Adam Ashley-Cooper excited about Super Rugby finals experience

HIGHLIGHT: Adam Ashley-Cooper at Waratahs training yesterday. Picture: Getty ImagesHE’S one of the great Wallabies of the past decade but Adam Ashley-Cooper will finally erase a jarring omission from his record this weekend.
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The 94-Test warrior hasn’t played in a Super Rugby finals match during his long and distinguished career.

He gets a chance to remove that glaring blemish from his record tomorrow when he lines up for NSW in their semi-final clash against the Brumbies in Sydney.

The 30-year-old utility back played in losing grand finals as a junior but said his last finals match was for a colts team way back in 2002.

He was with the Brumbies when they won the 2005 Super title but didn’t play in that finals series.

“It’s my first finals experience in 10 years of Super Rugby, so to be part of this is really exciting,” Ashley-Cooper said.

“I played a lot of grand finals in my junior days but I didn’t get the choccies in any of those grand finals.

“My dad always said that you needed to lose one to win one so I’ve lost a few, so maybe I’m due.”

Another former Brumby, forward and Test representative Stephen Hoiles, also views the Waratahs’ finals campaign as a potential career highlight.

Hoiles at least won a club premiership in Sydney but said a Super title would be the pinnacle of his career, even above his 16 Test appearances.

“It would be the highlight of my career, to be honest,” Hoiles said.

“Playing for your country is an amazing achievement. So far I’ve won a club comp for Randwick in 2004 and that’s my highlight because that’s something you do with your team, that’s what you do with your mates.”

As former Brumbies, both Ashley-Cooper and Hoiles know how pumped the Canberra-based franchise will be for a domestic grudge match.

Ashley-Cooper rated the Brumbies’ backline highly, especially their defensive qualities, which will be examined by the attack-minded Tahs this weekend.

“Defensively, they are very strong, so they are certainly going to test our attack,” Ashley-Cooper said.

He nominated inside back Christian Lealiifano as one Brumby who enjoyed on-field banter but stressed NSW would try to avoid any sledging battle.

Hoiles noted there hadn’t been as many verbal fireworks between the teams in the lead-up to Saturday’s game as in the past.

“There seems to be a lot less trash talk now,” Hoiles said.

“Sadly this week it’s been left to Brumby Jack [the Brumbies mascot] to take care of that.” AAP

SUPER RUGBY MATCHES

TOMORROW

Crusaders v Sharks: AMI Stadium, Christchurch, 5.35pm

Waratahs v Brumbies:Allianz Stadium, Sydney, 7.40pm

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Brothers Sione and Chanel Mata’utia make history withKnights debut

HAPPY DAY: Chanel, left, and Sione Mata’utia celebrate their selection yesterday. Pictures: Darren PatemanSIONE and Chanel Mata’utia will become the first brothers in more than 70 years to make their first-grade debuts in the same game when they run on for the Newcastle Knights against defending premiers Sydney Roosters at Hunter Stadium tonight.
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HAPPY DAY: Chanel, left, and Sione Mata’utia celebrate their selection yesterday. Pictures: Darren Pateman

Eighteen-year-old Sione was thrust into the spotlight on Wednesday when Knights coach Wayne Bennett named the former Australian Schoolboys captain toreplace fullback Darius Boyd, who was ruled out indefinitely as he receives treatment for depression.

Bennett dropped another selection bombshell at training yesterday when he named 21-year-old Chanel to replace right winger Akuila Uate, who is struggling with an ongoing knee injury after aggravating it in Newcastle’s 22-8 loss to Gold Coast last Sunday.

League historian and statistician David Middleton said the last ‘‘confirmed time’’ two brothers played their first first-grade game together was in the opening round of 1942, when Doug and Bill McRitchie made their debuts for St George. Middleton said Peter and Graeme Wynn made their debuts for different teams on different days in round one of 1979.

Peter scored a try for Parramatta and Graeme did likewise for St George.

Sione and Chanel will be the second and third of the four Mata’utia brothers to represent the Knights in the NRL.

