Brilliant All Blacks reach new heights

The remarkable last-move-of-the-season try and subsequent conversion to beat Ireland made it 14 wins out of 14 – the first time a clean sweep has been achieved since the game turned professional in 1995.


Ridiculed after a journalist spotted a team room notice declaring “we are the most dominant team in the history of the world” ahead of their Twickenham match, dissenting voices are proving harder to find now.

Sean Fitzpatrick, whose team of the mid-1990s is often revered as his country’s best, considers the current crop to be deserving of the “best-ever” plaudits.

“They are better than 2012 and 2011 – they are becoming the pretty complete team,” he said.

The world champions beat France four times, Australia three and South Africa and Argentina twice, before completing the sweep with away wins over Japan, England and Ireland.

The pick of the bunch was their astonishing performance in Johannesburg in October, when they won a wonderful match 38-27 to win the rugby championship yet again.

Ellis Park had never been a happy hunting ground for the All Blacks, who had lost eight of the 11 games there, and they were facing a fired-up Springbok team who knew that a four-try victory could give them the title.

The hosts got their four tries, and were leading midway through the second half, when the effects of altitude were supposed to start working against the All Blacks.

Instead it was the visitors who found an extra gear to force their way back to rack up five tries, win the match, the championship and maintain their amazing streak.

They kept on winning and with only Ireland to face, a team they had never lost to in 108 years, the sweep looked certain to be achieved.

Yey even after fighting back from 17-0 and 22-7 down they still trailed by five as the clock clicked into the red zone.

Richie McCaw’s team refused to concede it was over, though, and launched one last attack, a sweeping movement across the field in both directions involving forwards and backs, full of attacking intent and self-belief that somehow got Ryan Crotty over in the corner.

The scores were level, the perfect year still tantalisingly out of reach, but even when Aaron Cruden sent his conversion wide the All Blacks found a way to win – Ireland had charged too early and Cruden made sure with his second chance.

“It comes down to belief,” said McCaw. “I’ve always been proud of All Blacks teams, you never give up and never stop believing there’s a chance. We had 15 guys out there still believing right to the last minute and it’s amazing what can happen.”

Steve Hansen, who took over from Graham Henry after the 2011 rugby World Cup, has won 26, lost one and drawn one of his 28 games in charge.


Another New Zealand coach will also look back on 2012 with huge pride but Warren Gatland’s glory came via Wales and the British and Irish Lions.

The Lions triumphed 2-1 in Australia for their first series win since beating South Africa 16 years ago and, as ever, the three contests held the rugby world spellbound.

After two nervy, scruffy tests left the teams level at 1-1 the Lions, controversially without dropped former captain Brian O’Driscoll, produced a magnificent performance to triumph 41-16 in the decider.

It was a hugely important win, not just for the players and supporters but for the whole Lions concept, as another series defeat would have again raised questions over its place in the modern game.

There were 10 Welshman in the third test starting XV, a fair reflection of their form months earlier when they won their second successive Six Nations title.

On that memorable Millennium Stadium night Wales handed grand-slam chasing England a record 30-3 humiliation.

Eight months later, as they slumped to a ninth successive defeat by Australia and 22nd from 23 against the southern hemisphere big three, things were a touch quieter in the pubs and clubs of Cardiff.

There was precious little November joy in any of the Six Nations cities as their teams lost 10 of 11 home fixtures against the southern hemisphere’s big three.

The exception was England’s deserved victory over Australia as Stuart Lancaster’s side bounced back well from that chastening Six Nations setback.


They chalked up a series victory in Argentina with an experimental team and had wins over Australia and the Pumas before ending their season with a narrow loss to the All Blacks.

England and New Zealand will meet again four more times next year, when England, hosts of the 2015 World Cup, will really be able to get an idea of how much progress they are making.

South Africa remain the clear second-ranked team and are adding real verve to their traditional power but it was Australia who ended a troubled 2013 on the most positive note.

Their Lions defeat led to the resignation of coach Robbie Deans while a series of disciplinary issues dogged the squad all year.

