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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.
Nanjing Night Net

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
Nanjing Night Net

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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Small eyes, big prize

An illustration taken from The Runaway Hug by Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood.THE winners of the 67th annual Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards were announced yesterday. The results are unlikely to cause controversy, although a dominance of heavy themes may raise the familiar debate about whether the awards reflect - or should reflect - what resonates with young readers.
Nanjing Night Net

That said, the CBCA has always maintained that the intention of the awards is to recognise literary merit, not popularity. In any case, the titles selected this year might just tick all the boxes.

OLDER READERS

OF THE 77 books nominated for this category, The Dead I Know by Victorian writer Scot Gardener came out on top. The compelling story focuses on teenager Aaron Rowe, a sleepwalker with a lot of instability at home, as he starts a new job at a funeral parlour.

It's a memorable read that manages to be understated while tackling heavy subject matter and delivering believably complex characters.

The judges called Gardner's book ''a confronting story'', praising it for balancing ''the violence and desolation of Aaron's life in the caravan park with the routine and studied peacefulness of the funeral parlour in exquisite counterpoint''.

Bill Condon's A Straight Line to My Heart and Robert Newton's When We Were Two were named Honour Books (the latter, a 1916-set road-trip story about two brothers - with shades of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - won the Prime Minister's Literary Award this year). Michael Gerard Bauer's Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel, Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan and my personal favourite, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, rounded out the shortlist.

An additional 16 titles were listed as Notable Books, including works by previous CBCA award-winning authors Steven Herrick, J.C. Burke and Barry Jonsberg.

YOUNGER READERS

KATE Constable, another Victorian writer, took out top honours in this category with her time-slip story Crow Country, about a young girl, Sadie, trying to right the wrongs of generations past in a small country town where indigenous and white Australians fail to understand one another.

The judges said Constable's work was ''strongly Australian'', and ''sensitively handles difficult subject matter in a narrative that is engaging and powerful''.

The similarly themed Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French was named an Honour Book alongside the more light-hearted, London-set mystery, The Truth about Verity Sparks by Susan Green.

The wonderfully versatile Emily Rodda took two of the remaining three shortlist spots, one with the utterly Australian Bungawitta (a fun-filled, uplifting story of a drought-stricken rural town) and another with The Golden Door, the start of a new fantasy adventure series. John Flanagan's Brotherband: The Outcasts - another ripping adventure - was also shortlisted.

EARLY READERS

PICTURE-book masters Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood joined forces to win this category with The Runaway Hug, which turns an unremarkable domestic scene into a story that's fun, wonderfully warm and perfect for bedtime reading.

''It is a picture book to ponder and appreciate, being deceptively simple, yet marvellously harmonious in concept,'' the judges said. ''The lively detailed illustrations and lyrical text work closely together to add humour and pathos.''

Sonya Hartnett's Come Down, Cat!, with illustrations by Lucia Masciullo, and Elizabeth Honey's That's Not a Daffodil! were named Honour Books, while No Bears by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and James Foley, and Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay were shortlisted. Winner of the Prime Minister's award, Goodnight, Mice! by Frances Watts and Judy Watson, wasn't shortlisted but featured on the list of 23 Notable Books.

PICTURE BOOK

BOB Graham's picture books are award magnets and he's done it again, winning this category with A Bus Called Heaven.

Graham's books always imbue a wonderful sense of community and validation of the role of young people in society. This one is no exception, seeing a young girl gather support and rally to save an abandoned bus called Heaven.

''This is a heart-warming and inspiring work that amply demonstrates the expertise of its creator, his capacity for subtle inclusion and his strong affection for ordinary people,'' the judges said.

The author-illustrator partnerships of Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, and Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, have proven successful once again, with the duos receiving Honour Book status thanks to The Dream of the Thylacine and Flood, respectively.

McKinlay and Rudge's No Bears was shortlisted in this as well as the Early Childhood category, this time alongside For All Creatures by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool, and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.

THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS

ONE Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch is the winner of this non-fiction category.

This insightful picture book tells the story of the tragic degradation of a natural marvel, bringing together historic documents with detailed illustrations and simple, straightforward text.

''The stunning illustrations reinforce the unique characteristics, the isolation and the beauty of this small island,'' the judges said. ''The final landscape that we view is Macquarie Island's sunrise, accompanied by words of environmental hope.''

The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do, with illustrations by Bruce Whatley, was the sole Honour Book selected.

The shortlist included Surrealism for Kids from the Queensland Art Gallery, Playground by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle, Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson, and Carole Wilkinson's Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War.

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The Beat goes on

Paradise lost ... Sam Riley stars as Kerouac's fictionalised alter ego, Sal, in Walter Salles' adaptation. Eye-opener ... Kristen Stewart, already a fan of On the Road did extensive research for her role as Marylou.
Nanjing Night Net

"The only ones for me are the mad ones,'' runs Jack Kerouac's most famous sentence. ''The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars …''

If Jack Kerouac had never written On the Road, wrote Ray Manzarek of the Doors in his autobiography, ''the Doors would never have existed''. Perhaps a lot of other things wouldn't have existed, either, at least not quite as they subsequently did: new journalism, the counterculture, sex and drugs and rock'n'roll. No Charles Bukowski writing about his low-life high jinks, no Tom Wolfe hanging out with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, no Bruce Springsteen whooping that he was born to run. ''It changed my life,'' Bob Dylan wrote, ''like it changed everyone else's.''

On the Road is an account of five road trips between New York and San Francisco, up to Chicago and Denver and down to Mexico, taken by Kerouac - renamed Sal Paradise for fictional purposes - alone and with various friends in the late '40s, going to bars and pool halls and living in humpies with seasonal workers.

He wrote the first version in three weeks in 1951 on a continuous scroll of drawing paper, glued together and trimmed to fit the typewriter so he need never stop; Kerouac called his method ''spontaneous writing''. No publisher would have a bar of it. It took six more years, many rewrites and some intrusive editing by unknown hands at Viking before it came out in 1957.