Their eldest sibling, 23-year-old Peter, played six games for Newcastle in 2011 and 2012 before he left the club at the end of last season to join the Dragons.

Peter, who said he would be at the game tonight, also played against the Roosters when he made his NRL debut for the Knights in May 2011.

Their mother, Maria, has flown back from a family birthday celebration in Samoa to watch her second and fourth sons realise a childhood dream together.

‘‘I think it’s wonderful. It’s just coincidence but both of them have had different journeys to get here, I can tell you,’’ Bennett said.

‘‘Sione was here when I first arrived, playing under-20s, and he’s improved in so many areas it doesn’t matter so I’m really pleased he’s got this opportunity.

‘‘Chanel was the same. He’s improved a great deal as well, and he’s a little bit older than Sione, but again I’m really pleased for him.

‘‘He played for NSW [State Cup] against Queensland [Residents] this year and he was one of the best players there, so he’s always had the ability.

‘‘It was just getting his attitude right. He’s really improved in that area and does a lot of the little things better now than he ever did, so it’s all good.’’

Twenty-year-old Jake Mamo, who made his NRL debut against the Broncos in April, will again replace James McManus on the left wing as McManus has not fully recovered from a toe injury suffered playing for NSW in Origin III.

That means the key positions of fullback and the two wingers will be filled by two debutants and a rookie who has played just five games.

Newcastle’s regular back three – Boyd, McManus and Uate – played 491 NRL games, 32 Tests and 15 State of Origin matches between them.

Bennett believed Sione demonstrated confidence and composure beyond his 18 years, and was comfortable he could handle whatever the Roosters throw at him.

Usually a centre, Sione has played fullback in the team’s National Youth Cup (under-20s) team in recent weeks.

Robbie Rochow (groin) did not train yesterday but Bennett was certain he would play tonight.

Bennett sensed the Knights were keen to make amends for a disappointing performance against the Titans last Sunday, when they could not harness the emotion surrounding the return of injured teammate Alex McKinnon.

But Bennett anticipated the premiers were primed to reach their peak over the closing rounds of the regular season.

‘‘They probably just had a little bit of a hangover from winning a premiership.

‘‘That’s been their biggest obstacle this year but this is the time of the season when they’re trying to come into their own because they’ll want to be there in the playoffs and well positioned.’’

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NSW Waratahs forward Stephen Hoiles playing through tenacity

Try time: Stephen Hoiles scores against the Hurricanes in May. Photo: Anthony JohnsonNot many said it to Stephen Hoiles, but he knew plenty thought it.
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One day, at a coaching clinic at Newington during his three-year absence from playing because of a mysterious, mind-numbingly annoying injury, someone said it.

”What are you going to do now that you’re retired?” a former player asked.

”I’m not retired,” Hoiles said.

”You’re one of those blokes, are you?” the player laughed. ”Still hanging on.”

Hoiles did not reply, but noted it nonetheless.

”I thought, ‘I’ll add him to the list. I’ll show him,’ ” he recalls. ”He said what most people were thinking. I never had one friend say, ‘What are you doing?’ I know a lot thought it. And I can understand that. I would think the same if I had mates with two young kids at the end of their career.”

There are injury comeback stories and then there is the story of the 32-year-old from Sydney’s east, who probably should have walked away from an excruciating Achilles tendon injury and found a career post-football but then took the road less travelled.

He was not prepared to watch his career end with him cleaning out his locker at the Brumbies one Saturday morning in Canberra, and driving back to Sydney. No way.

Instead, he rented out the family’s Coogee home, moved in with the in-laws, funded his own surgery and rehab and fought his way back.

Now he finds himself starting for the Waratahs against the Brumbies on Saturday night, before a possible record crowd at Allianz Stadium, with the NSW side never better placed to win a Super Rugby title.

”I’ve had the most enjoyable season of my career,” Hoiles says. ”It feels like a club team. It’s got that feel about it. And maybe it’s because my mentality is different. I am just playing.”

