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Brave captain returns for first game

CBR Brave captain Mark Rummukainen (right) with Jordie Gavin and Maxime Suzzarini. Photo: Melissa AdamsHe was a leading force behind the birth of the CBR Brave, and captain Mark Rummukainen has returned from the world championships to lead the side for the first time.
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The Brave hosts defending Australian Ice Hockey League champions the Sydney Ice Dogs at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre on Saturday night.

It will be Rummukainen’s inaugural game for the Brave after he missed its 2-0 season-opening loss to Newcastle a fortnight ago while representing Australia at the division two world championships in Serbia.

“I was pretty bummed to miss out on the first game with a big crowd and a bit of hype around it, but obviously you’re not going to turn down representing your country,” Rummukainen said.

“To see tangible evidence of what we wanted to get done is being done, I’ll be very proud and excited to see a huge crowd and play as part of the Brave.

“Hopefully we can put out a huge effort and come away with some points.”

Rummukainen was the former captain of the Canberra Knights before the team folded just six weeks before the start of the season.

He played a major role in getting the Brave off the ground and ensuring there remained an ice hockey team in Canberra.

Rummukainen is hoping for better luck than what Australia had in winning just one of its five games at the world championships.

”You go to a tournament like that to win, so it’s disappointing,” he said.

“We had two overtime losses and the last game against Serbia, they scored in the last three minutes to win 1-0, so there’s three games that could have gone either way.

“A lot of positives came out of it for our program going forward, but we would’ve liked to have at least won a medal.”

The Brave takes on an Ice Dogs team in turmoil after the shock resignation of head coach Ron Kuprowsky on Thursday.

Assistant coaches Colin Downie and Brad Andrlon have also stepped down, but the Brave is wary of taking them lightly.

“They won the whole thing last year and they’ve changed their style of play the last couple of years,” Rummukainen said.

“You’ve got to beat every team and you’ve got to win games to win the league, so we’re new and want to prove something, so it’s time we stick it to them.”

SATURDAY: Australian Ice Hockey League: CBR Brave v Sydney Ice Dogs at the Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre, 5.30pm.

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Lost world of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig: ‘a connoisseur of coursing blood and throbbing temple’.Like a literary version of the Kevin Bacon Game, it’s a challenge to find an important cultural figure from the early 1900s through the 1940s who didn’t connect with Stefan Zweig. Zionist founder Theodor Herzl gave him his start with front-page articles as a 19-year-old. Einstein became a fan. Zweig introduced Dali to Freud and served in the War Archive with Rilke before working with Joyce to translate A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into Italian. He watched Rodin sculpt and Richard Strauss compose.
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Today some of his exile-friends have joined him in receiving popular revivals: Joseph Roth (who abused Zweig despite – or because of – his unfailing financial support), Jakob Wassermann and the daring Irmgard Keun, who sued the Gestapo for lost income after the ban of her ”degenerate” books.

Before Wes Anderson ”discovered” the world’s most popular writer of the 1920s and ’30s, more recent fans such as Colin Firth, Kazuo Ishiguro, Belinda Carlisle, Carla Bruni, Salman Rushdie and Antony Beevor lauded the Austrian writer, whose massive body of work includes a cache of novellas, biographies of figures as diverse as Marie Antoinette, Magellan and Freud, a memoir of Europe’s interwar years, a novel, plays, libretti, and hundreds of poems and essays. In the decades after his death in Brazil in 1942, Zweig’s works faded from popular consciousness. In France, though, he has remained among the top three foreign-language bestsellers, behind only Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

Those who become acquainted with Zweig through the coda that ends The Grand Budapest Hotel, ”Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig”, may find themselves perplexed when they crack open the author’s greatest fiction. While Zweig peaked during the glitzy but uncertain era that embraced Hemingway and Fitzgerald, his characters don’t muster the manic levity of flapper girls or the bravado of post-war wanderers. Likewise absent are the zany characters who populate Anderson’s jolly romp.

While often daring in its descriptions of sexual obsession and psychological undoing, Zweig’s work retains the feel of a lost world as its passions remain keenly topical. His writing teeters between the old and the new, the cream-puff facade of decadent Viennese splendour alongside dirty secrets, with nods towards Freud, that proliferate in the tightly constrained.

Zweig’s characters allow their misunderstood but unchecked emotions – and their straining bodies – to betray their assumed selves and tempt death. There are murders, illicit affairs, suicides and devilish psychological manipulation, but – unlike in The Grand Budapest Hotel – no madcap chases from evil henchmen. Zweig and his work are comfortable on film. In the 1930s, Hollywood offered him $US3000 (circa $40,000 today) a week to write for the screen; he declined. But he occasionally penned scripts, and more than 40 film versions of his work have appeared, including Max Ophuls’ 1948 Letter from an Unknown Woman and, most recently, A Promise (based on Journey into the Past).

Pushkin Press, leader in the Zweig resurgence, has ensured the availability of much of his work, often in the inestimable Anthea Bell’s crisp new translations. To coincide with the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Pushkin has issued a Wes Anderson-curated best-of sampler. Inexplicably sporting the title of one of the film’s sections, The Society of the Crossed Keys includes a French Riviera-based novella about obsession and the beginnings of Zweig’s memoir and his only full-length novel, alongside an interview between Anderson and George Prochnik, whose new book on Zweig, The Impossible Exile, appears next month.

Anderson admits to stealing his film’s structure from Zweig’s most common and affecting trope: the amazing ”true” story of an individual as relayed to an unsuspecting author, who remains a mere receptacle. The film’s introduction lifts nearly verbatim the first passages of Beware of Pity: ”There is nothing more erroneous than the idea, which is only too common, that a writer’s imagination is always at work … In reality he does not have to invent his stories; he need only let characters and events find their own way to him …”

When an artist names his inspiration, it’s tempting to hunt point by point for what he has captured and twisted from the original. But an inspiration remains by its nature unviewable and often mingles with too many other unidentifiable strands. The appropriation of a work, though, can be tinged through this kind of use. Woody Allen’s Love and Death spoofs the great Russian novels, just as his Midnight in Paris caricatures the Lost Generation, but the viewer is complicit with the jokes through shared knowledge. For a writer who has fallen into relative obscurity, this type of reinvention and subversion becomes more problematic.

A primer for Anderson fans arriving at Zweig with only The Grand Budapest Hotel for guidance: forget the film’s gorgeous Technicolor lobbies and deadpan delivery, physical comedy and whimsical characters. Most importantly, forget the raucous laughter.

Zweig’s writing is more subtle, but at the same time overflows with over-the-top, emotionally draining yet exhilarating melodrama. His work does not remove the viewer from their situation the way the best comedy can; his dramas amplify and, at their most successful, elucidate it. If Anderson is all about laughs, Zweig is a connoisseur of coursing blood and throbbing temple.

This marriage might seem more fitting when viewing Anderson’s film as a pleasure for those seeking reprieve into an imaginary place where the surroundings are more beautiful and the worst scenarios (dismemberment, incarceration) become the stuff of hilarity. Zweig, too, was a crowd pleaser of a different sort. Thomas Mann and Robert Musil disregarded him as a populiser for the masses, and his work helped overthrow the belief that German-language writers must be difficult.

