Naomi Osaka wins, and an era begins


Suddenly, Osaka has won more titles than all other current players except the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters, who is semi-unretired. She has established one interim mark for posterity: she has won all four finals she has played to date.

As Serena Williams’ career tails away, and after a long period of flux in which every major seemed to produce a new winner, Osaka has emerged as the standard-bearer, with both a game and a voice to lead the sport, and a heritage to widen its appeal. The vanquished Brady called her “an inspiration”.

For now, though, Osaka was content to lower her sights and express gratitude for the chance to play at all at this time. “I feel like playing a grand slam now is a super privilege, and it’s something I won’t take for granted,” she said on court. “Thank you to everyone for making this tournament possible.”

Naomi Osaka proved too good, securing her second Australian Open and fourth grand slam singles title.Credit:Getty Images

Brady won’t consent in this idea, but having come through hard quarantine – and making no complaint – simply to be in this final was an achievement. As much could be told when she fell flat on her back after her hard-fought semi-final win over Karolina Muchova. It was an end in itself.

More even than Osaka, Brady personified the whole tournament. She was relieved to be playing at all, delighted to get to the end, glad of a crowd to bear witness. Osaka was there to win it.

Osaka would have meant no ill on the podium when she asked publicly whether Brady preferred to be called Jennifer or Jen. But its effect was to ask: do I know you? It affirmed the gap between them. Brady is top 20, but Osaka is now No. 2 and drawing a bead on Ash Barty at No. 1.

Osaka is still growing and filling out as a tennis player. She and Brady had played a torrid semi-final at the US Open, described by both as memorable, won by Osaka 6-3 in the third. That clash made it clear that Brady even more than Serena Williams was one player who might be able to match Osaka blow for heavy blow.

To the winner the spoils: Naomi Osaka with the trophy.

To the winner the spoils: Naomi Osaka with the trophy.Credit:Eddie Jim

“I told everyone that would listen that you’re going to be a problem, and I was right,” Osaka said on the podium. It was a safe platform for graciousness. But however far Brady had come since then, Osaka had widened the margin.

In truth, each player was her own problem as well as the other’s.

The first set was best described as error-strewn. The stats tell the uninspiring tale. Both players struggled to land more than two in five of their first serve. Osaka’s eight winners were outweighed by 15 errors, Brady’s 10 winners by 18 errors.

A flukey breeze did not help two players who depend on precision big hitting, but was only a partial explanation. Brady could have been expected to be nervous and was apprehensive. She knew Osaka would come at her and that she would have to get her retaliation in first. Looking back, it is remarkable to think that Brady had a point to lead the match.

Jennifer Brady stretches for a shot against Naomi Osaka in the final.

Jennifer Brady stretches for a shot against Naomi Osaka in the final.Credit:Eddie Jim

Osaka in the first set played down to the level. Of the consummate player who blew away Serena Williams in a semi-final, there were only glimpses. But those glimpses were good enough for six straight games in the middle of the match, and they won it.

But it was always a contest that struggled to get out of the way of its own billing. In the second set as in the first, errors outnumbered winners on both sides of the net. At 4-0 in the second, only formalities remained. Brady rallied to play her best tennis of the match, but Osaka had its running. She finished the match as she had begun it, with an unplayable service game.

Often enough, a final is an anti-climax. It’s the long run that counts. Osaka’s put her name on the trophy this night, but her win was secured by her victory from two match points down over Garbine Muguruza in the round of 16 and her eclipse of Serena Williams in the semi-finals. With due respect to Barty, Osaka is now the monarch of women’s tennis.

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The Cameron Smith era at the Melbourne Storm is officially over


Cameron Smith has officially handed the captaincy torch over at Melbourne Storm and it’s going go take two men to fill the legendary skipper’s boots.

Jesse Bromwich and Dale Finucane have been confirmed as co-captains after serving as long-time deputies to Smith, who, despite not making any formal announcements, won’t play at the NRL premiers any more.

Smith had been outright captain of Storm since 2008 and was the game’s longest serving captain before moving to Queensland following last year’s Grand Final win, where he is still considering his future in the NRL.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy conceded it was “very unlikely” Smith, who has been linked to the Gold Coast Titans, would return to Melbourne, but while the door remains open, it’s unlikely the future immortal will step through it.

Finucane and Bromwich will officially lead out the team together for the first time in the NRL season opener against South Sydney at AAMI Park on Thursday, March 11.

