“I think the Olympics is something that excites a lot of people. I dedicated four years to the sevens program and (Tokyo) was something we were building towards. Then COVID happened.
“Potentially, it’s something I would like to tick off.
“But at the same time, playing for the Wallabies is something I dreamed about as a kid. We will see how it plays out.”
Anstee may not be overly eager to return to the Australian Sevens fold but he’s cognisant the skills he’s developed are largely thanks to the all-encompassing nature of the seven-man game.
“In Sevens, you need quite a broad skill set,” he said.
“Sometimes, in 15s, if you’re not good at a certain skill, you can hide from it or get away from it.
“In Sevens, you’re going to get found out if you can’t catch and pass 15 metres, if you can’t clean out or you can’t make your one-on-one tackles.
“I think I’ve learned and developed a lot of parts of my game there and I’d like to think I’ve brought them into the 15 man game.”
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The attempted moustache on his top lip and mature personality can’t hide the fact he looks like he could be riding one of the top-weights at Randwick on Saturday.
He weighs 78 kilograms. The Roosters are keen to see him push into the 80s.
“The worry’s not the footy – his size is,” Robinson says candidly. “But he’s very strong. If you’re weak when you’re that size, you’re in trouble. But he’ll get stronger. Like Joey [Andrew Johns], Alfie [Allan Langer] or JT [Johnathan Thurston], he’ll get the weight he needs as he keeps going. The boys care for him so they will protect him. He’s their little brother.”
Walker was certainly no speed bump against the monstrous Warriors, although they never quite managed to isolate him in defence as the better teams will do.
What’s important is he’s not scared. He’s not afraid of the contact, whether in defence or attack, as he showed when he dug into the line and laid on a try for Nat Butcher.
He almost seems insulted when I ask as much.
“Definitely not!” he says. “We trained every day last year with Gussy [Angus Crichton] or big Jared [Waerea-Hargreaves] running at me every session. Having bodies like that at you every day means you feel confident tackling anyone in the NRL.”
Walker’s initiation continues on Saturday night when the Roosters host the Sharks at the SCG.
These early stages of his career aren’t just exciting for fans of his club but also the game because he has the ability to change it.
He could actually bring it back to something it once was; a halfback playing on-the-ball, unencumbered by the coach’s instructions, playing what’s in front of him, passing long or running at the line, running the show like a boss.
“Eyes-up footy” has become the most overused – and misused – term in rugby league but, in Walker’s case, it precisely describes how he plays.
‘Their philosophy was to play what you see and don’t be afraid to play footy. If you see space, don’t be afraid to take it.’
Sam Walker on father Ben and uncle Shane
He learnt the importance of playing what’s in front of him from his father Ben and uncle Shane, who were both streetwise players before revolutionising how the Ipswich Jets played in the Queensland Cup, from short kick-offs to playing front-rowers well wide of the ruck.
In many respects, the rules introduced to the NRL in the last two seasons promote the style of football the Walker brothers have been teaching for years. It’s the style their son and nephew was born to play.
“Their philosophy was to play what you see and don’t be afraid to play footy,” Walker says. “If you see space, don’t be afraid to take it. I’d go into their meetings at the Jets, I’d sit in video sessions, and I’d see how they dissected a game of football. I started to see what they see. Since I was 10 years old, I was training with former NRL players, or fringe NRL players, seeing how they play their footy and listening to their ideas. At the Jets, they let you express yourself – and I can express myself here at the Roosters.”
The cynics will say Walker signed with the Roosters ahead of other clubs, including the Broncos, purely for money. He reportedly signed a two-year deal at 16 worth $300,000.
In truth, he’d been a Roosters fan since he was a young boy, falling in love with them when Ben woke him up to watch the thrilling final moments of the Roosters’ qualifying final against the Wests Tigers in 2010.
From then on, Walker had team photos on his bedroom wall and begged for a Roosters jumper, much to the bemusement of his father, a former Bronco.
Now, Walker is wearing the No.7 after Luke Keary was sidelined by an ACL injury.
Before his debut, the key part of his game that excited the former halfbacks who had already watched him play was his long ball – an almost forgotten art in this era of block plays and low-risk football.
From the age of eight, Walker and his father would sit on opposite ends of the lounge-room in the family’s home at Burleigh Heads and pass to each other.
“We’d do a hundred passes back and forth,” Walker says. “I was eight, practising my spirals. Then, the way Ipswich played, they made you practise your passes every session because that’s the way you stripped a team away very easily.”
