AFL serves up four much-anticipated matches in week one of finals after unconventional season


After 18 unconventional rounds of football in this extraordinary 2020 season, the competition structure now assumes more of a typical format with four highly anticipated clashes to kick off this year’s finals.

The Grandstand commentary team was joined by AFL experts Cameron Ling, Adam Ramanauskas and Mark Maclure — who boast seven premiership medals between them — for a round-table preview of the upcoming matches.

Port Adelaide vs Geelong

This year’s finals series begins with a truly mouth-watering clash between minor premier Port Adelaide and perennial finalist Geelong.

The two teams met back in round 12 at Carrara with the Cats dismantling the Power by 10 goals.

Geelong’s Coleman medallist Tom Hawkins kicked six majors, while Port Adelaide’s spearhead Charlie Dixon was completely blanketed, held scoreless and to only three disposals for the night.

Our Grandstand AFL experts believe Port Adelaide will be wiser for the experience but must devise a plan to nullify Hawkins.

“That Hawkins match-up will be giving Ken Hinkley sleepless nights at the moment,” Ramanauskas said.

“Hawkins is in career-best form. Whether he’s leading at the football or whether he is in a one-on-one contest, if they can’t defend Hawkins two-on-one in a few of those contests, Hawkins will have a night out.”

Can the Power keep Cats spearhead Tom Hawkins quiet?(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

Maclure was most bullish about the Power’s chances.

He heaped praise on the performance of their midfield this season and questioned why Hinkley’s side was being discounted in some quarters.

“You don’t finish on top for practice, you actually have to beat most other sides in the competition,” Maclure said.

Maclure said the key to beating Hawkins would be his opponents’ positioning.

“You’ve got to play him from behind, you can’t play him from in front because he’s so strong he just pushes you out of the way, it’s so powerful,” he said.

The decisive nature of Geelong’s round-12 win led Ling — the Cats’ most recent premiership captain in 2011 — to doubt the Power’s legitimacy as a premiership contender.

But Ling said there was an opportunity for Port Adelaide to exploit Geelong’s well-organised defence if it became too focused on Dixon.

“All those other players, whether it is Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, Karl Amon … if they’re smart and get to some good positions, then a lot of those Geelong talls will get caught out.”

Ramanauskas agreed Port Adelaide could test Geelong’s defence if Hinkley was willing to adjust his forward-line structure.

“I would start Robbie Gray in the goal square … have Dixon higher up so it doesn’t allow Geelong defenders to get deep,” he said.

“Geelong love to defend as a group, when you start to separate Geelong’s defenders that’s when they start to have a little trouble.”

TIPS: Maclure — Power; Ling — Cats; Ramanauskas — Cats

Brisbane vs Richmond

For the second year in a row, the Brisbane Lions completed the home-and-away season in second spot on the ladder and face the daunting prospect of playing an in-form Richmond in a qualifying final at the Gabba.

Dustin Martin’s six-goal haul was pivotal in Richmond’s commanding 47-point win last year, while inaccurate kicking at goal — an ongoing problem for the Lions — proved costly for the home side, who bowed out of the finals the following week with a narrow lost to the Giants.

Inaccuracy also cruelled Brisbane when the two sides met in round 10 this season, with Chris Fagan’s side posting a woeful four goals and 17 behinds to be beaten by 41 points.

Ling said the Tigers were peaking at just the right time again this season.

“Richmond are coming into this in red-hot form with a massive chip on their shoulder about the season — all of their own doing by the way — everyone has come at them,” he said.

The almost certain return of star fullback Harris Andrews, two weeks ahead of schedule, from a hamstring injury bolsters a Brisbane defence that will have to combat Jack Riewoldt — whose form has built throughout the season — and Tom Lynch, should he also successfully return from a hamstring strain.

If Hawkins is giving Hinkley sleepless nights, Martin must also be doing similar for Fagan.

A Brisbane Lions AFL player tries to mark the ball low as he is tackled by an Essendon opponent.
Harris Andrews (right) could make his return from injury against the Tigers.(AAP: Albert Perez)

“We keep talking about Harris Andrews but Jarrod Berry [shoulder injury] needs to play, he just adds another layer to their midfield, otherwise they are quite a small midfield,” Ramanauskas said.