Bromwich, 31, made his debut for Storm in 2010 and has played 248 matches, headlined by three grand final wins (2012, 2017, 2020).

He has previously captained Storm in Smith’s absence on six occasions and led New Zealand in the 2016 Four Nations tournament and 2017 Anzac Test.

Finucane, 29, played his 200th NRL match in last season’s finals series and has lined up in 135 games for Melbourne since joining the club from Canterbury in 2015.

He has played in six grand finals for two premiership victories (2017 and 2020), made his State of Origin debut for New South Wales in 2019 and again featured in the 2020 Origin series at the end of last season.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy said Finucane and Bromwich had demonstrated their leadership qualities on and off the field for a number of seasons.

“Jesse and Dale were identified some time ago as possible future captains of our club,” he said.

“Through our leadership program, they have progressed and developed their leadership skills, especially in the last couple of years, and have had a great captain to learn from in Cameron Smith, who was a wonderful leader of our team for so many years.”

Bellay labelled Smith the “the best captain the game has seen in modern times”.

“With it now being very unlikely that Cameron will be part of Storm this year, now is the right time to promote Dale and Jesse to the joint captaincy role to take our club into the future,” he said.

Storm will have a six-man leadership group in 2020 including Cameron Munster, Kenny Bromwich, Felise Kaufusi and Christian Welch.

Hooker Harry Grant, who is set to take over Smith’s on-field position after returning from a year on loan to the Wests Tigers, was also included in Storm’s emerging leaders group.

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End of an era: Iconic business cuts final ties with Ballina


After shutting its Ballina factory last year and putting more than 30 people out of work, Thursday Plantation is about to cut its final ties with the Northern Rivers.

The property on Gallans Rd is now up for sale, marking the end of an era for this iconic local company.

It was founded in the 1970s by Eric White.

He was fascinated by the antibacterial power of tea tree oil, and decided to establish a plantation in Ballina.

“After four years of painstaking research and lobbying, a crown lease was granted,” the Thursday Plantation website explains.

“It arrived via the once-a-week mail, on a Thursday in 1976, and Thursday Plantation was born.”

 

The Thursday Plantation site on Gallans Rd, Ballina, is up for sale by expressions of interest.

 

When Mr White’s health failed, his stepson Christopher Dean and his wife Lynda continued with the business, eventually selling to Integria Healthcare in 2011.

Packaging continued at the Ballina site until Integria closed the factory, cafe and visitor information centre in 2020.

>>> Iconic tea tree company leaves Ballina, 35 jobs lost

Operations were transferred to Integria’s existing facility in Warwick, Queensland and to other Australian manufacturers.

 

Thursday Plantation's tea tree products are internationally renowned.

Thursday Plantation’s tea tree products are internationally renowned.

 

Now the 70ha “split block” site on Gallans Rd is up for sale by expressions of interest, closing at 4pm on Thursday, March 11.

New owners would pick up the entire former tourist centre and manufacturing/packaging facility, which includes a large warehouse, visitors’ centre, administration building and 80 carparks.

 

The entrance to the Gallans Rd, Ballina site.

The entrance to the Gallans Rd, Ballina site.

 

There are also five Therapeutic Goods Administration accredited packaging rooms, and approval for additional warehousing and carparking.

For more information phone Chris Harley from North Coast Commercial on 0412 758 830.



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Looking back at the era of Smith, Warner, Lanning and Perry, and who’s next for Australian cricket


The Test series loss by the Australian men’s cricket team to India will trigger a period of reflection, as players, fans and selectors wonder what’s next.

The loss comes about 10 years after Australia’s four most senior players made their debuts: Tim Paine (2010), Steve Smith (2010), Nathan Lyon (2011) and David Warner (2011).

It’s been a rollercoaster decade: highs like holding onto the Ashes in 2019 after the cheating incident, but also multiple home series defeats against both India and South Africa.

Despite the failure to dismiss India at the Gabba, Australia’s bowling attack is its most fierce since the attack led by Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath at the turn of the century.

Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are in elite company with at least 200 Test wickets each, and spearhead Pat Cummins with 164 is not far behind.

Queensland spinner Mitch Swepson took 10 wickets against NSW in November.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

If the form of Starc and Lyon continues to tail off, there are others ready to step up.

James Pattinson heads a backup band supported by players like Jhye Richardson, Sean Abbott and Chris Tremain.

Fears spin has become an area of weakness have been allayed somewhat this year by leg-spinner Mitch Swepson’s 23 wickets in the Sheffield Shield season so far. 