These are early days on the big stage, of course, but Walker’s desire to shake up the way the game is played is supported by his coach.
Robinson was the first to describe Walker to me as an “old-school half”. What did he actually mean by that?
“Coaching’s become more prominent, more controlled and he’s an old-school halfback in the sense that he plays the game with less rules,” Robinson says. “There’s more of a freedom to his play. We didn’t have left and right [players] a few years back. We’ve tried not to play like that the last few years at the Roosters, with Mitchell [Pearce], Cooper [Cronk], although he was more right-sided, then Keary coming into this year. We wanted to recruit that style of player; an old-school half. With Sam, there isn’t that fear of what the guy in the box will say, which is a great thing. He embodies the way a halfback should play the game.”
Robinson believes it’s the start of a revolution, not just for his side but the NRL.
“That’s the future of the game, to bring some of that back,” he says. “It’s a big burden to bear, but we’re not asking that of him. There’s an absolute respect for the game from him, too. He loves the game and respects the game. But he’s a boy who’s just getting going.”
For all his abundant gifts, perhaps the most pleasing attribute Walker displays is his attitude.
It almost seems fashionable for young footballers to say how much they don’t watch the game they are paid handsomely to play.
Worse still, they lament that they’re not playing in the NFL or NBA or playing golf instead of rugby league.
Not Walker. He’s an unashamed footy addict.
“I live and breathe it,” he says. “I’ve always been around footy players. I try to watch every game. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.”
He shakes his head when asked about players who don’t share his passion.
“I want to watch and learn as much as I can,” he says. “The more I watch, the more I understand.”
The more he plays, the more we’ll be watching.
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Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.
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Publishing a debut novel has been a “long journey” for Waurn Ponds teacher of 20 years Belinda Lyons-Lee.
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“While in lockdown we spent a lot of time with Lewis’ teammates, and they were a good support for Sam as well.
“Looking back now, he stuck it out and it’s all been worth it.”
Walker will run onto the SCG turf on Sunday for the Warriors clash. He replaces the injured Luke Keary. There will be a good chance he remains in first grade all year.
His parents were allowed to exit Brisbane before the shutdown and will be at the game. Caslick and Holland, however, could miss the special afternoon as Holland sweats on making his own debut for the Rebels.
Caslick and Walker became friends when Caslick’s brother, also Sam, played under Ben and Shane Walker at the Ipswich Jets.
Just as Caslick has become a poster girl for sevens – and a huge chance of winning a second Olympic gold in Tokyo – Walker is tipped to carve out his own giant reputation in the NRL.
“Lewis and I were only speaking the other day about how Sam will go out there and kill it because he’s got so much ability and how he won’t be overawed by the situation,” Caslick said.
While all the focus was on Joseph Suaalii at a recent Roosters media day, Walker told the Herald that the pandemic and support of his family, Caslick and Holland had him more than prepared for this season.
“I think I’m ready, and having that extended break with COVID, it sort of became an extended pre-season and I learnt a lot about my game; my passing, kicking and running game,” Walker said.
“I got down to about 72kg. It was tough. I was in boarding school where a lot of food was prepared for me, then I moved and had to learn to cook, I couldn’t go out and get food. Charlotte and Lewis were so helpful.
“Mum also came down, she was my rock and another shoulder to lean on when I was struggling. But I feel more resilient now – I feel like I can take on anything.”
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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McLaren has revealed why Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo didn’t get his 2021 Formula 1 season off the flyer in Sakhir on Sunday evening.
After qualifying at sixth on the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Ricciardo was overtaken by new teammate Lando Norris on the opening lap before ultimately finishing seventh in the season opener.
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Norris finished three places ahead of the 31-year-old, narrowly missing out on his second F1 career podium.
Although coming seventh is by no means a failure, it was considered a relatively subdued start for Ricciardo at his new team.
But on Tuesday AEDT, McLaren revealed Ricciardo was combating car damage during Sunday’s race, which subsequently slowed him down.
The Perth driver sustained the damage during a minor collision with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly on lap four.
“Post-race we found damage to Daniel’s floor from the impact of Pierre running into the back of his car at the beginning of the race,” Renault team principal Andreas Seidl said.
“The level of damage cost a considerable amount of downforce. Despite the performance loss Daniel used his experience to cope with the issues and score important points for the team.”
Speaking to reporters after the season opener in Sakhir, Ricciardo admitted he still needed more time to settle in at McLaren.
