Benji starts bright in new code

Benji Marshall has made an encouraging start to his Super Rugby career, getting through 40 minutes for the Blues in his first game of rugby union in more than a decade.
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The former West Tigers and Kiwis rugby league star played the opening two quarters at five-eighth in the Blues’ 38-35 pre-season loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday in Masterton.There was no sign of nerves from Marshall, who distributed the ball well, made the odd run at the line and took on the responsibility of re-starts and kicking for touch.Marshall tried his trademark sidestep once – and met the considerable force of Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea – but mostly, he was content sticking to basics and getting a feel for his new position.

‘‘I didn’t set the game on fire but, in terms of trying to get control and feel for playing 10, everything I wanted to get I got out of it,’’ said a happy Marshall.‘‘It wasn’t about being the best player on the field. It was just trying to get through what we practised and get a feel for the game.’’

Marshall didn’t shy away in defence, although he failed to hold on to Tim Bateman in the build-up to the Hurricanes’ third try. He even opted to get stuck into a couple of rucks, with mixed results.

Blues coach John Kirwan was pleased with Marshall’s first hitout and ruled out a switch to fullback.

‘‘I think (first-five) is his position,’’ said Kirwan. ‘‘He certainly put his hand up today so we’ll put him out there again next week and we’ll just keep working on him. It was a good start.’’

The match, in front of a sold-out crowd of 6000, was an entertaining one, which produced 11 tries – six for the Hurricanes and five for the Blues.

The Blues recovered from a 19-0 deficit to lead 21-19 at halftime, and 35-24 at three-quarter time, but more direct running from the Hurricanes in the final spell produced the rewards and lock James Broadhurst scored the winning try with eight minutes to go.

AAP

Fatal crash closes Sturt Highway near Hay

SUNDAY 12.30pm:THE condition of a female involved in yesterday’s horror crash near Hay is improving.
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Initial reports indicated the passenger was taken to Hay Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

She has since been transferred to Griffith Base Hospital, where a spokeswoman said she remained in a stable condition.

Police are yet to provide any further information aboutthe crash and the ages of all involved remain unknown.

The Sturt Highway reopened shortly before 1am this morning.

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The scene of a fatal crash between a car and truck on the Sturt Highway east of Hay. The accident, which occurred shortly before 5pm on Saturday forced the closure of the highway. Picture: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

The crash scene near Hay. Pic: Daisy Huntly

SATURDAY 9pm:A FEMALE is deadand another is fighting for their life after a car and truck collided near Hay this afternoon.

Emergency services were called to the crash on the Sturt Highway, about 10km east of Hay, just before 5pm.

A female passenger of the sedan died at the scene.

Another female passenger was taken to Hay Hospital with life-threatening injuries, while the male driver suffered minor injuries.

Their ages are not yet known.

The truck driver was not injured but taken to hospital to undergo mandatory blood and urine testing.

Police from Deniliquin Local Area Command have launched an investigation into the crash and are appealing for any witnesses to come forward.

The highway is still closed in both directions.

SATURDAY 5.30pm:The Sturt Highway is closed in both directions 10km east of Hay due to a serious car and truck accident.

Westbound motorists can detour via Murrumbidgee River Road, then take the Mid Western Highway to Hay to then rejoin the Sturt Highway.

Eastbound motorists are advised to use the Mid Western Highway to Goolgowi, then take the Kidman Way to Griffith to then rejoin the Sturt Highway.

Emergency services are on site working to clear the accident and reopen the highway.

There is no forecast at this stage as to when the highway will be reopened.

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Who is the Labor candidate, asks Jay Weatherill

IN an embarrassing moment for embattledSouth Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, the Labor leader admitted while in in Crystal Brook on Saturdayhedidn’t know who the local Labor candidate was for theMarch 15 state election.
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The seat, seen as crucial for Labor to retain office, is to becontested by candidate Marcus Connelly, the nephew of a late former Speaker inthe Don Dunstan era.

MrWeatherillwas visiting a command station for the Country FireService atCrystal Brook,near Port Pirie, when hewasasked by Fairfax Media aboutMrConnelly’s absence.

He replied: “Who isMarcus Connelly?”

After being told he was the local candidate MrWeatherillcontinuedthat hewas on a “flying visit so we’re justpopping in here”.

He praised the dedication and skill of firefighters involvedin the marathon Bangor blaze then inspected the incident control room.

When he emerged the said to the Premierhe was surprised he didn’tknow who the candidate was. MrWeatherillsmiled and said “yes”.

He said Mr Connelly was probably not available and reiterated thathe was “just coming through this big area”.

Later, talking to another reporter, MrWeatherillmentioned that theLabor Party was seeking to promote “our Labor Partycandidate” but did not mention Mr Connelly by name.

Earlier, when contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Connelly said he wasunaware of the Premier’s visit.

This incident comes barely 24 hours after Mr Weatherill said he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to present a unified government ahead of the March 15 state election.

The newly-created ‘faceless man’ in Port Pirie politics, Marcus Connelly said he was ‘disappointed’ that the Premier had not known who he was.

“I can understand that he is extremely busy and that there are a lot of new candidates, but that is disappointing,” he said.

“He has probably only met me once.

“Coming through my region, he should have some idea who the Labor candidate is.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

“I had a phone call about it later in the day. To be fair to them, there was a courtesy phone call.”

Labor candidate Marcus Connelly

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Winter Olympics: The superstars of Sochi 2014

Shaun White (USA)  Snowboarding
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If the X-Games are viewed as the great threat to the Winter Olympics by the International Olympic Committee, then Shaun White has proved to be the perfect bridge between the clash of the two cultures — the non-conformism of the freestyle sports versus the conservative European values of the IOC.