Justplaying. In this era of professionalism, when it is about the next contract, the next endorsement, the next code switch, it is a refreshing thing to hear.

If you Google Hoiles’ name, one of the first things that pops up in the search engine is ”Stephen Hoiles retire”.

”I quite often said I hadn’t retired,” he says.

The fact is he had been away from the game for three years. He had slipped off the edge of the radar, as broken players often do.

The nightmare started in 2010 when he was labouring through matches for the Brumbies with a stiff foot.

The Brumbies advised an operation that would sideline him for three months. When he came back, he had a new, sharp pain in his heel. He played a handful of minutes in 2011 and that was it.

He was sent to the Australian Institute of Sport for treatment. No good. They tried putting him on anti-depressants because it helps with neural pain.

”I was sitting in Canberra for six weeks like a zombie,” Hoiles says. ”I tried everything. I said, ‘That’s not working. I’m just a junkie with a sore foot now.’ ”

Then Brumbies coach Jake White, who he never really got on with, showed him the door.

”That was really tough,” he says. ”I had been there for five years, I’d been captain, and I’d watched the shitfight unfold; coaches getting sacked and players moved on … That’s why I kept playing. My last memory of footy was that year-and-a-half debacle. In a week, I was out. I didn’t get to speak to the team. I came in one Saturday morning, cleaned out my locker and drove home to Sydney. It was an empty feeling.”

Hoiles returned home to Sydney and trained with the Tahs during the pre-season. The red bucket he used to ice his heel every day became a fixture at Moore Park.

”I’d put it in the ice bucket every day,” he says. ”From the day from the time my son was born until he was two.”

One day he jogged on the sand with his kids at the beach. He could not walk the next day. He could not surf. He had to wear sandshoes to the beach. ”I looked like a Swedish tourist.”

It was a Swedish surgeon who rescued him.

Hakan Alfredson is renowned as the best tendon specialist on the planet. He takes his craft seriously: as a young doctor he wanted to snap his own tendon and then find the best way to fix it.

Hoiles and his father Alan caught 11 flights in 11 days, sleeping on the floors of airports, to have surgery in Sweden.

”It wasn’t until I got to Sweden that they found a bone fragment that was lodged in my tendon,” he says. ”That was the new pain. It wasn’t tendonitis. It was from the first surgery. I always find it interesting when people say they don’t have any regrets. I regret that first operation. It took three years of my footy career away.”

His first game back was for his beloved Randwick, in second grade, buzzing with nerves at Coogee Oval.

The next week he played in the first grade semi, tore his hammy in the second minute but fought on, knowing that he had to show the Tahs that he could still play.

He fronted for Waratahs pre-season last October prepared to play for nothing. Coach Michael Cheika put him on a supplementary contract.

So Hoiles is effectively playing for match payments. He can expect to make no more than $50,000 this season, although a new deal beckons.

”It’s disappointing what’s happened financially,” he says. ”But I don’t expect people to feel sorry for me. I’ve had a dream run. I’ve sold my unit in Canberra, moved in with the in-laws, my wife went back to work, and we didn’t have a third kid.”

But there have been upsides.

”In a weird way, it’s made my wife and I a lot closer. When I came back, I realised how much your career means to your family. And a lot of those people wondered if I was doing the right thing. But they respected what I was doing, because they knew what I was like.”

What is Stephen Hoiles like? A footballer who is just playing, for all the right reasons.

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Stable party trick shows Atmospherical is more Houdini than Mr Ed

Atmospherical wins at Kembla Grange in December. Photo: Sylvia LiberMr Ed she’s not, but this is one pretty smart filly.
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While Fairfax Media was on a photo shoot earlier this week, racehorse Atmospherical showed she has created a novel way of escaping the confines of stable life – by letting herself out of her box.

So well has she mastered the art, stable staff at Warwick Farm have been stunned to come across the filly in the middle of her party trick.

She pops her head over her stable door, picks up the latch with her teeth and drags it open, to the amazement of onlookers.

