Griffiths sees red as Jets salvage point

Joel Griffiths and Adam Taggart celebrate the late equaliser. Photo: Jonathan Carroll Disappointing end: Joel Griffiths. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
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There was a great mood of anticipation swelling around Hunter Stadium for the return of Joel Griffiths. After five years away, The Chosen One was back, but it would be another striker who wrote the right headlines.

Western Sydney were on the brink of victory when, in injury time, Jets winger Andrew Hoole squared a hopeful ball in the path of Adam Taggart, who clipped the ball home to make it 2-2.

That sparked a mad minute in injury time, where the Jets chased a desperate winner. Taggart was through in goal and on track to get a hat-trick when Ante Covic clattered him way outside the box.

What nobody in the stadium realised was that amidst the confusion, referee Ben Williams had blown for full-time. Infuriated, Griffiths gave Williams a foul-mouthed serve. He was given the red card, not Covic.

That was the final act of a night that swung in every direction.

Taggart gave the Jets the lead with a sparkling early goal, one that was cancelled out by Aaron Mooy’s free-kick on half-time. A pinball scramble ended with the Wanderers taking the lead before the final-minute shenanigans took over.

Once the events have been digested, the light of day will bring little comfort for both teams. It’s only the second point from six games for Newcastle yet the Wanderers will feel as though they should have returned to Sydney with all three.

The Jets were already reeling from a blow in the warm-up when marquee striker Emile Heskey had to withdraw after suffering back spasms. He was replaced by journeyman midfielder Nick Ward in attacking midfield, giving Taggart a lone role up top.

By contrast, there was no change for the Wanderers, which was odd in itself for the habit Tony Popovic has developed of rotating his team every week, regardless of the result. That meant the experiment of playing Matt Spiranovic in defensive midfield would continue for another week. What Ange Postecoglou makes of this ploy is another matter.

Newcastle sustained pressure on Western Sydney from the opening minute and would make their best attacks from out wide, trying to curl balls behind the defensive duo of Nikolai Topor-Stanley and Michael Beauchamp. A couple of times it very nearly worked.

Taggart’s opener didn’t require assistance, however. The ex-Perth junior let fly with a tracer bullet that swerved wickedly, away from Covic but still inside the left post. Given he hadn’t scored since November, it was some way to break the drought.

But the Wanderers’ reply was first rate. It came after a succession of free kicks just outside the Jets’ defensive box, increasingly irritating the home fans. In the last of them before half-time, Mooy took a deep breath and curled a text book that dipped over the wall and past a stunned Mark Birighitti.

Williams was castigated by the home fans as he blew for half-time, contrasting with the mood of the visiting fans, singing and dancing their way through the main break. They believed the game was now theirs for the taking.

Needing something to get back into the game, Newcastle coach Clayton Zane played his trump card and Griffiths was brought on to make his long-awaited learn with half an hour to play.

Griffiths’ first 30 seconds went something like this: clashing with Topor-Stanley to win a header, simultaneously crunched by two defenders, sparking a break for Taggart and giving the linesman a mouthful. It was a sign of things to come.

But the more critical immediate action would occur at the other end. A goalmouth scramble that Birighitti failed to deal sparked danger, and just as Josh Brillante got his boot to the ball, he whacked his clearance into Beauchamp’s upper arm. No handball was given for the deflection, which trickled over the line.

However, that was only the start of the real drama.

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Freedoms key to a robust debate

We hear a lot of grand rhetoric about free speech and freedom of the press in Australia, but in reality, we can be pretty rubbish at defending these basic liberties.
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Quick to outrage, we confuse dissenting opinions with disloyalty to the nation, and abuse with freedom of speech.

Only a year ago, Tony Abbott was the media’s great defender, thundering about Julia Gillard’s ultimately doomed flirtation with media regulation.

”It is not, repeat not, the role of government to manage the day-to-day practices of journalism, to dictate who can and who can’t control Australian media outlets or to ‘score’ media coverage against unavoidably subjective standards of fairness,” he said.

”The job of government is to foster free speech, not stifle it.”

We in the media cheered, but on Wednesday, Abbott, a former journalist himself, sought to impose his own scorecard on the ABC. He sympathised when Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley complained that there was a double standard between the complaints levelled at Hadley’s on-air comments, and what the ABC broadcast.

Hadley, who described himself as ”a bit to the right”, grizzled that he kept getting ”belted over the head” by the government’s media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority – incidentally, for broadcasting claims that were factually incorrect.

Meanwhile, Hadley griped, ABC journalists were ”left to their own devices”.

”I can understand the frustration that you feel,” Abbott commiserated. ”I think that there is quite an issue of double standards … I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but our own … You shouldn’t leap to be critical of your own country.”

As the Prime Minister knows full well, it’s not the ABC’s role to be a cheerleader for Australia’s national interest. It’s the organisation’s job to broadcast news in the public interest.