There are writers we love to resuscitate over and over. Some finally stick, their hearts strong enough to sustain the repeated alternating throttles and neglect. Aside from his masterful stomach-churning plots that make the most ordinary life appear precious and precarious, Zweig provides a back-story that becomes ever more tantalising. With his life’s glittering distractions, his precisely groomed moustache, fussy manners and naive pacifism, it is tempting to settle on the figure of a man who appeared to have everything even as the world self-destructed – and who is now resigned to history as the driving-force behind the double-suicide that cut short his life and that of his 33-year-old wife.

Most important about Zweig is the cache of gems he left behind. The World of Yesterday, his memoir of Europe from the turn of the century through to the rise of Hitler, remains a touchstone with its overview of shifting culture, morals and politics. The culmination of his fiction, Beware of Pity, first published in 1939, alternately condemns war and muses on how an insignificant remark can reshape a life if unbridled emotions rule actions.

Alongside The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov, Zweig’s final work, The Royal Game (or A Chess Story), remains one of the finest fictions about the game. In it, a man imprisoned by the Gestapo steals a book in hopes of maintaining his sanity. To his horror, he discovers that the book is a compilation of famous chess matches. For those looking for a more complete education in Zweig, Pushkin offers a 720-page Collected Stories.

There’s hope, still, that the new wave Anderson has added to the ever-flowing Zweig resurgence will keep the writer where he belongs: in the hands of readers who will wonder, as did Anderson, ”How is it that I don’t already know about this?”

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Dunemann defends controversial call

Adamant … Andrew Dunemann has defended his ‘no-try’ ruling during the Parramatta-Wests Tigers match on Monday. Photo: Melissa AdamsNRL video referee Andrew Dunemann has staunchly defended his decision to disallow a try to Parramatta due to obstruction in its 21-18 loss to Wests Tigers on Monday, adamant the call was a ”no-brainer” despite criticism from the Eels.
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Dunemann and fellow video referee Steve Clark overruled on-field referee Matt Cecchin after he approved a try to centre Will Hopoate, ruling Eels forward David Gower impeded Tigers youngster Luke Brooks, who fell to the ground.

An angry Eels coach Brad Arthur accused the halfback of taking a dive, while Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne branded the obstruction rule a “lottery”.

As the former player in the box, it is Dunemann’s responsibility to make the final call.

The former Canberra Raiders assistant and interim coach used his blog on the website for his company Boom Sports Management and Media to stand by his decision.

“The try in which Luke Brooks was interfered with, in my opinion, was a no-brainer,” he wrote.

“In my opinion there is no way he took a dive, and there was no way I was going to be the person who questioned his character with the evidence I had in front of me.

“It doesn’t take much when you are [sliding in defence] to be brought down, particularly when it’s big man against little.

”The other things to note are Brooks was basically in front of the sweep runner, and had no reason to play Russian roulette as it would have been a three-on-three situation, and possibility four-on-three to the defence.

“The last damning piece is the sweep runner runs into the immediate space Brooks would have been defending in.”

The obstruction interpretation has been a constant source of frustration for players and fans this year. It intensified when the NRL admitted the referees were wrong in awarding Manly’s Kieran Foran a crucial try in the team’s win over North Queensland last Friday night.

Video referee Paul Mellor, who made the decision, was dropped for this weekend.

“To all intents and purposes it [Hopoate’s no try] is what happened in the Cowboys game, except instead of being able to make some play, Brooks was on the ground,” former halfback Dunemann wrote.

“The inside defender is denied a chance to fill his immediate space, in which the attacker continues to run to create an advantage.

“The tolerance of contact will always be different depending on what then unfolds with the play, what type of play it is, where the space is created, and where the try is scored.”

Arthur vented his frustration after the game, accusing Brooks of gamesmanship and said clubs are now confused about what constitutes obstruction.

“I don’t know what an obstruction is any more,” Arthur said.

“As coaches, we’ll start to encourage our players to take a dive.

“The rule is you’ve got to get back on the inside shoulder and that’s what Dave Gower did.”

Hayne also insisted it should have been a try.

“In the past, that’s a try,” he said.

“Let’s just keep consistent and on the same page and not change it a week, two weeks after.

“That’s what’s frustrating the most.”

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Young champions in the making

Gotta love this city. At the Narrabeen North cross country race last week, the usual winner of the senior girls division, Caitlin Hickey, had left her opponents so far behind they were in a different postcode, only to suddenly pull up badly lame with 400 metres to go.
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All she can do is hobble forward to the finishing line, and she is just 50 metres off when her great friend and rival Jasmine Nix catches her.

What’s up?

My toe is broken and I can’t run.

Jasmine offers to walk the last part of the race with her and such is their lead they approach the tape with still no other runners close.

Five metres off, Jasmine offers first place to her friend, reasoning that but for the broken toe, Caitlin would have finished well in front.

Caitlin declines and insists her friend deserves the win. So they agree to break the tape together, but at the last instant Caitlin pauses and sends her friend over first to take the win.

Champions both.

Gotta love this city!

The accidental superstar

The Buddy thing? Hey, happens to us all.

Someone tweeted the other night that it would be like my damn hide to get too high and mighty over it, as I should know only too well that those kind of things happened in the Wallabies all the time in my day … well, at least my five minutes. (But, oh Gawd, how did he know? Every second week, one or other of us, on a clear stretch, with no rain, no oncoming traffic, careered out of control and totalled four parked cars. I mean ALL THE TIME!).

So, what did actually happen?

No idea. The main thing is neither he nor anyone else was hurt. But the most intriguing theory came from 3AW’s Ross Stevenson. “I’ve just checked,” he said on Thursday morning, “and Buddy Franklin did have a seizure while at Hawthorn, and Sharrod Wellingham did have to call an ambulance. It was called a ‘dizzy spell’. And on January 3 at Sydney, he had a seizure. I’m not saying he had a seizure last night, but if there’s no drugs or alcohol, and he’s crashed his car in dry conditions into four parked cars on the other side of the road, you’ve got to ask what’s going on.”

Makes a certain amount of sense, no? Particularly when you put it together with the piece written by Caroline Wilson on Thursday, detailing the long and troubled history of Franklin’s driving record.

Boost for women’s cricket

Can’t quite get it straight, but Geoff Lawson is involved, and I gather there will be some major announcement shortly about six corporately run women’s cricket teams – with the best players from all over the world – playing in a comp in one city, at one venue, over 12 days. (A kind of antipodean female miniature IPL?)

We’ll see who the companies are, and what kind of moolah they put in, but if it works, and the crowds come, it has to be a major step forward for women’s sport in Oz.

Leapai is punching above his weight

You may or may not have got to the bottom of it all, but it seems one of ours, the Samoan-born Alex Leapai is fighting for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world early on Sunday morning, against incumbent champion Wladimir Klitschko. Back in the day, such a fight would garner immediate and huge attention, as boxing had not yet descended into an alphabet soup of organisations that we mere mortals have no chance of determining the credibility of.

To try and make sense of whether or not this is the real deal, I asked my friend and Fox Sports boxing commentator Paul Upham and he advises: “Of the four major boxing sanctioning belts, Wladimir Klitschko holds three of them – WBA, IBF and WBO. He has not lost for 10 years. The consensus of boxing experts I respect consider Wladimir Klitschko to be the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world.”

To the good then. But is our bloke any chance of beating him?

