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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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