NSW pack, was instrumental in setting up the Waratahs’ 32-5 demolition of Queensland on Saturday.

After two rounds and two bonus-point wins, the Waratahs are sitting pretty in the competition, yet Cheika is keeping the lid pressed down hard on early-season hype.

And while a passionate rendition of the Waratahs’ team song intruded awkwardly on the Reds’ post-match press conference on Saturday night, publicly NSW are playing it straight-faced.

“There’s going to be a lot of talk about the win but we need to stay level and understand that we’re just at the bottom of the mountain,” Cheika said.

“There’s two games gone, 14 to go . . . We don’t need anything else to sharpen our focus than to think back to round two or three last year when we got tonked by the Brumbies, and that game is coming up next.

“We just need to get ourselves ready to play that game and then one game at a time develop what’s lacked for us over many years, and that’s consistency.”

Palu credited a full pre-season with his form. After missing the Test season to have a knee operation last year, he spent the summer preparing for the start of Super Rugby.

“The last time I was in this shape was 2008-2009 and that was before the knee injury and all those consecutive injuries,” he said.

“You can say I had the time to work on a few things and get into the shape I was in back then.

“It’s been good, I’ve played five games in a row now [including trial matches] and that’s all I’ve got to keep doing. It doesn’t matter what level, whether it’s club rugby or whatever, I just have to keep playing.”

The old hands within the Waratahs will play an important role in keeping the team’s expectations in check as this season wears on.

The team has a bye this week before playing the Brumbies in Canberra on March 15.

“We’ve talked about that,” Palu said.

“We’ve won two games. In the past we probably enjoyed a bit too much our wins like this, so all the boys know what to expect. We’ll enjoy this win and come Monday, move on.”

The Waratahs escaped the derby without an injury. Fullback Israel Folau was taken off with 10 minutes to go, but with the score at 29-5 Cheika wanted to give Matt Carraro and Rob Horne some game time, he said.

Twitter: @geerob

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NSW Waratahs try to stay grounded on top

NSW Waratahs coach Michael Cheika says his side have not proven anything until they stand up to last year’s Super Rugby grand finalists the Brumbies.
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Despite a surge to the top of the ladder with back-to-back bonus-point wins to start the season, Cheika is adamant his side are still ‘‘at the bottom of the mountain’’.

The Waratahs have raised hopes and fallen short repeatedly over the years, but there’s reason to believe things can be different in 2014 with Israel Folau proving to be in unstoppable form.

NSW’s stocks rose dramatically with a 32-5 thumping of Queensland on Saturday night, the Waratahs’ biggest win over the Reds in Super Rugby.

Another small crowd might have greeted the Waratahs onto ANZ Stadium, but Cheika knows excitement and expectation will start to build around his team after they broke a five-match hoodoo against Australian heavyweights Queensland.

The Waratahs can enjoy the bye this weekend before they head to Canberra for another critical clash against the Brumbies, who bounced back from a first-up loss to score a 27-14 win over the Western Force on Saturday.

In the corresponding match last season, the Waratahs were given a hiding in Canberra.

Cheika is confident his troops won’t get ahead of themselves.

‘‘I don’t know if we’re frontrunners. We only just jumped out of the barriers,’’ he said.

‘‘What’s going to happen now is obviously there’s going to be a lot of talk about the win and everything like that. We just need to stay level and understand that we’re at the bottom of the mountain.

‘‘We don’t need anything else to sharpen our focus than think back to last year when we got tonked by the Brumbies.’’

NSW aren’t the only Australian franchise to make an eye-catching start – the Melbourne Rebels blew away Bloemfontein’s Cheetahs 35-14 on Friday at AAMI Park.

If the Rebels, under new coach Tony McGahan, can hand the Force a third straight defeat in Perth next week and score four tries in doing so, they will join the Waratahs at the top of the Australian conference.

Halfback Luke Burgess put his hand up for a Wallabies return with a sterling performance for the Rebels, but McGahan said his side’s biggest test was to come.