However, coach Ewen McKenzie’s decision to recall maverick flyhalf Quade Cooper has already borne fruit with some mesmerising back play on their autumn tour and they again look capable of beating anyone on their day.

In club rugby Toulon won the Heineken Cup, beating Clermont Auvergne 16-15 in an all-French Dublin final, but the future of Europe’s premier competition remains cloudy.

English and French plans for a breakaway competition seemed to have gained ground when the Welsh regions elected to join them but a French U-turn – possibly for one year only – looks as if the 2014-15 season, what should be the 20th of the Heineken Cup, will go ahead without any English clubs.

The Waikato Chiefs retained the Super Rugby title, beating Australia’s Brumbies in the final to give New Zealand the honours for the 12th time in 18 competitions.

The last word of the year went to the All Blacks as they swept the board at the IRB awards. Team of the year, coach of the year and, in the form of irrepressible number eight Keiran Read, player of the year.

The perfect end to, officially, the perfect year.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Nadal and Williams raise the bar sky high

Between them they won half of the grand slam singles titles on offer, triumphed at 21 tournaments in total, collected more than 150 match wins and $25 million (15 million pounds) in prizemoney.


Not bad considering both have battled back from potentially career-ending injuries.

Written off by some when his knee problems returned with a vengeance in June 2012, Nadal launched a comeback in Chile in February that was nothing short of extraordinary.

Playing like a man on a mission Nadal won 10 titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open, and reclaimed the world No.1 ranking for the first time in more than two years.

The Mallorcan was expected to dominate again on clay, which he did, culminating in an eighth Roland Garros title when he beat countryman David Ferrer. But he reached new heights on the hard courts that had proved his Achilles heel.

After beating arch-rival Novak Djokovic on his way to the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Nadal claimed the Cincinnati crown before taking New York by storm, winning the U.S. Open for the second time with victory over Djokovic.

The only blip in a season of 75 match wins and 14 finals from 17 tournaments was at a wildly unpredictable Wimbledon where he lost in round one to Belgium’s Steve Darcis.


Nadal’s defeat came in a first week that included Wipeout Wednesday, when seven-times champion Federer was spanked by 116th-ranked Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky and a host of top names pulled up lame, some blaming dangerous court conditions.

Through the carnage Murray rode like a knight in shining armour to finally deliver the men’s title for success-starved British fans after 77 years of waiting.

The Scot, reduced to tears by Federer the previous year after losing in the final, coped with the suffocating weight of expectation to beat Djokovic in straight sets on a sun-kissed Centre Court.

Djokovic did not do much wrong in 2013, beginning the year with a third consecutive Australian Open title and ending it on a 24-match winning streak including victory over Nadal in the ATP World Tour Finals.

It was the perfect response to Nadal snatching back the world No.1 ranking in October and keeping it into 2014.

“We make each other better players. We make each other work harder on our games, especially when we play against each other. It’s always a huge challenge,” Djokovic said of a rivalry that looks set to continue into 2014 and beyond.

With Murray having undergone back surgery and a fading Federer down at world No.6 having managed a solitary title, cracks are appearing in the so-called “Big Four” and Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych will be sensing some grand slam opportunities next year.

As for the next generation, Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, who scared Murray in the Wimbledon semi-finals, Bulgarian Grigor Dmitrov and Canada’s Milos Raonic will hope to make a move.


The women’s game is sadly lacking the same edge as Serena Williams appears to be playing tennis from a different planet.

Despite being the wrong side of 30 the American finished the year zooming away from her rivals and, providing she stays fit, it is hard to see who can halt her march towards Steffi Graf’s record 22 grand slam titles over the next couple of years.

She took 11 titles, won 78 matches and suffered only four defeats, claiming a record $12 million in prize money.

Winning the French Open and U.S. Open took her grand slam singles haul to 17, just one behind fellow Americans Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

The bad news for the chasers such as Belarussian Victoria Azarenka, who took advantage of Serena’s early Australian Open exit to retain her title, China’s Li Na and Russian Maria Sharapova is that Serena still wants to improve.

“I have some areas where I can do a lot better for next year and I look forward to it,” said the oldest women’s world No.1.