White is a different beast to the 19-year-old  that burst on the scene in the halfpipe at the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006.

Gone are the long red locks that earned White the nickname the Flying Tomato. Gone is the goofy teen who asked figure skating star Sasha Cohen out on a date on American TV. Still ever-present though is the hunger for success.

White is not just a two-time Olympic snowboard champion. He is now a businessman with estimated earnings of up to $20 million a year, a champion skateboarder and burgeoning rock star with his band Bad Things.

No expense is spared in his quest for success. Before the Vancouver Olympics, his sponsor Red Bull built White his own halfpipe in Colorado that could only be accessed by helicopter. They have done the same before Sochi, this time at Perisher in the Snowy Mountains.

Stephen SamuelsonMikaela Shiffrin (USA)  Alpine skiing

With a knee injury ruling Lindsey Vonn out of the US squad, the golden girl hopes have fallen on the shoulders of an 18-year-old from New Hampshire and Colorado who just finished high school in December.

Not that slalom specialist Mikaela Shiffrin is feeling the pressure. She was on the World Cup circuit when she was 15 and by 17 was a world champion. She was recently named alongside NFL quarterback Peyton Manning as Colorado’s Athlete of the Year.

Her domination of the slalom circuit has earned her the tag as the Mozart of alpine skiing. It’s not just that she is a child prodigy, it is the technical expertise she displays, making the most treacherous course seem like an effortless ski down the slopes.

When she won the opening World Cup slalom race this season in Levi, Finland, Shiffrin was given a special prize: a reindeer, which she named Rudolph.

Stephen SamuelsonViktor Ahn (Russia)  Speed skating

It’s a match made in heaven. Russia has never won a short-track speed skating medal, Ahn Hyun-soo won four at one Olympics, including three gold medals.

Ahn should be well known to Australian audiences. When he was 16 at Salt Lake City, he was part of the crash that cleared the path for Steven Bradbury’s stunning gold medal in the 1000m. Four years later, in Turin, he dominated for South Korea, with four medals.

Two years ago, embittered by his omission from the Vancouver Olympics, the Seoul-born champion changed his first name to Viktor and declared his allegiance to Russia where he now trains full-time near Moscow. For Ahn, adopting the name Viktor was more than just a simple case of Russification, it was a statement of intent.

The four-time world champion heads into Sochi on the back of winning five titles at the European Championships in January, leaving one competitor, Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands, so incensed that he flipped him the bird as he crossed the finish line.

Stephen SamuelsonPetter Northug (Norway) Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is the Winter Olympics’ most traditional sport and Petter Northug is its least conventional star. Northug, who is a top cross-country skier has rock star status in Norway, and lives up to the hype.

He has a reputation as a bad winner and sore loser. But with four Olympic medals — including two gold — and a record-equalling nine world championship titles,   Northug can walk the walk.

And, he is versatile. At the Vancouver Olympics he finished third in the sport’s shortest event, the sprint, but managed to win gold in its longest, the blue ribbon 50km race. But its Northug’s style that sets him apart. The Norwegian is a champagne-class stirrer, particularly of cross-border rivals Sweden.

At the 2011 World Championships, Northug anchored Norway to a gold-medal performance in the relay but not before mocking the Swedes in the home straight and slowing down to tease his rivals near the finish line.

His antics led one Swedish commentator to say that Northug ”is a wolf in the ski tracks and a pig at the finish line”. ”If they [Swedes] get sour, that’s just a double victory for me,” Northug said after the event.

Stephen SamuelsonKim Yu-na (South Korea) Figure skating

The spotlight shines no brighter at the Winter Olympics than on the sport of figure skating, and Kim Yu-na is its brightest star. The Ice Queen from South Korea has never missed a podium place at any championship she entered, culminating in record scores and a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

That victory gave Kim unprecedented fame and fortune for a female athlete in South Korea.

Forbes magazine ranked her in the top 10 highest-paid female  sport stars in the world. An instantly recognisable celebrity at home and abroad, Kim became an endorsement magnet, promoting major brands such as Hyundai, Nike, Samsung and Kookmin Bank (which reportedly paid her $US1 million for her world-record score in Vancouver). She even recorded a song with pop star Lee Seung-gi for South Korea’s FIFA World Cup campaign in 2010.

Kim enters the Sochi Olympics as the reigning world champion in figure skating, and should she succeed in winning gold she will be the first back-to-back ladies’  singles champion in the event since Katerina Witt of East Germany in 1984 and 1988.

South Korea has won 45 medals at the Winter Olympics, and 44 of them have been   for speed skating (both short and long track). Kim is the exception, as she so often is.

Stephen SamuelsonAlex Ovechkin (Russia) – Ice hockey

As the best player in the host nation’s most popular team, Alex Ovechkin could be the face of the Sochi Games.

Fame and fortune have come easily to the Russian. He is engaged to tennis star Maria Kirilenko and is one of the top five paid players in the National Hockey League where he is the skipper of the Washington Capitals. But despite being consistently one of the league’s leading scorers, Ovechkin is yet to win the Stanley Cup, with the Caps crashing out in the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. His Olympic record is bleaker, with a fourth and sixth place finish at the past two Games.

The Soviet Union won seven out of nine Olympic tournaments from 1960 to 1992 but since its break-up Russia is yet to win one.

The pressure will be on Ovechkin to match Sidney Crosby’s efforts in Vancouver four years ago where the host nation won the gold medal.