“We’ve seen her do it before so the latch is doubly locked when she’s in her box unattended, to stop her getting out,” trainer David Pfieffer said.

“But she’s showed she can rule the roost on the track and she also rules the roost at home too. She thinks she can let herself out whenever she wants. We have to keep an extra eye on her as she has a few tricks.”

And she can run fast too. The horse has already won a stakes race in Scone and her trainers are now looking at entering her in more feature races during the Melbourne Spring Carnival.

“Every time we raise the bar she keeps improving,” Pfieffer said.

We’re not sure if he was talking about her racetrack deeds or those at home.

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Morrow brief return before retiring

Tough season: Veteran ABC sports commentator David Morrow. Photo: SuppliedVeteran ABC broadcaster David Morrow will return to the airwaves next week before joining long-time colleague Warren Ryan in retirement at the end of the season.
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Morrow was stood down following an on-air incident during the Roosters-Bulldogs clash on May 23, which was effectively Ryan’s last shift with the station.

The ABC launched an investigation into allegations Ryan had made a racist remark, while Morrow was being investigated for finding the remark humorous. Ryan sensationally handed in his resignation to his long-term employer, fast-tracking retirement plans and effectively ending an association with rugby league that had stretched over five decades.

“The ABC has suspended me pending an investigation, so I have resigned to save them the trouble of conducting it,” Ryan said last month.

Morrow had to wait exactly two months for the result of the inquiry into his conduct, with the outcome allowing him a final farewell to listeners.

“The ABC has completed its investigation into a broadcast by Warren Ryan and David Morrow aired on Friday 23 May 2014,” an ABC representative said.

“The ABC has reviewed Mr Morrow’s responses to the investigation and accepts that he does not condone or endorse terms that are offensive and racist. The community holds the ABC responsible for everything it broadcasts and Mr Morrow understands the standards required of ABC commentators in this regard. As a result, the ABC confirms Mr Morrow will now return to his usual duties as a commentator with ABC Grandstand.

“Mr Morrow has advised the ABC of his decision to retire in November at the end of this broadcast year. Mr Morrow has made a significant contribution to the sporting community through his broadcast work and the ABC wishes him well.

“Warren Ryan chose to end his association with the ABC when the investigation was instigated. The ABC acknowledges his longstanding service to the sports community and public broadcasting and wishes him well.”

Morrow, who was also briefly stood down last year over allegations a conversation he referenced with an Atlanta police officer were racist, could not be contacted for comment.

“I’d like to congratulate David on an outstanding career. He has been a phenomenal broadcaster,” Ryan said.

“We have enjoyed a great friendship over the years and that will continue when he retires.”

Generations of rugby league fans have grown up with Morrow, who has been a part of the ABC’s radio and television coverage of the game since 1980. He covered his first Olympic Games in 1984 and his first Commonwealth Games two years later. In 2005, he was awarded an OAM for services to sport, sports broadcasting, the community. The ABC is in the process of finding replacements for Morrow and Ryan for next year’s sports coverage.

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Manly set to keep grip on star duo

Manly are on the verge of offering disgruntled duo Anthony Watmough and Steve Matai contract extensions that would keep them at the club for the rest of their careers as teammate Kieran Foran has broken ranks and declared there are multiple “issues” engulfing the competition leaders.
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It is understood preliminary discussions with Watmough have begun – the representative back-rower is set to be offered a $1.2 million two-year extension on his deal, which expires next year. Watmough, 31, has also sounded out post-career opportunities to remain with the club when he retires.

Matai has already had his requests to join the Warriors denied. Manly now want to extend his contract, which ends next year.

There have been reports a player split has emerged at the Sea Eagles following news of Glenn Stewart’s departure at the end of the year. This led to suggestions Watmough and Brett Stewart could follow Matai’s lead in wanting to leave the club.

Foran said Matai deserved to be released from the final year of his deal to join the Warriors on a lucrative contract. He also took aim at the club’s management.