A run-scoring duopoly

Steve Smith and David Warner have defined the past decade of Australian men’s Test cricket … for good and bad.

Smith was recognised as the ICC’s Test player of the decade last year. He is on track to match some of the game’s great scoring records if his form holds up, while Warner is not far behind.

David Warner and Steve Smith
David Warner and Steve Smith in South Africa in 2018 during the tour they cheated.(Reuters: Rogan Ward)

Even comparing their records with the 100 all-time accumulators of Test runs, they both impress.

But the gap between them and their current team-mates is jarring.

Since the debuts of Smith in 2010, dozens of batters have been tried and discarded.

Of those that made it to at least 20 innings, some, like Ed Cowan, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, have been unlucky given their replacements have struggled even more than them.

Of the current crop, only Marnus Labuschagne appears to be on a similar trajectory to Smith and Warner.

Following defeat against India, selectors will go back over recent first-class performances. Will Pucovski and Cameron Green have already been elevated, but others like Ben McDermott are knocking on the door.

Australia is scheduled to host the Ashes in November.

Lanning climbs the ladder

The Australian women’s cricket team capped off a successful decade with their Twenty20 World Cup win in March, days before the coronavirus lockdown.

It was their fifth T20 title from six attempts since 2010.

After failing to make the final in the 2017 ODI World Cup, they will be looking to capitalise on the talents of the current generation to make amends in 2022 in New Zealand — six current players are among the top 100 run scorers of all time.

Two cricketers hug as they celebrate a T20 international victory.
Meg Lanning and Ellyse Perry will be looking to crown a dominant era at the 2022 World Cup.(Reuters: Peter Cziborra)

Lanning is on the path to become the greatest ever if she can replicate the run scoring of her first decade in ODIs.

Ellyse Perry was recently named ICC’s women’s cricketer of the decade, despite enduring a tough year.

Her status as an all-time great is secured, but the team’s bowling attack has strength in depth.

Both Megan Shutt and Jess Jonassen debuted in 2012 and now have more than 200 ODI wickets between them.

The team plays Twenty20 and ODIs in New Zealand in March and April. The ODI World Cup is scheduled for the same time in 2022.

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Shaq slams James Harden as Brooklyn trade ends Houston era


NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has slammed James Harden following his move from Houston to Brooklyn yesterday.

Harden did everything in his power to force a trade out of the Rockets, including not showing up to pre-season training, partying in direct violation of league COVID protocols, gaining weight and speaking of his desire to leave in the media.

With the situation untenable and his teammates frustrated, Houston made the call to move Harden to the Nets, in exchange for four unprotected first round picks and four rights to swap picks.

Cleveland and Indiana were also part of the deal, with the Rockets landing former All-Star Victor Oladipo, while Brooklyn gave up Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Harden’s tenure in Houston, as Shaq points out, can be summed up by three players. The Rockets did everything in their power to build a championship team around the 2018 NBA MVP, trading for All-Stars Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook in three different intervals.

In all three instances, Harden asked for the player to be brought in and subsequently asked for them to be traded away.

In the Paul case, the Rockets also had to trade away draft picks to Oklahoma City in order to bring in Westbrook. Paul would go on to outplay Westbrook the following year, rubbing salt in the wounds of that deal.

Taking everything into account, O’Neal did not hold back in his assessment of the Harden era in Houston.

“When you say you gave the city your all, that ain’t true,” Shaq told NBA on TNT.

“You asked for Dwight Howard, (they) gave him to you, didn’t work out. You asked for Chris Paul (they) gave him to you. You asked for some shooters, (they) gave it to you. (You) asked for Russell Westbrook, your home boy from little league, (they) give him to you and it didn’t work out.

“And when you say ‘I gave you everything’, I say no you didn’t because the last five games when it came to (playoff) elimination, you’re one (win) and four (losses), you’re shooting 41 per cent, 24 per cent from three, 32 assists and 27 turnovers.

“I used to be like James. I used to come home and complain ‘man he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that’ and my father, rest in piece, would say ‘well what the hell did you do?’

“(Harden) ain’t done nothing. He hasn’t stepped up when he was supposed to step up.

“When you’re the man and you make $30 or $40 million a year, it’s a big responsibility. (Charles Barkley) had said this many times, when you’re the man, you’ve got a big responsibility and it’s all on you.

“So when it was time to show up, he ain’t shown up. So I know a lot of people in Houston are glad he’s gone.”

