SOME of Tasmania’s most promising young tennis players have been hitting the courts in Tennis Tasmania’s Super 10s competition.
For Fittler, it’s his darkest hour in three years in charge of the Blues, who were shorter-priced favourites than US presidential candidate Joe Biden to win this match.
How does a team featuring Tedesco, Wighton, Cleary, Trbojevic, Cordner and Cook lose to a side featuring the likes of Brimson, Capewell, Hess, Fa’asuamaleaui and Collins? A team that lost Brenko Lee in the warm-up, forcing another back-line reshuffle?
The Blues had one last roll of the dice with a minute to go and came up with nothing.
The weird thing is, in the first half, a Blues victory seemed assured.
Apparently, Queensland’s best chance was to start well, to score points or at least stop them in the first 20 minutes, and they were handed sufficient opportunities to do so. Apparently.
Damien Cook fumbled from the kick-off, Daly Cherry-Evans missed a penalty goal from in front, and then the Maroons wasted several sets on the Blues’ line after Luke Keary knocked on from dummy half.
Still, they couldn’t score.
The Blues have strike all over the field but when they roll through the middle of the pitch, with quick play-the-balls against a tired defence, with Cook scooting out of dummy half or passing to Jake Trbojevic or James Tedesco, they are near unstoppable. Apparently.
A try to Cook in the 15th minute and then Josh Addo-Carr five minutes later got the party started but they kept fumbling their chances to score a third that would’ve buried the result before half-time.
Their inability to finish off tries led to panic in the second half.
Meanwhile, whatever Bennett — the master orator — said to his players had a magical effect.
Off the back of relentless defence, with a strong wind behind them, his side patiently pinned the Blues in their own half.
Kurt Capewell’s selection in the centres was derided by Blues greats but he rattled off two heavy tackles then kicked inside for rookie fullback AJ Brimson to score the Maroons’ first try in the 51st minute.
Soon after, Origin specialist Dane Gagai was flashing down the right and delivering another try, this time for rookie Xavier Coates in the corner, to level the scores at 10-all.
Cherry-Evans then kicked a sideline conversion in the swirling breeze to give his side the most unlikely of leads.
When Cameron Munster scored with 14 minutes remaining, and Cherry-Evans landed another tricky conversion to extend the lead to eight, the unlosable match was effectively lost.
Questions will be asked of the Blues halves, Cleary and Keary, and their virtual non-involvement in the second half. Cody Walker must start in Sydney.
Jack Wighton, the Dally M medallist, was shown up time and again by Gagai. So, too, Clint Gutherson by Capewell.
Questions will also be asked about Cordner, who has a well-documented history of concussions, returning to the field after leaving due to a head knock in the first half.
What none of us should ever question again is whether the Maroons can cause an upset.
This Queensland victory evoked memories of 1995 when Paul Vautin inspired the Maroons sans their Super League players to a shock win over Phil Gould’s NSW.
Next Wednesday, the Blues won’t have to worry about buses and planes and temporary check-ins to hotels in faraway states.
Just a leisurely stroll across the Sydney Olympic Park concourse to ANZ Stadium will do. There they face the onerous task of keeping the Origin series alive and taking it to a decider at Suncorp Stadium.
They captured the series last year after losing the first match. This year, against an unfashionable Queensland team inspired by the most super of all super coaches in Bennett, they have to do it again.
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Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Reigning champions Melbourne Aces would be prepared to play every game on the road to get the upcoming Australian Baseball League season underway.
All eight teams in the Australian and International conferences remain upbeat, generally, about the season ahead but added costs and restrictions has forced some to privately consider options.
The ABL was supposed to unveil an International conference schedule in mid-October but deferred in the event of a reconfiguration.
Perth Heat is the hardest hit domestic outfit, due to the WA Government’s hard border, while clubs reliant on imports, Geelong/Korean and Canberra Cavalry, face significant cost blowouts.
Auckland Tuatara is another with economic and geographical hurdles to clear.
The mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine bill for any imports will set teams back $3000 per head, while international airfares have skyrocketed due to reduced flights and capacity.
