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Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Caine Eckstein to start in Goldie Classic 

IRONMAN great Caine Eckstein has given his tick of approval to Newcastle gaining three rounds of the national ironman series over Portsea as he builds his comeback to the circuit with a hit-out at Redhead on Sunday at the Goldie Classic.

Australia’s premier endurance surf ironman, Eckstein yesterday confirmed that he would race at the third annual running of the 19-kilometre Goldie Classic.

Securing the five-time Coolangatta Gold winner is a major coup for the growing ironman event and comes after confirmation Newcastle beach will host three rounds of the national series on December 14 and 15.

Smiths Beach in Western Australia will host the opening two rounds on November 30 and December 1 before rounds three, four and five are held at Newcastle on December 14-15. The final round will be at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast on February 23.

Newcastle have hosted a round the past two years but were set to miss out this summer in a cost-cutting restructure of the series from six to three stops.

However, Portsea in Victoria was ruled out due to work on access to the beach, putting Newcastle back in the picture.

Eckstein won the series in 2011-12 but then took a year away from the sport to concentrate on triathlon.

He is back this summer as a wildcard entry and is glad he will be heading to Newcastle to compete.

‘‘I was pretty happy hearing that because I think originally they were going to Portsea instead,’’ Eckstein said yesterday.

‘‘But if I had to chose between Newcastle and Portsea, I’d definitely chose Newcastle.

‘‘It’s always tricky there and although you always want big surf, you don’t want it to be crazy big.

‘‘Newcastle always has that solid swell and it’s really tricky. It’s just like what me and my brother Shannon had growing up at a Surfers Paradise beach. You always had wild conditions everyday.

‘‘And the water’s not as cold in Newcastle as it is in Portsea.’’

The series will consist of 16 men and 16 women competing in a variety of formats and distances.

An important part of Eckstein’s preparation will be the Goldie Classic.

The 27-year-old from the Gold Coast was to return to surf ironman at the Coolangatta Gold two weeks ago but he withdrew after blood tests showed his heavy training workload was bringing on a recurrence of the Epstein Barr virus.

He had four weeks off with the illness but has been back in training the past fortnight and keen to test himself at Redhead.

‘‘When I was going to do the Coolangatta I always had this event in mind, but you have to see how you pull up from it before committing,’’ he said.

‘‘But after not doing Coolangatta, it’s definitely good. You need to have a hit-out before the Kelloggs, which is in about five weeks, so it’s perfect.

‘‘After a race like that, hopefully the 40-minute race a few weeks later will feel a bit easier.’’

Goldie race director Boyd Conrick said Eckstein expressed interest six weeks ago but was ecstatic to have the champion as a confirmed starter yesterday.

‘‘He’s the best endurance ironman out there, so we couldn’t be happier,’’ Conrick said. ‘‘If we had to pick anyone, we would have chosen him.’’

Coolangatta Gold runner-up Nathan Smith is another potential starter at Goldie.

CHAMPION SIGNING: Caine Eckstein will race in the Goldie Classic at Redhead beach on Sunday. Picture: Delly Carr

Lewie Catt back to league

COMBINED Country rugby union centre Lewie Catt is returning home to rugby league.

Newcastle Rugby League wooden-spooners Lakes United have pulled off a major coup by securing the 26-year-old’s signature for next season.

As part of the deal, Catt will have the opportunity to train with and trial for the Knights NSW Cup side over the summer.

Catt has developed into one of the most elusive broken-field runners in Newcastle and Hunter rugby.

His performances with Hamilton and then Wanderers earned him a treasured berth in Combined Country’s match against the British and Irish Lions at Hunter Stadium in June – a match in which he lined up against famed Irish centre Brian O’Driscoll.

Despite his rugby career blossoming, the itch to return to league, a sport he left aged 19 in 2007, remained.

‘‘Leaving when I was 19, I just felt I had some unfinished business,’’ Catt said.

‘‘I would still like to play league, but the opportunity just hadn’t come around.

‘‘I got a call a month ago with an opportunity and I’m just going to see how it goes and what can happen from it.’’

The Western Suburbs junior played Harold Matthews and SG Ball for the Knights, but a broken pelvis in a motorbike accident stalled his career.

There are certainly no guarantees about making the Knights NSW Cup side, but Catt is determined to impress coach Rick Stone.

‘‘I know the exposure from the Lions game got Stoney and the NSW Cup looking and I guess it’s a nothing-to-lose scenario,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ll just get in there and put my best foot forward and see what does happen.’’