The Nets will have to put their star trio of Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together fast, with the shortened season not giving them the usual 82 games to build chemistry.

On top of that, Irving is currently away from the team and was spotted at his sister’s 30th birthday without a mask, violating the league’s COVID protocols.

Despite that, O’Neal said if Brooklyn doesn’t get it together and win the championship this year, then they have failed.

“Now (Harden’s) got his little super team. He’s got to win this year. If he doesn’t win it this year, it’s a bust. Period,” he said.

It’s unclear when we will see the trio together for the first time, given Irving’s absence.

Durant has returned from a torn Achilles and looks as dominant as ever, while Harden will need to work himself into playing shape after a poor start to the season.





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Waller calls for dawn of a new era in stable life


Compared to the European outfits, Australian stables started early mainly because they were not situated on racecourses where the training facilities were available. In most instances, our horses were walked to the track to avoid vehicle traffic. But most equine accommodation these days is on the racecourse.

Once it was a case of the earlier the better for many stables, because horses could be galloped fast even in the dark, away from prying eyes, thus providing a great source of insider information. Again, this could be maintained as no longer necessary with racing being more transparent. Seemingly.

“The easy answer is to start trackwork later in the morning, as late as we can.’’

Chris Waller

However, why did the turf’s forebears do it so tough? Chasing the big pay day or an outstanding horse.

Most of the jockeys had to ride light to get opportunities. Weight and energy was sapped by wasting – little food, much sweating and diuretics –and many went round in events close to collapse.

In my time, a 49kg limit was regarded as excessive. Now it can be round 52kg, and hoops can declare a kilo over at random, which was previously not tolerated. Jockeys are much healthier.

Team effort … Chris Waller’s stable staff with champion Winx. Credit:Sharon Lee Chapman

And trainers were more horsemen than business brains. Most had to battle to find the settling for feed bills and veterinary services, let alone accountants, because numerous owners were late or non-payers.

“Why would anyone want to be a trainer?” Tom Kennedy, an astute horseman who became Sydney Turf Club chairman, declared as he departed from Randwick to a more comfortable life. “It’s a seven day a week job, starting before dawn, no holiday pay or sick leave. No guaranteed wage. You do it in the hope of getting a good horse, paying off all the debts and starting the merry-go-around again.”

Sure, prior to moving indoors, bookmakers were exposed to the elements in the golden years but insulated by the knowledge that they only had to open their bag for punters to throw money into it.

Rob Waterhouse, for one, would welcome the return of operating in the heat, rain and even hail with old-time racegoers surging at him seeking the best odds.

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Despite their toil, strappers – so called because of a strapping motion with a cloth when dressing a horse – were the worst remunerated for feeding, watering and grooming plus accompanying their charge on race days, all vital to the thoroughbred. Some were well paid when the stable was producing winners at the right odds but in other cases were closer to slave labour, living on affection for the horse and the financial return of stable sting.

“We are not going to get new people into the game unless they have a mad love for horses and racing, and that is getting few and far between,” Waller deduced, stressing the “burnout” factor.

“We live in a city of five million people and Parramatta is on my doorstep, but we don’t get school kids coming down saying they want to work with horses.

“The easy answer is to start trackwork later in the morning, as late as we can.’’

Perhaps the old methods have served their time, but youngsters starting with great trainers acquired an education that couldn’t be gained in any school or university. Yes, the hours were demanding but the price paid to get the knowledge.

Racing is now at a more enlightened time, but I wouldn’t tell Gai Waterhouse when to train horses. Or people.

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Australia’s pace attack that dismantled India in first Test up there with my era: Glenn McGrath


Glenn McGrath was part of a bowling attack many at the time described as Australia’s best ever, but he says the current crop may be just as good.

McGrath teamed up with Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and others as part of a fearsome attacking unit that helped Australia dominate Test cricket for years.

Australia’s current quartet of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon have now been in combination for several years and are beginning to forge a reputation as a historically great combination.

In the wake of their performance in the first Test against India in Adelaide, where their relentless second-innings assault saw the tourists dismissed for a record-low total of 36, comparisons were made to the McGrath-era attack.

And McGrath has no problem with that, as he told the ABC Sport commentary team at the SCG on day one of the third Test.

“I’ve always been impressed with the bowling unit that Australia has had for quite some time, with Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon,” he said.

“That’s been the backbone for quite a few years and they’re as good a bowling attack as anywhere in the world — and up there with the best of all time.”