Ramanauskas, who won a premiership with Essendon in 2000, put the onus on Lions’ captain Dayne Zorko to have a major impact.

“You need a big game out of Dayne Zorko; Dayne Zorko needs to hit the scoreboard,” Ramanauskas said.

“If Dylan Grimes goes to Charlie Cameron, that’s a tough night for Charlie.”

Maclure agreed Brisbane would need significant performances from a host of players and could not solely rely on ABC Footballer of the Year, Lachie Neale.

“He’s a star, the Brownlow medallist coming up, Lachie Neale, but he can’t carry it on his own,” Maclure said.

Richmond’s recent demolition of fellow premiership contender Geelong left a strong impression on Maclure, who won three premierships with Carlton.

“The Tigers took the Cats to the cleaners,” Maclure said.

“Made them look like novices, complete novices. The coaches’ box, the lot.”

TIPS: Maclure — Tigers; Ramanauskas — Tigers; Ling — Tigers

St Kilda v Western Bulldogs

St Kilda’s return to finals for the first time since 2011 has been one of the most joyful stories of the season.

The Saints, with the exuberant Brett Ratten in his first year as coach of the club, have played some captivating and high-energy football.

Equally, the Western Bulldogs at their best are one of the competition’s most compelling sides to watch and our experts found splitting the two extremely difficult.

All agreed the midfield battle would be crucial to determining who progressed to week two of the finals.

“I’m worried about the Bulldogs’ midfield cleaning them up around the contest, getting a hold of the contested footy,” Ling said.

“They play with some boldness and I think St Kilda are at risk of being opened up with that sort of ball movement.”

A Western Bulldogs AFL player pumps his right fist as he celebrates a goal against the Adelaide Crows.
Aaron Naughton is considered crucial to the Bulldogs’ chance of beating the Saints.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

The Bulldogs are confident emerging key forward Aaron Naughton will play, despite having surgery to repair a fractured cheekbone early last week.

Ling said Naughton’s inclusion for the Bulldogs was pivotal.

“He’s such a threat in the air, whether he marks it or he just takes out an entire pack when he flies for it and the little blokes go to work at ground level,” he said.

Ramanauskas singled out the competition’s smallest player, All-Australian Caleb Daniel, as a weapon the Saints must nullify, given his accurate kicking and ability to set up play from the half backline.

“The Caleb Daniel match-up is really fascinating for me,” Ramanauskas said.

“I would use Jarryn Geary on Caleb Daniel.”

Geary, the Saints captain, has been deployed as a defensive forward on several occasions this season. He is the only remaining player from the Saints’ last finals appearance nine years ago.

Ramanauskas said he felt St Kilda’s game style was one that can trouble the Bulldogs.

“When the Bulldogs have struggled this year, teams have been able to move the ball quickly and pierce through quickly,” he said.

“St Kilda have got that capacity.”

TIPS: Maclure — Bulldogs; Ramanauskas — Saints; Ling — Bulldogs

West Coast vs Collingwood

Of this week’s four finals, Saturday night’s sudden-death clash between West Coast and Collingwood looks the most predictable.

After seven rounds, the Magpies were third on the ladder, had just beaten Geelong and looked a serious premiership chance.

But injury, off-field turbulence and inconsistent form have jeopardised their prospects.

The Eagles only missed the top four on percentage and have proven formidable on their home ground at Perth Stadium, where they thrashed the Magpies by 11 goals in round eight.

Josh Kennedy booted seven in that match but is in some doubt for the final due to an ankle injury.

West Coast captain Luke Shuey has been cleared to return from a hamstring injury, while Jeremy McGovern [hamstring] and Jack Redden [finger] also look set to play.

“It’s not a great place to go to if you’re not in great form, West Coast play that place really well,” Maclure said.

“To go over there in the cauldron with the crowd that’s going to be in there and the two tall forwards [Jack Darling and Kennedy], I don’t know how they’re going to handle those, and Liam Ryan is a star, I love the way he plays.