“I think the club underestimated Glenn Stewart’s departure,” Foran said. “We said all along that “Gift” [Stewart] was a massive part of building this culture here. As players, we felt that he deserved a contract put in front of him. I guess as all the boys are mates with him [they] are disappointed.

“I can’t really comment on individual situations. I guess the underlying fact is there are issues that need to be sorted.

“I’m not too sure [if the playing group will be split next year]. Everyone is contracted until the end of next year and others beyond that. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“I believe there are issues higher up than just the playing group.”

The Manly board moved on Wednesday night to assure Sea Eagles fans that it “fully supported” the honouring of contracts, declaring it would not grant any requests for early releases from the NRL club.

Foran said he understood that salary cap restrictions could have forced the club’s hand but wasn’t sure if that was the sole reason for Stewart’s departure.

“I understand that,” he said. “It always forces players out. It happens at every club. Whether or not that was the reason he was forced out I’m not too sure.

“I think in Stevie’s situation I believe he has taken unders for a lot of a years now to stay at this club. If he can now set his family up and get a big money contract elsewhere, then the club should assess it.

“I know there have been a lot of boys that have [taken less money to stay]. There’s been a lot of sacrifices from a lot of those older and senior boys to keep the group together.”

Teammate Daly Cherry-Evans – who is expected to command about $1 million per season when his deal expires at the end of next year – said he backed the club’s stance on not releasing players.

“That’s great,” Cherry-Evans said. “We’ve got a great roster. There is no secret in the success this side has had. To keep everyone involved for as long as possible that’s great.

“I’m very happy [here]. There’s been adversity in this club for a long time but we always find a way to get out the other end. This is just another speed bump in the club. We’ll continue to move forward and continue to go out there and be successful in the field, which is what matters most.”

New Zealand host Manly on Sunday.

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Rugby union, the NSW Waratahs and the Wallabies are back – or at least headed in the right direction

Are you sitting down?
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I hope so, because what you are about to read is massive. I mean, really big.

Rugby. Union. Is. Back.

Well, sort of.

Now, the mungos out there will be laughing into their happy hour schooners at Northies at the mere thought.

And the Swans types will be readjusting their newly bought scarfs and beanies, chuckling as they order another piccolo from their eastern suburbs cafe with a barista who is so serious you’d think he’s about to find a cure for cancer.

And the football types, well, they will point to the world game, and the Socceroos’ unbridled, winless success in Brazil. Sleeping giant and all that jazz.

But with the Waratahs taking on the Brumbies on Saturday night, with a place in the Super Rugby final on the line, with a Tahs record crowd of more than 40,000 at Allianz Stadium looming, there is renewed, if not cautious, optimism about the code.

Make no mistake, ARU and rugby types in general were furious at a story and picture on the back page of The Sydney Morning Herald last week revealing a coffee between Israel Folau, his manager Isaac Moses and NRL head of football Todd Greenberg.

They were angry that, despite two Australian teams qualifying for the finals, the focus was now on whether Folau and teammate Kurtley Beale would be playing rugby league in the near future.

Not that long ago, this column and many others would have scoffed at the outrage. In other words, rugby should be thankful for the coverage, so irrelevant had it become. The days of Wendell Sailor, Mat Rogers and Lote Tuqiri hogging headlines for switching to rugby are well behind us. Take what you can get.

But to suggest the 15-man game is still dying a slow death is nonsense. The NRL wishes. It wishes it had its time again and had signed Folau, instead of seeing him plastered over the back of almost every Sydney taxi in a Waratahs jumper. So why is rugby back? I’m glad you asked.

First, the so-called “rugby recession” might just be over. You will notice ARU boss Bill Pulver has stopped talking about the game’s precarious financial state. The Wallabies still command corporate dollars from the really big end of town: Qantas, HSBC, Lexus.

Also, don’t underestimate the inclusion of rugby sevens at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro from 2016. Play rugby and you can possibly win an Olympic medal. Some incentive. Of course, everything hinges on the Wallabies, and whether they can beat the All Blacks.