“I would say if I (take) the weekend as a whole, I’m pretty happy. But if I just focus on the race itself, I struggled quite a bit in the race actually,” Ricciardo said, as reported by the F1 website.
“I couldn’t really extract the pace form the car and when I did, I could do it for one or two laps and then it would quickly drop off again with the tyres and the balance, so I just didn’t feel like I had a good race performance, or race package.
“Obviously it’s still new to me, so I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of homework for me to do personally to obviously keep getting better.
“I made plenty of notes through the race of what I (was feeling in) the car and where that was holding me back, so I’ll give feedback, I’m sure they’ll give feedback to me and we’ll come to Imola in better shape.
“But I think if seventh is a poor race, we’re looking all right!”
Ricciardo signed with the British team following an underwhelming two-year stint at Renault, where he secured two podiums.
Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was forced to hand back the lead in the final laps, before damning video emerged that showed the Mercedes champion benefited from some messy interpretations of the rules.
Russian debutant Nikita Mazepin crashed out in his opening lap in F1, prompting a reserve driver to mock the Haas rookie in a tweet that went viral.
Renault drivers Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finished in 13th and DNF respectively at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The next scheduled F1 race will take place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on Sunday, April 18th with lights out at 11pm AEDT.
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Adam Treloar was unceremoniously jeered by Collingwood fans but exacted revenge on the club that dumped him during the off-season, as the Western Bulldogs posted a 16-point win at the MCG.
The star midfielder had 18 disposals and five clearances, helping his new side snap a four-match losing streak against the Magpies.
Bailey Smith and Jack Macrae were outstanding as the Bulldogs registered a 10.9 (69) to 7.11 (53) triumph in front of 46,051 spectators.
Darcy Moore and Jeremy Howe fought hard in a Collingwood backline that tried to limit the damage from a deluge of Bulldogs forward entries.
But the weight of numbers was too great as the Bulldogs’ strong midfield generated a 61-41 advantage in inside 50s.
Smith, Macrae and Lachie Hunter racked up more than 100 disposals between them.
Smith also kicked two goals, as did key forward Aaron Naughton and Laitham Vandermeer.
Collingwood’s Brodie Grundy had tormented the Bulldogs in recent seasons but had his influence around the ground blunted by new ruck pairing Stefan Martin and Tim English.
Martin, recruited from Brisbane to assist emerging star English, did plenty of the grunt work in the ruck and allowed his younger teammate to push forward to good effect.
Collingwood forced out Treloar during last November’s trade period and the emotional midfielder publicly addressed the saga again during the build-up to his first outing with the Bulldogs, ensuring a keen focus on the round-one grudge match.
Treloar started on a wing and copped boos from Magpies supporters in the opening minutes but showed composure in response with his first touch of the ball.
Taking possession 80 metres from goal, he took two bounces and delivered a perfect pass to set up Naughton for the Bulldogs’ second major in a sizzling start.
They had three unanswered goals on the board inside six minutes and dominated both possession and territory during the opening term, generating a 20-7 advantage in inside-50s and a 12-point lead at quarter-time.
Both sides kicked goals from controversial 50-metre penalties during the second term and the Bulldogs created a scoreboard buffer by three-quarter time.
Magpies gun Jordan De Goey spent long periods through the midfield and finished with 0.3 in front of goal on a tough night.
Taylor Adams was solid for Collingwood, while Jamie Elliott and Brody Mihocek kicked two goals each.
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On weekends Henry and Lazzaro played their junior football together at St Mary’s in the shadows of Kardinia Park.
Bruhn was a Newtown player, playing alongside his brother Jaxon in a memorable U14s grand final against St Joseph’s that contained a young hard-running midfielder, Sam Walsh, who starred in his 40th consecutive match for Carlton on Thursday night.
Two years Walsh’s junior, Bruhn was playing above his grade under the tutelage of then Cats star Dan Menzel, who coached the Newtown youngsters to keep himself busy while recovering from another knee injury.
Both Walsh – an AFL Rising Star winner in 2019 – and Bruhn were in the best players that day as St Joseph’s won the match under grey skies at Hamlyn Park by six goals.
After having a Fremantle jumper waved in his face while he waited at the London Tavern for his name to be called out on draft night in December, Bruhn appeared shocked when the Giants picked him with selection 12 but his ability to keep a poker face to hide what he’s thinking is well known locally.
“I laugh at all the media stuff because what you see is what you get with him,” Lynch said.