If the chance to wear red and blue never eventuates, Catt is likely to play a pivotal role in restoring pride in the Lakes jersey.

After a season when they failed to win a game, new coach Dean Noonan is busy restructuring the Belmont-based club.

Catt is Noonan’s first step in bringing more quality to the Seagulls.

‘‘It’s obviously a challenge for him and that’s what he’s looking to do – challenge himself and see if he has those capabilities in league,’’ Noonan said.

‘‘He’s obviously up for a challenge coming to our club.’’

Meanwhile, South Newcastle have replaced outgoing hooker Joe Cudmore with two-time Manly NSW Cup player of the year Liam Higgins, a former Knights junior who represented NSW in the under-18s.

The Lions are also understood to be in advanced talks about club junior Shane Gray returning to Merewether after he made his NRL debut with the Gold Coast Titans this season.

CODE-HOP: Lewie Catt in action for the Wanderers and, inset, after playing against the British and Irish Lions for Combined Country this year.

Minister disputes NDIS link

RESIDENTS of the Stockton Centre face its closure in five years but the state government insists the changes are not because of the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

No one would be forced to leave large residential centres ‘‘because of the NDIS’’, Minister for Ageing John Ajaka said yesterday, following union criticisms it was being used as cover to privatise services.

A policy, begun under Labor, of redeveloping large residential centres was instead behind the latest uncertainty, he said.

‘‘The redevelopment of the Stockton Centre site has been an ongoing priority for the NSW government and planning has been under way well before our commitment to the NDIS was made,’’ Mr Ajaka said.

Residents could choose to stay until 2018 when the redevelopment would occur or move to another residential centre from next year.

The government would not commit yesterday to some form of accommodation being available onsite after the redevelopment, saying only that future accommodation at Stockton would be canvassed at an information session today.

The redevelopment of Stockton, Tomaree and Kanangra was mentioned in the Ageing, Disability and Home Care agency 2011-12 annual report.

However, the Coalition recommitted soon after winning the 2011 election to keeping Stockton open – noting it needed upgrading.

Labor’s disability services spokeswoman, Barbara Perry, said Stockton’s redevelopment was part of an agreement that had bipartisan support from Labor.

‘‘However, there is understandably a lot of anxiety for many people with disabilities and their families about how the transition to [the NDIS] will play out,’’ she said. ‘‘Now is the time for very clear communication and dialogue from the NSW government about how choice and quality of services will be improved under the transition.’’

But Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said some residents may be more socially isolated in a ‘‘pure community setting’’.

‘‘If there’s a problem with large centres like Stockton, then that’s because they’ve been run down by successive governments,’’ Mr Piper said.

Legislation enabling the transfer of government assets and staff on existing wages and conditions to the non-government sector for the NDIS is before State Parliament.

The Stockton Centre


‘Staff morale, trust levels low’ over disability centre changes


THE Public Service Association held a delegates’ meeting in Newcastle yesterday afternoon to discuss a strategy to respond to the changes proposed for the Stockton Centre and other residential homes.

Union branch organiser Paul James said that regardless of what “spin” the government put on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and its impact on state-run facilities, the legislation tied the government into privatising services.

Mr James said staff morale was bad and trust levels were low because of the way both the state and federal governments had failed to spell out the enormity of the changes when announcing the NDIS late last year.

He said staff with experience in both government-run and not-for-profit disability services were adamant that standards were higher in the government sector. Staff feared for the people they cared for and themselves, because whatever work guarantees the government was talking about would be for five years at the most.

“And because the Hunter is the first roll-out, our people are the guinea pigs,” Mr James said.

Rugby clubs vote to reject NHRU cull

NEWCASTLE and Hunter Rugby Union’s premier division is set to stay at 10 teams after delegates last night rejected a recommendation to relegate two clubs from the competition.

Under the proposal Easts and Nelson Bay, who finished bottom in the club championship, would have been dropped to First Division for at least the next twoseasons.

The move to streamline the elite tier was put to the 19 clubs (Premier Rugby, First Division and C-Grade) at a meeting at No.2 Sportsground and went against 12-4. Cessnock, Medowie and Muswellbrook were not represented.

Under the NHRU constitution the board has the power to determine the final make-up of its competitions but given the resounding message last night it is unlikely to go against the clubs’ wishes.

NHRU president Phil Payne was disappointment at the failure to endorse the recommendation and said he would reconsider his position.

‘‘I can’t talk for the other board members but it’s a fairly resounding slap in the face as the president of the union,’’ he said.