It’s that simple, and Ewen McKenzie has us on the right path. Robbie Deans is gone as Wallabies coach. So too is the “toxic culture” cultivated by Gen Y’ers Quade Cooper and James O’Connor. A new generation of Gen Y’ers in Matt Toomua, Bernard Foley and Michael Hooper has been ushered in.

Some say the ARU has erred in letting Nick Cummins take the big bucks in Japanese rugby. Some perspective, please. He’s a winger, who created headlines around the “Honey Badger” nickname. The future of Australian rugby hinges on more than that.

There is a long way to go, but McKenzie has given purists faint reason to believe we might see another Dave Brockhoff moment, when he ran around the perimeter of the SCG in 1979 clutching the Bledisloe.

Then there are the Tahs. This week, I’ve heard coach Michael Chieka described as a “lunatic”, “madman” and “genius”. Whatever he is, he’s got the Waratahs not only winning, but with a style of running rugby that suggests rugby is back.

If not back, headed in the right direction.

BENNETT WON’T BE WELCOMED BACK BY EVERYONE

Wayne Bennett will make a stunning return to Brisvegas next year, but do not expect a homecoming parade at Red Hill.

The senior players are furious at the treatment of current coach Anthony Griffin, who showed utmost class at the media conference confirming his termination.

Then there’s chief executive Paul White, who is making the right noises but is said to be livid about Bennett going around his back to News Corp chief executive Lachlan Murdoch to seal the deal.

(We talked to Murdoch’s peeps about him commenting, but he’s overseas).

Bennett’s statement on Tuesday claiming the Broncos “weren’t in the equation until the board recently contacted me” is also curious.

This column has been told that a group of influential businessmen, who have sway with the board, has been agitating for months for Bennett’s return – with former general manager of football operations Andrew Gee central to negotiations.

Gee resigned from the club after a 25-year involvement in the wake of the NRL’s salary cap investigation.

The last time I saw Gee and Bennett together was three years ago, when I was a guest in Bennett’s coaches box during the Indigenous All Stars game.

Gee was running the interchange alongside the master coach.

MICK POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS

Oh, to be an NRL coach in this trigger-happy day and age.

At the start of the week, the tip was the Tigers board was going to basically ignore the report it commissioned from Brian Smith and keep coach Mick Potter. A 12-month contract extension appeared certain.

But then, on Thursday, it emerged that Potter was now tipped to be sacked, with assistant coach David Kidwell expected to get the job.

FASTER, HIGHER, CHEAPER

Channel Seven is set to host the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 … from a car park in Sydney or Melbourne.

The network is yet to announce it will be hosting the next three summer and winter Olympics.

It might be because head of sport Saul Shtein has been in Rio this week attending a briefing of official broadcast partners for the games.

The word out of Copacabana Beach is that Seven will do exactly what it did for Athens in 2004 – host the five-ring circus from a temporary studio in Australia, in order to save costs.

SCG TO HONOUR MEDIA GREATS

The hard-working members of the sporting media will be honoured with a hall of fame in the SCG’s new MA Noble, Don Bradman and Dally Messenger Stands.

There will be 15 inaugural inductees, announced at a lunch function at the SCG on August 26, and there are some shoo-ins: Fairfax photographer John O’Gready (who took the Gladiators pic that features on the NRL trophy), former cricketer Bill O’Reilly, legendary radio caller Frank Hyde, and Channel Nine’s Ray Warren.

An expert panel of trustees, sporting historians and leading journalists has been consulted to whittle down the inaugural inductees.

“The Hall of Honour will pay tribute to the men and women of the media who have excelled in their careers covering sport at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Sports Ground before it,” SCG Trust chief executive Jamie Barkley said.

“It will acknowledge the rich history of the press and broadcasters who have reported from the grounds, recognising their role in etching into history the countless famous sporting moments that have taken place here.”

THE QUOTE

“I can’t guarantee I’ll be here. Rugby league is a crazy, crazy game.” – In this crazy, crazy old world, thank heavens for Manly coach Geoff Toovey.