Nic Naitanui, with his mouthguard still in, smiles
Collingwood will be desperate to get on top of Nic Naitanui in the ruck.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

Ramanauskas disagrees, as he sees the potential for Grundy to dominate Naitanui with his ball-winning ability around the ground.

But the absence of vice-captain Steele Sidebottom — who is missing the Magpies’ finals campaign due to the birth of his first child — is significant.

“Sidebottom in finals is a very good player, a very, very good player,” Ramanauskas said.

“You need your best players and I just think that might be a bridge too far.”

Ling agreed with Maclure that West Coast’s tall forward line — which also includes impressive youngster Oscar Allen — would stretch a Collingwood defence missing key interceptor Jeremy Howe, whose season ended prematurely because of a knee injury.

The consensus is that All-Australian centre-half-back Darcy Moore would be given the job on Darling.

“If he plays on Darling, he has to really play on him,” Ling said.

“That takes out a big strength of Collingwood with Darcy Moore’s intercept marking.”

TIPS: Maclure — Eagles; Ramanauskas — Eagles; Ling — Eagles

ABC Grandstand will be broadcasting all finals matches via ABC Radio, Grandstand Digital and streaming on the AFL app.



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Scentre Group’s unconventional $4b option fits the peculiar times


The market expected Scentre to do what others in its sector, like rival mall group Vicinity Centres, have done and issue new equity.

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Vicinity raised $1.2 billion early in the pandemic and the market anticipated a $2 billion or so conventional offering from Scentre after it incurred a $3.6 billion half-year loss that included a $4 billion write-down of the value of its malls.

The market expected equity but Scentre gave it debt. It issued $US3 billion ($4.1 billion) of 60-year subordinated hybrid notes in the US market in two tranches, one of $US1.5 billion, with a 4.75 per cent coupon, that can be redeemed by Scentre for cash after six years and another $US1.5 billion, with a 5.125 per cent coupon, that can be redeemed any time after 10 years.

The notes aren’t convertible into Scentre equity – they are relatively expensive debt, not equity.

When UBS marketed the issue – the deep US market was chosen to reduce the exposure to volatile markets – it was rushed by investors. There was $US10 billion of demand.

It is almost certain that had Scentre marketed the issue to Australian investors it would also have been successful with those yields. Retail investors have rushed the bank hybrid offers that are now a long-standing element of bank capital management, drawn by their yields. The process for a domestic issue would, however, taken a lot more time and therefore been exposed to far more market risk.

Scentre Group chief Peter Allen.Credit:Louise Kennerley

The appeal to Scentre of the hybrids over an equity issue is obvious. An equivalent issue of equity would have been highly dilutive. The Scentre security price has almost halved from its pre-pandemic levels and there would have needed to be a big discount on its pre-raising prices to get a multi-billion dollar issue away.

Scentre isn’t overly-leveraged so the funding was more about ensuring it gets to the other side of the pandemic without risk to its liquidity or creditworthiness. All its maturing debt is now covered through to 2024.

The hybrids, because they can only be redeemed at the issuer’s discretion after the non-call periods, are treated by credit agencies as pseudo equity, with a 50 per cent equity credit. They are subordinated to senior debt, and therefore don’t unsettle the bank lenders.

They are more expensive than senior debt – some of which will be repaid from the proceeds of the hybrid – but are a lot less expensive than equity.

A five per cent interest rate might look like expensive debt but Scentre’s cost of equity is probably in the high single digits and closer to 10 per cent than five per cent. The interest costs are also deductible, so the after-tax cost is more like 3.5 per cent, or less than half the cost of equity.

It’s not for everyone, whether issuer or investor, but it will appeal to some in these most peculiar and uncertain times.

For existing Scentre security holders the use of hybrids means they dodge dilution, the group’s leverage increases to the extent that the raising isn’t entirely used to replacing bank debt, interest costs will rise a little and the risk premium in the securities will also increase.

For the investors in the hybrids, the appeal is obvious, albeit that there are risks. When the risk-free rate in the US – indeed in most major economies – is less than one per cent the yields on offer are compelling for fixed income investors that have been starved of yield.