“If Alex does win, it would be one of the biggest boxing upsets of all time; in my opinion, a bigger upset than when James ‘Buster’ Douglas beats Mike Tyson in Japan. In boxing, it only takes one punch to win. Alex has the power punch to win, but probably not the skills to win this match.”

Has Benji lost the magic?

Which brings us to Benji Marshall. TFF did an interview with Radio New Zealand on Tuesday, where they were wondering how someone so brilliant at rugby league could be such a dud at rugby union. My answer, for what it’s worth, was this: Yes, the five-eighth’s quixotic skills with the Tigers were extraordinary. For a decade, every time they hollered for a Marshall, there he was, usually dancing to the line through a thick forest of defenders, with such skill that Fred Astaire would blush. He was the best. But he wasn’t like that for the last two years or so with the Tigers, even being benched at one point. His form for the Auckland Blues has been entirely consistent with those two years.

Has he lost it? It remains unclear. But even the best of magicians must eventually go stale. Marshall was a star for a decade with the Tigers. How many players get much longer than that at the top of their game?

What they said.

Benji Marshall, in July last year: “I will honour my words about not playing for another [NRL] club. There is no other NRL club for me to play for. The Tigers are my home and will always be my home.”

Marshall this week, after leaving the Auckland Blues, happy to play for anyone who will have him: “When I made those comments I was obviously emotional. I hadn’t played for any other club before.”

Marshall on why he and the Auckland Blues have parted company this week: “I am just an average rugby player.”

Buddy Franklin: “I truly am sorry for the inconvenience I’ve caused other people’s cars.”

The Age’sCaroline Wilson, in an interesting piece highlights Franklin’s long history of bad driving in various forms: “It is now beyond dispute that any suggestion Lance Franklin and his rock-star lifestyle would be left to their own devices in a big city not obsessed with Australian football was fanciful. This is because Franklin has not significantly curbed that lifestyle and also because Sydney is a tabloid town that knows a car crash waiting to happen when it sees one, and pounces accordingly.”

The Tele’sAnthony Sharwood on SBW pulling out of the Anzac Test. “Rothfield claims the absence of Williams will mean less bums on seats. He’s wrong. It’ll just mean one less bum on the field.”

Curtis Woodhouse, on the boxing match between Australian-Samoan Alex Leapai and Wladimir Klitschko for the heavyweight championship of the world: “Someone said, ‘It’s a bit like Rocky’. But it’s nothing like Rocky. Rocky is f—ing made up. This shit is real.”

What does Joe Bugner say? “Alex has got one chance. He’s got to land the big one, because he’ll never outsmart Klitschko. In reality, it’s going to be a hard task. I said to Alex straight up, ‘Don’t you dare wait for him. When that bell rings, you go across and you whack him’.” Sounds like a plan!

Klitschko’s own analysis: “I think that Alex is certainly very motivated to become a champion and he’s the guy that has nothing to lose. I think Alex has been successful with his style – I call it ‘pure violence’ in the ring – and he became No.1 mandatory, thankfully to that style.”

Gary Ablett snr on Gary Ablett jnr: “I wouldn’t like to play on Gary. The way he’s going, I think he might take the crown.”

Eddie McGuire on playing AFL football in Melbourne on Good Friday: “We live in a secular society, and I believe that if you want to have a sacrifice to commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, well, then you do that, you don’t go to the footy. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to if you’re not into it, or the Muslims or the Jews or whoever else.”

Kevin Pietersen tweets: “Everyone deserves a second chance … !” How the mighty are suddenly humble! Perhaps it is cold outside the England team?

Sebastian Vettel’s reply when told to let teammate Daniel Ricciardo pass: “Tough Luck.”

In the game against the Titans, Panthers skipper Peter Wallace protests to referee Gavin Morris that his teammate Sika Manu has had the squirrel grip put on him by Greg Bird: “He grabbed him on the nuts …”

Greg Bird, in response, after the match: “He wasn’t that lucky … ”

This up-and-coming writer for nrl南京夜网 will make his mark, but I am guessing maths was not his strong suit at school. Here he previews the Sharks-Roosters game: “There have been exactly 48 games played so far this year, which means – if our second-grade maths is correct – that there have been 24 outright winners and the same amount of losers.”

Team of the week

Buddy Franklin. Crashed his girlfriend’s car into four parked cars at Double Bay on Wednesday evening, making him appear to be up Shit Creek without a paddle. It was a Jeep. I think he’s going to need a bigger boat.

Benji Marshall. He came, he saw, he conked out in rugby union and looks likely to return to the NRL somewhere, at a club desperate enough to take him. Step forward, Cronulla.

Glenn Maxwell. “The Big Show” is setting the IPL on fire with 279 runs in three innings from 131 balls. Man of the match in all three games.

Merewether Surfboard Club. The reigning Australian club of the year is having its 50th anniversary celebration and reunion on June 28 at Newcastle City Hall. Give ol’ Bloody Mary a bell.

Minami Katsu. The 15-year-old became the youngest winner in the history of the Japan LPGA Tour by winning the Vantelin Ladies Open.

Canterbury Bulldogs. First team in NRL history to win three games on the trot by one point.

Sydney FC. Losing to Melbourne Victory with a winner in injury time sums up their season perfectly.

Mark Webber. Began his world endurance championship career with a third-place finish.

Luke Versace. Cheated death running with the bulls in Pamplona 12 years ago, and this week won a dramatic Stawell Gift final.

David Gallop. Has done well as FFA chief executive, with crowds for A-League matches up this season by 3 per cent, while over the last three seasons numbers are up by a staggering 43 per cent.

Australian women’s cricket team. A reader wonders WHY THE HELL, after winning the World Twenty20 championship for the third successive time, they still have not been honoured with their image on a stamp, the way Michael Clarke’s team was when they won the Ashes.

Sydney FC. Follow in Manchester United’s footsteps and also sack their manager, Frank Farina, who is likely to be replaced by Graham Arnold. I have the impression that there are about 10 well-known soccer identities perpetually circulating through about eight clubs?

Lewis Hamilton. Has won the last three formula one races.

Israel Folau. Back with a try in the first 25 seconds of the match against the Bulls. He is The One.

RIP Dylan Tombides. Young Australian soccer player, who broke into the West Ham first-team squad while receiving cancer treatment, has died. He was just 20. Vale.

RIP Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. Made famous by Bob Dylan’s song, the boxer who did two decades in jail for a crime he did not commit, has died at 76. Despite it all, there are those who insist he did commit the murders. They should read this.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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Screening revolution: foetal blood test a breakthrough with disadvantages

“The capacity to genetically test foetuses has just taken off,”: Michael Chapman. Photo: Katheirne GriffithsFrom the moment a woman discovers she is pregnant her mind is cluttered with an endless stream of questions. Will the baby be healthy? Will it have a birth defect? Will the foetus live until full term?
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But advances in genetic testing mean many of those fears and worries weighing down expectant mothers may soon rapidly diminish.

For more than 40 years pregnant women have only been able to peek at the foetal wellbeing and chromosomal make-up of their unborn child through invasive diagnostic tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, both of which are stressful and carry a one in 400 chance of miscarriage.

New genetic technology – known as non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) – can screen for foetal disorders with 99 per cent accuracy through a simple blood test which isolates the baby’s DNA from maternal blood. It is a ”revolution” in pre-natal screening, doctors say, which presents no risk to the woman and is, by some estimates, up to 10 times better at detecting an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes Down syndrome and is the most common genetic disorder, occurring in about one in 700 births.

