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Belief alone won’t beat All Blacks

Pass test ... the Wallabies captain's run at ANZ Stadium yesterday.THE Wallabies are buoyant after repeatedly peaking at the right time during the Wales Test series, but know they are still well short of what is required to be confident of beating the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium tonight.
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Wallabies captain David Pocock yesterday called on his teammates to lift their game and make full use of home-ground advantage.

The Australian Rugby Union has certainly applied the pressure on the Wallabies by focusing its marketing campaign around how it has been a barren decade since they last won the Bledisloe Cup, and that the task may be easier as they are playing two of the three Tests at home.

No wonder Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was provoked into commenting over whether it had been too long since the team had shown off the cup. ''Clearly it's time,'' Deans said.

At least the Wallabies head into the series with some of the attributes needed for trans-Tasman success. After the blip against Scotland in Newcastle, the Wallabies rebounded brilliantly against Wales, one of the best northern hemisphere teams to tour Australia in decades, winning the series 3-0. What was most encouraging was the team's ability to play at their best near the end of each Test and withstand pressure, showing the squad's level of conditioning had improved markedly.

The sign of a good side is that they consistently win the tight ones, and several close victories had the desired effect of boosting the Wallabies' spirits.

''We took confidence out of that series,'' Pocock said. ''As a team you want to win those arm-wrestles right at the end. In these Tests, we stayed in the contest and found a way to win.

''But the Rugby Championship is going to be a totally different beast, and we know those performances against Wales won't be anywhere near good enough.

''We just have to do everything better, and in particular we know we have to start better against the All Blacks. Our general intensity has to go up, because New Zealand tend to take their opportunities. Wales, in the first and second Tests, created a lot of opportunities and didn't take them. But the All Blacks do.''

As importantly, Pocock knows he will play a critical role in the outcome of this Test. The breakdown battle will be decisive, and with the All Blacks showing during the Ireland Test series that their intensity at the tackle is of the highest standard, Pocock's openside breakaway work will be important in providing a handbrake. As important will be how new Wallabies blindside breakaway Dave Dennis, and No.8 Scott Higginbotham, combine with Pocock.

But Deans also argued it is imperative Pocock gets a fair deal. The coach was irritated during the Wales series that Pocock was often held back by opponents after the breakdown so that he had no involvement in the next few phases. Deans called on the touch judges to properly adjudicate that area, as he believes the All Blacks, knowing how pivotal Pocock is to the Wallabies' plans, will try similar tactics.

''It's not so much at the breakdown, but what's happening long after the breakdown is over,'' Deans said. ''The ball is gone, the game is carrying on and players are being denied the ability to participate. It's the touch judges' responsibility because the referee, invariably, is watching the game, which is somewhere else.''

But one area where Deans is forever evasive revolves around his new opposing coach Steve Hansen. As expected, Hansen, in his first Bledisloe Cup battle as head All Blacks coach, has tried to provoke his old Canterbury playing and coaching partner with old-fashioned sledging.

The All Blacks coach this week had a dig at the Wallabies forward pack, and also suggested Deans made a succession of selection bungles during last year's World Cup. The inference was Deans no longer had confidence in World Cup five-eighth Quade Cooper, who has not been picked for this Test.

Asked about the comments yesterday, Deans laughed and said: ''Steve is a very good fisherman. He loves fishing.''

Hansen will keep tossing the burley in Deans's direction during the season. But the ever cautious Australian coach will keep spitting out those smelly bite-sized pieces of pilchard. He has been around too long to attack low-grade bait.

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Sitting pretty for the run home

Illustration: Jim PavlidisFINAL WORD
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THE Tigers, in my observation, have more supporters who go to the footy dressed up and in costume than any other club.

Last Sunday, as the Olympics were closing and the Brits were preparing to put on a show to dazzle the world, Richmond was playing the Bulldogs at the MCG.

The Tiger Army, full of ribald chants, was about a dozen rows behind us. Around us were middle-aged women in black and yellow outfits that made them look like semi-inflated wasps and the odd young man in a head-to-toe Tiger suit. In front of us were two demure young Asian women, both dressed in black, one wearing a head scarf which suggested she was a Muslim.

At half-time, unable to contain my curiosity, I leant forward and asked the young women where they were from. They were international students from Malaysia. Someone had given them free tickets to the match. They had cardboard sheets with autographed photos of all the Richmond players.

''The game,'' I told them, ''is crazy, but beautiful.''

They nodded and smiled as if to say that was as they had found it. The Tigers gave the Dogs a thumping. The Dogs played some pretty football but lacked the big, capable players who hold a football team together the way buttons hold a cardigan. It's hard for me to look at the Tigers and think they shouldn't have done better in 2012 but I think about Carlton, too. It's a bias I have towards teams with recognisably individual talent as opposed to teams like Sydney and North Melbourne that have a near-uniform identity.