If he does, he will match his mother Tatyana Ovechkina who won a gold medal at a home Olympics in basketball at the Moscow 1980 Games.

Stephen SamuelsonFelix Loch (Germany)  Luge

It was no surprise when Felix Loch won the gold medal in the men’s luge in Vancouver in 2010. After all, every champion in the Olympic history of the event had been German speakers. Even the two Italian winners, Armin Zoggeler and Paul Hildgartner, came from  towns near the Austrian border where sprechen Deutsch was more often heard than parla Italiano. What separated Loch from his predecessors was his age. He was just 20, the youngest Olympic champion in luge —  a crowning glory to go with his world championship win as an 18-year-old.

In between both events, Loch produced the fastest speed recorded on a luge track when he rocketed down the Whistler course at 153.9 km/h during an Olympic test event in 2009.

In a sport renowned for the longevity of its champions, it was a phenomenal beginning. He has now won four world titles, and with the introduction of the luge relay, Loch could leave Sochi with another two Olympic gold medals.

Stephen SamuelsonIreen Wust (Netherlands)  Speed skating

Speed skating may have lost some of its Olympic lustre to its brasher short-track cousin, but not in The Netherlands. They treat short-track with the sort of sneer Test cricket watchers give the Twenty20 game.

Since 1928, the Dutch have won 86 medals at the Winter Olympics, and 82 of them have been in the speed skating oval. And like Australia’s passion for the 1500m freestyle, it’s the longer events that capture the hearts of the Dutch.

Ireen Wust burst on the scene at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, where she became the  youngest Dutch Winter Olympics champion in the 3000m. She followed that up with victory in the 1500m at the Vancouver Games. Since then Wust has won three all-round world titles and she could take up to four gold medals in Sochi.

Stephen SamuelsonEmil Svendsen (Norway)  Biathlon

Biathlon is a discipline that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The origins of the sport date back to the late 18th century and it has been part of the Olympic program since 1960, with women’s biathlon part of the program since the 1992 Games in Albertville.

Modern Olympic biathlon comprises five events for men and five for women — individual race, sprint, pursuit, mass start race, and relay, and there is also a mixed relay. In each event, athletes ski a number of loops, which vary in distance and are interspersed with shooting at targets, alternating between a prone and standing position. Time or penalty loops are added for missed shots, and the athlete with the fastest time is the winner.

The event has traditionally been dominated by Europeans, with Magdalena Neuner of Germany and Norwegian Ole Einar Bjorndalen widely considered the sport’s greatest. After winning two gold medals and a silver at the 2010 Vancouver Games, along with a number of world championships, Norway’s Emil Svendsen is considered one of the front-runners in both the individual and relay biathlon events in Sochi.

Alex NicholsonSara Takanashi (Japan)  Ski jump

Men’s ski jumping is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Olympics and has been a feature since the inaugural 1924 Games, but the women will make their debut in Sochi. What better way to start the event than with a 17-year-old superstar leading the way.

Japan’s Sara Takanashi is the red-hot favourite to claim gold. Takanashi has won seven of the eight World Cup events this season, well clear of  Germany’s Carina Vogt. The concept for this sport is a simple one — jump as far as possible while maintaining form. Athletes ski down a steep ramp and jump until reaching a landing zone, with the skiers attempting to land smoothly and within the critical (or construction) point, or even exceed it, in order to get the highest number of points.

While distance is the main component when the judges award points, other considerations include length of in-run attempt, steadiness of the skis mid-flight, body balance, smoothness of landing, and wind condition. Despite a string of public scandals, a failed pop career and run-ins with the law, Matti Nykanen of Finland is the undisputed king of ski jumping, having won four Olympic gold medals, including three at the 1988 Calgary Games.

Alex Nicholson

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Jubilee Oval lobbies to host Thunder

Jubilee Oval, the Sydney home ground of the St George Illawarra NRL team, is believed to be among several stadiums keen to host the Sydney Thunder Big Bash League team next summer.
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The Thunder will be locked out of their headquarters for most of the new season because ANZ Stadium is a venue for football’s Asia Cup – one of the sport’s major international events outside of the FIFA World Cup – which kicks off on January 9 next year.

The Thunder will officially open the tender process for stadiums to host matches this week but Fairfax Media understands representatives of the Sydney Showground, Manuka Oval in Canberra, Blacktown International Sportspark and Jubilee Oval have expressed interest.

It was not the first time Jubilee Oval, the Dragons’ home ground since 1950, has been positioned to stage cricket matches. A few years ago, when former NSW opening batsman Steve Small worked for the St George group, a plan was developed to establish the ground as the Twenty20 base for the NSW Breakers women’s cricket team.

”We looked into drop-in pitches and it would’ve been ideal,” said Small, who now coaches the Penrith first-grade team. ”It’s similar in its dimensions to North Sydney Oval and I think it’d be great for T20.”

In recent times, Jubilee Oval has also been used by Sydney FC to host trials for their men’s A-League team and matches involving their women’s side, while the World Cup-bound Socceroos adopted it as a training venue. However, cricket would open a new frontier for the stadium, which was redeveloped over the last decade through multimillion-dollar grants provided by the federal and state governments.

Sydney Thunder chief executive Nick Cummins would not confirm which organisations were jockeying for the home ground rights when contacted by Fairfax Media.

Picking the new Thunderdome would not be an easy decision after the franchise recently revealed most of its supporter base is in the north-west suburbs of the city, including Kellyville, Castle Hill and Baulkham Hills.

The franchise’s management is mindful the Thunder could lose that support if they play at a ground deemed too far for the ”heartland” to travel.