And the relative simplicity of the test is expected to vastly reduce the 9200-odd Australian women who undergo amniocentesis (at 15 weeks) and CVS (at 11 weeks) each year, procedures which involve inserting a needle into the the womb to extract fluid or taking tissue from the placenta.

”The capacity to genetically test foetuses has just taken off,” says Michael Chapman, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of NSW. ”In my 30 years of practice, this test is the most exciting step forward I’ve seen.”

The convenience, however, comes at a cost and there are some significant drawbacks, doctors warn. Australian women must spend $500 to $900 for their blood sample to be sent to the US for analysis and face a two-week wait for the results.

From early next year, pathology company Victorian Clinical Genetics Services will make NIPT tests available within Australia, with the price to drop by about 20 per cent and wait time reduced by about five days.

And unlike amniocentesis or CVS, which can give information about all 46 chromosomes, the NIPT test only looks for the presence or absence of chromosomes 13, 18, 21 and determines gender.

”There are major disadvantages,” says Dr Philippa Ramsay, the director of women’s ultrasound practice Ultrasound Care.

”It should not replace the standard 12-week ultrasound because a blood test won’t tell you about structural development, like if there are two arms, two legs and if there’s a heart beating. There is also about a one in 1000 risk of over-diagnosis, or the test coming back with a false positive. In the case it’s positive result, a woman still needs an invasive test because despite the accuracy, the NIPT is not diagnostic.”

And in the same way medical advances have intensified the moral issues at end of life, improved accuracy and availability of genetic tests means ethical problems at the beginning of life are equally as troublesome. Are advances in genetic testing outpacing our ability to handle them? Will people use it to select the gender of their child? How much information about a foetus should a parent receive?

One of the major concerns, says Gavin Sacks, a fertility specialist at IVF Australia, is that NIPT is able to determine the sex of the baby at nine weeks. ”This could create social pressure. We never want the information to be abused so that women end up terminating unwanted sexes.”

Ramsay said the ability to sex-select in the first trimester ”could become a big problem in cultures where there is major pressure to have a son”.

Sacks also says some people do not believe in or want screening. He is also concerned that the new test focuses on only a few chromosomal abnormalities.

Maternal foetal medicine consultant at Royal North Shore, Andrew McLennan, said in the past 18 months, the number of women having NIPT tests had jumped from about 10 a month to more than 250. Doctors estimate that within private practice about 10 per cent of women have the test. ”There is a real hunger for it in the community,” McLennan says. ”Especially with women who are over 36 or have an increased risk.”

A recent study of almost 2000 women, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that non-invasive tests could predict the likelihood of Down syndrome 10 times better than standard screening and were five times better at predicting Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards syndrome.

But McLennan warns that because of the new test only detects a handful of chromosomes, and based on the ethical concerns, women need to be properly counselled before having the NIPT. ”I’d hate to see it become a routine test,” he says. ”If that happens it would be a nightmare. At the moment, anyone can order these tests so appropriately qualified people need to discuss the implications and limitations with the patient. It may be a super-screening test but it definitely can’t tell you everything about the baby.”

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Former ICAC chief Barry O’Keefe dies aged 80

Lawyer, judge, corruption buster, Mosman mayor, influential Catholic and high-profile monarchist, Barry O’Keefe was a man of public achievement.
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As the older brother of rock star Johnny O’Keefe – ”the wild one” – Barry was dubbed the ”mild one”.

He joked about it, watching former Catholic archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell appear before the royal commission on child sex abuse last month.

”My heart’s no good these days, but I’m holding out to stop the obituarists going on about John,” he said.

Mr O’Keefe died on Thursday, aged 80.

His father, Ray O’Keefe, a furniture salesman and Waverley mayor, sent his sons to Christian Brothers College, Waverley.

They won Commonwealth scholarships to Sydney University. John O’Keefe tried economics, Barry O’Keefe took up law.

Admitted to the NSW bar in 1958, he became a QC in 1974 and three years later began a 13-year stint on the Mosman council. He served three mayoral terms.

He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1993, and the Fahey government appointed him commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption the following year.

Mr O’Keefe’s ICAC career was not without controversy. In July 1998, he ran head first into the Carr government, accusing state parliamentarians of trying to pay him back for investigating allegations against politicians and their links with underworld figures.

Two days later, Mr O’Keefe was summonsed to appear before a parliamentary committee inquiring into his overseas and interstate travels that had cost taxpayers $178,000. He became annoyed when asked if his contract included his wife Jan travelling first-class with him overseas.

”She’s entitled to, but she hardly ever does,” he said.

The couple married in 1962 and had five children, Philip, Vanessa, Roger, Andrew and Sophie.

Mr O’Keefe’s funeral will be held on May 2 at St Mary’s Cathedral.

Correction: This article originally stated that Mr O’Keefe was 79 when he died. This was incorrect, he was 80.

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Mike Baird: the new man at the top

A Premier’s faith
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Among the packing boxes, prints and other assorted debris lying around Mike Baird’s new office, a baseball bat leans against the wall next to the door.

It’s a Louisville Slugger, presented to him by the US Major League Baseball when it opened its season at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers last month.

Baird is no stranger to baseball, having been a talented junior player when he lived in America in the late 1970s, when his father Bruce was Australian trade commissioner in New York. He takes its handle, as if to assess its weight. The new Premier knows he might need it in the coming weeks and months.

On the day of Baird’s appointment by his colleagues as the new Liberal leader – and premier-designate – the Labor opposition offered a taste of what is to come: a YouTube attack ad titled ”It’s about to get much worse”.

A classic of the genre, it features a menacing, black and white picture of Baird and highlights his record as treasurer of privatising state assets, and cutting health and education budgets. It noted he appointed Liberal Party fund-raiser and businessman Nick Di Girolamo to the board of State Water Corporation.

”It’s going to be really tough. I’m under no illusions,” Baird says.

”Scare campaigns, smear campaigns will come thick and fast. And all of us in government have to be prepared to fight.

”It was quite clear to me that Labor were smirking and thought [Barry O’Farrell’s resignation] gave them every opportunity to put up a very competitive fight, if not win the election. They were not quite handing out the spoils, but it’s clear they were clapping with [the] events of last week.”

Just how ready for the fight Baird and the NSW Liberals are is a much discussed question at the moment.

To some, O’Farrell’s sudden resignation over his false evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption in relation to the gift of a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage from Di Girolamo left something of a vacuum at the top.

Baird is far from a seasoned political warrior. He left a career in merchant banking to enter Parliament in 2007. It has been a rocket ride to the top. Baird’s chief of staff, Bay Warburton, is a former marketing and sales executive and no political hardhead.

Adding to the uncertainty is the NSW division’s apparent inability to appoint a state director following the resignation of Mark Neeham last year. Scott Briggs, a former deputy director who is now a Channel Nine executive, has been courted but thus far efforts to coax him across have failed.

The Liberal Party is essentially rudderless nine months from an election, facing the rat cunning of Labor and a cashed-up union movement.

Is the clean-cut, impeccably polite former treasurer up to the task? Baird bridles a little at the suggestion he is anything other than carved from granite. ”I’ve got the toughness needed to get the job done,” he declares. ”I have been underestimated a lot on this journey so far.”