THUMBS UP

Yeah, Rory McIlroy won this third major by holding on for victory at the British Open. But the REAL winner was his father, Gerry, who had the foresight a decade ago to bet $180 at the odds of 500 to 1 that his son would win the tournament before he turned 26. The payout: $90,000.

THUMBS DOWN

The easiest whinge in town is that the Commonwealth Games are irrelevant, they’re a relic of the former British Empire, we should get rid of them. This column is not a monarchist by any means, but as long as young types are aspiring to be their best, is it really that bad?

IT’S A BIG WEEKEND FOR … playing against your old joint. First up, Benji Marshall, who comes up against Wests Tigers – as a St George Illawarra Dragon – at ANZ Stadium. It’s weird seeing him in the Red V. Imagine when it’s against the Tigers.

IT’S AN EVEN BIGGER WEEKEND FOR … Lance “Buddy” Franklin, as he returns to Melbourne and the MCG to take on his former side, Hawthorn – as a Sydney Swan. He can’t drive, but he has the Swannies purring like a Maserati as they head into the pointy end of the AFL season.

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Tower plans lowered to protect Cathedral

CUT: The tower at the right will be smaller than planned. NEWSof the government’s ruling – to lower by two stories a towerproposed to be built as partof a planto redevelop Newcastle’s city centre -has done nothing to appease a city residents’ group.
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The group opposses changes to building height limits on the city centre site owned by UrbanGrowth and GPT.

Newcastle Inner City Residents Alliance described the move as ‘‘farcical’’.

‘‘This morning’s announcement by the minister is a cynical approach to appease community concerns while maintaining an abuse of planning policies to satisfy the ambitions of developers,’’ NICRA spokesman Brian Ladd said.

‘‘We are taking the risk of having our unique historical section of Newcastle destroyed for future generations. And it will at the taxpayer’s expense as we have already paid for UrbanGrowth – a state government-owned legacy – buying out GPT for its failed investment in inner city land.

‘‘The minister’s cynical announcement solves nothing,’’ he said. ‘‘But the community will continue to fight.’’

THE tallest tower in a proposal to redevelop Newcastle’s city centre will be lowered by at least two storeys in new plans to be announced today – but the heights of other buildings could be increased.

Christ Church Cathedral will remain the city skyline’s tallest building under revised planning controls the state government will issue today.

The maximum building height for the GPT/Urban Growth redevelopment in the Hunter Street mall precinct has been reduced from a proposed 69.5 metres, about 20 storeys, to 58.9 metres, about 17 storeys.

Its buildings won’t exceed the height of the parapet of the cathedral’s nave, which the government said would ensure the iconic building was protected as the city’s prominent feature.

The new Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan follows more than 200 submissions to the original plans, with the pitch for three tall towers in the East End for the GPT/Urban Growth site provoking the most controversy.

The trimming of the tower plan comes on the same day the Newcastle Inner City Residents Alliance will hold a public meeting on the redevelopment at City Hall.

The towers had been proposed as 19 storeys on the old David Jones car park site, 15 storeys in Wolfe Street and 14 storeys corner of King and Newcomen streets, but the tallest will now have to be reduced.

The buildings will still soar above the current height limit of about seven storeys.

Other changes from the draft documents include more floor space for the University of Newcastle’s inner city campus, up from a 4:1 ratio to 5:1, and increased heights for some other buildings.

Planning minister Pru Goward said the community’s concerns about high rise had been listened to ‘‘and we now have planning controls that provide the framework for the delivery of a long-term vision for the future – planning for a growing Newcastle’’.

The controls would ‘‘help shape the city centre to take advantage of the significant investment in new public transport’’, specifically light rail, she said.

Newcastle’s population is expected to hit 190,000 by 2031, with an extra 10,000 jobs and 6000 homes forecast for the city centre by 2036.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen welcomed the reduced East End maximum heights.

