ONE WAY TICKET: Tigers playing for spot in AFLNC decider


PLENTY to play for at both ends of the AFL North Coast men’s ladder in round 10 as the competition enters the penultimate round.

A win for the table topping Grafton Tigers on foreign territory at the Sawtell Toormina Saints will see them claim the first spot in the grand final.

The Tigers have been a rags to riches story in 2020, going from cellar dwellers to an absolute premiership force. Earning the right to play in the season decider will be the next step in the club’s resurrection.

Their opponents were light on numbers last week and had to work hard to scratch together a team. Despite this, the Saints gave a good showing of themselves but were stung by the loss to the Breakers.

At full strength, the Saints have the capacity to match it with Grafton. This was evident in the draw that occurred between the two teams back in round 5, but the Sawtell players know that anything less than 100 per cent commitment is likely to end in disappointment.

Coffs Harbour Breakers are gunning for a spot in the finals while the Port Macquarie Magpies season is all but over. Photo: Brad Greenshields/Green Shoots Marketing

Port Macquarie Magpies are playing for pride when they take on Coffs Harbour Breakers at Fitzroy Oval.

The Magpies are in an unenviable position after falling out of the race for the finals and need to use the remaining two rounds of home and away footy to build towards 2021.

All at the club will be disappointed with the way the season has panned out, knowing that, at full strength, they had the troops to compete with all comers.

Getting a consistent team on the park has been the challenge throughout the season while the lack of a reserve grade team has often meant that their depth was tested.

The Breakers know that a win against Port will give them the upper hand in the race for second spot and hosting rights for the semi-finals.

Sawtell currently hold the advantage courtesy of the draw against Grafton from earlier in the season, but a slip up against the Tigers opens the door for Breakers to leapfrog ahead of their rivals.

Breakers are on a two-match winning run which surprisingly, is the strongest form they’ve shown all season. This is a must win match if the Coffs team wants to mount a serious defence of their premiership.

The rich rivalry continues as Sawtell Toormina and Coffs Harbour meet in a local derby in the women’s competition.

With final ladder positions already decided neither team stands to gain an advantage for the run to the finals. However, both teams will be keen for a strong showing as they prepare to meet again in the coming weeks.

The Saints have had a torrid time with injuries this season but are starting to see these players return. Their best performance was back in round 1 when they last had a fully fit roster so they’ll be looking to use this match to fine tune ahead of the do or die semi-final.

In what has been a tough season for the Sawtell women, they’re only one win away from a spot in the grand final. The Saints need a good performance in round 10 to give themselves the confidence to believe that they can get to the big dance and won’t just be making up the numbers.

Breakers have been the form team of the season and won’t want to drop a match at this late stage. They know the other teams are gunning for them and have done a terrific job as the competition’s front runners.

Just like Sawtell, they’ll be looking to build on their momentum for the grand final which is only three matches away. This will no doubt be a source of inspiration for the team as they look to ensure that their focus doesn’t slip in the last couple of matches that have no bearing on the finals.





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Premiers are playing hardball with coronavirus-induced hard borders ahead of National Cabinet meeting


That old adage “never get between a premier and a bucket of money” has become ‘never get between a premier and a COVID election’.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, two months from polling day, has been acting with the sort of single-minded political determination and ruthlessness that Scott Morrison might identify with in more normal circumstances.

As the national accounts this week confirmed, Australia is in the deepest recession since the 1930s Great Depression, the Prime Minister, desperate to speed the economy’s reopening, struggled to bring maximum pressure on premiers on matters over which he has no formal power.

At the start of the week, the Federal Government had two immediate aims for the following days: to force Victoria to provide a roadmap out of its lockdown, and to have the states at Friday’s National Cabinet agree to a COVID “hotspot” definition to pave the way for borders to re-open. (At present Queensland, which excludes people from hotspots, defines all of NSW and the ACT as hotspots, as well as Victoria.)