He points to the ugly battle he fought against the hard right faction for initial preselection in the seat of Manly, but seems most proud of the way he was elected unopposed by his colleagues in the party room last week.

”I haven’t reflected back but how often in state political history has a leader been elected in such circumstances, so quickly in a unanimous way?” he asks.

”And that was done without making phone calls, without anyone being prepared for the events of that day. There was no preparation work.”

In truth, Baird’s rails run into the job was made possible only by the reluctance of Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian to enter the ballot, despite the urgings of her supporters. Berejiklian struck a deal with Baird not to challenge and in turn received his support to become deputy Liberal leader.

Nevertheless, the new Premier is taking it as a strong endorsement from his colleagues of his ability to carry them to next year’s election and beyond. ”To be elected in a unanimous context in those circumstances, I would say … my colleagues recognised within me the ability to do the job that needs to be done, whether that be toughness, whether that be determination, whether that be policy vision, energy,” he says.

The timing of Baird’s ascension to the premier’s office is both a blessing and a curse.

On one reading, his predecessor’s cautious approach to reform allows the opposition to claim little has been done in the government’s first term. The reforms it has achieved – most of them focused on cutting back expenses to wrangle the budget back into position – are difficult to get voters excited about.

Its more visible, feelgood work – such as the north-west rail link and WestConnex motorway – remain works in progress.

But Baird says the government is more than prepared to run on its record, and the timing of his rise from treasurer to premier is in fact ”almost the perfect transition because coming from the treasurer’s role you’ve got a deep appreciation of the true state of the finances … so I’ve got a perfect understanding of where we’re at”.

The pitch: that the ”payoff” for three years of fiscal discipline is coming. ”We still have to be disciplined,” Baird notes, sounding very much like the treasurer. ”We’ve controlled expenditure down to a sustainable position.

”If the economy continues to kick up, which at the moment it is in jobs and economic growth and confidence and sales – we’re seeing that emerge – and that obviously drives a bit of a revenue benefit. So provided we remain disciplined in our expenses and let that revenue naturally take hold, then there’s more of a buffer to do more infrastructure and put more into services.”

Precisely what that means is likely to be unveiled in the June 17 pre-election budget. Baird is not offering hints but has said the statement would contain measures that ”will really excite NSW”.

Before then, Baird faces his first big test as leader when several of his former colleagues make an appearance in the ICAC witness box during a four-week inquiry starting on Monday.

The inquiry is examining allegations former energy minister Chris Hartcher and fellow central coast MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber ”corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources” in return for favours.

The Liberal Party memberships of the trio have been suspended; they now sit as independents in the Parliament. But already the inquiry is promising to veer uncomfortably close to home for Baird: one of its witnesses, John Caputo, the former Liberal mayor of Warringah, is vice-president of Baird’s state electoral conference.

The inquiry coincides with the resumption of Parliament, ensuring a test of Baird’s skills on his feet when the inevitable salvos are fired from the opposition benches.

A committed Christian who studied at Bible school in Canada, Baird is also navigating the shoals of his well-known social conservatism early on.

During his first news conference as premier-designate, he struggled with a question about a remark he made last year in relation to same-sex marriage, referring to ”those who are choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle”.

It was done without fanfare, but within days Baird had retracted the words in a statement to the gay and lesbian newspaper the Sydney Star Observer.

”I chose my words poorly when I referred to a lifestyle choice,” he told the newspaper.

”I was merely trying to say that everybody should be free to be who they are.”

Asked about how his strong Christian views will influence the decisions he makes as Premier, Baird commits to allowing a conscience vote on issues such as gay marriage and women’s reproductive rights.

”In terms of the policy, every single person in NSW can be assured I’m looking after them,” he says.

”Whether it be race, whether it be religion, whether it be sexuality, I do not care. I have a deep respect for every single person in this state. And I will serve every single one of them with every ounce of my being.”

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Coogee mums ready for run of their lives

Mum’s the word: Members of the Coogee Cougars after a morning training run. Photo: Peter RaeIt began as a simple story. A bunch of mums get together for a few training runs in the hope of improving their times in the The Sun-Herald City to Surf, presented by Westpac.
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They met on the promenade of Coogee beach in the early morning and ran together, the story goes. Gradually others heard about the runners meeting on a Thursday and numbers grew.

Five years later there are more than 300 regulars. Among them is Sergeant Carolyn O’Brien, who a few months ago, never thought she would be running in the 2014 Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon.

She was recovering from painful shin splints sustained after returning to exercise too soon after a hip injury. She also believed her days of clambering over five-metre walls and sprinting 100 metres, as was required when she first joined the police force, were long gone.

“Everyone told me I was old, that I would never come back,” said Sergeant O’Brien, 52. “My son would look at me and say, ‘it’s time to give up’, and that’s what spurred me on to come back.”

While she was once an active officer manning the streets, she said her fitness took a “back seat” over the past 15 years as she raised a family and took a desk job with NSW police.

The point of change came on her 50th birthday when she gave up 30 years of smoking and joined the Coogee Cougars, a regular running group for mothers in the eastern suburbs.

“I sometimes think, ‘oh God I can’t do this’, but hopefully I’m on track and the Cougars keep me going”.

Organiser Jo Davison, who will also be running along with 70 other Cougar members, said the group was “community that support each other through the day to day, the highs and lows of life”. They will be among 15,000 people expected to enter the half marathon on Sunday May 18.

The 21.1-kilometre race starts and finishes at Hyde Park and passes some of Sydney’s landmarks including the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and the Royal Botanic Garden.

This year, marathon organisers hope to raise more than $1.5 million for The Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Make-A-Wish Australia and UNICEF Australia.

Sergeant O’Brien will run the first seven kilometres. Her relay teammate will complete the remainder But she is determined to return next year to conquer the entire distance.

“I would like to do the [Sun-Herald’s] City to Surf, then the full Half Marathon next year,” she said. “I think that’s what running does to you. It’s a personal achievement. A challenge to yourself.”

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Mushroom foraging proves a peaceful pursuit

Down to the woods we go, with a sharp knife and sensible shoes. Wind howls through the pines. From the undergrowth I pluck a teeny candy-red mushroom that could be a dancing fairy’s house, or its studio apartment. ”You little shit,” says Janina Knight. ”You will end up in hospital.” There are many mushrooms on the forest floor but only two types fit for eating. As in life, the prettiest creatures are the most deadly.
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”If you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it,” says Knight, 67, smiling. She stoops to slice the stem of a slimy brown mushroom, hiding amid fallen pine needles in state forest outside Oberon, three hours over the mountains from Sydney. ”I like the smell,” she says, ”it’s beautiful and earthy – fresh even though it’s not.”

Her small basket, made from the roots of old pine trees, is filling with funny-named fungi: saffron milk caps (lactarius deliciosus) and slippery jacks (snail snotiosus). ”Some people come out here with buckets and garbage bins to fill. You would swear it’s the end of the world and it’s going to feed the multitudes,” she says. ”I only get enough for a couple of feeds.”

Wild pine mushrooms revel in that sombre space around autumn, when days cool and thunderstorms rage. We forage in the forest shadows, to the rich waft of damp soil and the beat of birds and cattle trucks bellowing. ‘You can’t go into a supermarket to find these mushrooms,” says Knight, dressed in a purple vest, brown slacks and slip-ons. ”It’s a serene place. No phone reception, no computers – freedom. You can come and think and get lost.”