‘‘It is possible to protect the things we value while providing the housing and jobs we will need into the future, and that’s what I’m very pleased to have seen happen here,’’ Mr Owen said.

Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy, a vocal supporter of increase heights and higher density living, was also on board.

‘‘I want to make sure that our city is prepared for the future and a modern set of planning controls for the city’s centre is an important first step in helping the city realise its full potential,” Cr’’ McCloy said.

The changes are separate to potential uses for vacant rail corridor land when the heavy rail is truncated, beginning later this year.

The government is still conducting public consultation for those potential planning measures, with Urban Growth to hold a summit to hear ideas for public space over the weekend.

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State consideringmedicinal marijuana trials

CLINICAL trials of medicinal cannabis could happen in NSW, but Premier Mike Baird is waiting on details about regulation and supply before making any commitments.
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Under a private member’s bill to be introduced next month by Nationals MP Kevin Anderson, terminally ill people and their carers will be legally able to carry up to 15 grams of cannabis.

Mr Baird indicated his support after meeting Daniel Haslam, a 24-year-old who in 2010 was told he would only live for a few more months.

When asked if he would support a clinical trial, as proposed by the Australian Medical Association, Mr Baird said “it may well be something we have to do”.

“I’m open to that,” he said on Thursday.

Mr Haslam began taking cannabis to relieve his symptoms and help deal with the side effects of chemotherapy.

His retired nurse mother Lucy and father Lou – former head of the drug squad in north-west NSW – are now asking politicians to legalise the controversial drug.

“I was struck with Daniel and the battle he’s in. It’s heart-wrenching,” Mr Baird said.

“I’ve got deep sympathy and empathy with their position.”

But Mr Baird is waiting to see details of the bill and whether it will address his concerns about the sale and regulation of the drug.

“I’ll be looking closely at that,” he said.

“Let’s get to the details of what comes forward.”

He wouldn’t say whether government MPs would be given a conscience vote on the proposal, which is supported by the Greens and has provisional backing from the opposition.

But if the bill satisfies Mr Baird, it seems likely Daniel and his family won’t have to break the law for much longer. AAP

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Red Cross Blood Bank to move to Broadmeadow

BETTER: The new home for Newcastle’s blood bank. Allan Lockyer, blood donor saving lives for 50 years
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NEWCASTLE’S blood donation service is moving out of its long-term home in Watt Street, with plans to set up a $2million state-of-the-art facility at Broadmeadow.

After 12 months of extensive research and surveying of its donors, the Australian Red Cross blood service announced on Tuesday it had chosen the ground floor of 165 Lambton Road, Broadmeadow, for the centre’s new locale.

Blood service spokeswoman Jemma Falkenmire cited the central location, improved parking and the potential to expand with the projected need for blood donations as reasons behind the decision.

Also, the closure of the Royal Newcastle Hospital in 2007 meant the blood service no longer needed to be located in the city, Ms Falkenmire said.

A development application has been lodged before Newcastle City Council, with the blood service’s project team confident it will be approved.

Once approved, the Australian Red Cross plans on spending $2million constructing a purpose-built centre that could be open for business as early as mid-2015, with the existing Watt Street centre remaining open until that point.

‘‘We did some research and spoke to our regular donors in the area and they told us that the current location in the city was not really central to where a lot of them lived and the parking was difficult,’’ Mr Falkenmire said.

‘‘The Watt Street centre was built in 1941 and was one of the first wartime blood panels outside of Sydney. It was definitely built there originally because of the link to the hospital, but there is no reason for it to be there now.’’

She said the new facility is in a good position to get blood delivered for processing and testing quickly.

It will receive more than 14,000 litres of donated blood each year, slightly up on what the service was collecting in Watt Street.

The announcement comes as the blood service prepares to celebrate National Blood Donor Week, between July 27 and August 2.

In the last 12 months, more than 500,000 blood donors have made more than 1.3million donations across Australia.

The service will recognise 100 Hunter donors for reaching milestones of 50 donations or more.

To make an appointment call13 14 95

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