“There’s definitely a lot of things I can add to my game, a multitude of things. Overall I’ll remember the wins, but I also want to learn from my mistakes so I don’t repeat them.”

Williams lost in the Wimbledon fourth round to Sabine Lisicki who went on to reach the final where she froze against unorthodox Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli. Weeks after winning her first grand slam title Bartoli retired from the sport.

In team tennis the Czech Republic retained the Davis Cup, beating Serbia in Belgrade while Italy won the women’s Fed Cup.

With the International Tennis Federation tightening its anti-doping controls after concerns from the likes of Federer and Murray, two high-profile players fell foul of the system.

Croatia’s Marin Cilic served half of a nine-month ban for testing positive for a banned stimulant while Serbia’s Viktor Troicki is serving a 12-month ban for failing to give a blood sample at the Monte Carlo Masters.

When Djokovic won the Tour Finals in London he raised the newly-named Brad Drewett Trophy above his head – a fitting tribute to ATP president Brad Drewett who died this year.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Robert Woodward)

BHP to shed up to 200 jobs at Nickel mine

Mining giant BHP Billiton will shed up to 200 jobs after announcing it will suspend mining at its Nickel West Leinster Perseverance Underground mine due to safety concerns.


“The decision to cease operations in the sub-level cave at Perseverance mine will lead to a reduction in the operational workforce at Leinster and impact valued stakeholders,” BHP said in a statement.

A spokeswoman said 200 positions associated with underground operations at the West Australian mine would be affected.

The company would try to redeploy employees before announcing a total number of redundancies, she said.

The company said Nickel West would continue to operate its processing facilities at Leinster, which has an overall workforce of 500, along with its other operations in Western Australia.

It will continue to maintain the underground infrastructure in Perseverance mine.

In October nine fitters had to go to a refuge chamber within the company’s Perseverance mine after a 3.7 magnitude earthquake struck the northern goldfields region.

The fitters were all brought to the surface safely and no one was injured during the seismic event.

BHP said since the miners were trapped in the earthquake, Nickel West technical and operational teams and independent experts had assessed the technical data and risks on the underground operations and all available options.

“Following this analysis BHP Billiton has decided it is unable to safely resume operations in the sub-level cave at Perseverance mine,” BHP said in a statement.

The company will resume mining at Rocky’s Reward open cut mine near Leinster to provide an alternative ore supply to its business.

Nickel West Asset President Paul Harvey was understood to be speaking with employees on Tuesday.

In a statement he said the company would work closely with affected employees and help find redeployment opportunities within Nickel West and the BHP Billiton Group where possible.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our people is paramount,” he said.

“As this change is implemented, we will continue to treat our people and stakeholders with the utmost care and respect and maintain our strong focus on safety.”

BHP Billiton has begun work to understand the impact on production which will be reported in the company’s December 2013 quarter operational review.

Thai crisis: PM faces charges, clashes kill four

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said that if found guilty of the charges – which relate to a controversial rice subsidy scheme – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could be removed from office.


The announcement came hours after gunfire and explosions shook an area of the city’s historic district just a short walk away from major tourist attractions, as riot police moved to clear sites of protest rallies.


A policeman was shot dead and three civilians were killed, according to the Erawan Medical Centre. Nearly 60 other people were injured, including one foreigner.


The protesters have staged more than three months of mass street rallies demanding Yingluck’s resignation.


Police launched another operation to reclaim besieged government buildings and clear rally sites on Tuesday, tearing through razor wire and sandbag barricades near the capital’s Democracy Monument.

They met fierce resistance from protesters and were eventually forced to retreat amid gunfire. It was unclear who was shooting.


About 150 opposition demonstrators were arrested at a different rally site at an energy ministry complex in the capital on charges of violating a state of emergency – the first mass detentions during the current protests began.

Thailand has been periodically rocked by mass demonstrations staged by rival protest groups since a military coup in 2006 that ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother.


Yingluck’s opponents say she is a puppet for her brother Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician who fled overseas in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.


The protesters are demanding Yingluck hand power to a temporary, unelected government that would carry out reforms to tackle corruption and alleged misuse of public funds before new elections are held.