The next day, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, announced that the government would launch an ”efficiency study” of the ABC and SBS.

Turnbull assured there was ”no assault on the ABC” and the government’s terms of reference emphasise that the study is ”not a study of the quality of the national broadcaster’s programs, products and services”.

But the announcement of a cost-cutting review after an extraordinary attack by the Prime Minister on the ABC sent shudders through supporters of independent journalism. This was compounded by the news on the same day that The Global Mail financier Graeme Wood was withdrawing support for the publication.

Running battles against media reporting often take a pernicious path. Last week, over a series of days, I was accused in online forums of being a traitor to my country after reporting that Defence was investigating members who joined an online anti-Muslim group, the Australian Defence League.

Discussion quickly turned to how I would better understand the issues if I were raped, my daughter raped and my husband beheaded by Muslims.

It’s a dreary reflection of the nature of political debate these days that when a woman journalist writes or broadcasts something that someone, somewhere doesn’t like (surely the definition of journalism), some keyboard warrior throws the spectre of rape at her.

It’s a base method of trying to control women, but it’s a diversion: the goal is simply to shut down debate.

In no way am I suggesting the Prime Minister’s comments on the ABC are similar to the ravings of an online extremist group, but in a democracy like Australia, freedom of speech should involve having the maturity to debate ideas on merit, and defend the right of our media to air them, rather than resorting to appeals to patriotism or cheap abuse.

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Listen when a legend speaks

A statue of Neil Harvey now stands in Yarra Park. Unveiled on Friday, it is the fourth in the MCC’s Avenue of Legends. Lis Johnson’s bronze depiction of the dazzling, deft-footed left-hander joins those of Shane Warne, Norm Smith and John Coleman. It’s a fitting tribute to a great cricketer.
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Just how great was at risk of being lost in the mists of time, and distracted from by other issues. For Harvey’s greatness had, in later times, been blurred by his natural inclination to give non-workshopped answers when asked about contemporary cricket. He came to be characterised as a human headline.

He didn’t always like what he saw during Australia’s world-beating years of the last two decades and when his opinion was sought he gave it: gun-barrel straight. But the perception of Harvey, by a generation of Australian cricketers, as an embittered yesterday’s man is a less than comprehensive judgment.

I recall him speaking to me about this during the Melbourne Ashes Test of 1998. He expressed frustration that he felt like the only person in the nation prepared to put his name to what he saw as obvious. He believed, among other things, that the Australians of the time had very little opposition and were a somewhat ungracious bunch.

And he was right in that he wasn’t alone in that latter view. As he was also right in that few others were brave enough to express it; certainly with his level of straight forwardness. Sometimes it requires a CV of Harvey’s stature for kicking against the wind to carry legitimacy. A couple of years later, then Australian cricket boss, Mal Speed, acknowledged the high volume of complaints being received about player conduct through that period. But, inevitably, such expression remained a minority view. We love nothing more than winners and those Australian teams won heavily, and often. Our cricket was surfing on a high tide of public euphoria.

Notwithstanding his credentials, Harvey became a target. The modern players didn’t like him. He felt lonely and, I suspect, vulnerable in his honesty. But still he wouldn’t refrain from answering questions straight up.

Happily, the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers’ Association, Paul Marsh, attended Friday’s unveiling. Players both present and recent past must be big enough to seek to understand Harvey, and to appreciate him. He played the game in a different time and has lived through much change.

And this much must be clear to even his keenest detractor: he was one of the greatest cricketers this country has produced.

It would do well for those who haven’t forgiven him to study his record. If they did, they would surely see that this wasn’t some envious old has-been with little claim to relevance.

They would quickly find, for example, a piece written by Ashley Mallett on ESPN Cricinfo in 2012. Perhaps Australia’s finest off-spin bowler, Mallett played a lot of cricket with Greg Chappell, widely regarded as second-to-Bradman among Australian batsmen.

In selecting the best five players he had seen, Mallett nominated Gary Sobers, Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards and Barry Richards. And with them he chose Harvey. Not only that, he implied he regarded the dapper left-hander as the best of them.

He wrote: “I have never seen the equal of Harvey’s batting and I’ve seen most of the great batsmen of the past 50-odd years … his average is less than those of some who played for Australia recently, but Harvey batted against some of the greatest bowlers to bestride the Test stage: South Africa’s Neil Adcock, Peter Heine and Hugh Tayfield; England’s Alec Bedser, Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Tony Lock and Jim Laker; and the West Indians Sobers, Wes Hall, Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin.”

With 21 hundreds from 79 Tests, Harvey scored centuries at a frequency just below Chappell’s (24 from 87), but above Ricky Ponting’s (41 from 167). Harvey usually came in at the fall of the first wicket, which Chappell rarely did. He also, at times, had to contend with uncovered pitches; never an issue for the generation which followed.