”We will be making the decision on the basis of three criteria,” Cummins said. ”Financial, the interests of our fans, and cricket facilities and suitability.”

He said that looking after the team’s ”heartland” would be a priority and that this included ensuring the winning venue was easily accessible by public transport.

Other venues that could bid to become the Thunderdome in 2014-15 include North Sydney Oval, the Sydney Cricket Ground and perhaps even Drummoyne Oval.

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Jets share spoils as Griffiths sees red on return, gallery 

JOEL Griffiths was red-carded for dissent on his homecoming as the Newcastle Jets snatched athrilling 2-all draw with Western Sydney Wanderers at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night.
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Joel Griffiths shows his frustration. PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLL

An Adam Taggart stunner opened the scoring for the Jets. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

The Wanderers celebrate after hitting the front against the Jets. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic wins the header ahead of his opponent. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Picture shows Wanderers player Matthew Spiranovic, left, and Jets player Zenon Caravella, right. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Western Sydney Wanderers fans celebrate. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Adam Taggart celebrates after opening the scoring. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Adam Taggart celebrates after opening the scoring. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Western Sydney Wanderers fans celebrate. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Western Sydney Wanderers fans celebrate. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Picture shows Wanderers player Nikolai Topor-Stanley, left, and Jets player Nicholas Ward, right. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Adam Taggart was involved in a controversial decision in the final seconds of the match, where he was taken out by Ante Covic. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Adam Taggart was involved in a controversial decision in the final seconds of the match, where he was taken out by Ante Covic. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

The Squadron show their support in their new location in bay 60. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Picture shows Wanderers player , from left, Dean Heffernan, Aaron Mooy, and Shinji Ono. Aaron Mooy has just equalised for the Wanderers: Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Aaron Mooy celebrates his equaliser. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

In a dramatic incident in the dying seconds, Griffiths received his marching orders for verbally abusing referee Ben Williams. He is now expected to serve at least a one-game suspension.

In between the brain snap from Griffiths and a pre-match injury to Emile Heskey, Jets striker Adam Taggart scored two goals – his seventh and eighth of the season – to earn interim coach Clayton Zane his first competition point since replacing the sacked Gary van Egmond last week.

Newcastle led 1-0 after a sensational Taggart solo goal but conceded twice totrail 2-1 before Taggart equalised in stoppage time.

Griffiths, playing in his first game for Newcastle in almost five years after stints in China and with Sydney FC, was introduced as a 64th-minute replacement and received a rousing reception from the 15,924-strong crowd.

The 34-year-old had been on the pitch less than two minutes when the visitors grabbed the lead, after a pinball-like scramble that ended with the ball rebounding into the net off Wanderers Michael Beachamp when Josh Brillante attempted a clearance.

In his 26 minutes of game time the best scoring chance Griffiths had was a 76th-minute free kick that passed harmlessly over the cross-bar.The Jets were dealt a significant setback before the match had even kicked off, when marquee striker Heskey suffered back spasms in the warm-up.Heskey was unable to take his place in the starting line-up and his last-minute withdrawal prompted a promotion for versatile substitute Nick Ward, in his third appearance since joining the Jets.

Ward was preferred to coach Clayton Zane’s other striking options, English veteran Michael Bridges and Griffiths.Ward came close to opening the scoring in the 13th minute, prompting a diving save from Wanderers keeper Ante Covic.

Thirteen minutes later, Covic was left with no chance when Taggart unleashed a right-foot screamer from 25 metres out.Taggart’s shot curled perfectly into the top left-hand corner for his seventh goal of the season and first since his memorable hat-trick against Melbourne Heart on November 24.

The home side looked set to take a deserved lead into the half-time break before Wanderers midfielder Aaron Mooy equalised with a pinpoint free kick in the 45th minute.It is now six games since Newcastle’s last win and they have slipped to ninth position, a point behind the top six.

There are 10 rounds remaining in the regular season, which leaves the Jets with ample time to turn their faltering campaign around.But there are increasingly worrying signs that they will miss the finals for the fourth successive season.

Rumours were circulating on Saturday that Newcastle officials hope to bolster their squad by signing former Socceroo David Carney, who is a free agent after parting company with the New York Red Bulls.

Joel Griffiths and Adam Taggart celebrate the Jets late equaliser. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Joel Griffiths and Adam Taggart celebrate the Jets late equaliser. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Joel Griffiths would be shown a red card for dissent, after fulltime. Picture: JONATHAN CARROLL

Barbs fly, police called in as house swap gets dirty

House Exchange: Andrea Moczarski with Jack, six, India, three, and Jane Konrad. Photo: Danielle SmithFor the English mother, it was the house swap from hell. When Andrea Moczarski swapped her four-bedroom home in Britain for an Aussie family’s three-bedroom home on NSW’s central coast, she was expecting a relaxed Christmas with her two young children.
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Arriving in the dark, the English family stumbled around in search of a light – and stepped in one of seven piles of dog poo left by an untended dog. And once they gained entry to the Australian home owned by the Browns (not their real name), it was dirty and had cockroaches, Ms Moczarski said.

From then, the house swap descended into threats, insults on social media and calls to the police. Within a week, the Brown family had left Ms Moczarski’s home near Manchester and gave the British family three hours to vacate theirs.

For families such as the Moczarskis and the Browns, house swaps have become an increasingly popular and cheap way to travel.

But, as one home-exchange veteran said: ”One person’s clean isn’t always another person’s clean.”