In the case of the Tigers, I like watching Dustin Martin play.

He's the football equivalent of a four-wheel-drive with a tray full of work equipment and red dust on its sides.

He's quick, strong, reads the play and kicks the ball long. He slaughtered the Dogs. And I like watching Trent Cotchin play. A lot of people do - he's young and good-looking, a one-touch player with a quicksilver mind who is deceptively slow in his movements so that it constantly seems like he is performing tricks or acts of football magic.

A Brownlow for Cotchin would be like an Olympic gold for Tigerland and be received by the Tiger Army with that degree of reverence.

Another team I like watching is West Coast. Mick Malthouse was a mighty coach but I would argue that John Worsfold's Eagles teams have been better to watch than Malthouse's Eagles even though Malthouse's sides had more talent. The Eagles teams of the early 1990s were strewn with great names - Matera, Jakovich, Kemp, Lewis, Mainwaring, McKenna - but the captain of that formidable unit was John ''Woosha'' Worsfold.

A pharmacist by trade, he played with a lot of nous and had a small boy's smile when interviewed after games. On the field, if he got the chance, he'd hit you like a semi-trailer and leave you in a trance. Malthouse's teams were solid as cement. Woosha's teams, for one reason or another, have been more fragile but, again this year, the Eagles are in the finals mix.

The big controversy in Perth this week concerned Geelong coach Chris Scott saying the West Coast crowd was the worst in Australia. This followed Geelong's Tom Hawkins being booed by a small section of the Perth crowd last weekend as he was being carried off senseless.

Seeking to further plumb the West Coast psyche, I found a website for West Coast supporters.

The post I read alleged the Eagles were cheated of the 2005 premiership through the systematic intimidation of the umpires during the course of that season by Sydney coach Paul Roos. It included this view of Worsfold: ''One of the things I most like and respect about Worsfold is that he keeps his trap shut when things don't go our way - he simply has far too much class and fortitude to go all crying to the media when things go wrong.''

It made me realise something I had either forgotten or not properly processed: Woosha is a hero in the West. These are the passions beginning to stir as we close on September and the finals.

Sydney and Adelaide, sitting one and two on the ladder, are looking at home finals, but Malthouse said this week they aren't the two best teams in the competition which, if true, is a serious indictment of the AFL roster. Beneath Sydney and Adelaide sit Hawthorn, Collingwood and Geelong.

Collingwood was built during the terrible depression of the 1890s on the principle that no individual is bigger than the club. As the suspension of Dane Swan showed, Collingwood is still Collingwood. The Pies are a tough, attractive team but Hawthorn played the best footy I've seen this year when it defeated Collingwood in round 17.

Geelong, meanwhile, is defiant, like Nellie Melba being told the time has come to leave the stage when she can see further great performances ahead for herself.

I have no idea who will win. I don't know anyone who does - it's that sort of year. All I know is that on the last Saturday in September, the season will have a crazy but beautiful climax. People around Australia, and around the world, some in costumes and some with painted faces, will be gathered in groups, shouting at televisions.

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Old boys in awe of classy North

GREG Miller was one of the key architects of North Melbourne's dominance through the 1990s. As chief recruiter and later general manager, he helped build a side that featured in seven preliminary finals and claimed two premierships.
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Those North teams, led by the likes of Wayne Carey, Glenn Archer and Anthony Stevens, boasted skill and muscle, something the Kangaroos have not been able to replicate since those heady days - until now.

Miller has watched the Kangaroos intently in recent months and has marvelled at the development of a team that has won eight of its past nine matches heading into tonight's blockbuster against Collingwood at Etihad Stadium.

''This current group are playing the best football since the late '90s - the style of footy and the precision,'' Miller said.

''It is the best assembled group and skill level that I have seen. Their skill level is fantastic. I have seen their sides that have made finals [in 2007 and 2008] - this side is better. Their football is better.

''I have seen the Kangaroos play all their games recently and I can't believe they are playing unbelievably good footy.

''They were just miles ahead of Essendon in their movement of the footy [last Sunday]. Everything they did was first class. They have come a long way.

''They are very fit, obviously. They are leading and moving at one end and moving at the other end. They put Essendon to shame in that regard.''

The victory over the Bombers was pivotal, for the Kangaroos dislodged a team that earlier this year was considered a premiership favourite, prompting Carey to declare his former team had now taken the ''next step''.

Now comes an even mightier step, against a Collingwood side that has embarrassed the Kangaroos by an average of 80.5 points in their past four meetings. The Magpies have won all 16 quarters.

''I think they [North] are one of the form sides of the competition,'' Carey said.