The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck had ignored warnings that the flagship rice policy was fostering corruption and causing financial losses. It summoned her to hear the charges on February 27.

Demonstrators have blocked major intersections in a self-styled shutdown of the capital, although attendance has dropped sharply compared with December and January.


Yingluck’s government held a general election on February 2 to try to ease tensions, but the opposition boycotted the vote, saying it would not end the long-running political crisis.

Top commander sent to Manus Island

Operation Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell is being sent to Manus Island to assess security measures at the detention centre following a deadly riot this week.


Lieutenant General Campbell arrives on Thursday morning and will report back to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison with any suggested security improvements.

Iran, Labor and the Australian Greens want answers over the death of a 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker during a fracas outside an Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island.

The man, an ethnic Faili Kurd, was among the first asylum seekers sent to PNG under former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd’s resettlement deal with the PNG government in July 2013, the Refugee Action Coalition says.

The man died after the Monday night riot, in which 76 other asylum seekers were also injured, with five requiring medical evacuations.

Australian ambassador to Iran Paul Foley on Tuesday spoke to Iran’s foreign ministry about the death. Consular director Seyyed Hossein Mirfakhar was reported to have expressed Iran’s “protest and discontent” about the “practice of violence and mistreatment” that led to the death.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said only that “Ambassador Foley met officials from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the death of an Iranian national”.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said it was a “bit rich” of Iran to criticise Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers considering its own human rights record.

PNG authorities are investigating the death.

After Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, demanded an independent inquiry into the violence, Mr Morrison confirmed someone from outside his department will investigate the incident.

“We need to understand why the Manus Island detention facility is melting down under Morrison’s watch,” Mr Marles told reporters in Canberra.

However, he said the PNG detention centre was the linchpin of Australia’s strategy of stopping asylum-seeker boats, and there was no need to stop transferring asylum seekers there.

Mr Morrison said the inquiry would be conducted along the same lines as those under the previous Labor government into fires and riots at Nauru detention centre, Villawood and Christmas Island.

Mr Morrison said the mood was calm and quiet at the detention centre overnight, but 51 security staff are enroute to Manus Island from Brisbane to help beef up protection at the facility.

Manus Island local MP Ron Knight said the actions of PNG police in the riots would be scrutinised.

“The mobile squad of Papua New Guinea is rated as the second-toughest police force in the world and they don’t play around,” he told ABC Radio.

“If it’s found the police acted in the wrong circumstances, police will be charged.”

Mr Morrison confirmed the mobile squad were present on Monday night.

“They were never to my knowledge in the camp,” he said.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the Iranian man’s death was a murder, not a tragic incident as Mr Morrison had described it.

He accused Mr Morrison of being selective in describing the injuries of asylum seekers. He said Mr Morrison did not reveal that one Iranian asylum seeker airlifted to Port Moresby had his throat slit during the riots.

Principal lied about abuse case: Church

The Catholic Church has accused a former principal of lying under oath about a child sex abuse scandal at his primary school.


Terence Hayes has admitted he didn’t tell police, superiors or parents the full truth about allegations against pedophile teacher Gerard Byrnes in 2007 and 2008.

But Mr Hayes also admitted to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday that he knew at the time he had an obligation to tell police.

He was first told of serious sexual abuse allegations against Byrnes in September 2007, but kept them secret from parents and police until the teacher was arrested in November 2008.

Mr Hayes himself was tried in 2009 for failing to pass on the allegations to police.

He was found not guilty after proving he understood his instructions were to report sex abuse claims only to superiors at the Catholic Education Office.

However, under a savage and unrelenting cross-examination by Jane Needham for the Church, Mr Hayes admitted on Wednesday he had been told by superiors that he was obligated to report any child sex abuse claims to police.

Ms Needham asked Mr Hayes if he understood that those two positions were fundamentally inconsistent.

“Yes,” he replied.

Ms Needham then put to the former principal that he lied during his 2009 trial and then made up stories to pass on blame and get himself out of trouble at the Royal Commission.

“I deny that,” Mr Hayes said.