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Scott Morrison calls for COVID-19 restrictions to be eased in time for Christmas

In the wake of a work over from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced he’d outline a map this Sunday. How encouraging it is remains to be seen.

While several premiers have been recalcitrant about their borders, Palaszczuk has been in the Morrison Government’s particular sights — as well as those of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Medical and other hardship cases, exacerbated by confusion and delays, have brought sharp attacks on the Queensland Government, including from the PM. Queensland reacted by saying it would set up a unit in its health department to smooth the processes.

But Palaszczuk will campaign on keeping Queenslanders safe and in general her border toughness has served her well politically, according to polling on the issue. Her defence of it this week was defiant.

A road closure sign on the Queensland/New South Wales border
The Queensland border closure is a political topic guaranteed to gain attention.(ABC Gold Coast: Jennifer Huxley)

It’s a different story in Victoria

Paradoxically, Morrison finds Andrews personally easier than Palaszczuk to deal with. That’s despite the fact the Victorian Government’s bungling on quarantine and inadequacies in contact tracing have caused much more damage nationally than has Queensland’s border policy.

The relationship seems to endure the regular touch-ups the Federal Government gives Victoria. Berejiklian has also found Palaszczuk difficult.

Maybe this is a personality thing, but it’s also likely driven by the tensions around Queensland’s imminent election. Palaszczuk is totally focused on survival.

As Morrison prepared to take the hotspot proposal to the national cabinet, the Federal Government wound back its ambition.

The hotspot discussion was just the beginning of a process, was the official word. Morrison called Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan on Thursday morning and indicated the Federal Government was not seeking to take down the WA border — the feds are now saying WA is different in that it has no border towns.

By Thursday, Queensland and Western Australia had already pre-empted the meeting.

McGowan, with an election in March, declared, “We’re not going agree to bring down the border”, saying the hotspot approach was not as effective. Queensland suggested it would want to see 28 days of no community transmission before it rethought its position on NSW.

It was of no political use but the Government did receive support on the issue from an unexpected source. Paul Keating, asked about borders in an interview on the ABC, said: “I basically don’t agree with border closures anywhere. It is a national economy and the economy’s going to be stronger if people can move. Unless you had big emergencies — and we had an emergency on the NSW-Victorian border which is now abated broadly I think — the case for keeping border closures … is a very poor case.”

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AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan announces this year’s grand final will be played at the Gabba.

AFL triumph for Palaszczuk

Palaszczuk has used her border policy in a campaign to secure the AFL grand final for Brisbane, an effort that paid off this week.

The big match will be at Brisbane’s Gabba ground before a crowd of 30,000 — a week before polling day.

It is not just those in Melbourne who are upset. Palaszczuk’s critics, including the federal Nationals, piled on to accuse her of according the footballers and their executives privileges in their “hub” while ordinary people suffered.

Regardless, Palaszczuk will do everything to protect this AFL triumph. Her worst nightmare would be having to cancel the crowd because of a serious COVID outbreak.

Parliament done until October

Meanwhile the federal MPs from Queensland who attended the just-ended fortnight parliamentary sitting are headed into 14 days of home quarantine (at least they escape being confined in hotels).

The sitting (the first with a “virtual” component) concluded with a distinctly fractious final couple of days.

After the Government gagged debate on its tertiary fees legislation in the House of Representatives, Labor engaged in retributive disruption on a range of issues. The Government had wanted to ram the education legislation through this week but the Senate has forced a short inquiry, reporting later in the month.

Morrison will be glad to see the back of the Parliament, which doesn’t meet again until the October 6 budget. The Government secured the extension of its JobKeeper program for six months until the end of March, but the parliamentary setting gave Labor a platform to prosecute its argument that the rate should not be phased back.

Labor also used the sitting for a sustained attack over aged care, which culminated in the Senate censuring the hapless minister, Richard Colbeck. Morrison dismissed the motion by pointing out this had happened quite often to ministers over the years.