Henry had the family crowded on the couch when Collingwood read out his name, a moment that saw Magpies premiership captain Nick Maxwell (a St Joseph’s stalwart who also attended St Robert’s) show some mock disgust at the thought at having a St Mary’s product at the Magpies, while Lazarro’s grin only grew wider when the Kangaroos dropped him in their pouch at pick 36.
Having not played football throughout 2020 the trio have been picked in round one, a reasonable effort in their first pre-season.
Henry was quiet in his first match on Friday night but on Sunday it’s Bruhn and Lazzaro’s turn as they line up for their respective teams in different states, a shared dream being fulfilled within two hours of each other.
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Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.
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In the end, the AFL’s promoted return to normality was somewhat overstated.
Sure, it was footy back at the MCG, and with a substantial crowd in the house to boot. But this wasn’t footy as we remembered it from a pre-COVID era — this was something new entirely.
This was AFL footy in the days of injury subs, strict interchange caps and umpires bellowing “stand!”. It was a version of the game that saw Carlton hang on until around about time-on in the last quarter before giving way to Richmond, instead of some time in the third.
It was thrilling and controversial in the same measure, a triumph and a complete failure all at once.
The opening game of the 2021 men’s season was a perfect storm of talking points for the AFL as everything the league put in the place over the off-season — right up until the the day before this opening game — collided together. And though the sample size remains small, it was enough to give us an indication of what to expect between now and September.
The first thing to note, and the point that the brains trust at AFL HQ will be most keen to stress, was that this was a sensational game of footy. From the first bounce, the ball just whizzed around the MCG at a ferocious and entirely unsustainable pace.
There was a constant whiff of physicality, right from Harry McKay’s early encounter with Nick Vlaustin, and the presence of 49,218 people at the ground added to the urgency. At surface level, it was everything Melbourne footy fans had missed and everything the AFL had hoped to conjure.
So what’s the negative? Plainly, the many holes in the new rules that quickly became clear; some that had been predicted and some that came as a concerning surprise.
Firstly, the injury sub. The rule that was parachuted in just hours before the first game, that was seemingly born out of a meeting of a select handful of the league’s coaches last week.
Regardless of how it came to fruition, the 23rd man is here. And it is a game-changer.
On Thursday night, both teams made use of the injury substitution, with Carlton taking Jack Silvagni off at half-time for Oscar McDonald and Richmond subbing Vlaustin for Jack Ross late in the third quarter.
The impacts of both were stark and immediate. McDonald kicked a goal within minutes of his introduction and another in the fourth quarter, with plenty of crucial marks and some big tackles in between, while Ross provided some pivotal late run as he picked up eight disposals of his own.
In both cases, the injection of fresh legs was positive for the team, a fact that is going to lead to a fundamental shift to what an injury means in an AFL match. What was once an unfortunate setback can all of a sudden be an advantage.
And while Silvagni’s shoulder injury looked fairly serious — a subluxed shoulder will certainly keep him out for at least 12 days, the minimum the AFL says an injury needs to justify a sub — Vlaustin’s diagnosis was basically just a nasty bump on the knee, the sort of contact injury that a player could quite conceivably recover from in a week.
Already, after just one game, the league could find itself in a serious pickle. Every coach in the AFL would have been watching this game, and would have seen how the substitutes made tangible, positive impacts for their teams, and should Vlaustin find himself able to play next week, it will be open season.
The sub rule was arguably introduced in response to, and will become even more important because of, the cut to a maximum of 75 interchanges per team and a return to full 20-minute (plus time-on) quarters.
That one was a decision made purely to increase fatigue, which for a long time has been suggested as the key to opening the game up and increasing scoring. It most certainly did the former — every player on the field was basically goosed by halfway through the third quarter — but whether it helped or hindered the flow of the game late, when teams were carefully managing their last few permitted interchanges, is probably up for debate.
But it makes that injury sub all the more enticing for coaches. The injection of even one pair of fresh legs as the game grinds to a halt around him could very easily be the difference in a match.
Finally, the man on the mark. The stand rule. Either the game’s saviour or the death of the code, depending which side of the fence you fall on.
After all the talk, all the AFL sales pitches, all the blowback from fans and horrifying clips from intraclub scratchies, its impact on this game was … maybe negligible?
It certainly didn’t ruin the game, and perhaps you could put the match’s pleasing aesthetics down to a bit more freedom for the ball-handler — though Dustin Martin said after the game he didn’t feel it had much of an impact at all.