''Obviously, they have got their troubles now with injury, which they haven't had, but the way they played on the weekend, they have certainly proved they have improved as a side and winning games that are important to them.

''It feels like they have taken that next step, but once again it's another challenge this week against arguably the best side in the comp.''

Good management and luck had allowed the Kangaroos to avoid soft-tissue injuries until last weekend, but they have been forced to make three changes with Daniel Wells (calf), Leigh Adams (shoulder) and Nathan Grima (hamstring) out.

Carey said the move to three marking forwards - the developing Robbie Tarrant and Lachie Hansen working alongside veteran Drew Petrie - was working well.

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Roos denies any return to coaching

HE WOULD be a man in demand if he still wanted to coach, but Paul Roos says he is leaning to never again take on the top role.
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''I wouldn't think so,'' Roos, the Swans 2005 premiership coach, replied when asked yesterday if he would coach again. ''No, I wouldn't think so.''

Intrigue still surrounds Roos' future coaching ambitions. He told The Age earlier this month: ''It's unlikely. All I try and talk about is the here and the now. It certainly won't happen next year. It might happen the year after, but who knows?''

Roos was linked with Greater Western Sydney in a report on The Footy Show, suggesting the Giants had him at the top of their wish list for 2014. ''I don't know anything about it, absolutely nothing,'' Roos said.

Giants chief executive Dave Matthews said he had yet to give any thought to 2014. ''It's natural for people to link Paul to any vacancy because everybody knows the quality of the coach and the person and, I guess, ours in particular given that he lives in Sydney, but we haven't thought too much further ahead at this stage other than being in discussion with Sheeds [Kevin Sheedy],'' he said.

''Clearly at some point in time, whenever it may be, there will be a successor to Sheeds, not putting a time limit on that, and this is going to be, if not already, one of the plum coaching jobs in the competition.''

Sheedy is expected to remain in charge of the Giants next season, although he has yet to be offered a new contract. The future of his senior assistant Mark Williams also remains unclear, although he is contracted for another season.

But Roos has definitely ruled out coaching any club next season.

''All I have said, which is being consistent, is that I wouldn't even entertain it at the moment because one of my boys is in year 12 this year and one is in year 12 next year,'' he said. ''I certainly have no plans to go back to coaching. But my family situation changes at the end of next year, maybe they have taken that as a sign I am looking to coach. At this stage, I am certainly not looking to do that. It's just that my family situation changes at the end of next year.''

Roos handed power to his assistant, John Longmire, last year but retains strong links to the game with his role as head coach of the Swans academy and as a commentator on Fox Sports.

Longmire yesterday said Roos was highly unlikely to give up his relaxed lifestyle in eastern Sydney and join the Giants.

''I think his hair is starting to grow back and he certainly hasn't got any grey hairs,'' Longmire said.

''Every time I've seen him he's been down at Coogee having a coffee. I can only take him on his word and what he says publicly, and what he says privately with his actions sitting back having a latte in Coogee suggests that he's not quite ready for the big jump back into senior coaching. He looks at me with my hair marching back and the wrinkles around my eyes and he's quite happy to have a laugh.''

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Franklin’s return confirmed

HAWTHORN spearhead Buddy Franklin's long-awaited return from injury was last night confirmed when the Hawks finalised their team for tomorrow's clash with Gold Coast at the MCG.
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Franklin returns after five weeks, having injured a hamstring in the Hawks' percentage-boosting 162-point victory over Greater Western Sydney in round 15.

Football manager Mark Evans said he expected Franklin, 25, to take to the field from the opening bounce.

''He's had two solid weeks of consistent training,'' Evans said. ''You'd expect that he would be right to go from the start of the game, remembering that in the game where he came off and felt tight he played half a game then and kicked four goals in the first half, so you'd expect Buddy to get back into things fairly quickly.

''We all were expecting him to play [last week],'' Evans said. ''But he said he didn't feel like he was ready to go, so we took that into account and respected that.

''But he's participated and done everything this week, so he's ready to go.''

Also returning to join Franklin up forward is Jarryd Roughead, who missed last week's 72-point defeat of Port Adelaide with an ankle concern.

Roughead, who ruptured his Achilles last year, has had a heavy load this season, playing all but one game since returning to the side. ''He's had a really solid year and quite a big load playing forward and in the ruck, so with that minor ankle last week it's not too bad for him to rest and recover properly and allow the ankle to settle down,'' Evans said.

Cyril Rioli is out of the side with bone bruising on his shoulder, while defender Josh Gibson will also miss the game after injuring his ankle last week. Ruckman Max Bailey was dropped.