And so I think about mushrooms: why are so many poisonous? How many might I eat? Why is that one as big as a child’s head?

The Australian Mushroom Growers’ Association reckons annual mushroom consumption has grown fivefold since the late 1970s, from 600 grams a head to 3.2 kilograms (the world record is four kilograms of fried mushrooms eaten in eight minutes by Molly Schuyler, a mother of four from Omaha, in 2013).

The association says 93 per cent of mushroom purchasers believe they are healthy for them. The less said about the other 7 per cent the better. ”They are edible fungi but we don’t call them that because people think about thrush and athlete’s foot,” says association general manager Greg Seymour. ”So we call it the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’.”

Foraging in the Mushroom Kingdom is not encouraged by the association, for fear people might pick something poisonous. ”You really have to know what you are doing,” Seymour says.

Even then, hazards abound. ”If you eat slippery jacks and don’t take the skins off that can cause a bit of upset for people with a sensitive tummy,” Seymour says. That would explain my flatulence, I say. ”I have no evidence for that,” Seymour says.

An information sheet in the Oberon Visitor Centre warns against picking anything with white caps, white stems or white dots. So when we enter the forest Knight steers me towards the rust-coloured saffron milk caps, which cry orange tears when broken open.

Her mother taught her to forage for mushrooms around old pine trees as a child. She used the shiny red ones as cheap insect spray. ”They would wrap rags around their hands and put them in a bowl and the pungent smell would kill flies,” she says. ”Mortein works for me.”

Beyond the old pine trees and blackberry bushes are rolling green hills and MDF factories. But deep in the forest is sombre and still. Rain has washed the wild mushrooms until they glisten.

Later, Knight will wash and cut and cook today’s haul, with onion and truffle butter and parsley picked from her garden. But now she sits on a rotting tree stump in the forest, by a clump of tiny white mushrooms painted with dew drops, and starts to cry. ”It’s very emotional,” she says. ”When I come out here I like to leave no footprints. I don’t like showing this off a lot. It’s my own thing. I come out here and just let it all go.”

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ANZAC: Punters let pennies fly with two-up

TOUCH: Glen ‘Tangles’ Thackeray tossing the two-up coins during the traditional Anzac Day celebrations. BET: Amy Merchant’s two-up toss pleases the crowd at Paterson Tavern as the pennies fall. Picture: Peter Stoop
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IT’S only a small country pub, but the roar that emanated from the Paterson Tavern as the two-up coins were tossed into the air rivalled the traditional Anzac Day clash between the Roosters and Dragons.

Well not quite, but it drowned out the sound of the TV screening the game.

A few hundred locals packed into the pub for a barbecue breakfast, a few beers and a game of two-up yesterday to remember those who fought and died in all wars, conflicts and peace-keeping operations.

‘‘A lot of money changes hands on Anzac Day, but it’s all in good fun,’’ Paterson Tavern owner Nicole Eslick said last night.

‘‘We opened at 5.30am and served a barbecue to the Gresford RSL sub-branch.

‘‘We’ve been working since then, but it’s more than worth it, it’s a big day of the year but the locals are always good and we never have any trouble.’’

The scene outside the Prince Street pub, well-known for its Anzac Day celebrations, was not dissimilar to dozens of other RSLs or hotels in the Hunter.

In Cooks Hill, The Cricketers Arms and Oriental Hotel were popular spots for punters looking to double their cash on the hope of a head or tail.

Liam Potter, Kent Hatchwell and Mitchell Frost pooled their money to try their luck, but like many, came off second best.

‘‘We put $50 in together and finished with $30, so we lost $20 but it was probably one of the best we’ve ever done,’’ Mr Potter said.

Police in Maitland said as of 7pm, when the majority of pubs shut, there had been no major incidents.

‘‘Two-up was relatively incident free and our response to any issues at licensed premises has been well received,’’ a Central Hunter police spokesman said.

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ANZAC: Nelson Baypays tribute for war efforts, photos

FLOWERS FOR FALLEN: Wreaths and bouquets laid at the base of the Apex Park cenotaph are soaked by the rain in Nelson Bay as the ceremony is moved indoors. Pictures: Marina Neil Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil
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Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Newcastle Police Citizens Youth Club Brass Band bugler Angelina Gordon plays a sombre tune. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

Scenes from the Nelson Bay Anzac Day service. Pictures: Marina Neil

NELSON Bay’s rain-affected Anzac Day service was all about remembering unsung heroes.

In a truncated ceremony brought in out of the wet to the confines of the Nelson Bay Bowling Club, Williamtown-based Wing Commander Lee de Winton thanked the hundreds packed into the service for paying their respects on a day that has ‘‘surpassed its physical meaning’’.

Wing Commander de Winton, who spent six months in Afghanistan last year, said that to her, the day represented the ‘‘courage, sacrifice and self-reliance’’ shown by participants in all conflicts.

She also told the crowd she wanted to bring their attention to the contributions of the ‘‘fairer sex’’, citing the roles played by women from Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale to Nancy Wake and the women who serve in conflicts today.

‘‘When we speak of veterans, we usually think of brave men wearing their medals [but] women have also played key roles, not just on the home front, for centuries,’’ she said.

She also paid tribute to ‘‘unsung heroes’’ such as the journalists who covered wars, and the chaplains, nurses and surgeons who looked after those doing the fighting.

The day started in worrying fashion when the Nelson Bay

sub-branch vice-president, Norm Cason, collapsed during the dawn service.

Mr Cason, who had been slated to make the opening address at the main service, was treated by paramedics on the scene and went home to rest.

He later made enough of a recovery to return to Nelson Bay Diggers RSL where he delivered a speech at the veterans lunch.

The RSL sub-branch secretary Tony Minchin said he was doing ‘‘all right’’.

‘‘He’s not able to get up and down and dance about, but he’s doing toasts,’’ he said.

Mr Minchin led yesterday’s truncated service, and despite the weather preventing them holding the main service at the new cenotaph, he said he was happy with the event.

‘‘It was smaller and shorter, but everything else went according to plan,’’ he said.

‘‘You’ve got to consider not only the weather, but the safety aspect as well.’’

He said about 1500 turned out to the dawn service, despite the weather.

Williamtown RAAF Base 76 Squadron performed the Bay’s catafalque party.

Marches were cancelled across Port Stephens, with Tilligerry and Raymond Terrace also forced to hold services indoors.

In Raymond Terrace, marchers retreated under the cover of the bowling club’s sprawling green, which sub-branch secretary Bill Garrett called a ‘‘good spot’’ – ‘‘still outside, but out of that rain’’.

He said it was disappointing not to be able to hold the marches.

‘‘It definitely is; there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it and I think the populace expects to see it as well,’’ he said.

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Papalii in Roos frame

Raiders’ enforcer Josh Papalii is in contention for a starting spot in the Kangaroos pack for next week’s Test against New Zealand, as Broncos star Sam Thaiday remains in doubt with a calf injury.
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Papalii will have a last chance to impress national coach Tim Sheens and the selectors when the Raiders take on the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Sunday. Thaiday won’t have the same opportunity after the incumbent starting second-rower was ruled out of the Anzac Day clash with South Sydney.

Papalii is yet to play a midyear Test, but will be a strong chance after he stormed into the Kangaroos on the way to Australia winning the World Cup at the end of last season.