But again, the wrinkles with this rule aren’t necessarily the obvious. The problems will come from the loopholes, of which two main ones have already appeared.
On a number of occasions, the man on the mark opted to not stand on the mark at all, but rather lurk a few metres back from that designated spot, in a position where they are free to jump and shuffle and move with impunity. It works, until Sam Petrevski-Seton gets stuck a little bit between the mark and the spot just far enough away from the mark, and is called for a 50-metre penalty.
Confused? Of course you are, it’s needlessly complicated. Collingwood’s Scott Pendlebury made a good point on the issue on Twitter, but if you aren’t completely up with your footy lexicon the whole thing may well go completely over your head.
The other loophole came with set shots, as players kicking for goals slashed five to 10 metres off their kicks by running just to the side of the man on the mark, who isn’t able to move to complete what would be a simple smother until it’s too late. As well as looking a bit silly, this manoeuvre played its part in a handful of goals on the night.
None of these are necessarily game-breaking, but there are worms escaping from cans all over the AFL right now, and up until now we are yet to hear a real plan on how they intend to put them back in.
So there’s food for thought, and much to watch out for in the coming days and weeks. Crucially, these probably aren’t talking points that should supercede the game, the power of Richmond’s performance and the positives Carlton can take away.
At the end of the day, for all of the Blues’ good work, they really only suffered from the simple fact that Dusty Martin played for the other team. Despite all the newness on the night, some things were never likely to change.
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Debut reveals videos have quickly become a staple of sports media around the world, but some are more special than others.
The AFL has been no stranger to them with Isabella Grant’s reveal to her AFL legend dad Chris ahead of her AFLW debut earlier this season.
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It’s one of many emotional moments captured by social media content producers across the league.
But are more special than others and GWS Giants debutant Matthew Flynn is one of the more emotional ones.
Flynn was the 41st pick of the 2015 Draft, with 1944 days between draft night and when he will make his debut on Sunday against St Kilda at GIANTS Stadium.
The 23-year-old Flynn and draftee Tanner Bruhn will make their debuts in the match with forward Jake Riccardi and Jesse Hogan set to miss the opening game of the season.
Poorly timed injuries had stood in his way of a debut in the past but despite tweaking an ankle two weeks ago, coach Leon Cameron told him he was in for the Giants.
So of course he called his parents and the Giants media staff were there to capture it for posterity.
First up was his dad Graham.
After some pleasantries, he told him “I’ve just come out of a meeting, I’m playing this week.”
Both men’s voices started cracking in a beautiful moment.
“I just spoke to your sister before and she said when do you reckon we’ll know if he’s going to play or not,” Graham said. “I said, ‘it won’t be until Thursday’.
“What is that 1944 days Matt? It’s been a … mate, well done. Truth, it’s been a slog for you. It’s been great to see you’ve stuck with out mate because a lot of people would have given up.”
Matt said after he found out that “I can’t stop shaking.”
“I knew he’d would cry,” Matt said. “He doesn’t cry. I reckon I’ve seen him cry three times and one was when I was drafted so I knew he’d cry.”
Next he called up his mum Julie, who was teaching a class.
She answered saying “I’m just teaching, can you call me back in 10 minutes.”
Matt asked: “Do you have two seconds for me? I’m playing this week.”
She immediately started screaming.
“You’re going to make me cry. I’m so happy for you.”
It’s moments like these that show just how hard it is to crack the top grade and what not only the players but the families go through.
Flynn grew up in Narrandera in southern NSW and has been part of the GIANTS Academy since he was 12 and was denied a debut in 2019 when he tore his ACL in a NEAFL match.
Flynn said the news was “surreal”.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” he told GIANTS TV. “I’ve been through a little bit, I’ve been through a knee and a couple of untimely injuries which put me in good stead now. It’s unbelievable. It’s genuinely a dream come true, I don’t know how many times I’ve dreamed about it. It’s unbelievable.”
Giants coach Leon Cameron was thrilled for the 23-year-old’s resilience to earn his place in the Giants first team.
“He walked into our footy club about 1940-odd days ago. It’s a wonderful story,” Cameron said.
“When we let the players know … there was a lot of emotion in the room because they know how hard Matty’s worked to get this opportunity.
“It puts a smile on my face.
“With AFL footy, it’s so hard, it’s brutal … ‘Flynny’ hasn’t had a lot of good luck over the last couple of years and he gets a great opportunity on Sunday.”
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