The site used by the two families, HomeForExchange南京夜网, says it has organised more than 500,000 swaps but fielded only 200 complaints. Most of these were about ”broken cup” issues or varying standards of cleanliness, the site’s owner, Ans Lammers, said.

”Once we received a complaint from a member that she found dust on top of a kitchen cupboard when she stood up a stair to reach the top,” Ms Lammers said.

Ms Moczarski said the NSW home did not appear to have been cleaned, although it was tidied. A gift was left for the two children. But there was little space for the family to hang their clothes during their three-week stay. An earlier agreement to swap cars had not worked out because the Australians could not get British insurance.

The British family spent $200 on cleaning products.

”We had the attitude that we are here now, let’s just sort it out,” Ms Moczarski said. ”We were cleaning the carpet, cleaning the chairs, buying air freshener.”

When she contacted the Browns for advice after the vacuum cleaner broke, the Aussies were so offended by the suggestion their house was dirty that they quit the British home in protest. As the English family returned from church on the Sunday before Christmas, a relative of the Browns told them to get out, prompting Ms Moczarski to call the police. After consulting two police officers, the family refused to vacate the NSW home.

When Mrs Brown told friends on Facebook the swap was going badly, she added: ”Unbelievably, they think our house is the house from hell.”

The Browns contacted HomeForExchange南京夜网 for advice.

”I tend to see the reaction of Andrea on the dog poo and cockroaches issue [as] a bit exaggerated,” Ms Lammers said.

Bee Cogger, a spokeswoman for houseswapholidays南京夜网.au, said she had not heard of such a case and cleanliness should be discussed in depth before a swap.

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Benji Marshall earns tick of approval on debut for Auckland Blues

It’s too early to anoint Benji Marshall’s switch of codes a runaway success, but it will clearly not be an abject failure.
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Though the jury remains out on whether Marshall will transfer his league brilliance to Super Rugby this season, that scenario is now at least plausible after his first half of rugby in more than a decade.

More than anything the 28-year-old former Wests Tigers conductor exuded confidence from the time he ran on to Memorial Park to the moment he signed the last of hundreds of autographs after full-time.

He didn’t blink when told he was taking the restarts moments before kick off. He didn’t flinch when Hurricanes openside Ardie Savea flattened him early or drop his lip when Cardiff Vaega blew past his inside shoulder. Marshall took it all in, adjusted, improved, and actually looked the part by the time he took a seat at half-time. In a nutshell, the Blues pivot was having fun.

“It was a bit of a blur, to be honest,” he said after the match. “The first 20 minutes I sort of struggled to get a feel for it, but after we had that quarter-time break I sort of realised what it was going to take to direct the team around. I did everything I wanted to achieve. I didn’t set the game on fire, but in terms of getting control and feel for playing 10 I got a lot out of it.”

He stood a tad deep at times, looked a little awkward in contact, but had a crack early, made a nice half break running behind Jackson Willison and passed with growing confidence once the Blues got some possession.

“When you don’t have the ball it’s a pretty tough sport,” he said. “I just did as much as I could in that second quarter to make sure we held on to the ball and possession, and once we did that it felt great. Look, from a personal point of view I’m happy with what I got out of it. It wasn’t about winning the game, it wasn’t about being the best player on the field. It was just about getting through what we’ve practised and getting a feel for the game.”

For the record, the Hurricanes won the match 38-35, outscoring the Blues six tries to five in an entertaining pre-season hit out. But there was little doubt who the 6000-strong crowd had come to see – the ground announcer gave him top billing as the side’s ran on. Marshall lapped it all up.

“I had Ardie Savea coming from the inside a lot of times and got a good feel for what is going to be coming at me. I enjoyed every part of it and I’m looking forward to the next game,” he said before laughing at his attempt at cleaning out a ruck.

“I hit a couple, but I don’t think I was hitting anybody. It’s just different. Until you get a feel for the game you don’t understand. I still don’t really know the rules around the ruck, so I’m guessing there, to be honest. It’s a learning curve and hopefully I can get better each game.

“There was a lot of sliding defence. The systems are just different to league and it’s something I’m slowly getting used to. I’ve got a lot to learn. I suppose this is the first step in a massive line of steps to get in the right place. That’s what’s it’s about. It’s my first game in over 10 years.”

And then Marshall started actually sounding like a rugby player.

“The first 20 was a bit rusty,” he said. ”We had about six turnovers and they scored three times off those so I learned a big lesson after the first 20, which was to keep us a bit more direct and control the ball and make sure we had enough people in rucks to keep the ball.”

All of which was music to the ears of coach John Kirwan who knocked on the head any notion Marshall would switch positions and hinted he’d get another extended run against the Waratahs in Sydney this weekend.

“I thought he was great,” Kirwan said. ”The whole team played well but he blended in incredibly well and ran the team. For his first hit out he can be proud. He’s worked hard. I spoke to him quickly at half-time and he said ‘woah, that was a bit different’.

“That’s his position. He showed enough today to have another crack … I was hoping this would happen and it’s happening. He’s worked incredibly hard, but it was a good start for him. There were little bits to work on but for his first game in 16 years or whatever, it was a good start.”

With Baden Kerr getting a knock Marshall might have to share time with Chris Noakes this week, but the signs are positive.

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Thousands protest at Manly Beach over WA shark cull

Protesters gather at Manly beach to denounce Western Australia’s new policy to catch and kill sharks. Photo: Damian ShawThousands of people brandishing hand-painted posters, inflatable shark toys, shark hats and other shark-related paraphernalia braved the heat of Manly Beach  on Saturday to protest  at the  West Australian government’s shark cull.
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‘‘Crooks use hooks’’ declared one sign, ‘‘Barnett can bite me’’ declared another, while in the distance a woman in a head-to-toe shark costume wandered on Manly’s packed promenade.