The New York Times gave it a rave review. The long delay, moreover, ensured its appearance was timed impeccably; literary rebels were in the news. Two weeks earlier, the poem Howl by Kerouac's friend and mentor Allen Ginsberg had been the subject of a famous obscenity trial that was, at that moment, yet to be decided. In the tight atmosphere of Cold War America, these people were like an explosion of defiance. Kerouac, by nature a silent observer - ''the great rememberer'', Ginsberg called him - found himself the spokesman for what he had dubbed the Beat Generation.

''Beat'' meant poor, beaten down, scrabbling with the dregs; as so often with Kerouac, it was an expression he had absorbed in conversation, this time from a street hustler, junkie and sometime writer named Herbert Huncke, who told him one day, ''I'm beat to my socks.''

For Kerouac, it took on an additional meaning derived from ''beatific''; the road was part of a quest that was religious, his characters fiery angels. For everyone else, it summoned images of the bebop jazz that infuses his writing. Influential as they were, however, the Beats were less of a movement than a coterie of literary romantics, all of them disaffected or marginalised in some way: gay Allen Ginsberg, drug-addicted William Burroughs, Buddhist poet Gary Snyder and, above all, the thrillingly delinquent Neal Cassady, whose manic personality as the barely fictionalised Dean Moriarty propels On the Road in a rush of speed and words.

Part of the book's power was that, despite the pseudonyms Viking insisted Kerouac use, people knew it was mythologised truth: the drugs, the frenzied sexual adventures, the gleeful poverty, crazy all-night driving and all that passionate reading and writing really were taking place somewhere in what Kerouac called ''the holy American night''.

What ignited it, however, was the fire of language. Nobody else had written with such exuberance; the sentences raced across the page, despite being jammed with poetically babbling turns of phrase that often made no ostensible sense. The literary establishment hated it: its lack of discipline, its excess, its cast of ''sideshow freaks'' with their appalling ''outlaw'' values.

These academicians had no idea how much young readers, recoiling as Kerouac himself had done from the postwar promise of a prosperous life of respectable lawn-mowing, longed for the freakish and the outlawed. On the Road, opined The Village Voice, was ''a rallying cry for the elusive spirit of rebellion of these times''.

You would imagine a film would have quickly followed. In fact, Kerouac was offered $US20,000 for the rights, a tidy sum in the early '60s, but he refused it; there were about 10 attempts to bring it to the screen, including one by Francis Ford Coppola.

But they all collapsed, one way or another; the Brazilian director best known for The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles, is the first to have managed it.

His On the Road, to be released in Australia next month, was unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Sam Riley, who played Ian Curtis in Control, plays Jack/Sal; Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame plays Marylou (her real name was Lu Anne Henderson), who was 15 when she married Dean; Kirsten Dunst plays Camille/Carolyn, Cassady's second wife and the author in real life of a memoir called Off the Road.

Cassady, the ''hero of the Western night'' who turns into Dean Moriarty, is played by a little-known actor called Garrett Hedlund, who took a bus for three days from Minnesota to audition, wrote about the trip and read what he wrote to Salles.

''It seemed like Neal Cassady was writing to us,'' Salles says. Salles was 18 when he read the book and fell in love with it.

''It was the opposite of what we were living in Brazil in 1977. We had a dictatorship. Everything was forbidden. Even inside families, life was very conservative and in this book it was the opposite. I read it many times after that.''

I was 17 when I read On the Road, just a couple of years before Salles found it. Did it change my life? It certainly gave voice to things I wanted, given I had thus far spent most of my time in school uniform staring at a square of sky above Elwood between bouts of homework. I can't remember how I knew about the Beat writers, but in those days, the mid-'70s, even fashion mags ran features on cool writers and artists.

The poet who ran City Lights bookshop in San Francisco and published Howl, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, certainly came to me that way; I also recall an interview with Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky, talking about being gay. That sounds ordinary now, but we still snickered about our lesbian teachers in the '70s. There was the sudden sense of a cultural world that existed outside ours but was there for the taking.

Young people always feel like that, of course, which is why On the Road is still a reading rite of passage. Stewart is 22; she read On the Road only eight years ago. Same thing.

''I was like, 'Wow, I've got to meet people like this; otherwise, I'm not going to be as cool as I could be, as smart as I could be, as challenged as I could be, you know what I mean?'' she says.

''I kind of identified with Sal's character: I've never been one to lead the way, but I wanted to surround myself with people I want to run after, people who kind of shock me.'' It became her first ''favourite book''. ''I didn't enjoy reading before that but I ripped through it. It … opened so many doors.''

The funny thing here is that On the Road is often assumed to be a primer for boys. That's certainly what its literary haters say - that it is ''mainly read by young men'', as if it were a book about cars for petrolheads. (Kerouac confesses he hated driving; Dean calls Sal ''fearful of the wheel''.) It is true, admittedly, that a teenage girl reading On the Road in the 1970s had to imagine herself a boy, like one of those brave, disreputable women pirates of an earlier era.

Women were, in fact, central to these men's lives - Kerouac lived with his mother, along with a succession of wives, until he died, at 47, of a massive internal haemorrhage caused by alcoholism - but they were peripheral to the myth they were making of themselves.

Worse, they were the brakes in a world where acceleration was everything.

At one point, Sal is thinking of marrying a virtually invisible character called Lucille.

''I want to marry a girl,'' he tells Dean and Marylou, ''so I can rest my soul with her till we both get old.'' A few pages later, however, he is reflecting morosely the hopelessness of it.

''She would never understand me because I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you.''

For a woman to hit the road alone would have been unthinkable. There must be a fair number of girl readers who grew up to become feminists, not in order to be prime minister but because they wanted to do this, the crazy stuff.

In fact, the original scroll version of On the Road, which was finally published in 2007, included more about the female characters; Kerouac had stripped them out, at the publisher's instruction, to give the story focus. In his film, Salles says, he lets Sal and Dean drive off and stays with Camille as she struggles to support Dean's children.

''It shows that loneliness is painful and that she has a job; she is probably going to leave the baby with a neighbour and off she goes to work in a hospital,'' he says. ''Yes, this quest is memorable, to amplify all forms of freedom is memorable, but there are consequences.''