BowlerTestsWicketsAverage
S. Warne14570825.41
G. McGrath12456321.64
B. Lee7631030.81
J. Gillespie7125926.13
P. Cummins3315321.51
N. Lyon9939431.63
M. Starc6025226.75
J. Hazlewood5420225.86

‘No weak link’

Nathan Lyon is working his way up the all-time wicket takers list.(AP/Photosport: Andrew Cornaga)

The lanky former NSW quick said the foursome worked together in the same way he and Warne, Lee and Gillespie used to.

“There’s just no respite for the batsmen.

“That session in Adelaide, there was not a single bad ball, it was just incredible bowling.

“I’ve had big wraps on these guys for a long time and they’re as good as any bowling attack Australia’s had.

“They all offer something a little bit different. You’ve got Hazlewood and Cummins who are just so consistent, Starc just has that X-factor and wicket-taking ability, and Lyon’s called the GOAT because he’s the leading off-spin wicket taker for Australia, all time, so there’s just no weak link there.”

Aussie batsmen failing to get on top this series

McGrath, who joined the ABC Sport team from India, where he’s commentating on this series, is still running the Pink Test fundraising from afar for the McGrath Foundation.

The aim this year is to raise $1m for breast cancer support and education, and place Breast Care Nurses in communities across Australia.

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He said the series was perfectly poised leading into the Sydney Test, with the bowlers on top.

“I thought at the start of the series the bowling would dominate and whichever team adapted better batting-wise would probably win,” McGrath said.

“You look at that first Test, Australia had that absolutely dominant session where they bowled India out for 36, which changed the way the game was going.

“And then in the second Test, India bounced back — I was a little surprised with our batsmen, they were a little bit negative, they weren’t being proactive against bowlers, they were more about defence and survival.

“On pitches that do a little bit, it’s a bit of an issue.

“So I’d like to see our batsmen come out and play without fear, and back themselves, and put it back on the Indian bowlers.

“The fact that it’s one-all means there’s a lot of excitement around it coming into the Sydney Test.”

Listen live to ABC Sport’s coverage of the second Test.

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Western Force appoint new CEO for new era


Former NZ rugby administrator Tony Lewis has been handed the job of turning the Western Force into a trans-Tasman powerhouse after being named as the franchise’s new chief executive.

The Force have been on the lookout for a new chief executive since Mark Evans announced his retirement late last year.

Evans, who will continue in the role until February 1, said COVID-19 travel restrictions combined with having family in the UK made it impossible for him to carry out the role long term.

Lewis played for the Western Suburbs club (now Wests Scarborough) while living in Perth in the late 1980s and represented the State in 1987 before making a successful transition into sporting administration.

He has been the chief executive of the Tasman Rugby Union for seven years, during which time the Tasman Mako has emerged as New Zealand’s champion provincial team and become a production line for Super Rugby and international players.

The Mako won back-to-back New Zealand provincial titles in 2019 and 2020 and have appeared in a total of five grand finals.

Before his role as Tasman chief executive, Lewis was general manager at Sydney’s Randwick Rugby Club, and a high performance cricket manager at the NSW Blues.

Billionaire mining magnate Andrew Forrest saved the Force from extinction when the Perth-based franchise was controversially axed from Super Rugby ranks by Rugby Australia in 2017.

Forrest had big plans to launch a breakaway tournament that was first dubbed World Series Rugby and later morphed into Global Rapid Rugby.

The COVID-19 crisis brought Global Rapid Rugby to a halt after just one round of its debut season in 2020, but the pandemic opened the door for the Force to be included in an Australian-only version of Super Rugby last year.

Cash-stricken Rugby Australia have since thrown their full support behind the Force, who have been invited back into Super RugbyAU in 2021 and will also compete in the new trans-Tasman competition.

“Tony’s appointment is another key building block for the Force and underlines my drive for Western Australia to have the best Academy system across all of Australian sport, through which we can develop, recruit and retain the best young players, just as the Mako have done so successfully in New Zealand,” Forrest said.

“This program will not only strengthen local club and school rugby, but also help support the success of the Wallabies as the Force looks to produce more international players.”

The Force have embarked on a huge recruiting drive, snaring players such as Irish superstar Rob Kearney, Argentinian internationals Tomas Cubelli, Julian Montoya, Tomas Lezana, Santiago Medrano and Domingo Miotti, as well as Wallabies duo Tevita Kuridrani and Tom Robertson.





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