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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''.

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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.

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