As the Government hunkers down to drafting its budget, it’s hard to recall a more difficult one to frame, even in the global financial crisis.

The national accounts told us growth was a negative 7 per cent in the June quarter (6.3 per cent annually) but that’s a snapshot of the past. The present and the future involve real time measurements and judgements that have to be made on inadequate information. The Victorian situation is a wildcard.

The scale-down of JobKeeper after September will see some struggling businesses decide their future, but the Government won’t have a full picture when it signs off on the budget.

But there’s a trickier challenge

The most elusive challenge is how to generate confidence.

The national accounts showed household income actually rose in the quarter, thanks to the huge amount of government cushioning, but consumption plunged.

This is hardly surprising. Apart from shutdowns and travel restrictions reducing the opportunity to spend, when huge numbers of workers are unemployed or at risk of losing their jobs, many retirees are finding their income squeezed, and the future is unclear, people will be conservative with their money. Savings rose in the quarter.

The budget is expected to bring forward already legislated tax cuts as one incentive to get spending going — although quite a lot of this money could be saved.

Anxious to fan the weak flames of hope, Morrison this week talked repeatedly about the country reaching some sort of COVID-safe normality by Christmas. Ahead of Friday’s meeting, his message to fellow leaders was, “We need to come together, we need to ensure that we are clear with Australians, that we will seek to make Australia whole again by Christmas.”

We’ll see whether that’s optimistic. But Palaszczuk, if she is returned at the election, may become more amenable after October to southerners travelling to Queensland for the festive season. At least, that’s the theory.

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and chief political correspondent at The Conversation, where this article first appeared.



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Playing experience a missing piece in transgender player debate


I can’t help but feel we haven’t progressed on this issue since I was playing post-transition 16 years ago and I’d like to share a little of my personal playing experience.

Caroline Layt playing for Sydney against Queensland in the Australian Rugby Union national championships final in 2007.

Caroline Layt playing for Sydney against Queensland in the Australian Rugby Union national championships final in 2007.Credit:Paul Seiser

I was told to keep my transgender status a secret by my then club coach, who doubled as my Sydney First XV representative rugby manager, when I decided to play rugby during the 2004 season.

His reasoning was to the point and it was along the lines of that I wouldn’t make any representative teams if my trans status became known.

For that year I took his tip and played under the radar.

Not only did I survive, but I thrived, as I was nominated finalist in the prestigious Sydney Morning Herald rugby awards at the end of that year and I also took out my club’s women’s first grade best and fairest and leading try scorer awards.

I was also a team member of the Sydney First XV representative team which took out the women’s national championship that year, adding icing to the cake.

I can already hear the naysayers baying for my blood and saying all manner of unkind things about my “male advantage” and that “men shouldn’t be playing women’s sport” etc. But the crux of the matter is I’d fully completed my medical feminising transition years earlier, I’d been cleared by a sports doctor and sports scientists to compete as a woman in women’s sport following the Harry Benjamin guidelines and IOC policy [the standard of the time]. The other ingredient was that I had trained bloody hard from 2001 as a track and field sprinter.

Unfortunately, my precarious “cisgender privilege” dried up after my transgender status became known due to my 2005 representative coach outing me.

All manner of things were done to me over the following seasons and I quickly learned all about human nature [good and bad], but in the process I never managed to reach the heights of 2004 again.

During the following season I even had to show cause to the powers that be at the Sydney Women’s Rugby Union as to why I could continue to play on?

I supplied my paperwork, including my being cleared to play women’s sport two years earlier. Within a day of my paperwork submission I was cleared to play on.

Which brings me back to the present.

I’m hopeful my lived rugby experience can sway the powers that be.

But maybe it’s best left to Verity Carl Smith, a transgender man, who once played at the elite women’s level. He was one of two transgender people who were included in the working group.