The colourful crowd assembled on the sand was one of a series of gatherings held across Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to protest against Western Australia’s decision to capture and shoot large sharks caught in drum lines one kilometre from the state’s  shores. The decision follows a string of fatal shark attacks in recent years.

The first shark was caught and killed on Australia Day.

Events were held in at least 10 locations across the nation, from the NSW central coast to Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Cottesloe, Broome and Perth in WA. Protests were also held in New Zealand and South Africa.

The protests came hours after an under-size two-metre shark, believed to be a tiger shark, was pulled from a baited drum line off Perth’s Leighton Beach by fisheries officers.

The animal – the second to be killed under the program – was dumped further offshore.

Protest co-organiser Alice Forrest, an aquarist at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, said the cull was not based on science. ‘‘He’s killing endangered species,’’ she said, referring to West Australian Premier Colin Barnett. ‘‘He’s making a lot of people very angry. He thinks it’s going to help with tourism. If anything, it’s giving WA a bit of a redneck reputation and making people not want to go out there.’’

Among the crowd was artist and designer Angela Van Boxtel, who said the WA government would be better off promoting greater public understanding of sharks and the low risk they actually pose to swimmers. Over the past 50 years, an average of one person per year has been killed by a shark, according to data from the Australian Shark Attack File.

‘‘I grew up in the Netherlands and was raised with this whole fear of what sharks are about. When I came here and learnt more and more I started thinking, well, this is silly,’’ she said.

‘‘If you’re not educated then you are fearful. The government should … show the real facts and educate tourists about the amazing wildlife we have.’’

Sitting on the bright blue beach towel was Edward Hunter and his family, who drove an hour and a half from western Sydney with his wife and two children to join the protest.

‘‘The oceans are a necessary thing for the human race to survive on the planet. You try and take out the apex predators in an environment and bad things happen to the rest of the environment,’’ he said.

Standing behind speakers on the promenade, Mosman High school teacher Pru Wawn said the shark cull was just one of a many examples of the government disregarding popular opinion and destroying the environment.

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Brown warns Chooks about head-hunters

Outspoken Nathan Brown has issued a World Club Challenge warning to Sydney Roosters: Wigan’s props are cheap shot merchants.
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The St Helens boss and former St George Illawarra coach made the comment after his new signing, former Penrith half Luke Walsh, finished his first night as a Super League player in hospital undergoing X-rays for a possible facial fracture after a late challenge from Wigan’s Welsh giant Ben Flower.

The 28-16 Wigan win also marked the English debuts of North Queensland icon Matt Bowen and former South Sydney and Wests Tigers forward Eddy Pettybourne.

”He got hit in the head – without the ball. You know that’s going to happen when you play Wigan,” a fuming Brown said. ”That’s standard with their front-rowers. It happened to Gaz O’Brien last year.”

Brown was otherwise complimentary to the side that will meet the Roosters at Allianz Stadium on February 22, calling it ”effective”, ”fluid” and ”terrific”. The starting props in Sydney are likely to be Flower and Scott Taylor with Pettybourne off the bench.

New signing Jordan James, a former Royal Marine, will push Gil Dudson for the final bench spot.

That’s if Flower, 26, escapes the wrath of the judiciary. Walsh played on after the 70th-minute hit and was taken straight to hospital afterwards for scans.

Pettybourne, who played for the United States in the World Cup, had fans chanting his name after a couple of big hits off the interchange bench. ”He’s got good footwork and a hit on him,” coach Shaun Wane said.

”There’s a few technical things EP can work on. He’ll get better.”

Bowen had few opportunities, St Helens scoring one try after he lost the ball in a tackle. He was replaced at half-time. ”That was always the plan,” Wane said, joking: ”He’s the same age as me.”

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Wests Tigers rookie Luke Brooks has eyes of the Tigers

Talented Tiger: Luke Brooks. Photo: Anthony JohnsonThere’s a lot of talk about passing the baton when it comes to Luke Brooks.
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But history shows that it literally hasn’t always worked out. Like the time he ran the anchor leg for Holy Cross College’s state 4×100 metre relay team in year 10.

”I got disqualified,” Brooks chuckled.

”I didn’t know the rules, you start at one point and are meant to get the baton there and I started before it. We won by a mile. A few of the boys weren’t taking it too serious and then we were disqualified.

”One of the guys who took it serious was blowing up – he threw his spikes right out of the ground. I was just laughing.”

There was almost another false start, albeit on a grander stage. It was the Tuesday before THAT debut. Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter told him he was playing. A lifelong ambition was about to be fulfilled. Or was it? In his previous game in reggies, Brooks was placed on report for a high tackle.

Unable to help himself, Under-20s coach Todd Payten came up to Brooks and said, po-faced: ”You’re suspended, you can’t play.” ”I had a feeling he was stitching me up,” Brooks said. ”So it was pretty funny.” History will show that Brooks played. And how. His first game was on the hallowed turf of the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was the grand old venue his late grandfather, Clive Johnson, had captained the NSW cricket team alongside the likes of greats Richie Benaud and Bob Simpson.

To say he was nervous was an understatement.

”I was thinking about the game all week,” he said.

”Going to the ground, about halfway there, I remember really needing to go to the toilet. I had to run to the change rooms. The time I most got nervous was during the anthems, just standing there.” It didn’t show. The teenage halfback scored a try against the Dragons, had a hand or a foot in just about everything and was crowned man of the match. Due to second-tier salary cap restrictions, it remains his only NRL appearance.