Not that these women were all doormats. Stewart met Lu Anne Henderson as preparation for playing Marylou. Unlike the men of her youth, she was thriving in her 80s. ''The difference between the two is that in the book she does seem quite used,'' Stewart says. ''But she is a bottomless pit, you can't waste her and she expects just as much in return; she is so f---ing generous.''

Salles saw Marylou as a real, if unacknowledged, adventurer. ''She makes the decisions to go or to stay and she doesn't have that Catholic sense of sin that is ingrained in Kerouac. She is an explorer just like Dean is an explorer.''

By the time On the Road was published, Kerouac was barely recognisable as Sal Paradise. At 35, drink and dysfunction had turned him into a filthy old bigot. He detested the hippies and yippies who claimed On the Road as inspiration and was loud in his support for the Vietnam War and McCarthy's communist witch hunt. McCarthy, he told an interviewer, had ''all the dope on the Jews and the fairies'' who apparently lived at the bottom of his brain's addled garden. Ginsberg, who was pretty much the poster boy for both these categories, was beatifically forgiving; asked in the interview I read whether Jack himself was ''a fairy'', he let his lover and fellow poet Orlovsky answer.

''In a tiny sense of the word,'' Orlovsky said. ''Perfect,'' Ginsberg said.

But for the wider world, it didn't matter how crackers Kerouac had become. He died in 1969; the mercurial Cassady had died of a combination of drink and drugs, aged 41, in the Mexican desert the previous year.

Like the readers who had pulled on torn Levis and headed out along the highway for themselves, On the Road had its own life by then.

It had left home, hitchhiked around the world via millions of bookshelves and was part of the lives of all the would-be writers and rebels who aspired to join the social movements Kerouac had so vituperatively disowned.

It is 55 years since the book was published. ''Nobody knows what's going to happen to anyone beyond the forlorn rags of growing old,'' Kerouac writes on the last page, as he watches the sun go down in ''the long, long skies over New Jersey'' and contemplates the vast bulk of land between the coasts.

As it turns out, the book that was about the man he loved, this ''most fantastic parking-lot attendant in the world'' full of ''a yea-saying overburst of American joy'', is a requiem. ''I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty,'' he says finally.

As I write this, I touch the book on the desk and think of him, too.

On the Road opens September 27.

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Little victories

Picture-book heroes … Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood's The Runaway Hug.The Runaway Hug won the early childhood category.
Nanjing Night Net

The winners of the 67th annual Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards were announced yesterday.

The results are unlikely to cause controversy, although a dominance of heavy themes may raise the familiar debate about whether the awards reflect - or should reflect - what resonates with young readers.

The council maintains that the awards should recognise literary merit, not popularity. In any case, the titles selected this year might just tick all the boxes.

Older readers

Of the 77 books nominated for this category, The Dead I Know by Victorian writer Scot Gardner came out on top. The compelling story focuses on teenager Aaron Rowe, a sleepwalker with instability at home, as he starts a new job at a funeral parlour.

It's a memorable read that manages to be understated at the same time as tackling heavy subject matter and delivering believably complex characters.

The judges called Gardner's book ''a confronting story'' and praised it for balancing ''the violence and desolation of Aaron's life in the caravan park with the routine and studied peacefulness of the funeral parlour in exquisite counterpoint''.

Bill Condon's A Straight Line to My Heart, and Robert Newton's When We Were Two were named ''honour books'' (the latter, a road-trip story about two brothers set in 1916 - with shades of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - won the young adult fiction Prime Minister's Literary Award this year). Michael Gerard Bauer's Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel, Ship Kings: The Coming of the Whirlpool by Andrew McGahan and, my favourite, The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, rounded out the shortlist.

Another 16 titles were listed as ''notable books'', including works by previous award-winning authors Steven Herrick, J.C. Burke and Barry Jonsberg.

Younger readers

Kate Constable, another Victorian writer, took out top honours in this category with her time-slip story Crow Country, about a young girl, Sadie, trying to right the wrongs of generations past in a small country town where indigenous and white Australians fail to understand one another. The judges said Constable's work is ''strongly Australian'', and ''sensitively handles difficult subject matter in a narrative that is engaging and powerful''.

The similarly themed Nanberry: Black Brother White by Jackie French was named an honour book alongside the more light-hearted London-set mystery The Truth About Verity Sparks by Susan Green.

The wonderfully versatile Emily Rodda took two of the remaining three shortlist spots, one with the utterly Australian Bungawitta (a fun-filled, uplifting story of a drought-stricken rural town) and another with The Golden Door, the start of a new fantasy adventure series. John Flanagan's Brotherband: The Outcasts - another ripping adventure - was also shortlisted.

Early readers

Picture-book masters Nick Bland and Freya Blackwood joined forces to win this category with The Runaway Hug, which turns an unremarkable domestic scene into a story that's fun, wonderfully warm and perfect for bedtime reading. ''It is a picture book to ponder and appreciate, being deceptively simple, yet marvellously harmonious in concept,'' the judges said.

''The lively detailed illustrations and lyrical text work closely together to add humour and pathos.''

Sonya Hartnett's Come Down, Cat!, with illustrations by Lucia Masciullo, and Elizabeth Honey's That's Not a Daffodil were named honour books, while No Bears by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge, The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and James Foley, and Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay were shortlisted.

Winner of the Prime Minister's Award, Goodnight, Mice! by Frances Watts and Judy Watson, did not make the shortlist, but did feature on the list of 23 notable books.

Picture books

Bob Graham's picture books are award magnets, and he's done it again, winning this category with A Bus Called Heaven.

Graham always imbues his books with a wonderful sense of community and validation of the role of young people in society. This one sees a young girl rally support to save an abandoned bus called Heaven.

''This is a heart-warming and inspiring work that amply demonstrates the expertise of its creator, his capacity for subtle inclusion and his strong affection for ordinary people,'' the judges said.

The author-illustrator partnerships between Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, and Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, have proven successful once again, the duos receiving honour-book status with The Dream of the Thylacine and Flood, respectively.

Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge's No Bears was shortlisted in this and the early childhood category, this time alongside For All Creatures by Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool, and Look, a Book! by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.