‘‘We need to get some consistency and string together back-to-back results like the other sides are,’’ McGahan said. ‘‘We’ve got to continue the hard work. We’ve dipped our toe in the water, but we’re going to face different strengths every week and we’re going to have to be able to adapt.’’

Queensland will look to pick up the pieces against the Cheetahs in Brisbane on Friday, and the Brumbies face a trip to Wellington to face the Hurricanes.

In good news for Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies side, it appears centre Pat McCabe could be on deck after he was cleared of a potentially serious neck injury suffered in Saturday’s win.

Wallabies star David Pocock has a chance to play after medical checks indicated that he didn’t have a serious knee problem.

The Force were also given good news when Hugh McMeniman was cleared of serious neck problems.

Defending premiers the Chiefs lead the New Zealand conference after beating the Dunedin-based Highlanders.

The South African conference, led by the Durban-based Sharks, evened out with victory to the Cape Town-based Stormers over the Hurricanes and the Pretoria-based Bulls over the Lions.AAP

DOUBLE: Israel Folau goes in for a try on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images

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Hawthorn stands behind Dayle Garlett

Hawthorn players are standing by teammate Dayle Garlett. Photo: Paul JeffersHawthorn’s players were doing what they could to help teammate Dayle Garlett as he battles with the demands of football and shelves plans to play AFL for the foreseeable future, full-forward Jarryd Roughead said.
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Garlett will not play for the VFL or AFL side indefinitely after confiding to coach Alastair Clarkson and football manager Chris Fagan that he was battling with the demands of the footballer’s life since moving from WA.

In a group text message to friends late last week he revealed his conflicted thoughts, saying he loved AFL but was homesick and uncertain if he could stick at the game, saying he did not think it was ”my thing” and that he was ”thinking about quitting football”.

Roughead said on Sunday at the club’s family day that the Hawks players had rallied around to support their teammate and ease his transition to AFL life.

Roughead said the fact Garlett had gone to the club with his concerns and, in consultation with the club’s welfare officer and psychologist, had come up with a plan was proof of his commitment and maturity. ”It shows how good a kid he is, the way that he’s been able to talk to not only ‘Clarko’ and ‘Fages’ but some of the boys as well,” Roughead said.

”He’s been able to open up and say that he’s struggling a little bit. But he’s come to a great place in Hawthorn and we’ll get around him, for sure.”

Roughead said the difficulty of the move from Perth to Melbourne for the 20-year-old should not be underestimated.

”It’s a pretty big move,” Roughead said. ”So all of us are getting round him and helping him as best as we can.”

While Garlett’s debut in Hawthorn’s forward line has been put on the backburner, Roughead is bullish about the reigning premiers’ ability to kick a winning score without dual premiership player Lance Franklin.

Hawthorn expects Ryan Schoenmakers, who is coming back from a knee reconstruction, to return ”in the next couple of weeks”.

”He looks like a Greek Adonis at the moment, the way he’s just running around and moving,” Roughead said.

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Penalty puts skids under runaway Jamie Whincup

Just when it looked like V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup was going to run away with the Adelaide 500, the dream start to his title defence turned into a nightmare after he figured in one of the many dramas of Sunday’s deciding race.
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Whincup failed to finish the final 250 kilometre leg after his comfortable lead at two-thirds distance was erased by a controversial pit lane drive through penalty that triggered his ultimate demise.

Fighting his was back from the penalty, which dropped him to eighth place, his Triple Eight Holden collided with Michael Caruso’s Nissan on the 63rd of 76 laps, snapping the steering.

Whincup’s pit stop penalty handed the lead to Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney, who held off Craig Lowndes in the other Triple Eight Commodore to claim the Adelaide 500 trophy.

Lowndes’ second place, on top of his second and a victory in Saturday’s pair of 125km races, added to Whincup’s indignity as it left him trailing his veteran teammate in the championship standings.