Smith was disappointed there wasn’t one trans rugby playing woman present in the room and he called out a hastily put together survey.

“They ran out of stuff in the meeting,” he said. “It was funny how they put together a hurried survey of 200 elite female rugby players stating they had played against elite trans players, when we know there are none registered currently.

“I made the room go quiet when I asked them to explain to me what a trans athlete looks like and we know they can’t possibly have played against them.”

The World Rugby recommendations appear to say it is OK for trans men and women to risk injury, as they propose an allowance for them to play against cisgender men. As a transgender woman who was two seconds slower over 100 metres [11.28 (h.t) to 13.54 (e)] and who lost almost a third of my strength [my bench press went from 115 to 70 kilograms 1 repetition max] after transition, I feel this is a ridiculous and potentially dangerous scenario.

No transgender woman will want to play with the men anyway, as post-transition, they don’t identify that way and the only thing this proposed ban will do is reinforce trans women to play in “stealth mode” like I did in 2004.

As for transgender men, under the proposed draft, they can play against cisgender men, but they’ll need to sign a consent and waiver form due to the risk of them being injured.

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Aaron Mooy’s move to Shanghai SIPG won’t hurt Socceroos, says Sydney FC’s Alex Wilkinson before playing against him in AFC Champions League


Mooy’s former international teammate, Sky Blues skipper Alex Wilkinson, had a brief stint in China with Jiangsu Sainty (now Jiangsu Suning) in 2011 and does not expect playing there will diminish his impact for the Socceroos ahead of a packed calendar of World Cup qualifiers next year.

“He’s obviously looking for a new challenge. China will bring that,” Wilkinson said on Saturday. “Shanghai’s a fantastic team, they’ve got a lot of great players – Hulk, Oscar, [Marko] Arnautović is there now as well. It’s a great city to live in, a great team. Good on him.

Brazilian midfielder Oscar is one of several superstar imports at Shanghai SIPG, Aaron Mooy’s new club.Credit:AP

“It’s a three-year deal, he’ll still be playing regularly and I don’t think it will affect his Socceroos performances as well. Everyone needs to respect his decision and I’m sure he hasn’t made it lightly.”

According to The Athletic, Mooy will earn $4.85 million per season with Shanghai SIPG, with the shift ending his four-season stint in England, where he played initially for Huddersfield Town before joining fellow Socceroo Mathew Ryan at Brighton on loan and then permanently last season.

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If the AFC Champions League continues, Sydney FC could face Mooy twice in quick succession, as they are yet to meet Shanghai SIPG in Group H after notching a loss and a draw against Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Korean powerhouse Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors earlier this year.

“When and if it gets played, who knows? He’s just going to add strength to them, obviously,” Wilkinson said.

“He’s a fantastic player, great passer of the ball, great finisher, great creator. It might make our job a little bit tougher when we come up against them.”

Meanwhile, Sydney are likely to take in a settled XI into Sunday’s grand final against Mooy’s old club, Melbourne City.

Defender Michael Zullo trained with the squad on Saturday but it appears the best he could hope for is a stint off the bench, with coach Steve Corica declaring his full confidence in young left-back Joel King’s ability to handle the pressure in what will be his first A-League decider.

“He’s taken the spot, really. Zullo’s been out for most of the season, Joel’s played all the season and I’ve got great belief in him. He’s done an amazing job, he’s grown through the year as well, he’s got better and better. It’s his spot now,” Corica said.

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The State of Origin wildcard that could dictate the playing future of Melbourne Storm captain Cameron Smith


The thought of Smith playing against the Storm by suiting up for the Broncos is anathema to the club. There is, however, an acceptable alternative to not playing another season in Melbourne, if only the ducks in the shooting gallery of the QRL and Broncos line up.

Kevin Walters will have to relinquish his position as Maroons State of Origin coach, beginning with the three games in November, if he is appointed coach of the Broncos.