Information books

One Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island by Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch is the winner of the Eve Pownall Award for information books, which rewards non-fiction.

This insightful picture book tells of the tragic degradation of a natural marvel, bringing together historic documents with detailed illustrations and simple text.

''The stunning illustrations reinforce the unique characteristics, the isolation and the beauty of this small island,'' the judges said.

''The final landscape that we view is Macquarie Island's sunrise, accompanied by words of environmental hope.''

The Little Refugee by Anh and Suzanne Do, with illustrations by Bruce Whatley, was the sole honour book selected.

The shortlist included Surrealism for Kids, from the Queensland Art Gallery, Playground by Nadia Wheatley and Ken Searle, Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell and Mark Jackson, and Carole Wilkinson's Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War.

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Interview: Chloe Hooper

"I had a dark night of the soul after this book went to the printer,'' Chloe Hooper confesses. ''I thought, 'Don't tell me I've just done a literary Fifty Shades of Grey'.''
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Let's be clear about this. Hooper's second novel, The Engagement, is not a sadomasochistic romp designed to titillate millions of women readers. It's a sophisticated, multilayered work that combines the headlong appeal of a thriller with a nuanced mystery about our darker sexual and romantic desires.

What it does do, however, is pose much the same questions as everyone is asking about the extraordinary Shades of Grey phenomenon. What is it that women fantasise about, and why? Do they want to be their dream man's bride, or sex slave?

Hooper, aged 39, a tall, slim woman with clear pale eyes, is best known in Australia for her acclaimed 2008 non-fiction book The Tall Man, but started out as a novelist (her first novel, A Child's Book of True Crime, came out in 2002 and was shortlisted for the British Orange Prize for women's fiction). She did her homework after she finished The Engagement and read Fifty Shades of Grey, which she found very formulaic.

''I don't think it's that different from what's been out there as erotic romance for some time,'' she says. ''But there's something interesting to be said about the nature of fantasy. Are most fantasies inherently conservative? Do they spring from some deep well? Is it like myth, are there a limited number we're calling on or find ourselves lost in?''

We wonder if it's possible for a woman to have a progressive feminist fantasy, and we burst out laughing at the idea. ''I'll have to get back to you on that,'' Hooper says. ''Fantasy can take you to places that aren't politically correct. And I'm not talking about a cheesy 'Bring on the manacles, Christian Grey'.''

The Engagement is about an affair between Liese, a young Englishwoman visiting Australia, and Alexander, the blandly handsome scion of a family that made its fortune off the sheep's back. At the start of the novel, they are driving to Alexander's ancestral pile in the Western District of Victoria for a naughty weekend. The reader senses at once there's something odd about this couple. Alexander pays Liese for sex; Liese takes his money and encourages him to believe she's a professional.

In the grand tradition of the Gothic novel, Liese gradually finds herself trapped in the spooky family mansion and also in Alexander's fantasy. Or is it her fantasy? The borders ripple and blur.

''It's a story where two fantasies collide, and it's difficult to know who's in charge,'' Hooper says. ''I do love all those Gothic classics - Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Castle of Otranto, those stories of women trapped in big houses.''

The cover design suggests a period setting and there's a forced betrothal, anonymous letters, knives, guns, gutted animals and a vicar who comes to dinner, but it's a contemporary tale and Hooper has been at pains to make it seem authentic. Alexander's house is based on real homesteads. ''I was lucky enough to enjoy some old-fashioned Western District hospitality,'' Hooper says. ''It's fairly Gothic around that area, full of eccentrics and dark family secrets.''

She plays with two classic fantasies, the whore and the bride. ''I like the idea of a fantasy that seems harmless, but is actually dangerous,'' she says. ''Marriage is one of the last fantasy rituals: you put on a white dress and hire a vintage car and get a cake, and there are reasons to be quite frightened of doing that when a third of marriages end in divorce. Even though we talk about people marrying less, and more children are born out of marriage, there still seems to be such a lot of pressure on women to formalise things. Girls grow up with a picture … do you ever get over reading Cinderella?

''We live in times where we think we're very progressive about sex and everybody's reading Shades of Grey and what's meant to be a whole lot of gymnastics. But, actually, we're mediaeval in our attitudes to female desire and sexuality.''

She also liked the idea of writing a thriller. ''When you read a good thriller, you feel a surfeit of emotions,'' Hooper says. ''Your shoulders tense up and your hairs are meant to stand on end, but you enjoy feeling anxious. It's almost an S&M experience. That's what gives the genre its spark - and it's also a very good medium to look at the ambivalence about marriage.''

Does this ambivalence extend to Hooper's personal life? Her partner is the writer Don Watson, 33 years her senior, and they have a baby son. ''Marriage is not out of the question, but there do seem always to be other things to deal with,'' she says. They manage parenthood in Fitzroy with help from Hooper's parents and a part-time nanny. Do they also help each other with their work? ''He reads my work more than I'm allowed to read his,'' she says. ''I guess that's just the way it is.''

Hooper's best-known work, The Tall Man, has the narrative pull and urgency of a thriller, but it's a non-fiction account of the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee from Palm Island, and the subsequent trial of senior sergeant Chris Hurley. It won the Western Australian Premier's Book Award and the respective NSW and Victorian premiers' literary awards for non-fiction and had exceptionally glowing reviews here and overseas. Robert Drewe called it ''the country's finest work of literature so far this century''.

Hooper had started work on The Engagement when she first became involved with the case, following Brisbane criminal lawyer Andrew Boe and writing a Walkley-winning report for The Monthly magazine. Then she decided so much compelling material should go in a book, which meant putting her novel aside.

Returning to fiction was ''a terrific freedom'', she says. ''One of the first days I was back, I closed the door on my study and nobody could get me. This character wouldn't hop off the page, there wouldn't be a lawsuit, nobody would ring me and abuse me. It had been so long since my first novel, I almost had to learn how to write a novel again … but writing The Tall Man probably made me a better writer. I've used different muscles.''

There was, however, an interruption - although a very welcome one. Ten months ago, Hooper gave birth to Tobias. She had hoped to get the novel done by then, but it didn't work out that way. ''The book was hopelessly overdue, I had to finish it,'' she says. ''In the beginning, I would write when Tobias was asleep. When he was awake more of the time, we needed help in the house. I was lucky that this book was at a place where it was kind of writing itself, so I would get to work and know what to do.''