”It was a dream come true, I always wanted to play for the Tigers,” he said.

”I really have to pinch myself because it’s weird playing with people you’ve looked up to. I never thought I’d get a chance to play with Benji [Marshall], it was good.

”It would have been good to play a few more games with him but at least I got one.” That he is playing at all is reward for perseverance. The former Australian Schoolboy badly broke and dislocated his ankle three years ago.

Complications, including a golden staph infection, meant he was sidelined for 15 months. In the second game of his comeback, he broke the other leg. And a broken thumb prevented him from participating in the SG Ball final series.

”I did [think about quitting] a bit but I always knew I wanted to keep playing,” he said.

He isn’t the only member of his family training on Concord Oval. His older brother Joel plays for the Wests Harbour rugby side which trains at the same field. The 21-year-old is currently trialling for a spot with the Waratahs. Another sibling, 15-year-old Scott, is a fullback in the Tigers feeder system.

Luke and Joel crossed paths when their teams set up a training camp at Kiama during the week.

”My older brother was in the ranks of the Tigers with the 20s and stopped playing footy,” Brooks said. ”He stopped for two years and got back into union with his mates.”

One of his own good mates is fellow playmaker Mitchell Moses. The pair were the gun athletes at Holy Cross, often sharing the school’s player of the year awards. Injuries have prevented them from combining often – Moses broke his leg and has been hampered by hamstring and calf problems – but the pair are earmarked as the long-term Wests Tigers halves.

They have come through the grades together, although they have also played against each other. Moses spent part of his junior career at Parramatta and Brooks recalls a particular time they clashed.

”He actually threw me an intercept,” Brooks recalled.

”It actually looked like he threw it straight to me. He was pretty filthy.” Moses has been named for the Tigers’ first trial, while Brooks will be missing from the Nines tournament. The latter suffered stress fractures last year and the club are mindful of protecting him. His debut appearance was headline news and already there have been comparisons to Andrew Johns.

For a teen who has played just one game, they are unhelpful. It is not yet time for Benji to pass the baton.

”Sometimes you get noticed,” Brooks said of the newfound attention he has received.

”It feels a bit weird.”

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Stephen Cartwright offers aid to Wests Tigers

”My understanding of how the business world works and how it can interface with sport, I think that’s where the NRL clubs need to do more work”: Stephen Cartwright. Photo: Anita JonesStephen Cartwright, one of the state’s best connected business leaders, revealed he had already discussed with NRL boss David Smith about how he could serve Wests Tigers as the league prepares to appoint three independent directors to the club’s board.
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Cartwright is the chief executive of the NSW Business Chamber, and in his position he has access to 15,000 businesses throughout the state.

On Friday, he attended the launch of the chamber’s sports business consultancy service – which will be run in conjunction with the Horton Ella Group and Australian Business Solutions Group.

As he sat on a table flanked by the likes of 1960 Olympic Games gold medallist Herb Elliott, NSW Rugby League boss David Trodden and Western Sydney Wanderers chairman Lyall Gorman, rumours were flying that he would be one of the NRL’s three appointments.

Cartwright, whose grandfather Patrick Tyler, a Balmain wharfie who played some first grade matches for the Tigers in the 1920s, admitted he had spoken to Smith but insisted it was to simply offer his support in any capacity to Wests Tigers.

”I’ve said to Dave Smith from the NRL, and to some of the people from the Tigers, that whatever I can do to help them be successful I will do and if that included being a part of their governance structure, I would love to do it,” Cartwright said. ”But, equally, if I could do anything else for the club I would do it. I’m just a passionate fan, so, whatever they need, I am there.”

Cartwright said he could provide unique business acumen to the board and also offer suggestions as to how the club could replicate his efforts to significantly boost the chamber’s membership numbers to help the Tigers.

”My understanding of how the business world works and how it can interface with sport, I think that’s where the NRL clubs need to do more work,” he said.

”You look at the Wests Tigers, they have this fantastic catchment area in western Sydney and how do we get that increased relationship with the corporate world but, also, how do we do what I’ve done at the chamber – and that is triple the membership numbers? You look at the AFL clubs, their member numbers are way bigger than the NRL clubs. How do we do that?”

Cartwright said it was essential Wests Tigers be put ahead of anything else at a club that was formed when NSW Rugby League foundation teams Balmain and Western Suburbs merged to form the franchise in 1999 but were often seen to be at loggerheads over issues.

”I said to someone the other day that I have a 16-year-old son who had never heard of the Wests Magpies or the Balmain Tigers, he has only heard of the Wests Tigers,” Cartwright said.

”I think after a given period of time, you have to accept that is the club now. It is something that has to be done and I think the change in governance structure will do that.”

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‘The Gazelle’ Darren Hibbert considers penning supplement guide

Unemployed after being stood down by long-term employer Advance Sports Nutrition, Darren Hibbert is contemplating new career paths. The man dubbed ”the Gazelle” is considering opening up his own supplements store and becoming an author. With the bills mounting – he has received further fines for allegedly failing to co-operate with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority – Hibbert reckons there is a book in him. Or two. ”I’m going to write a book on performance-enhancing proteins to provide a supplement guide – how to use them, which ones are banned and which aren’t,” Hibbert said. ”I’ll go through the health benefits that the public may not know about.” He also believes there is plenty of fodder in the fallout from ”the darkest day in sport”. ”That will be another book,” he said. ”I’ll be talking about my dealings with ASADA in the past, how I was friendly with them and worked with them and also WADA as well to ensure all the things we used were above board. And then what’s happening now, how they’re trying to make a scapegoat out of us because of the previous government’s press conference.”
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Bulldogs to Qatar?