ABL franchises have until Monday to opt out of the season, scheduled to start in Perth on December 18.
News Australia has established the ABL could forge ahead with a minimum four-team competition model.
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Aces owner Brett Ralph has committed to playing anywhere, anytime, if it is possible to do so.
“We’re facing the same challenges as everybody else in terms of processing exemptions for our (international) players and organising them flights into the country,” Ralph said.
“Regardless of that, the Melbourne Aces are committed to playing this year, even if required, that means playing all of our games on the road.
“We’re hopeful of being able to play our home games at Melbourne Ballpark but if, for any reason, that wasn’t to be, as long as baseball can be played in Australian the Melbourne Aces will play.”
But ABL chief executive Cam Vale would not be drawn on the specifics of ongoing talks with teams.
“The ABL is progressing towards finalising the schedules for this season,” Vale said.
“With a lot of work, both at league and team level, this week and early next week to be prepared to play this season.”
Ralph credited the “outstanding” Department of Home Affairs for its efficiency in the exemptions process.
As it stands, the Aces start the season in Sydney and Perth, before a four-game set at Melbourne Ballpark against the Heat from December 31-January 3.
Ralph has offered to compensate the Perth Heat ownership group to play its home series against the Aces in Melbourne should the WA border stay closed to visitors.
“We‘ve been in discussions with Perth … and they’ve been receptive to that,” Ralph said.
“They haven’t committed to it, but certainly considering that if it becomes necessary.”
ABL clubs continue to announce players and specialist coaches as if the season will go ahead as scheduled.
Most of Saturday’s papers speculate on the likelihood of schools reopening to more pupils next month.
For the Daily Mirror, the plans are “in chaos” and “on the verge of collapse”. The paper says the Labour-run Liverpool City Council is leading a revolt against the government’s proposed restart date of 1 June, after ministers and scientific advisers failed to convince unions it was safe to do so during a virtual meeting on Friday.
The Guardian says union leaders were left with “more questions than answers” after the meeting, which some described as “confusing and chaotic” – around 50 people and organisations took part.
The Daily Telegraph says ministers are “incensed” that the biggest teaching union – the National Education Union – is opposed to the school reopening plan.
One government source suggests to the paper the union is putting “ideology” ahead of the interests of children.
In its editorial, the Telegraph urges Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer to use his influence to change the position of unions and what it describes as the “militants in Liverpool”.
The paper says the poorest will be hit hardest if their children are denied proper schooling for months and calls for a “concerted cross-party effort” to end the lockdown and get them back in the classroom.
“A glimmer of good news” is offered by the Daily Mail courtesy of Sir Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.
Writing in the paper, he says hospital admissions for coronavirus have halved since the peak of the pandemic – with just over 9,000 patients being treated each day.
He makes clear “we’re not out of the woods yet” but says the NHS will be moving “heaven and earth” to restart services for non-coronavirus patients who need support.
Sir Simon also urges people not to return to the heavy drinking and disorderly behaviour which all too often crippled accident and emergency departments before the crisis.
The Times reports that more women than ever have joined the exclusive ranks of the Sunday Times Rich List.
The paper says the list has always been predominantly a “boy’s club”, but that 150 women worth more than £120m each have made their mark this year.
The Tetra-pak heiress Kirsten Rausing is named as the richest woman – with an estimated fortune of more than £12bn.
But the “high fives” should be put on hold, the Times says, as it points out the gender pay gap is even more acute among the “mind bogglingly wealthy” than the wider population.
The Sun offers a glimpse of what a visit to your local could look like in the not too distant future. It’s been to a pub in Buckinghamshire, which claims to have found a safe way of reopening during the pandemic.
The paper explains that a trial scheme at the Betsey Wynne has seen a one-way system introduced for anyone entering and leaving the pub. Boozers sit at tables two metres apart, separated by perspex screens, and order their food and drink via their mobile phones – having browsed disposable menus.
The pub’s owners are to present the ideas to the Cabinet Office – and say they could be ready to reopen properly within three weeks.