Hooper's career to date sounds like a dream run for a young writer. She had short stories published while still at the University of Melbourne then, at 23, she won a Fulbright scholarship to Columbia University in New York, where she studied creative writing. Her first novel was written as part of the course.

But there was a dark afternoon of the soul. She couldn't find an agent for A Child's Book of True Crime and was running out of money. Philip Roth suggested she show it to his agent, the famed Andrew ''The Jackal'' Wylie, and she sent off the manuscript as a last resort. Convinced he wouldn't want it, she spent the afternoon weeping and making plans to fly home. ''I was calling up friends and offering them my sleeping bag. And then he rang that night.''

Wylie sold the novel to 13 countries, including Australia, and also did a double book deal for The Tall Man and The Engagement for a reported $300,000 advance in Australia (a figure that Hooper's Penguin Australia publisher, Ben Ball, has since said is wrong). Hooper doesn't offer a comment on the money, but she's wry about the gossip the deal sparked.

''One of the reasons I wrote this novel was I was interested in writing about women and money and their price,'' she says. ''It got me thinking a little about this world we're in, where everything is commodified. I've been very fortunate that the stars aligned and I was able to make a career out of writing.''

Hooper is keen to keep working, although she also loves being a mother: ''It's terribly tempting just to play with blocks and crawl around on the floor.''

She'd like to write another non-fiction book, though learning about indigenous lives in the far north of Australia was often a harrowing experience. ''You forget the pain of a book, like childbirth,'' she says. ''What's left in terms of pain is the inequities that book details. I think of my son; he's had the best prenatal and antenatal care, he has clean clothes and a safe place to sleep, and that's not the case for a lot of kids I know.''

So what to write next?

''For me, the new challenge is I can't just get on a plane - with a small child, that kind of travel is far more difficult. I have lots of ideas, but they're in far-flung places. I need a non-fiction story in Melbourne CBD between the hours of 10 and 11.30 and 2 and 3.30.'' She laughs. ''That's when he sleeps.''

The Engagement is published next week by Penguin Australia, $29.99. Chloe Hooper will speak at Gleebooks in Sydney on September 18.

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Sheens holds fire but Hasler has no sympathy

TIGERS coach Tim Sheens felt ''hard done by'' last night after his side found themselves on the wrong end of a number of dubious refereeing in their one-point loss to the Bulldogs.
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Not that Des Hasler had any sympathy for him, complaining about the 7-2 penalty count against his side.

While Sheens was proud of his side's effort against the competition frontrunners, he conceded he wasn't impressed with the match officials, particularly video referee Sean Hampstead's decision to award Jonathan Wright a try despite strong protests for an obstruction by Josh Morris on Blake Ayshford.

''There's obviously going to be some discussion about it but I'd rather talk to [Bill] Harrigan and [Stuart] Raper about it,'' he said.

''The same thing happened in State of Origin. There are some grey areas there that need to be addressed, I suppose.

''[Robbie] sat down in one at the other end because he [would've ran around his own player]. You can't run around [a player] and take advantage of it. I know it was an unusual one, but [Pritchard] ran around the lead runner, and took advantage of it. We'll wait and see what the referees' coordinators come up with.''

Hasler disagreed, arguing his side were playing to the rules.

''Read the rules, my friend,'' he said when asked about the try. ''All the key indicators were met. Do you understand what I mean? All the indicators were met, you should know what they are. It's a try.''

Farah took aim at on-field official Ben Cummins following the decision, saying: ''Since rugby league was created, you can't run around your own player - it's a shepherd.''

The Tigers captain, who was battered and bruised following the gruelling 89-minute encounter, refrained from his post-match media conference commitments in fear of unloading on the referees.

He was also filthy about Hampstead's decision not to award him a try in the 50th minute, ruling he'd been held up in the Ben Barba tackle, despite Farah saying he was ''1000 per cent'' certain he'd grounded the ball which would've seen the Tigers take a 16-12 lead.

While obviously frustrated by what could have been, Sheens, who again reinforced his stance against golden point extra time, opted to take the positives out of the one-point loss that saw the Bulldogs stretch their winning streak to 12 matches.

''The effort was there - we asked for the effort and we worked hard this week in a short week to get the effort … and it was there'' he said.

''It was a tough game and we probably blew a couple of chances in the first half, but the effort was there. We had our chance to win it a couple of times but we didn't hit the field goal well. I'm not going to sit here and whinge about it because I know it's not going to get me anywhere. I'm not going to cost the club any money, and it's not going to change things either. But people would agree we were pretty hard done by, I think.''

While the loss has already come at a huge price for the eighth-placed Tigers, it may get even worse today after the results of the scans to their injured players are released.

Beau Ryan and Tim Moltzen are among the biggest concerns.

''We've got a couple of issues, but I'll wait for the doctors report tomorrow,'' Sheens said.

"But we haven't come out of it unscathed. At this stage, there's ice on every player in there.''

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St Kilda brave, but goal rush too much

THEY were brave and bold and five minutes into the final term looked some chance of upsetting the Geelong applecart when they got within a point of the premiers in the final term.
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But as quickly as that hint of a shock win entered the mind it was obliterated by a rapid and late goal rush by the Cats, who piled on seven majors to temporarily lift themselves into sixth spot on the ladder, which keeps Chris Scott's team hopeful of securing a home final.

For St Kilda, the prospects of a post-home-and-away campaign in 2012 are diminishing rapidly. The defeat leaves the Saints on 40 points, four behind Essendon (which plays Carlton today) and Fremantle (which meets Richmond in Perth today) and relying on events outside their control.

Tom Hawkins was the architect of the Cats' victory with a slashing six-goal haul, while Stephen Milne and Ahmed Saad, with four and three respectively, were the Saints major contributors.

The Saints lost youngster Rhys Stanley to injury in the third quarter. He was taken to hospital with suspected fractured ribs. And Lenny Hayes is likely to come under scrutiny over his second-quarter clash with Taylor Hunt.