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Tough days for Blues and Dons

IT GOES without saying that there's always something on the line when Essendon takes on Carlton. Two big clubs that, with 16 premierships each, boast the mantle of the AFL's most successful outfit. Today, as usual, there's much pride at stake. But a lot more besides.
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It's been, by their own lofty standards, a pretty barren decade or so for the Bombers and the Blues, neither having even come close to a flag for the bulk of that period. As a result, much as each club dislikes the other, they still share plenty, not the least being frustrated fan bases pining for the old days.

A token finals appearance this season won't do a lot to appease those masses, but will at least stop a much larger wave of discontent after a year that for each has at times been a frightening roller-coaster ride.

Essendon and Carlton have taken very different paths yet somehow arrive at this critical juncture at the same point - finals hopes hanging by a thread. And with seasons seriously derailed by injuries.

Their round-four meeting seems an eternity ago. It wasn't so much a Sliding Doors moment, as the first of a series of swings and roundabouts.

While both were undefeated, Essendon went in very much an underdog after three relatively uninspiring wins. Hardly the form of a contender. Carlton, meanwhile, had just beaten Collingwood by 10 goals and had taken over as the flag favourite.

But Essendon stunned the Blues. The final margin of 30 points was not nearly as telling as the way the Dons stifled Carlton at the stoppages, then spread from them far more effectively. Two questions emerged. Did the Blues have a significant Achilles heel? And did we indeed have another genuine contender?

Essendon and Carlton shared another significant moment on the Saturday of round 10, albeit an unwanted one, with injuries beginning to bite deep into their lists. But it was hardly the sole reason for what was to unfold.

The Blues, having had their confidence dented by St Kilda, then Adelaide, were belted by struggling Port Adelaide by 54 points a fortnight later, managing just two goals after half-time. The Dons, meanwhile, boasting an 8-1 win-loss record, somehow contrived to hand Melbourne, at the lowest of ebbs, its first victory of the season.

That was certainly a turning point for Essendon, which was losing players to soft-tissue injuries left, right and centre. Carlton, with a similarly lengthy queue at the medical-room door, would end up losing four on end, but was competitive at least against Geelong and West Coast. Then when it was humiliated by Hawthorn in round 14, its scorecard was 6-7 and the speculation about coach Brett Ratten's future was at its most feverish.

The Bombers' own version, minus the coaching speculation, came the following week, courtesy of a 71-point belting at the hands of St Kilda.

Two huge jolts to confidence and standing - to which there can be little doubt that it is Carlton that has responded best.

If the Blues' round-three defeat of Collingwood was their best performance this season, the massive against-the-odds win over the Pies in round 15 was a close second. Including that victory, they have won four of their past six matches, and with playing stocks still depleted, have turned up some genuine prospects in Levi Casboult and Tom Bell.

Essendon's smacking by the Saints was just a taste of what was to come. The Bombers then lost to Geelong by 67 points and Hawthorn by 94. The rot stopped against Adelaide (when the Bombers got within four points), but then there was another disappointment against North Melbourne last week. An 8-1 record has turned to 11-8.

Two more wins will probably help the Dons scrape into September. Carlton needs a hat-trick of them, and some stumbles from those above.

Most of the missing names for both teams are now back. One C. Judd for Carlton. Also Kade Simpson, Jarrad Waite and Andrew Walker. For Essendon, it's Paddy Ryder, Brent Stanton and David Zaharakis. If you'd been here for the round-four clash then left the country for a few months, you might think not a lot had changed.

But this has been a year of living dangerously for both. One with a potential sting in the tail left yet. But also, this afternoon, the chance for two great foes to inflict a fatal wound on the other; a dagger to the heart which, given the circumstances, would be relished even more than usual.

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Scorpions want Viney to line up in finals

VFL
Nanjing Night Net

CASEY is pushing for talented father-son prospect Jack Viney to play in the VFL finals next month as the midfielder continues to blossom for a potential early season debut for Melbourne next season.

Viney, who is expected to be taken by the Dees in the first round of this year's AFL draft, will play the third and final of his allotted games today against Collingwood as the 23rd player after impressing against Geelong with 18 touches last week.

Scorpions coach Brett Lovett, who will coach his 150th VFL match today, was hopeful Melbourne would give Viney permission to play in the VFL finals, given the Demons' shallow list of players to qualify for finals has shrunk to 13 after Liam Jurrah flew to Adelaide.

''It's really going to be up to Melbourne and to Jack and his family on whether he keeps playing with Casey this season. We will sit down with Jack and other players over the next week or so to see what the plans are,'' Lovett said.

Last week's match against Geelong was Viney's first in the VFL since the sickening incident that left him with a broken jaw after a heavy bump from midfielder David Wojcinski earlier this season.

■Geelong will be looking to get midfielder Travis Varcoe and ruckman Nathan Vardy through unscathed in today's hitout against Coburg.