Canterbury could be heading to Qatar to undertake high-altitude training at the site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Respected businessman Anter Isaac, a candidate for the coming Bulldogs board elections, organised a study trip for several key staffers to tour the facilities in Doha. Isaac, the man who drafted the Western Sydney Wanderers’ strategic plan, is attempting to get the whole squad across through his international connections.

”He gave me an opportunity to go to Qatar six months ago to see the FIFA facilities for the 2022 World Cup,” Dogs chairman Ray Dib said. ”From that visit we sent our high-performance scientist recently and hopefully some time this year this is some talk about [coach] Des [Hasler] taking the whole squad for three weeks to do some high-altitude training.” In other league news, there were concerns that a bad Achilles injury would force popular Shark Bryce Gibbs into retirement. However, the rugged Cronulla prop is back in training and certain to be a part of the squad for this season.

Claire goes for Broke

One of Hollywood’s rising stars, Australian actress Claire van der Boom, has signed up to star in a new film that deals with the issue of gambling in rugby league.

The Logie winner will star in Broke, the first feature film by Heath Davis. Steve Le Marquand and Steve Bisley have also signed on to a project that will donate all profits to the Men of League Foundation.

Van der Boom – who stars alongside Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in the coming drama Life Itself, will reunite with Davis after starring in some of his short films.

”I’m thrilled to be coming back to Australia to work with Heath and am very much looking forward to collaborating with Steve Le Marquand, who I’ve long admired,” van der Boom said. ”I’m grateful to have such a wonderful role to sink my teeth into.”

Davis, a lifelong league fan who grew up in western Sydney, based the lead character on an amalgam of people he has seen affected by problem gambling.

”Not every player who makes a fortune lives happily ever after,” Davis said.

”There are plenty of people I know who fell into the wrong crowds and gambling was one of their vices,” he said. ”I’ve seen a lot of guys that I idolised now being chewed up and spat out.”

He aims to raise $55,000 for the film through public pledges, with larger donations earning producer of actor credits.

Those wishing to contribute should go here.

City owners eye Stars

A Big Bash League team is likely to be next on the list for the Manchester City-led consortium which has already bought into Melbourne Storm and Melbourne Heart FC. The Melbourne Stars cricket franchise could be the next acquisition for the cashed-up owners, as well as Australian cycling team GreenEDGE. We’ve been reliably informed that there was also an approach to Collingwood but AFL rules precluded the powerhouse club from partnering with clubs from rival codes. Don’t be surprised to see the World Club Challenge played at Manchester City’s home ground if the Storm win the NRL premiership.

Kelly causes concern

One of the NRL’s most talented players has been slipping back into bad habits. Gold Coast officials are concerned about the behaviour of gun halfback Albert Kelly, who has been a little too festive during the festive season. The 22-year-old has had a chequered career due to alcohol issues and it seems he has yet to fully conquer those demons. If Kelly plays to his potential he could be a future Origin player but another public incident could spell the end of a promising career.

Underwood steps up

There will be some new and familiar voices on ABC Grandstand’s coverage of the footy codes. AFL sportscaster Kelli Underwood has moved to Sydney and will be calling games involving Sydney and GWS. ”I believe she will be the first game-to-game female AFL caller in Sydney, we’ll have a fresh voice on the airwaves,” ABC Grandstand manager Craig Norenbergs said. There will also be some new blood injected into Auntie’s NRL coverage to complement old favourites Warren Ryan and David Morrow. Ben Ross, Bradley Clyde, Michael Buettner, Greg McCallum and Gary Freemanwill also join the team.

Happy ending

Daniel Holdsworth has been reunited with his memorabilia after it was stolen from his Caringbah home on Australia Day. Returning to the NRL with Cronulla after a stint in the Super League, the playmaker lost his NRL debut jersey and several others during the robbery. However, he took to Instagram to thank those who assisted in their return. ”The scumbags dumped them at a lovely old couple’s house a few houses up from me,” he said.

Palmer joins big boys

Meet the youngest grommet competing in next week’s Hurley’s Australian Open of Surfing at Manly Beach. At the tender age of 10, Keegan Palmer has been invited to contest the skating part of the event. Already the under-18 Bowl Riding champion, he gets the opportunity to mix it with the world’s best – most of whom are at least twice his age. ”The event had an awesome vibe last time and as I’ll be competing against the big guns this time I’m sure I’ll feel that even more,” he said. ”It’s going to be wild to skate against some of the best skaters in the world, and my first time competing in the open adult division. It’s a really big deal and I’m stoked to be given the opportunity.”

Bliss for Badgers

Gavin and Kasey Badger have already refereed together. So who took the lead when the whistleblowing couple officiated last year’s encounter between Thailand and the Philippines? ”That would be him!” Kasey chuckled. ”He’s much more experienced, I would be silly to take the lead.” Gavin added: ”She’s saying that but if I disagree with her I’m in trouble.” Kasey is aiming to be the first female – and part of the first couple – to referee an NRL game. She isn’t putting any timeframe on the ambition – ”I just want to solidify my spot in the 20s or NSW Cup and go from there” – but is doing everything possible to achieve the dream. To that end, the Badgers worked out under sprint guru Roger Fabri at Coogee during the week. ”If you want to be the best you’ve got to seek out the best and Rog is probably the best in the country at what he does,” Gavin said.

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