Sheens wouldn’t be drawn on whether Papalii would be selected, but said he would be among those mentioned to fill the starting spot if Thaiday was ruled out.

”If Josh’s form is up to scratch, he’s certainly being considered, it’s just a matter of his game time at club level,” Sheens said.

”Sam Thaiday’s in some sort of doubt, so that could open up not just a bench spot, but also a starting spot for not just Josh but other back-rowers.

”We’ll see what happens with Sam at the end of the week.”

Sheens said Papalii possessed a ”pretty good all-round game” and had shown himself to be more than capable of stepping up to Origin and international level.

”He’s got the running game you need as a back-rower these days on the edge, to worry the living daylights out of a seven or a six defending their own line and you’ve got to be able to take good yardage out of your own half,” Sheens said.

”You’ve got to read the defence as well and you’ve got to be able to make tackles on quicker backs and make good decisions.

”He’s got good skills with the ball and he showed that throughout the World Cup.”

Papalii came to the attention of Sheens after a recommendation from Kangaroos assistant coach and Papalii’s former mentor at the Raiders, David Furner.

A strong performance for the Prime Minister’s XI against PNG booked Papalii’s spot in the World Cup squad. He made the most of his chances in the pool games to be a bolter for the final.

The 21-year-old missed three games for the Raiders this year with an ankle injury, but has played the past two, including last Sunday’s 24-22 win against the Melbourne Storm.

“His form’s been pretty solid. He’s a big boy and needs game time,” Sheens said.

”We pick the team on Sunday, so we’re having a good look at the last round.

”The thing with all the boys that played last year is that they’ve got plenty of points with me, but they’ve still got to be playing reasonably good football.”

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Rabbits: Why you should try this at home

Numbers game: how crowds compare at big stadiums and suburban grounds.Part two: Home truths: why playing at big venues pays off for Sydney clubsEels, Wanderers unveil $120m plan to upgrade Pirtek Stadium
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The gamble South Sydney took almost a decade ago when they packed up and moved their games from their spiritual heartland to western Sydney has not only paid off, but paved the way for rugby league to enter into a new era.

Clubs are aiming higher, dreaming bigger and breaking records that only a few seasons ago never seemed imaginable.

What the Rabbitohs have done, and the Bulldogs to a certain extent, have forced those Sydney clubs still hanging on to the roots of yesteryear to venture into uncharted territory.

Fairfax Media has spoken to all Sydney clubs to reveal the expenditure and revenue comparisons between suburban grounds and the larger venues.

Suburban grounds aren’t dead – just have a look at the crowd that piled into Leichhardt in the pouring rain earlier this month. But, as Dragons chief executive Peter Doust put it, “we needed to change or we would be left behind”.

In a few years time rugby league club bosses hope the crowds that piled into ANZ Stadium on Good Friday and Easter Monday would no longer be considered one-offs but the norm.

Could you imagine if the Eels had played their game against the Tigers at Pirtek Stadium? There would be 30,000 fans disenfranchised. Rugby league cannot afford to be turning fans away. And no matter how wonderful and atmospheric Leichhardt and Kogarah are, the reality is that the club’s visions are outgrowing these iconic venues.

There was an outcry from Tigers fans in Campbelltown after attracting just over 6000 for the game against the Cowboys a fortnight ago. They want the club to play against the higher-profile teams, but the reality is the future of suburban grounds will involve out-of-town teams.

“I think there’s always a role to play for suburban grounds,” Tigers chief executive Grant Mayer said. “The complex part of it is making a decision on right game, right venue, right time, can only happen when the draw is released. No suburban ground could have hosted Easter Monday with the Eels and Wests Tigers. That speaks volumes of what will happen in the future.

“It just may mean that in the main, suburban venues will see out of town teams or the lower drawing Sydney teams on a regular basis. We’ve tried over the last two years to share the split across Campbelltown and Leichhardt.”

Reciprocal membership rights are adding further value to membership packages and increasing crowd attendances.

When the Dragons play the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium, around 36,000 members combined have access to the match, but if that was at WIN Jubilee Oval almost half of those would be stranded outside of the gates.

The Tigers, Eels and Dragons are offered guarantees in excess of $125,000 to play at ANZ Stadium, with the stadium hopeful of helping build crowd attendances so that eventually they will be able to sustain themselves and operate like the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs.

SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS

ANZ Stadium

Capacity: 82,000

Expenditure

ANZ Stadium: Fee paid based on per ticket sold.

Revenue

Merchandise: $70,000 average per game. (When they left the Sydney Football Stadium, the Rabbitohs didn’t have the rights to merchandise sales on game day. They now are the most profitable sporting club in Australia in merchandise.)

Corporates: $120,000 per game (Up to 1000 people with an average of 600)

Tickets: $200,000 per game (In 2005, their final year at Allianz Stadium, the Rabbitohs’ gate share net profit for the entire season was $36,000)

Signage: $65,000 per game (South Sydney have $7.5 million worth of sponsorship for 2014).

Profit: $440,000

In South Sydney’s final year at the Sydney Football Stadium back in 2005, the net profit for ticket sales was $36,000 for the entire season. Chief executive Shane Richardson then took a massive gamble and moved games to ANZ Stadium for a guarantee in excess of $100,000 per game. However crowds have grown since moving to Olympic Park and last year the club ceased their guarantee arrangement with ANZ for a new deal that entitles the club to 100 per cent of revenue. The Rabbitohs are now the benchmark for Sydney clubs. In 2013 the Rabbitohs net profit for ticket sales was $2 million. They have also increased their membership revenue from $365,000 in 2005 to a projected $4.5 million (32,000 members) in 2014. The club turned over $8.5 million in 2005 compared to an estimated $26 million they will turn over this year. By moving to ANZ Stadium, South Sydney have enjoyed a substantial growth in membership in western Sydney. They now have 58 per cent of their members living in the inner west and greater western Sydney. They also take games to Cairns, Perth and Gosford, with 1500 members in Western Australia, 3000 members in Queensland and 1500 members (more than any other NRL club) on the Central Coast. They are about to release a plan to increase turnover to $34 million and membership to 50,000 by 2018. It was reported in 2004 that the Rabbitohs needed a crowd of 9000 at Allianz Stadium just to break even.

SYDNEY ROOSTERS

Allianz Stadium

Capacity: 45,500

Operational costs: The Roosters are a tenant of Allianz Stadium and have an undisclosed deal with the SCG Trust which includes match day, training and administration building use rolled into one. The club has to play a minimum of 10 games at the venue each season until the end of 2019.

Ticket sales and average crowd: The Roosters get 100 per cent of the gate share. Every second season the club experiences greater ticket sales because they host the ANZAC Day game against the Dragons and the season opener against South Sydney in the same year. This year they will struggle to maintain last year’s average crowd of almost 20,000 (fourth in NRL). The Roosters averaged around 14,000 in 2012.

Corporate: The Roosters can host up to 1000 people. They also have to accommodate for SCG Trust members.

Merchandise: The Roosters don’t have any game day merchandise rights as part of their deal with Allianz Stadium. They get a small percentage of the gross.

Membership: 15,000 with a projected total of 17,500 by the end of the season. It has increased 50 per cent since 2012 (10,000). If the Roosters reach their target, membership will bring in $2 million to the club.

Signage: The Roosters only have access to LED signage that they can sell or give to sponsors. The rest of the stadium signage belongs to the Trust.