Ms Needham said: “I put to you that you are quite prepared to make things up to suit whatever situation you find yourself in”.

“I categorically deny that,” he replied.

But it is understood that counsel assisting could refer Mr Hayes, who still works as a Catholic school teacher, to the Department of Public Prosecutions over his inconsistent evidence.

Mr Hayes agreed his failure to report Byrnes, even though he thought he was a risk to students, amounted to gross incompetence.

For the first time during the hearing an emotional Mr Hayes also expressed remorse about what had happened under his watch.

“I knew every child in my school. I knew 90 per cent of the parents by first name and so that catastrophic situation that happened, all that happened in the last six years has been central to me, but I’ve never forgotten where the real pain lies.”

A short time later Commissioner Jennifer Coate excused Mr Hayes, before his superior Christopher Fry took the stand briefly.

The hearing continues on Thursday.

Fugitive Venezuelan opposition leader turns himself in

 Lopez, blamed by President Nicolas Maduro for violent clashes that left three people dead last week, appeared at an anti-government rally in eastern Caracas and quickly surrendered to the National Guard after delivering a brief speech.



He was escorted to a National Guard vehicle amid a tumult among his followers and the media.


Lopez dropped out of public view after Maduro ordered his arrest on charges of homicide and inciting violence, but in a video message on Sunday, he invited his followers to join him in a march Tuesday at which he would turn himself in.

The Maduro government is grappling with angry student protests orchestrated by Lopez that began in the interior of the oil-rich country and boiled over last week in street clashes in Caracas that left three dead.

It’s believed the violence flared when students at a university in the western state of Tachira staged a demonstration against rampant crime after a student was raped.


Maduro’s regime has issued a warrant for his arrest, but Lopez — who has been underground for the past several days — emerged, undaunted, at Tuesday’s demonstration to cheers of protesters.


Lopez issued a statement on Sunday, all but encouraging authorities to apprehend him at the demonstration.


“I have nothing to fear,” he said. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” he wrote, taunting the government on Twitter.


“If there is some decision to illegally jail me, I will be there to assume that persecution,” he said.


His staunch opposition to the government dates back to the regime of late firebrand president Hugo Chavez, who in 2011 barred him from holding political office for three years.


His party, Voluntad Popular or People’s Will party, has been front and center in leading the demonstrations that have roiled this oil-rich nation, which has been deeply divided in the aftermath of Chavez’s death and the unsteady stewardship of the economy by Maduro.


The demonstrations have sprung up amid growing public discontent over rising crime and a worsening economy, despite having the world’s biggest proven oil reserves.

Lopez and two other opposition leaders — deputy Maria Corina Machado and the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma — advocate using street protests to force Maduro from office.


The strategy, which they dub “the exit,” is controversial even within the opposition.


Park’s World Cup hopes improve after recall for friendly

He recently joined Championship (second tier) side Watford on loan until the end of the season, boosting his chances of more playing opportunities.


Hong had left the former South Korea captain, who played at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, out of his squad for previous warmup matches for this year’s finals and said this might be his “last chance” to see Park before naming his squad for Brazil.

“I agonised over this decision,” Hong told reporters on Wednesday. “I spoke to him on the phone a few times.

“Though he’s not playing at the moment, I figured he is still in decent form, and it wouldn’t be a problem to have him on our time.”

South Korea, who will be making their eighth consecutive appearance at the World Cup finals in Brazil, lost their recent friendly matches to Mexico and the United States and will play Greece in Athens on March 5.

The Koreans have been drawn in Group H in Brazil, alongside Belgium, Russia and Algeria at the June 12-July 13 tournament.

Squad: Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Jin-hyeon (Cerezo Osaka), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Hyundai), Kwak Tae-hwi (Al Hilal), Hong Jeong-ho (Augusburg), Hwang Seok-ho (Hirosima Sanfrecce), Cha Du-ri (FC Seoul), Kim Jin-soo (Albirex Niigata), Lee Yong (Ulsan Hyundai), Park Joo-ho (FSV Mainz 05), Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), HA Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Koo Ja-cheol (FSV Mainz 05), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton), Ki Sung-yueng (Sunderland), Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Park Jong-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Han Kook-young (Shonan Bellmare), Ji Dong-won (Augusburg), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Watford), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Hyundai)

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien)

Echidna, wallabies among seized animals

Wildlife officers say they have seized almost 100 exotic animals and birds, including cockatoos, echidnas and wallabies, that had been smuggled into the Philippines for sale to wealthy collectors.