Varcoe is expected to play the next two games in the VFL. It's his first match since he injured his foot during the pre-season.

The 23-year-old will be joined by veteran midfielder David Wojcinski, Shannon Byrnes and Vardy, who will play his second game in the VFL after returning from a hip injury.

Collingwood will also hand some more game time to Ben Johnson, Andrew Krakouer and Brent Macaffer, who have all come back from injuries.

■Adam Potter has been dumped as coach of Coburg, with Richmond set to appoint one of its development coaches for the role in the final year of its alignment. The club has offered Potter, who is a school teacher, a development role at Coburg next season but he said yesterday that he was weighing up his options.

''Obviously I just need to sit down and think about what's happened,'' Potter said.

Coburg has slumped to third-last on the ladder after last week's loss to Frankston. Potter admitted that the news of its split with Richmond and coaching changes had had an impact on the morale of the group.

Potter will coach his last match for Coburg against Geelong today. He said the club was hopeful it could survive in the competition after its split with Richmond.

VFL Round 21 (with tips in capitals)

Today: Collingwood v CASEY SCORPIONS, 1pm, Victoria Park; PORT MELBOURNE v Bendigo, 1.10pm, North Port Oval; WILLIAMSTOWN v Sandringham, 2pm, Burbank Oval; GEELONG v Coburg Tigers, 2pm, Simonds Stadium.

Tomorrow: Northern Blues v WERRIBEE TIGERS, 2pm, Visy Park.

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Observations on football commentary

DEVIL'S ADVOCATE
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FOOTY commentary is a demanding discipline and any criticism of it should be appropriately respectful and circumspect, in all probability.

However, forgetting all that garbage and just saying what's on your mind is also a possibility. The ensuing observations exclusively represent the viewpoint of one person who finally cracked under the weight of all the verbal confetti.

A certain degree of self-confidence can be the foundation for a challenging and fulfilling life, or you can over-egg the pudding in that regard and come out sounding like Brian Taylor and Luke Stifler, err, Darcy, on Seven's Saturday night footy.

David King apparently speaks exclusively in windy platitudes that mostly tell us lord knows what. This may be due to clothing-related oxygen deprivation. He needs to stop working the chest so much at the gym or Fox Footy has to start buying him larger jackets.

You know that type of movie where the guys are set for a monumental night out of ill-advised and disreputable high jinks and then, at the last minute, one of the buddies turns up with some gangling gawky stranger and says, "Hope you don't mind, guys - he's my girlfriend's younger brother." Anyway, on a completely separate note, so what about that Basil Zempilas?

Bruce McAvaney, he asks a lot of questions, doesn't he? Most of them are really statements, aren't they? It's an exceptionally annoying verbal quirk after a while, isn't it? You'd think someone in charge would have said something to him about it years ago, wouldn't you?

On all footy commentary evidence available to hand, that Matthew Campbell must make a hell of a nice cup of coffee around the office. Legendary boxing ring announcer, though. As he once memorably introduced a certain West Australian boxer: "Danny - the Green Machine - MEAN!"

Youngsters may complain less about "dad jokes" if they had their grandfathers around more so they could hear how much worse their jokes are. Or they could tune into SEN when Kevin Bartlett is on, when you hear more grandpa humour than the Geneva Convention would have deemed acceptable. Incidentally, if you were wondering, that big clunking sound you heard around 10 weeks ago was Australia reaching its absolute national maximum capacity for KB publicly discussing his prowess in fantasy football competitions.

Finally, statisticians should be not seen AND not heard. They only tend to get this about halfway right on the radio.

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Armfield gives it his best shot

Thinking man: Dennis Armfield is trying to keep things simple and help himself and his team.WHEN Dennis Armfield started playing in Carlton's forward line he was certain of just one thing: he did not, unless absolutely necessary, want the ball to be in his hands, as he lined up a shot for goal. ''It sounds silly, but I didn't think that was my duty,'' he said. ''I went down there to play as a defensive forward and when you do that, you think, well, defensive is the word. I thought, if I'm not near it then my opponent won't be near it, but now it's turned into realising that if you've got it, he doesn't. I'm getting used to it. It took a few weeks of Brett Ratten saying, 'What are you doing? Try to attack!' ''
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It's six or seven weeks since Armfield - at times a backman, at other times a wingman and often a bit of both - was shifted to a whole new part of the ground, asked to use his pace, to tackle, then do it all again. The move came at a time when the Carlton side had been stripped of several senior players through injury and needed those who were left to make sure the team somehow started to win. Armfield has done his part. But while his instructions have been simple from the start, his interpretation has needed to be adjusted.

For one thing, he needed to stop thinking, which hasn't been easy, given it's what he has always done too much of.