Some former Origin greats see Smith as an assistant at the Maroons this year and occupying the position full time in 2021.

This scenario would reunify three of the players – Johnathan Thurston, Billy Slater and Smith – who contributed to Queensland’s spectacular run of success, winning eight consecutive series between 2006 and 2013.

The chemistry of the Maroons has never been quite right since Walters omitted Slater from the opening game of the 2017 series, upsetting some of the senior players.

NSW’s subsequent success the past two years has meant the Maroons haven’t been able to paper over the cracks and some see a Smith-Thurston-Slater triumvirate as promoting the next generation of Queensland players.

Young coaches seem to succeed in Origin.

Brad Fittler has won his first two series with NSW, while Mal Meninga was in charge during Queensland’s run of success.

Both had formerly failed at club level – Fittler with the Roosters and Meninga at the Raiders – but this merely reflects that club and representative coaching are different beasts.

Cameron Smith’s Origin record for Queensland is unsurpassed.Credit:Anthony Johnson

Bellamy, arguably the most successful club coach these past two decades, failed in his three Origin campaigns for NSW, admitting it was only in the final year that he “got” Origin.

Nobody “gets” Origin better than Smith, winning the Wally Lewis Medal for best player four times, in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2016.

Should the QRL resurrect Wayne Bennett – a coach successful at club and representative level – for the November series, it could unite him briefly with Smith, who Bennett chose for his first Origin match, the third game of 2003.

But if Smith signs with the Broncos for 2021, it won’t be with Bellamy as coach.

Bellamy has never broken a contract and is adamant he will finish in 2021 with Melbourne.

A campaign by a pair of agents to present a Bellamy-Smith package to the Broncos was predicated on Bellamy not having a manager and designed to land a lucrative commission.

It was never going to succeed, even before Storm chairman Matt Tripp sent out a “hands off message”.

Tripp has followed it up with an even stronger one, saying he wants to sign Bellamy to a multi-year contract, not necessarily as head coach.

“Craig can be Storm head coach for as long as he decides, but if he opts to retire at the end of next year, I want him to advise on his successor and mentor him and work with the assistants,” Tripp said. “I would like his advice on the streaming process of whoever we bring into the club because he is such as good judge of character. I want him here long term to empower the best culture in Australian sport.”

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Smith is destined to move up a floor in the department store of history, past Invincibles and Immortals to Unsurpassables.

As a record breaker, he has overturned the sport’s actuarial tables and the Storm will respect whatever decision he makes.

Should he choose coaching, or retire with Bellamy at the Storm in 2021, the history of the best club coach-captain duo would be preserved.

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Parramatta Eels deny playing for penalties


The Warriors-bound prop put the criticism down to opposition teams being “salty”.

“Look, teams are going to be salty when they lose. End of the day, it’s [about] who wins the game of footy,” Evans said.

“And if teams want to complain about people milking, they’re just angry they didn’t win.

“It doesn’t affect us. We will continue to play like we play, continue to do what we do and get on with it.”

Craig Bellamy “disagreed” with Arthur’s strident belief that none of his players were deliberately staying down to gain an advantage.

Moses was in his coach’s corner and took aim at any members of the media who saw the incidents in the win against Melbourne differently.

“I don’t really listen to the media or anything to do with the media or what you guys say,” Moses said.

“I guess any time you have a bloke that’s 110kg, 120kg sitting on the back of your neck, I don’t know, maybe you guys should have a try and see how it feels. That’s my look on it.”

When the point was made that Bellamy had also queried the Eels’ actions, Moses somewhat softened his stance.

“Everyone’s open to their opinion, I guess,” he said. “We can only control what we can control in our group and worry about what we can do. I can’t comment on it too much more.”

There will be a close eye kept on each and every hit up the Eels take on Thursday, when they face Souths in the match of the round.

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The hype is starting to build behind Souths after they put a perfect first half of football together and flogged Manly, quashing their finals hopes in the process.