The Roosters have been at Allianz Stadium since it opened in 1988. They train and play at the precinct, while their administration are all in the same building adjacent to Allianz Stadium. The club prides itself on the strong culture that comes with having all the club’s staff and players in the same facility, which is a luxury most clubs don’t have. The club concedes the precinct is in dire need of an upgrade on both the infrastructure and technology fronts. There are only 2500 car spots, and while there is public transport, it isn’t as convenient as what the Trust have planned. There is a light rail proposal to be linked to the precinct for 2019, while a pedestrian bridge over Anzac Parade expected to be ready in time for the cricket World Cup in January will make access from Central station a lot easier. Outside of the Roosters, St George Illawarra are the only other team to sign a deal with the Trust, playing one game at Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground this year. The Roosters used to take a home game away from Allianz Stadium for financial reasons. They still have the option of moving two games per year, however the Roosters board has put a red pen through the initiative given they lost all 11 of their relocated games, the last a 50-12 thrashing at the hands of the Cowboys in 2012. The Roosters are more than happy with their arrangement with Allianz Stadium, but concede technological advances needed to be made to keep up with consumer demand. “It’s our spiritual and geographical home with our training, administration and game day all based out of the precinct,” a Roosters official said. “As the only full-time rugby league tenant, we want to continually work with the Trust to maximise crowds and enhance experience for our members and supporters. We want to see this stadium have the best technological facilities. There’s also the added advantage of being next door to the NRL offices, while also working with the Sydney Swans, Waratahs and Sydney FC.”

CRONULLA SHARKS

Remondis Stadium

Capacity: 22,000

Expenditure

Operational costs: $70,000 (Ticketing, security, police, big screen)

Maintenance/utilities: $48,000 (The Sharks own their ground, so they are responsible for the maintenance of the stadium)

Total: $118,000

Revenue

Merchandise: $17,000 per game

Corporates: $145,000 per game

Ticket sales: $93,000 per game

Signage: $40,000 per game

Catering: $10,000 per game

Total: $305,000 per game

The Sharks are the only club in Sydney to own their own ground. Their game day expenditure is far greater than any other team given they have to pay for the maintenance and upkeep of the ground. The Sharks don’t have a major sponsor but still managed average crowds in excess of 13,000 the past two seasons. They have started 2014 with a home crowd average of 11,903 for their first four games.

MANLY SEA EAGLES

Brookvale Oval

Capacity: 23,000

Fairfax Media contacted the Sea Eagles but they declined to provide specific confidential details of their game day expenditure and revenue at Brookvale Oval. The club is in the process of a feasibility project in partnership with the NRL in relation to a proposal to build a new grandstand that will cover part of the eastern hill and will increase undercover seating capacity. There are only approximately 3000 undercover seats which includes all corporates at Brookvale Oval. The vision is to increase membership with a new grandstand and to potentially turn the venue into a multi-purpose facility that can be used for a range of sports and community events. In the past few years, the club has grown its membership from 7000 to almost 13,000 –  this year breaking the club’s record. The club is now restricted on the number of seated memberships it can sell, as membership is capped at approximately 13,000 for Brookvale Oval. The Sea Eagles have taken two games to the Central Coast this year which provided in excess of $350,000 in guarantees. The Sea Eagles fans haven’t traditionally embraced home matches at Allianz Stadium, however infrastructure restrictions, including no train line, have played a significant part in this.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 

WIN Stadium and Jubilee Oval

Expenditure

 

Operational costs: The Dragons have one of the highest venue cost structures in the NRL. It costs them more to use Kogarah than Wollongong, however their deal with WIN Stadium escalates by use of the precinct as their training base and football offices. The Dragons pay over $140,000 in rent and costs to Kogarah Council each year and individual game day costs are greater than most venues because of the inadequate infrastructure.

Revenue

 

Ticket sales: Kogarah sold out has a negative contribution and a sold out WIN Stadium has a minimal positive contribution.

Merchandise: Average of $35,000 at Kogarah and $25,000 at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.

Corporate: The capacity at Kogarah is 1564 while WIN Stadium has 1099.  The club has five categories of corporate tickets ranging from $80 per person to $250 per person.

Signage: The Dragons own all signage inventory at Jubilee Oval and split the signage with the WIN Stadium Trust in Wollongong.

Membership: For those who have ticketed memberships at the traditional surburban home venues the split is 60 per cent in Kogarah and 40 per cent in Wollongong. The Dragons have 18,050 ticketed and non-ticketed members to date that bring in more than $2 million to the club.

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ANZ Stadium, Allianz Stadium and Sydney Cricket Ground

 

Expenditure

 

Operational costs: Nil

Revenue

 

Stadiums: The Dragons get an undisclosed guarantee for their two games at ANZ Stadium in the short-term, moving to a ticket share over time. At Allianz Stadium, the Dragons have options for up front guarantees and/or ticket share. The Right Game Right Venue strategy will deliver more than $1 million each year due to an increase in revenue and decrease in costs. This strategy also includes opportunities for growth in all revenue streams, from moving these four games away from the suburban venues, with each game estimated to be worth $250,000 more than a game at Kogarah or Wollongong.

Ticket Sales: Anzac Day is worth $400,000 to the Dragons in ticket sales. They get nothing from ANZ Stadium for ticket sales because of their guarantees in the short term. The club shares the gate with South Sydney in the Heritage Round clash at the SCG and the return event at ANZ Stadium. The possibility of an extension of these principles exists for the future.

Merchandise: The Dragons have just signed a new deal with ISC Sports, their largest apparel partnership to date that is expected to increase merchandise sales, with a focus on street wear.

Signage: The signage arrangements at ANZ Stadium are similar to WIN Stadium, they are joint ventured with the venue.

The Dragons and NRL Right Game Right Venue strategy will mean that the club has five home grounds for the next four years just over 100km apart with the objective of developing more marquee events at the bigger venues, accessing new markets as well as maintaining balance with their traditional venues.

They play four games at Kogarah, four games at Wollongong, two games at ANZ Stadium and one game at both Allianz Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground. The financial return underpinning this strategy will enable the club to be sustained over the longer term and for them to be able to compete at the top end of the game, continue to invest in pathway development and community activities. The club has averaged a crowd of 14,164 at Kogarah since the start of the joint venture and 13,055 at Wollongong. They’ve also played a number of games at the larger venues, with an average of 19,981 at ANZ Stadium and 16,157 at Allianz Stadium.

At the suburban grounds, not every fan is entitled to a seat. At Kogarah there are 11,824 seats with 5670 under cover. At Wollongong there 14,591 seats with 9751 under cover.

The club had plans in place to build covered seating at the southern and northern end of Jubilee Oval, however the government funding policy means that money will be invested into keeping the larger stadiums up to date.

The Dragons are the fourth most popular team in western Sydney, a new market for the club, and while the Dragons have grown their membership and partnership numbers in the region, they’ve also been unable to retain some disgruntled fans who haven’t renewed their membership because of the decision to play less games at the suburban grounds. This was not unexpected but the club believes that their supporters want to see their team participate in the big marquee events and remain competitive with the biggest clubs in the NRL.

More than 1500 fans recently signed a petition to play more games at Kogarah.

In tomorrow’s Sun-Herald – how the western Sydney clubs are dealing with big decisions involving home grounds.

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

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