''I've always been a person who sort of looks for the negative side of things first. Then if that happens you're prepared for it and you expect it, and if it doesn't then you can feel happy and a bit relieved,'' he said. ''I found that if I didn't get into a game in the first quarter, I'd never get into it. If I missed a kick early or my opponent got the ball early I'd think about it all the time and by the end of the game I would have made more mistakes and they would have got a lot more kicks.

''I've had to do something about it and I've had to say to coaches, how do I stop this and just live more in the now? Nick Duigan told me that one of his mates who thought bad things would whack himself in the leg whenever he found himself doing it, to make himself forget about it and move on, and I'm not that extreme but I try to talk to a teammate or lay a block, little things that might help my teammates and just get me back into the game.

''I tend to hang on to things for days thinking, 'Should I have done this? Should I have done that? Why didn't I do this or that?' but now I'm trying to just think about the moment and what I can do about it. Every week, I use the first training session to work on the things I didn't think I did well, whether it's kicking or just cracking in - as much as you can crack in at training at least, considering they're your teammates. I'm working on it, but I know now that if I do my job and do what's asked of me I'll be OK. If I don't, that's my fault. It's pretty basic that way.''

He has applied the same thinking to his new role. When Armfield first played forward his head was filled with a million things. ''I was over-analysing things again,'' he said. ''I felt I had to get this many possessions, this many chases and this many tackles, and I was getting a bit caught up thinking, thinking and thinking, putting expectations on myself and trying to lock down on my player and not really thinking about the things I could bring to it, how I could make them play on me, too.''

The role has been complex, in some ways: doing enough research on his opponents that he knows which defenders like to go up in marking contests, who stays down, and which side of the play they run to.

''I've played on a few different types and if you focus on their strengths, you can try to take them away from that and get them to play to their weaknesses. So then if they beat me, they're going to have to beat me at one of my strengths, or one of their weaknesses,'' he said.

''Some players like to see the play in front of them, so you can try and make it so they have to run backwards or run around. It's little things, but if you can take them away from the strengths three or four times a game, hopefully it helps us kick goals. So there's that, but in the end, all I really have to do is crack in.

''My two strengths are my run and my tackle pressure and that's what all the coaches say, if I bring that then the rest of my game will come with it. John Barker's my forwards coach and he calls it the pit-bull attitude: if the ball's there get it, and if the man's there, tackle it. It's been simplified for me and I know that sounds stupid - why can't you simplify it yourself? - but sometimes you do get caught up thinking.

''Ratts was saying it week after week - that I didn't just have to lock down - and finally you start to have confidence in it. Things are clearer now. I know what I have to bring, what I need to do to play good footy, and that's all I've got to do, those few things.''

There are some things Armfield hasn't got used to, just yet, though: if he can give off a pass or a handball, rather than shoot for goal, he's much happier. ''I like that feeling of being the link man,'' he said, ''and feeling like you've contributed to someone's success if they run on and kick the goal.''

Still, that he's kicked 16 goals for the season - six in the past three weeks - is no accident, and perhaps where Armfield's worst-case scenario tendencies have worked in his favour.

''In previous years, I've run into goal and missed, so I've thought, 'OK, I might only get 30 shots for the year, so I want to make sure that turns into 25 goals','' he said. ''I work on that on the training track all the time, trying to make the most of my opportunities, but if I can give it off, that's better. That gives me a lot more joy.''

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AFL puts integrity on the line as tanking probe continues

ANDREW Demetriou maintains tanking does not exist, but, if an investigation into Melbourne proves otherwise, any punishment will be handled by the AFL Commission.
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AFL integrity officer Brett Clothier is continuing his investigation into claims made by former Demons midfielder Brock McLean that Melbourne did not want to win matches in 2009 and he has interviewed several officials, coaches and players associated with the club at the time, including former senior coach Dean Bailey.

Demetriou, the AFL chief executive, said tanking, if proven, was one of the worst acts a club or player could commit.

''Anything that affects the integrity of the competition, we put in that basket things like the salary cap, we put in that basket performance-enhancing drugs, we put in that basket things that relate to betting scandals, information sharing and, of course, tanking if that exists,'' he said yesterday.

The Demons won four matches and finished last in 2009 to qualify for the top two picks in the national draft, including a priority pick. They used these picks on Tom Scully and Jack Trengove.

The AFL maintains there is no time frame for Clothier to file his report, although it is felt the league would want it completed before the finals, particularly if there are damaging findings.

Clothier will present his report to AFL operations manager Adrian Anderson, who will then decide whether there is enough evidence to warrant the commission handing down a sanction.

''It's an ongoing investigation, I understand Brett has conducted several interviews and has got more to complete, and we'll await the outcome of that report,'' Demetriou said.