The cache, hidden in small containers in a van, was made up of wildlife from Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, said Eric Gallego, spokesman for the local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

They included yellow-crested cockatoos and long-beaked echidnas, two species listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

They also included four wallabies from Australia and about 90 exotic parrots from Indonesia, said Gallego.

Several of the birds or animals had died, possibly from the stress of long travel in harsh conditions, he said.

Law enforcers acting on a tip stopped a van with the wildlife and two attendants in the southern city of Surigao on Mindanao island on Saturday, just as the vehicle was about to board a ship heading north.

The birds and animals are believed to have been shipped from Indonesia to Malaysia and then across the maritime border to the southern Philippines where they would be taken to Manila, said Gallego.

“There must have been an order from a rich person in Manila for the animals as collector’s items. It must be someone who is into rare animals,” he told AFP.

The head of the government’s wildlife division Josefina de Leon said a crime syndicate with members from different countries was known to be smuggling rare animals from Malaysia into the southern Philippines.

Two men caught with the van will be charged with illegally transporting wildlife, a crime punishable up to six months in jail and a 50,000-peso ($A1,245) fine depending on the rarity of the animals involved.

Boat trespass won’t happen again: Morrison

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is confident there won’t be a repeat of Australian border-protection vessels entering Indonesian waters.


A Defence and Customs review has found Australian ships inadvertently entered Indonesian territory six times in December and January.

“On each occasion the incursion was inadvertent, in that each arose from incorrect calculation of the boundaries of Indonesian waters, rather than as a deliberate action or navigational error,” the review says.

Mr Morrison described the breaches as accidents.

“It’s very clear from the government’s policies and operational instructions that operations were to be done only where it was safe to do so and they were not to incur on Indonesian sovereign territory within 12 nautical miles of the archipelagical (sic) baseline,” Mr Morrison told Macquarie Radio.

“It was an accident.”

He said measures were in place to ensure there were no repeat incidents.

The minister confirmed formal apologies to Indonesia took place weeks ago.

The joint review examines all patrols by navy and customs vessels on Operation Sovereign Borders between December 1 and January 20.

Customs has released only the executive summary of the review, which does not disclose what the Australian vessels were doing when they entered Indonesian waters, or how far they intruded.

There had been speculation they might have been towing back asylum seeker boats.

A range of policies and procedures will now be reassessed, and the chiefs of the navy and customs will consider if there were any lapses in professional conduct.

Training for Australian crews involved in Operation Sovereign Borders will be amended to emphasise staying outside Indonesian waters.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, called for the full report to be released.

“Serious implications remain in terms of our relations with Indonesia,” he told AAP.

“The statement released today highlights a systemic problem arising out of this government’s border-protection policy.”

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young indicated she would demand the full report be tabled in the Senate.

Question mark over Myles at Titans

The injury cloud over X factors Albert Kelly and David Taylor has cleared, but Gold Coast coach John Cartwright admits co-captain Nate Myles might not be so lucky.


Cartwright gave the green light to exciting half Kelly (foot, rib) and blockbusting forward Taylor (corked knee) for their final NRL trial against the North Queensland at Toowoomba on Saturday night, despite the pair missing Wednesday’s training session.

It’s a shot in the arm for the Titans before their NRL season opener away to the Sharks on March 10.

However, the jury is out on whether Myles (groin) will take his place in the first round after Cartwright appeared uncertain about the inspirational forward’s availability.

Initially, the Titans had hinted only players named in their final trial squad would be considered for their NRL opener against Cronulla.

But Cartwright is keeping the door open for workaholic Myles.

“We will have to give him another week leading into the Sharks game,” he said.

“If he is not 100 per cent, we are not going to push him. He has another long season ahead of of him.”