The veteran midfielder crashed into the Cat youngster's head, leaving the 21-year-old battered and bruised and forced to leave the ground, although he returned later. From the subsequent 50-metre penalty, Steven Motlop slotted home a goal for the Cats.

The Cats had already begun to dominate on the stats sheet and establish their superiority on the scoreboard. Four Tom Hawkins goals in the opening half helped them to a 34-point lead at the interval and they looked set to coast to victory against a team that seemed to lack the required fluency and intensity.

But Milne, who so often provides a spark for his team, breathed life into a lacklustre St Kilda with an early third quarter goal - his fourth of the night - to spark a revival that would get the Saints to within 13 points at the final change. In the process the Saints did something that has not been done for a long time in keeping Geelong goalless for a quarter.

St Kilda coach Scott Watters subbed off the ineffective Justin Koschitzke then rejigged his front line, relying on the smaller men - Milne and Ahmed Saad - to keep them in touch as they went for broke to salvage the win that would keep their season alive into the final fortnight of the campaign.

It looked a distinct possibility as the outsiders got on a roll and kicked five in a row to close within a point of the reigning premiers early in the final term as the tension rose among the 38,000-plus crowd.

But Geelong's resilience was not to be denied. Hawkins pushed the advantage out to seven points, Jordan Murdoch gave the Cats a 13-point breathing space soon after and defender Andrew Mackie produced a monster kick from outside the 50-metre mark to extend the advantage to 19 points. When Hawkins drilled his sixth goal of the night in the 22nd minute of the final term he was icing the cake.

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Storm surges to win

ON A night when the recent past weighed heavily on Brisbane and Melbourne, Storm halfback Cooper Cronk reached back further to the state-of-origin decider with another match-winning field goal at Suncorp Stadium.
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Until his 74th minute drop-goal from 25 metres out, both sides had been following their round 23 scripts as they attempted to continue revivals since drifting in the mid-season doldrums.

For Brisbane, that was opening up a big early lead - as it had last Sunday against Canterbury - and being run down. This week , the Broncos - who've now lost five in a row - led 12-0 after 16 minutes.

They conceded a controversial try near half-time, with Melbourne winger Sisa Waqa grounding the ball with his torso, and the Storm surged back to hit the front in the 52nd minute to maintain its hold on second spot with two games to play in the regular season.

The Storm also provided a facsimile of last weekend, when it trailed Gold Coast 10-0 at half-time before winning 24-16. The Storm's comeback and claiming of the lead had an air of inevitability about it, until Brisbane back rower Ben Te'o finally bucked the trend with a converted try that tied the contest with nine minutes left.

The first try came in the seventh minute and was heralded by the absence of any bandaging on Justin Hodges' knee, a dangerous sign for the Storm. The Australia centre effortlessly stepped inside three defenders coming across in cover to dot down, halfback Peter Wallace converting for 6-0.

Brisbane hammered the Melbourne line, with five-eighth Ben Hunt playing some of his best first grade football as he forced a line dropout in the 15th minute after a sublime flick pass from Hodges.

From the restart, Storm defender Gareth Widdop rushed up on Brisbane's Te'o, who easily brushed him aside to run 10 metres to the tryline. Once more, Wallace goaled and the Broncos moved further ahead.

When Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough kicked out on the full, there was a brief interruption to the Broncos' momentum. Melbourne didn't make them pay immediately - but it happened eventually.

Ryan Hoffman - injured early - was denied a try on an obvious call from video referee Paul Simpkins in the 24th minute. The next time Simpkins would be called upon, it wasn't so obvious.

First, Corey Norman's flick pass almost handed Hodges a try, with Melbourne marshalling some heroic defence to hold him out.

Then, in the final minute of the half, Storm winger Waqa crossed in the corner. As he grounded the ball, Waqa lost control of it. But the Steeden was still grounded by his torso and Simpkins ruled a touchdown on a benefit of the doubt.

Under previous rules, requiring control and downward pressure, it was not a try. But if contact is the only criteria, it was. The call divided fans at Suncorp.

Three minutes into the second session, Melbourne fullback Billy Slater sent centre Will Chambers roaring down the western touchline. A desperate Jack Reed ankle-tapped Chambers but on the next tackle, Cronk's grubber kick hit the right upright and rebounded back into his arms for a try.

There was a group groan from the 41,467 crowd as Broncos winger Josh Hoffman fumbled a Cronk kick nine minutes later and Waqa dotted down for his second try - and the second approved by Simpkins.

It was during this tense period that a couple of unpleasant incidents occurred. Hodges seemed to call Dane Nielsen a "dog" as he lay on the ground, apparently in the hope of a penalty for a high tackle.

And Storm prop Bryan Norrie was placed on report for raising his forearm in the face of Sam Thaida at 70 minutes. From that territorial leg-up, Te'o muscled his way over 60 seconds later and Wallace goaled to tie up the scores once more.

But Cronk had the composure - and the memory - to save the day.

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Roos on the right track

THE quest for an AFL premiership is not dissimilar to the running of our most prestigious horse race, the Melbourne Cup.
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It is a marathon test of endurance, skill, preparation, courage and luck. The aim, of course, is to be in front when the final siren sounds on the last day of September, or at the finishing post of the gruelling 3200-metre journey.

After Hawthorn put North Melbourne to the sword to the tune of 115 points in round 10, thoughts of the Roos figuring in September appeared fanciful. The Roos had won just four of their first 10 games, with losses to the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide. In Melbourne Cup parlance, they were 16th at the 1200-metre mark, locked in on the fence, and going backwards.

What has transpired since that day at Launceston has been one of the great ''training'' feats of the season. Brad Scott and his coaching staff refused to panic, and displayed a clear and calm confidence in their playing group, when the vast majority of football people had none.

They have won eight of their last nine games, including victories over top-of-the-table Adelaide, and fellow finals aspirants St Kilda, Carlton, Richmond and Essendon. Their only loss was a heartbreaking, two-point defeat against the Eagles, having given up a 35-point lead in the third quarter.

At the 2400-metre mark, they have moved back through the field, positioning themselves with a real chance of figuring in the finish.