Geelong football manager Neil Balme yesterday questioned the validity of the investigation, claiming it was ''a political investigation to look like they're doing an investigation''.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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Star colt centre of attention

THE return today of Australasian racing's most valuable colt, All Too Hard, at Rosehill will attract abnormal scrutiny with major horse studs circling following revelations that the horse's owner Nathan Tinkler is reducing his investment and could sell his entire stock and holdings under the Patinack Farm banner.
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It was reported in The Age yesterday that the Patinack Farm racing and breeding operation had been offered for sale for $200 million. It was confirmed yesterday that Patinack Farm will offer around 350 horses for auction with the Gold Coast-based Magic Millions during a three-day horses-in-training sale from October 30.

All Too Hard, the half-brother to superstar Black Caviar, cost Tinkler $1.025 million as a yearling, and is already valued at about $10 million. That is likely to swell to $20 million and beyond if he can win a group 1 race this spring, in either or both next month's Golden Rose at Rosehill or the Caulfield Guineas the following month.

Patinack Farm has made no announcement on whether All Too Hard is for sale, but on type, performance and potential, he is an irresistible prospect for some of the larger studs in Australasia keen to buy into Black Caviar's immediate family.

A winner of three of his four starts in the autumn, All Too Hard is today marked about a $1.70 favourite to make a winning return to racing in the group 3 San Domenico Stakes.

Patinack Farm chief executive Peter Beer said yesterday that the time was right for a reduction of the massive operation. ''Patinack Farm operation is now one of the biggest in the world, with a very strong broodmare band,'' he said.

''We have reached a point where we need to reduce our numbers and we regret losing some of our best stock, but a decision had to be made. The sale will be filled with quality entries and will be a genuine reduction.''

John Hawkes, who trains All Too Hard with his sons Wayne and Michael, concerns himself solely with the fitness and well-being of the colt, and the trainer of some of the best colts of recent times in Octagonal and Lonhro, is well pleased.

He said this week that the colt would impress in the parade yard at Rosehill today. ''He was doing it on raw ability when he was a young horse,'' Hawkes said. ''He is much more physical, a much more stronger horse than he was as a baby. He used to lay down a lot when he was a young horse.

''Now he still does but nowhere like he used to. It was because he was just still growing. He used to eat and then lay down. He was kind of a young kid, all he used to do was eat and sleep, and they do that until they mature. Once they mature they don't have to sleep as much. He is just a bigger, stronger horse this time.''

Hawkes said his eyes were fixed on the Golden Rose in four weeks for the colt. ''We are trying to get to the Golden Rose first and then take stock,'' he said. ''There is no use getting ahead of yourself. It is a group 1 and worth $1 million, we can look at other races after that, including the Caulfield Guineas.''

All Too Hard is unlikely to run into the only horse to have beaten him - Pierro - in the Golden Rose.

But Samaready, the filly that looms as the horse that All Too Hard will have to beat in the September 15 group 1 race, also begins her campaign on her home track at Caulfield today in the listed Quezette Stakes.

Jockey Jamie Mott is free to ride promising filly Lady Of Harrods in the Quezette.

He gained a reduction in his 10-meeting careless riding suspension from last Monday's Swan Hill meeting on appeal to the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board yesterday.

With aap

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Clubs will need CEO to collect new grants

NRL clubs will be required to have a chief executive and other senior officials to receive certain grants from the ARL Commission under a proposed new funding model aimed at ensuring their viability.
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The proposal, which is likely to have clubs receive different levels of funding depending on their needs, was the major topic of discussion at this week's meeting of NRL clubs. Since taking control of the game on February 10, the ARLC has been auditing clubs as part of a benchmarking process that will determine future funding.

It is understood that all clubs will continue to receive an annual grant from the ARLC that will cover the salary cap, which is expected to be $5 million next season.

However, they will be able to apply for additional funding to help pay for initiatives such as membership campaigns and match-day promotions.

To have the opportunity to apply for such grants, the Herald was told, clubs would be required to have a chief executive, a marketing manager, a membership manager and a community relations manager.

The club most obviously affected would be Cronulla, which does not have a chief executive and has fewer staff than any of their rivals.

The Sharks' set-up involves football manager Darren Mooney overseeing the day-to-day running of the football club, while chairman Damian Irvine is responsible for board matters. It is believed that the Sharks are now planning to appoint a chief executive.

Struggling clubs will also be able to apply for assistance grants but to receive extra funding they will have to meet certain conditions set down by the ARLC about how they are run.

It is understood the ARLC wants the clubs to operate more like businesses and is concerned that Brisbane and South Sydney were the only clubs whose football operations did not run at a loss last season.

Without funding from leagues clubs or private owners, few clubs would be financially viable and the new funding model is understood to have been proposed by the ARLC.