Cartwright also put a line through the name of enforcer Ryan James (shoulder) for the weekend trial.

“It’s more precautionary,” he said. “We don’t want him going into the season with a niggle. We will consider using him in the Queensland Cup (before the NRL opener).”

Five-eighth Aidan Sezer (hamstring) has been cleared, while rookie recruit Paul Carter appears to have first crack at hooker.

Titans trial team: Will Zillman, David Mead, Maurice Blair, Brad Tighe, Kevin Gordon, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly, Luke Bailey, Paul Carter, Luke Douglas, Greg Bird (capt), Ben Ridge, Ashley Harrison. Interchange: Dave Taylor, Matt White, Mark Minichiello, Sam Irwin, Mark Ioane, Anthony Don, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa, Siuatonga Likiliki, Jamie Dowling, Brad Takairangi, Matt Beddow.

Watson will only return as allrounder

Shane Watson will only return to the Test side if he’s fit enough to bowl, according to Michael Clarke.


Watson is approaching a level of fitness where he could play as a specialist batsman, but Clarke suggested that would not happen on the three-Test tour of South Africa.

“The information I have from the selectors is if he’s not bowling, he’ll be unavailable for selection,” Clarke said of Watson, who is recovering from a calf injury.

As such it is unlikely national selectors will have to make a tough decision on how to fit Watson in their XI until at least March 1, when the third Test starts in Cape Town.

When news broke of Watson’s calf issue 10 days ago, team physio Alex Kountouris suggested the plan was for the allrounder to “be able to train unrestricted by two or three days’ out (from a Test)”.

Watson batted in the nets on Tuesday, but instead of taking part in the main fielding session he completed some short shuttle runs at limited pace under the watchful eye of team doctor Peter Brukner.

There is no obvious candidate to be dropped for Watson, but Clarke was keen to have the allrounder back in the side as soon as possible.

“It’s a good problem to have, Any time you’ve got a class all-rounder available you’ve got to try and find some room,” he said.

“He’s a huge player for us, so the sooner we can have Watto back I think the better for this team.”

In the absence of Watson, Clarke is likely to again throw the ball to part-time medium pacer David Warner.

Warner, who is now charging in off his long run-up instead of sending down leg-breaks at training, finished with figures of 0-3 from two overs in the first Test.

“It’s been good fun working with him, he’s actually a pretty good student,” paceman Peter Siddle said of the dynamic Australia opener.

“He’s been in the nets working on his little off-cutters and leg-cutters.

“They’re coming out alright.”

Young Bomber to miss AFL season

Two young Essendon players have personified the best and worst of life in the AFL.


The Bombers announced a two-year contract extension on Wednesday for forward Nick Kommer, only hours after confirming utility Alex Browne will not play again in 2014 because of a knee reconstruction.

Browne, 21, has played eight games in three seasons, including no senior matches through an injury-interrupted 2013.

Browne ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament during Monday night’s pre-season game against the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium.

“Alex was very unlucky,” club doctor Bruce Reid said on Essendon’s website.

“His leg got caught under his body on the field and as a result he has torn his cruciate and medial ligament.

“Unfortunately, he does need a full, traditional reconstruction.”

Essendon coach Mark Thompson said Browne had been enjoying his best pre-season campaign.

“While it’s a long road to recovery for players who require reconstructions, we have no doubt that Alex will come back stronger,” Thompson said.

Ruckman Tom Bellchambers (ankle) is also on the sidelines, and is expected to miss the first month of the season.

Meanwhile, Kommer has signed a two-year extension that ties him to the Bombers until the end of the 2016 season.

The 23-year-old made his senior debut in 2013 and played 19 games after being drafted from East Perth as a mature-age recruit.

“We have a pretty strong midfield, so I will keep working up forward and try to have more of an impact on the scoreboard, but hopefully I can push through there over time,” Kommer said.

Thompson said Kommer was rewarded for his outstanding debut.

“To play 19 games in his debut season is a credit to the way he attacks his football and he has become an important part of our forward line structure,” he said.

“Nick knows he has a lot to build on, but he has shown glimpses of his potential and we’re really excited about his future.”