And I guess in this AFL season, more than most in recent memory, finding your best form at the right moment, and timing your run to the line perfectly, may be more important than ever before. To that end, Scott and his group are finishing as strongly and as impressively as any team. Sustaining that run over the next three weeks will be challenging, starting tonight with their contest against the Magpies, who demonstrated last weekend that when they have their foot on the throat of an adversary, they are loath to let them up.

Fremantle at Etihad the following week will also be tough and then a final game against Greater Western Sydney should put them safely through to September. And that is when the field enters the home straight, and a new ball game begins.

There will be teams which have enjoyed a good run out in front for most of the year but will be looking over their shoulders at the fast-finishing Roos. They have every right to be watchful, for this is a side that is growing in confidence by the week. The Roos have demonstrated a resilience under pressure that smacks of total team ''buy-in'', and when you look closely at the group that takes the field each week, they are ticking the sorts of boxes that September football demands.

Let's start with leadership. Andrew Swallow and Drew Petrie are warriors who know no other way than to whole-heartedly compete at every contest. Have a look at the Richmond game if you are in any doubt. It was a season-defining victory, Swallow was best on ground and Petrie kicked five in the last quarter after lowering his colours in the first three. Watching the game as an impassive observer, you couldn't help but admire the way that club is led. Add the returning Jack Ziebell, a natural and hugely respected figure, and they are in very good hands.

The Roos' centre-square set-up is formidable. Swallow is fifth for clearances and first for tackles in the AFL. Todd Goldstein is third for hitouts to advantage and Daniel Wells is fifth for inside 50s.

The midfield depth has increased substantially and has added class and pace with Kieran Harper, Jamie Macmillan, Sam Gibson and Ryan Bastinac.

The defence is flexible and capable enough to handle most forward set-ups. Much depends on Scott McMahon and Nathan Grima's ability to handle the big forwards and you are always reminded of Lance Franklin's bag of 13 against the Roos, but, hey, Buddy can do that when he's in the mood.

And then there is some ''x'' factor that most successful finals teams are able to boast. That Brent Harvey still qualifies under this banner is a testament to him and his preparation and an admission from this writer that I got it wrong earlier in the year when I suggested this would be his last year.

Wells is the other obvious class factor and everyone in football wants to see him strut his stuff at the MCG, with the sun shining.

But Shaun Atley is the one, for me, who has emerged most dramatically to announce himself as one of the classiest and most influential youngsters in the competition. This is one very special talent, who has the athleticism and confidence that will earn him All-Australian and best-and-fairest honours in the next couple of years. After 35 games it appears he may prove to be one of the steals of recent drafts. Every time he takes the field in a Kangaroos jumper, North officials still pinch themselves that they were able to secure him with pick 17 in the 2010 draft. It was beyond their wildest expectation that he would still be available, given Gold Coast had nine picks before them and eight other clubs also had the opportunity.

His hard running and creative ball use off half-back have been critical to the Roos' re-emergence. The continuing trend of teams launching attacks from the back half demands that you have one of your most influential players across half-back. The fact that Atley is just 19 and in his second season, underlines the fact that North has an absolute beauty on their hands.

Improvement from within the Roos' list has been the icing on the cake. At various stages, question marks hovered over the heads of Robbie Tarrant, Liam Anthony, Matty Campbell and Lindsay Thomas. All four have shown in recent weeks that they have what it takes to be valued members of this side.

North Melbourne is a team to be reckoned with. The Roos play with attitude, self-belief, are relentless and competitive and give the impression that they are all prepared to sacrifice for one another. They are playing very honest football. These are all qualities that defined their coach in his playing days with Hawthorn and, most notably, the Brisbane Lions. He has been able to mould this group in his likeness, unwittingly maybe, but impressively nonetheless.

The finishing line is approaching and North Melbourne has loomed ominously. If Scott has timed the Roos' run to perfection they threaten as the ultimate wildcard in coming weeks.

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CA board in historic shake-up

FORMER Test captain Mark Taylor could be one of three independent directors appointed to Cricket Australia's new, modernised board following a landmark moment in Australian cricket governance.
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CA hailed the reforms adopted at yesterday's extraordinary general meeting - a smaller, nine-person board (cut from 14) comprising six state-appointed directors and three independents - as the most significant since its foundation 107 years ago.

It has committed to a fully independent board within three years. The new structure gives each state an equal voice for the first time and heralds a huge leap forward from the parochialism and self-interest that once thrived around the board table because of the outdated delegate system.

The state associations decided which six directors kept their jobs. They are chairman Wally Edwards, South Australia's John Bannon, Victoria's Earl Eddings, Cricket NSW chairman Harry Harinath, former Queensland and Test fast bowler Michael Kasprowicz and Tasmania's Tony Harrison.

Taylor is one of eight who relinquished their positions, but if he resigns as a director of Cricket NSW it is believed he has a strong chance of returning as an independent when the new board is unveiled in October.

Edwards, who drove the changes in response to the Crawford-Carter governance review, described a ''long, hard slog'' towards change.

South Australia, which along with Victoria and NSW had three votes under the old system to Queensland and WA's two and Tasmania's one, was the last to fall into line.

''Today all states are equal in terms of votes,'' Edwards said. ''We've moved an enormous amount of distance. I've been on the board 16 years and we've had three previous attempts to try and get some equity and we haven't been able to move past the initial debate. This time we have come right through that debate and we've had states give up rights, and that has been a terrific thing for the game.''

He said there was ''strong potential'' for one of the three independents to be a woman. They will be decided by a high-powered committee, including former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, author of the landmark review into the Australian team.

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Homeless and left for the Wolves

Hard times ... the abandoned demountable building at Lysaghts Oval still features the Wolves badge.NOT so long ago, Wollongong Wolves were on top of the world. On their way to Spain for the 2001 FIFA Club World Cup as newly minted champions of Oceania, and defending champions of Australia. Now they are living out of a suitcase, relying on the largesse of a few committed individuals. Penniless and homeless. Dreams of glory and professionalism have been replaced by one overriding focus: survival. Even in the context of the notorious boom-bust cycle of football in this country, it has been a staggering fall from grace.
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How it came to this is another cautionary tale of the enduring vulnerability of football, a game that continues to arouse suspicion and derision in equal measures from the established sporting status quo, and their boosters in public office who hand out the cheques. Caught in the familiar pincer movement of vested interests, the team - now rebadged as South Coast Wolves - had a target on its back. Trouble is, it didn't know it. And those firing the arrows, didn't miss.