The investment is not without risk and is potentially locked in for decades depending on how the secondary market performs. Their exposure is supported by a collection of very high-quality retail property centres that have traditionally been high-performing.

The raising has been made, however, in the midst of the pandemic and the destructive impacts it has had on retailing and the value of shopping malls. There has been a wave of major retailer bankruptcies in the US, where failing malls were casting a shadow over the future of retail property even before the pandemic.

With Australian retailers refusing to pay rent during the lockdowns and trying to impose a revenue-sharing, risk-sharing model for rents on the centre owners (which the owners are, understandably, resisting fiercely) there is no guarantee that the futures of centre owners like Scentre and Vicinity will revert to their pre-pandemic norms.

The subordinated nature of the hybrids means the investors share the risks of adverse structural change with equity investors, betting that the quality of Scentre’s centres – which are “destination” centres — and the cash flows they generate will provide long-term protection against structural change in the sector.

Scentre’s course isn’t for everyone. Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (which includes the international Westfield properties that once sat next to Scentre’s Australian assets) announced a $14.7 billion “re-set” plan at almost the same time as Scentre’s raising.

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It involves a highly-diluted $5.7 billion capital raising, $6.5 billion of assets sales, and a choke on dividends and investment. It chose equity over debt because it already had too much leverage.

The Scentre experience says that for companies that aren’t overly leveraged but need/want to raise capital as insurance or to help fund opportunistic and counter-cyclical investment, there is massive demand globally for issues of hybrids from quality issuers and that issuing ordinary equity at material discounts to market during a pandemic isn’t the only option available.

It’s not for everyone, whether issuer or investor, but it will appeal to some in these most peculiar and uncertain times.

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US election 2020: Kanye West launches unconventional bid for presidency


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Reuters

Image caption

West addressed the crowd without a microphone

Kanye West has officially launched his campaign for the 2020 US presidential election, with an unorthodox rally in Charleston, South Carolina.

West, 43, is running for as a candidate for his self-styled “Birthday Party”.

At the event, the rapper appeared to make policy decisions off-the-cuff, and went on several rants – including on abortion and on Harriet Tubman.

Fans have questioned whether his last-minute bid for the White House is actually a promotional stunt.

The Charleston rally did little to clarify whether his run is genuine. But a now-deleted tweet sent from West’s account on Saturday, appearing to show the song list for a new album, added to the speculation.

The event, held at a wedding and conference hall in the city, was said to be open to registered guests only – but West’s campaign website had no function for people to register or RSVP.

What did Kanye West say at the rally?

West appeared with “2020” shaved into the back of his head and wearing a protective security vest, and addressed the gathered crowd without a microphone.

There were no audience microphones either, leading West to repeatedly tell the crowd to be silent so he could hear the questions being asked.

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Reuters

Image caption

West broke into tears as he spoke to the crowd

At one point he began crying when talking about abortion, saying that his parents almost aborted him: “There would have been no Kanye West, because my dad was too busy.”

He added: “I almost killed my daughter… even if my wife [Kim Kardashian West] were to divorce me after this speech, she brought North into the world, even when I didn’t want to.”

However he then added that he believes abortion should remain legal, but there should be financial support for struggling new mothers – suggesting that “everybody that has a baby gets a million dollars”.

“The only thing that can free us is by obeying the rules that were given to us for a promised land,” he said. “Abortion should be legal because guess what? The law is not by God anyway, so what is legality?”

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Getty Images

Image caption

Kanye West became emotional when talking about his wife Kim Kardashian West and their children

At another moment, he gave an impromptu monologue about 19th century abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

“Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves, she just had the slaves go work for other white people,” he said – a statement that prompted groans from the audience.

He also became tearful when talking about his late mother, who died in 2007 from complications during cosmetic surgery.

Will Kanye West actually be on state ballots?

West, who announced his candidacy on 4 July, has already missed the deadline to qualify for the ballot in several states. He needs to collect enough signatures to appear on the ballot in a number of others.

Last week he qualified to appear on Oklahoma’s presidential ballot, the first state where he met the requirements before the deadline.

In order to appear on South Carolina’s ballot he needs to collect 10,000 signatures by noon local time (18:00 BST) on Monday.



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