While the start of Whincup’s bid for an unprecedented sixth V8 title ended in rancour and recriminations, Lowndes left the brutal 3.2km Adelaide Parklands street circuit with the early points lead that most of his previous championship challenges have lacked – and on which they have often fallen short at the end of the season.

He amassed 282 points from the Adelaide 500’s three races, an advantage of 53 points over Whincup (199), who is back in fourth spot behind Fabian Coulthard (230) and Shane van Gisbergen, who were consistent scorers over the weekend.

Along with Whincup’s unexpected incidents, Sunday’s 250km slog was punctuated by big accidents that helped define the outcome, causing safety car periods that bunched the field and brought the likes of Courtney into play.

Will Davison, in his first event since his risky switch from Ford Performance Racing to Erebus Motorsport, crashed his Mercedes-Benz at the track’s infamous high-speed Turn 8.

After tangling with James Moffat’s Nissan Altima, Davison’s Merc was sent careering into the concrete safety barrier on the exit of the corner, losing its left front wheel and passenger front door.

But that crash was tame compared with the multiple rollover suffered by Jason Bright, whose Brad Jones Racing Commodore was tipped over in a first-turn scuffle during the restart following Davison’s accident.

Bright was pushed sideways into a kerb, which tripped his car up on its wheels, and it dug into the run-off area’s gravel and turned it on its roof.

The Holden slid across the track and slammed into a tyre barrier, sending it spiralling into the air along the safety fence before the wreckage slammed to earth upside-down.

Bright was uninjured in the spectacular crash despite just about every bit of the bodywork being crushed or torn.

Whincup avoided the carnage, and was sailing on serenely ahead of Courtney, who had battled through from 15th on the grid, until just after his second pit stop.

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$3.5m spent on Manus Island detention centre’s kitchen defended

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has defended paying $3.5 million to Toll Holdings for a tent kitchen at its Manus Island detention centre.
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A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the department ”closely adheres” to Commonwealth procurement guidelines that ”specify the need to obtain value for money for all expenditure of public funds”.

The department rented the tent kitchen from Toll when the centre re-opened in October 2012, then bought it outright a year later.

”The lease of the kitchen included mobilisation, installation, the kitchen structure, kitchen equipment, power generation, refrigeration, water storage and airconditioning,” the spokesman said. ”The purchase of the kitchen was deemed better value for money than the costs associated with demobilisation when the lease concluded.”

The department also defended increases in the amounts paid to contractors G4S and Transfield Services to run offshore detention centres. Transfield, which wrested the Manus contract from G4S last week, will be paid $1.22 billion to run the Manus and Nauru centres for 20 months. This equates to about $900 a day for each detainee.

”The value of the contract with Transfield reflects the cost based on current transferee numbers at Nauru and Manus OPCs [offshore processing centres] over the contract period,” the spokesman said.

”Following the change in policy in July 2013, and the expansion of necessary infrastructure, the two OPCs have been gradually increasing transferee numbers to the current levels. The lower costs to date reflect this gradual increase and that transferee numbers have not been constant.”

He said giving Transfield both contracts would ”ensure continuity, consistency and integration of service delivery across both OPCs as well as maximising efficiency and value for money”.

Transfield is to take full control of the Manus Island detention centre on March 28.

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Union hits naming of Dons over drug use

AFL Players Association chief executive Matt Finnis has slammed the Herald Sun’s call to name and shame Essendon players. Photo: Sebastian CostanzoThe AFL players’ union has bitterly condemned the identification of present and former Essendon players who are alleged to have admitted telling investigators they had been injected with peptides.
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AFL Players Association chief executive Matt Finnis said it was an abuse of the players’ trust in the system and the confidentiality they were guaranteed in the investigation for them to be identified.

Fourteen players were identified in the News Corp press on Sunday as having told the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority they had taken supplements that may have been banned and they consequently face suspensions.

It has long been known and accepted that a number of Essendon players had admitted to having been administered peptides that may have been banned – with possibly more than the 14 who were named being involved.