But they are yet to beat any of the Storm, Panthers, Roosters, Raiders or Eels – the five genuine premiership hopes – and subsequently have a point to prove this weekend.

“They like to throw the footy around a fair bit so we will have to start fast against them,” Moses said.

“They [faced] a good Manly side and put a pretty good score on them so we’ll have to start fast this week.”

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Saint playing the Long game


Being an active AFL player during Indigenous round with the surname Long, as well as being a relative of the Rioli clan, it’s understandable that attention turns to Ben. But the Saint is making a name for himself, having successfully shifted into defence this year as Brett Ratten’s team has risen up the ladder.

He gets the hype that comes with his last name but tries not to let it affect him.

“It’s there. I’m carrying it, it’s my last name. My uncle [Michael] was an awesome player. But I guess I’m just going out there and doing my best. I don’t think too much about it.”

With St Kilda’s first finals appearance in nine years within reach, Long is daring to dream.

“You look at the more senior players, like Seb Ross and Jarryn Geary and a few others, they haven’t played finals in a long time. I know it would mean a lot to them.”

As well as speed, Long, who turned 23 on Friday, brings a flinty element to the Saints which makes him a fearsome opponent. It’s also got him in trouble across various levels of football, with a raft of suspensions, most recently the three-match ban for a high bump on Fremantle’s Sean Darcy in round six. But Long has continued to bump since returning from his ban, and is unapologetic about the way he plays his football.

“You’ve got to go at the right time, and make it a fair bump. You’re not aiming to take people’s heads off,” he said.

“I can’t take the hardness out of my game. I back myself in that area. It wasn’t intentional or anything. I guess I was just unlucky. I’ll work on it, but I definitely won’t take the hardness out of my game.”

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While the fishing isn’t as good as back home, Long has been able to unwind by casting a reel in Noosa, where the Saints are staying during this crazy season. He reckons he’s got Jimmy Webster and Geary covered as the Saints’ best fisherman.

Long misses hunting and fishing up in the Top End, having shown teammates and staff the beauty and culture of Aboriginal Darwin and the Tiwi Islands during several club-orchestrated trips in recent years.

“It was very special to me, and hopefully we keep doing it every year and taking a new group of boys. I’d probably say I live the best of both worlds. Playing footy, which is the dream, and also getting the opportunity after the season, around Christmas time, going back home.”

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Broncos, Lions playing early games without fans



Aug 20, 2020; Englewood, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) and quarterback Brett Rypien (4) warm up during training camp at the UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

August 21, 2020

The Denver Broncos will play their home opener and the Detroit Lions will play their first two home games without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams announced Friday.

The Broncos kick off the season at Empower Field at Mile High on Monday night Sept. 14 against the Tennessee Titans. The stadium’s normal capacity is 76,125 for football.

“We are grateful for the loyalty and enthusiasm that Broncos fans have shown this year,” the team said in a press release. “… But this is the responsible thing to do right now.”

The Broncos are hoping to host a “limited number of fans on a gradually increasing basis” as the season goes on. Their second home game is Sept. 27 against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Lions’ first two home dates at 65,000-seat Ford Field are Sept. 13 against the rival Chicago Bears and Oct. 4 against the New Orleans Saints.

The Lions said a decision about their third home game, Nov. 1 against the Indianapolis Colts, and other dates will be determined after further evaluation.

“Lions fans have traditionally created an intimidating environment for visiting teams at Ford Field,” the team said in a statement. “… We are hopeful for an opportunity to host fans at the remaining six 2020 home games.”

Both teams said these decisions were made in conjunction with state and local officials and with the health and safety of fans, players and stadium staff members as the top priority.

The Broncos and Lions joined a growing list of NFL teams who will begin the season without fans, including the Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Titans, Bears, Houston Texans, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Giants and the Washington Football Team.

–Field Level Media





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