It’s fatuous, as well as odious, to attempt comparisons. The point is that, at worst, Harvey runs Chappell and Ponting close among Australian post-war batsmen. And like those two, Harvey was a superb fieldsman. Bill Lawry, who spoke in his honour at the statue unveiling, says Harvey is the best fielder he’s seen.

Lawry’s maiden Test century – 130 at Lord’s in 1961 – was achieved in Harvey’s only Test as captain. “The Phantom” also experienced his leadership playing for Victoria in the mid-1950s. He speaks in glowing terms of Harvey the leader, placing him with the best under whom he played.

The man who remains the youngest Australian to score a Test century, and the baby of Bradman’s Invincibles, is now 85. That there can be grandeur in old age was evident in Harvey’s still-assertive, but humble, bearing on Friday.

The Harvey statue can now be enjoyed for evermore, but the man himself is to be appreciated in the here and now.

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New-look Rebels turn up the heat on Waratahs

High and low: Melbourne Rebels players bring down Waratah Kurtley Beale in Albury on Saturday. Photo: Border MailDefence has been the catchcry of the Melbourne Rebels all pre-season under new coach Tony McGahan.
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After three seasons where they were shown up – badly at times – against some of the harder teams, the goal was to shore up the leaky defensive line but to do it aggressively by lifting the number of turnovers they snare at the breakdowns.

Saturday’s trial against NSW Waratahs in 40-degree heat in Albury was the team’s first chance to see if McGahan’s tough regime had had an effect.

After two minutes the old cracks seemed to be worryingly present when Waratahs half-back Brendan McKibbin ran through to score without being touched.

He converted the try as the Rebels were left looking for answers to a lapse of concentration, which given only two minutes from the opening whistle could not be blamed on the scorching conditions.

”That was disappointing” skipper Scott Higginbotham said. ”We obviously talked about defence and how much we put into defence during the pre-season so that was a tough one.

”But it’s a trial, the first trial, it was a bit of a lapse in concentration and you could see that we felt our way through the game and the defence really came on in the second half.”

But they regrouped and while they did concede some soft tries, they also shored up their defence – keeping the Waratahs tryless for 30 minutes mid-game while showing that they were not going to back down from being adventurous in attack. The Rebels scored five tries to Tom English, Jason Woodward, Ben Meehan, Bryce Hegarty and Mitch Inman to edge NSW 33-28.

It was enough for McGahan to see promise for the season.

”We’re really happy to get the result but really delighted for the players who put a lot of hard work in,” McGahan said.

In good news for the Rebels, skipper Scott Higginbotham played solidly in his first game back from a shoulder injury that ruined last season, setting up a try to Meehan with a clever kick.

”That was hopefully the hottest game I will play this year,” Higginbotham said. ”I went all right. It’s been seven months since I played and I just wanted to feel my way back into it and I felt like I did that but plenty more to go and I’ve got a long way to go.

”I think the team went well. We started a bit slowly but that’s to be expected in the first trial.”

■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.

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.

Blues coach John Kirwan was pleased with Marshall’s first hitout.

”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.”

With aap

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Woodbine saves blushes for Gai Waterhouse and Nash Rawiller

Late surge: Woodbine gave punters a scare on Saturday. Photo: Jenny EvansNash Rawiller was hauled before stewards to explain his navigation on long odds-on shot Woodbine after the Randwick Guineas-bound colt left his supporters with near heart failure at Rosehill on Saturday.
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Rawiller angled the blueblood, sent out a $1.20 hope on the tote in the four-horse field, to the centre of the track before wearing down Tim Clark on Pirandello as the leader clung grimly to the fence.

Woodbine’s winning margin was a head, but it didn’t deter chief steward Ray Murrihy from grilling Rawiller about the ride. And Rawiller said he was at odds with trainer Gai Waterhouse over the better ground at Rosehill.

”I told her one, two or three [horses off the fence] was the best part of the track, but she said seven off,” Rawiller told stewards. ”She’s the boss, but I won’t be doing that again. I didn’t agree with her … in fact, I had an argument with her before the race.”

Even Waterhouse was wondering whether Woodbine had arrived in the nick of time to make it back-to-back wins this campaign. ”I know the owner of the second horse, and John [Messara] and the group own Woodbine and I thought, ‘Uh oh, there’s going to be six unhappy owners and one happy’,” she said. ”When they showed the replay I thought, ‘No, I’ve got six happy owners and one unhappy’.”

Woodbine’s stallion prospects will largely hinge on the rest of his three-year-old season as the Hussonet colt, out of multiple group 1 winner Miss Finland, heads towards the group 1 Randwick Guineas.

Rawiller was forced to hunt Woodbine up in the early stages in the small four-horse field after Cosmic Cameo was scratched after tossing Hugh Bowman leaving the mounting yard.

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