The Wolves are down, and almost out, because they gave away their home on the premise they would be given somewhere to move to in its place. That was a decade ago, and it still hasn't happened. There has been a glimmer of hope offered in the past few days, but that is all it is. A $3 million plan to upgrade J.J. Kelly Park at Coniston has been proposed. Believe it when you see it.

In truth, the Wolves have not always helped themselves. It was the decision of a group of former directors (see separate story) not to on-sell their club a new home at Figtree. Fate did not help either. FIFA's decision to cancel the 2001 Club World Cup at the last moment cost the club an estimated $4.5 million in lost revenue. But the strongest undercurrent to their plight is a familiar one: rugby league working with local authorities to exploit an opportunity at the expense of football. What is happening to another fallen giant, Sydney Olympic, in the battle for Belmore is happening to the Wolves, only much worse. Don't think it's a coincidence.

''Soccer's never had the same sort of status down here as rugby league,'' Rod Oxley, a former general manager of Wollongong City Council, says. ''Rugby league has been more of a passion in this region. Soccer has never been able to get the same level of community support, or corporate support.

''Rugby league does have strong influence at government level.

''There's definitely a strong rivalry between the codes. And they [rugby league] do jealously guard their territory. They would see that simply as part of doing business.''

Doing business has cost the Wolves plenty. Four years ago, they were on death row. Even now, they are still on life support. This is the club that gave us Scott Chipperfield, helped produce the likes of Luke Wilkshire and Mile Sterjovski, and blessed us with perhaps the greatest grand final of any code, the 2000 epic in front of 40,000 astonished fans in Perth.

None of that counted for much when larger forces were at work two years later, just after the Wolves had been crowned back-to-back National Soccer League champions. The downward spiral started in 2002, when the Wolves were strong-armed into leaving their much-loved home ground of Brandon Park when they had nowhere else to go. Illawarra Premier League side Wollongong Olympic - who occupied a smaller ''stadium'' at Brandon Park - were also convinced to leave. A decade on, neither club has found a new home. Instead, rugby league occupies Lysaghts Oval, where both clubs were supposed to end up, and WIN Stadium, where the Wolves were initially supposed to go.

Conspiracy theories? You bet. Even Oxley, who was a central figure in the process at the time, admits the obvious. When it is suggested that what happened to the football clubs would not have happened if it had been rugby league, he replies: ''That's probably a fair assessment.''

The best evidence of the Wolves' spectacular demise can be found at Lysaghts Oval, in suburban Figtree. There is a grandstand being reconstructed which once belonged to the Wolves. The floodlights did too. But not the posts. It will not be the Wolves moving in when the venue is finally ready early next year. It will be Collegians rugby league team, who gazumped a bid by Football South Coast and bought the site for $1.7 million. The only clue to what might have been is a derelict demountable behind the grandstand, partly hidden by a pile of mulch. If you look hard enough, you can see the Wolves logo next to the smashed front door. This is where the club was supposed to be reborn. Instead it has had the door slammed in its face.

The grandstand now being renovated is a particularly emotive symbol for one man. John Vlietstra was a key foot soldier when the Wolves were formed in 1980 to represent this proud, talent-rich football region. A year later, the Wolves were in the NSL, playing at Wollongong Showground and then Corrimal before they arrived at the promised land, Brandon Park, in 1988.

It was a rudimentary place, a hill built from coal-wash on one side, and the shell of a grandstand on the other. But it was home. ''We didn't care what it looked like; the main thing was it was ours,'' Vlietstra says.

It was Vlietstra and peers such as Jack Zanier who laboured long and hard to fill in the gaps with a bar and club room, and corporate suites, and seats, and commentary boxes. Built into the brickwork - most of it donated - were individual plaques for life members. Vlietstra was one of them. With the security of a 20-year lease, turning Brandon Park into a modern stadium became a labour of love. ''There was never any shortage of people prepared to put something into it,'' Vlietstra says. ''The spirit in those days was something very special. It was all about creating a club.''

Socceroos such as David Ratcliffe, Charlie Yankos and John Filan were drawn to the project. Trevor Francis, Paul Mariner and Alan Brazil showed up as guest players thanks to the generosity of the television entrepeneur Harry Michaels. There was a minor premiership in 1988, a 10,000-plus crowd for a semi-final against Sydney United, a Socceroos game in 1996. The Wolves were building something on the field, and all the time Brandon Park was being improved, step-by-step, to match those ambitions. But then everything changed.

Wollongong University wanted to create an innovation campus, and Brandon Park was chosen as the site. At the same time, the Illawarra Steelers wanted to improve WIN Stadium. The trust that administered both venues needed the Wolves to come back to the showground as co-tenants to justify government funding. Both the Wolves and Olympic had leases until 2008, but they were lured away on false pretences. Everyone, bar the two football clubs, got what they wanted.

Oxley, then running the council, but also working on behalf of the university, says: ''If the Wolves had dug their toes in, it would have been a very difficult situation to manage. They had some legal entitlement. If they had not agreed to vacate, the innovation campus would have been delayed. But the Wolves did agree. They did it for the right reasons, and they did it on the promise they would have got a new home. I guess you could say soccer was the casualty in the process.''

That is an understatement. Vlietstra still goes to watch the Wolves in a borrowed ground at Cringila. It's not the same. ''I'm proud, very proud, of what we achieved,'' he says. ''Do I feel cheated? Absolutely. Every time I go past Brandon Park, I get tears in my eyes. It's not right.''

Oxley insists, despite what transpired, the relocation plan was done in good faith. ''The Wolves have a right to feel disappointed, but I don't think cheated is the right word,'' he says. ''They've lost their way because they've lost their leadership.''

Not because they've lost their ground? ''That's an element to it, yes.''

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

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