Essendon captain and Brownlow medallist Jobe Watson had previously admitted in a television interview that he had been told that he had taken the peptide AOD9604, which the World Anti-Doping Agency insists was a banned substance, but the AFL admits there was confusion about its status at the relevant time.

Finnis said all players had voluntarily co-operated with the investigation into the ”failures of workplace governance” and their trust in the process had been abused.

“The AFL Players Association condemns in the strongest possible terms the publishing of names and photos of current and former Essendon football players in today’s Herald Sun,” Finnis said.

“[It] calls on everyone to respect the process and integrity of the ASADA investigation – just as the players have done since this regrettable saga arose.

“For over 12 months, players have withstood enormous uncertainty, public scrutiny and speculation over their health, their careers, and their reputations. But for over 12 months, players have honestly, candidly and transparently co-operated with all authorities involved in multiple investigations.

“You would hope that by now, there might be some level of acknowledgment of the invidious position these young men have been placed in, which is higher than publishing names and photos of some of them in a major daily newspaper in a manner which only fuels further speculation and uncertainty.”

Despite the ”invidious position” and the sympathy for the players’ predicament, the doping code provides little scope for leniency were they to be charged and found guilty of taking banned substances, such as hexarelin or thymosin beta 4.

It is extremely unlikely any player could argue ”no fault or negligence” under the World Anti-Doping Code as that defence refers to cases such as an athlete being administered a drug when unconscious on the operating table.

The defence below that is when athletes satisfactorily claim there had been ”no significant fault or negligence”. They are entitled to a reduction but that discount ”may not be less than one-half of the period of ineligibility otherwise applicable”. For instance, a 12-month ban cannot be reduced to less than six months.

While there is confusion over the legality of AOD 9604, there is none over the status of thymosin beta 4. It is banned.

There are other thymosin variants that are legal but the AFL and ASADA investigation could find no source of legal thymosin being sourced by Essendon.

The AFL investigation has already concluded that 38 players admitted signing release forms for the administration of AOD9604 and weekly injections of thymosin.

Invoices discovered at Windy Hill also point to the purchase of hexarelin, a banned drug, which was found in an unlocked fridge in Stephen Dank’s office at the club.

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Melbourne Tigers coach Chris Anstey under pressure as club loses again

Melbourne Tigers’ finals place – and the future of coach Chris Anstey – is in doubt following their loss to bottom side Townsville Crocodiles on Saturday night.
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The Tigers dropped their fourth straight game in the 109-106 overtime loss in front of 6001 fans at Hisense Arena.

The Crocs snared the win despite having import Josh Pace out suspended and losing centre Bryan Conklin to a hamstring injury early in the third term. Veteran Steve Markovic (26 points, six assists) steered his side to victory.

Three Tigers fouled out and they shot poorly from the free throw line, with the Crocs shooting 35-of-40 free throws compared with the 21 of 31 from the Tigers.

Chris Goulding led the Tigers with 32 points while Mark Worthington added 28 points. Anstey gave his players a blistering dressing down after the match and barely held himself back in the press conference saying his players lacked effort, concentration and the will to follow his game plan.

Melbourne hasn’t made the finals since the 2008-2009 season and missing this season would put Anstey’s tenure into question.

The Tigers have four games left to seal a finals berth. An undermanned Wollongong Hawks, with just one import left due to injury, are one game behind them.

The Tigers have won their season series over the Hawks, which gives them the tie-breaker if both have the same record.

Anstey said his players lacked poise, had bad habits and couldn’t defend well.

”There are some things that are coachable and some things that are not,” Anstey said.

”We have to find an intestinal fortitude and find guys who will do anything to win. And I mean anything.

”I’m going to find a team that’s going to compete.”

Anstey also admitted to being too accommodating of his players’ egos in past weeks.

”There were too many breakdowns where what we wanted individually got in the way of what we wanted the group to achieve,” he said.

”I’m sick of caressing people’s egos to make sure they are happy and make sure they are OK because that hasn’t worked.”

The Tigers play in New Zealand on Friday night, then host Sydney Kings at Hisense Arena on Sunday.

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