It was discussed at the meeting of clubs, which were asked to provide feedback before the ARLC council meeting on August 27. In attendance at the meeting will be the chief executive and chairman of each club as well as the eight ARLC commissioners.

The clubs are also seeking assurances they will receive the $500,000 each that they were promised late last year would be forthcoming once the new television deal is finalised.

Several club chief executives said that Tuesday's NRL Club Council meeting did not discuss the broadcast rights negotiations, the search for a new ARLC chief executive or issues such as refereeing standards.

"The common issue that people continue to have is financial viability of clubs, so there was a lot of interesting discussion about that and the approach the commission will have in coming years to addressing that problem,'' one said.

"That is the fundamental issue the clubs have. All of that other operational stuff is not things that clubs can or should have any interest or input into and people saying otherwise is just pure speculation. Whoever the new CEO is, it will be the best man or woman for the job.''

The Herald has been told that the number of contenders for the chief executive's job is down to two after interviews last week with applicants on a short-list of six.

It is rumoured that the successful candidate is someone whose name has been linked to the job previously and is from outside the game - sparking speculation the AFL's No.2, Gillon McLachlan, has been offered a $750,000 package.

McLachlan was reportedly in Sydney for a meeting on Thursday, which AFL boss Andrew Demetriou said was to talk to the AFL's broadcast partners, not to talk to the rival code.

''It would be surprising to me if someone hadn't spoken to him, or hadn't approached him, because he [is] very talented,'' Demetriou told radio 3AW. ''He is a very dedicated AFL person, loves the game and has been a great servant to myself and the game for 12 years. I hope he sticks around.''

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History shows winning ways lie in a game of follow the leaders

WHEN the Wallabies won the 1991 World Cup they had at least five assured, experienced on-field leaders - Nick Farr-Jones, Rod McCall, Simon Poidevin, Michael Lynagh and David Campese.
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Likewise in 1999 with John Eales, Tim Horan, George Gregan, David Wilson and Matt Burke, as did the 2011 All Blacks - Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Kieran Read.

In times of trouble, and there have been many in the history of the Wallabies, a common cause for failure has been a shortage of proper leaders. As the Wallabies tonight begin a campaign to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in a decade, they argue that at last they are getting the required number of qualified on-field marshals to match the All Blacks in the mental and physical battle.

That is important, especially as their last loss to the All Blacks - in the World Cup semi-final in Auckland - revolved around some of those in charge losing their bearings, either by not doing enough, or getting flustered and trying to do too much. In the end, poor direction saw the Wallabies end their World Cup campaign prematurely.

There may still be an element of inexperience among those in charge at the Wallabies, but some are starting to take the right steps to indicate they are leaders of substance. And the higher the number the better the chances of success tonight.

The promotion of David Pocock to the captaincy role for the June Test series after James Horwill was sidelined through injury was a great decision. Real leaders require a sense of aura, know all about a sense of occasion, and their chief asset is commonsense.

Pocock has all of that. Like his direct opponent, McCaw, Pocock knows how to keep a referee on edge, is prepared to stand his ground and keeps his cool when others are losing theirs. As anyone who watched his recent appearance on the ABC television show Q&A, where he put federal MP and former tennis player John Alexander in his place, Pocock is a man of principle and can be very persuasive. He fits perfectly into so many different and demanding environments.

And it appears Pocock's off-field leadership is also a prime reason for the Wallabies looking surprisingly composed before the inaugural Rugby Championship. He has taken to the role with due diligence, putting in the hard work to ensure that everyone involved at squad level feels a part of it.

But as coach Robbie Deans stressed yesterday the leadership responsibilities cannot rest on just Pocock. It relies on many others in the team believing and then acting as true leaders. Deans yesterday put the pressure on Will Genia, Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale to also be on-field leaders.

''David can't do it by himself,'' Deans said. ''It's like the breakdown. He can't master that by himself. He needs support. We've been working hard in that area so he can thrive in games. It's crucial with leadership. We need people around him prepared to stand up and offer solutions, because he's busy with his head down quite often. We will rely on the directors of our game, like Will, Berrick and Kurtley to provide the initiatives.

''The rest of the group has to be responsible for the small stuff, which more often than not is the point of difference. It's not the big, grand stuff or big ideas, it's just people being accountable for their small part in it.''

Another crucial leader will be second-rower Nathan Sharpe. Of the Wallabies contingent, he is easily the most experienced in playing the All Blacks, and knows all about the agony of losing to them - having felt defeat in 18 of his 24 trans-Tasman Tests. But the Wallabies argue that at 34, Sharpe is playing the best football of his career, and is revelling in being a mentor.

But Sharpe knows the perfect mentoring role is not being an innocent bystander, but someone who has earned the right to carry the Bledisloe Cup under his arm.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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