‘‘Is it a vote of no confidence? I’m not sure.’’

Nominations for the three competitions close on November 19. The board will then meet to finalise the composition of each division. The current 10 teams have indicated they will again nominate.

‘‘We will reconvene after nominations close and decide the next course of action in a considered fashion without the emotion attached to tonight,’’ Payne said.

Defiant Easts president Andrew Hill said the board was compelled to follow the wishes of the clubs.

‘‘If the board fails to act on the vote by the members it goes to show how out of touch the board is,’’ Hill said.

‘‘The vote was 12-4. The bulk of the NHRU don’t want this to go through.’’

Easts, who were readmitted to Premier Rugby this season after a bitter four-year battle that went to the Supreme Court, begin training tonight.

‘‘It is full steam ahead for us,’’ Hill said. ‘‘The move by the clubs shows they have faith in the code.’’

Nelson Bay President John Edmunds also believed the board were obliged to represent the interests of the clubs and retain the status quo.

A subcommittee, which was open to all clubs, was formed to assess the competition structure after a number of forfeits and subsequent withdrawals of teams in third grade and colts; lopsided scorelines; and concerns over the playing standard, particularly in the lower grades.

Over a three-month period, it analysed a number of competition models in rugby union and other sports, including Northern NSW Football and Newcastle Rugby League.

It determined by dropping two teams from Premier Rugby it would improve the quality not only of the elite tier but also First Division and C-grade.

The premier competition would be reassessed every two years, giving relegated clubs an opportunity to rebuild.

‘‘We did not make this recommendation lightly,’’ restructure subcommittee chairman Paul Coles said.

‘‘If there is no change there is a real fear for the future of the second-tier competition. A fear that the one-team clubs will disappear and First Division will continue to decline.’’

In addressing the meeting before the vote, Payne said the subcommittee had been given a basic charter.

‘‘They were entrusted to come up with a proposal that was to the betterment of Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union,’’ he said.

‘‘There has been no sweetheart deals, there has been no secret agenda or under the table deals with any clubs.

‘‘To suggest otherwise is simply wrong and is offensive.’’

Nelson Bay would have faced relegation if the NHRU culled the competition to 8 teams.

THE LOWEDOWN: Jets have hope, not goals


IT was a bit of a throwaway line towards the end of last week’s column when I said that by Sunday night we might have a new Socceroos coach and a new favourite for the Melbourne Cup, and the Jets could get on the score sheet and be in the top six.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad, as Meatloaf once told us. And to be fair to the Jets, they did everything bar score against Wellington in scenic Napier on Sunday afternoon.

Of course, much will be made of the fact that the Jets haven’t scored in 406 minutes of A-League football – 270 minutes of that this season. And that is a problem, but they were far more proactive and energetic against Wellington than in their two previous matches.

In fact, in isolation, a trip to New Zealand, a clean sheet and an away point is not a bad return. When you consider the way the Jets imposed themselves in the opening stanza, there were definitely some positives to be garnered.

Gary van Egmond changed his team’s shape and personnel a little, particularly in the midfield where Ben Kantarovski and Josh Brillante added some extra bite and an extra body.

With the Jets looking to dominate in that crucial area, and with Wellington coach Ernie Merrick deploying essentially four attacking players, the Phoenix’s Manny Muscat and Vince Lia found themselves outnumbered and chasing shadows.

At half-time, sensing they were being overrun, Merrick withdrew Paul Ifill who, as strikers tend to do when asked to play a kind of half-and-half role, was more effective as an attacker than in defensive duties. They replaced him with anchor midfielder Albert Riera.

This move certainly helped restore some equilibrium to the flow of the contest, as did the departure of the busy and combative Jets skipper Ruben Zadkovich.

From that point on, the game became a bit of an arm wrestle. Neither side really looked like winning, and a draw was probably about the right result.

All of which makes the derby clash with the Mariners at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night ultra-important.

Arch-rivals Central Coast probably couldn’t have asked for a better lead-up game to this encounter than their 1-0 win over Adelaide last Saturday provided.

Against a team that likes to pass the ball and dominate possession, the Mariners created plenty of chances with a meagre 34 per cent of the ball and with nearly 300 fewer completed passes.

Graham Arnold has plenty of players to choose from in the front third, with the power of Mitch Duke and Matt Simon. Add the mobility of Nick Fitzgerald, the guile of Marcos Flores and Mile Sterjovski, and Kiwi international Michael McGlinchey, who has more than his share of both those qualities, and contemplate the possible return of last season’s golden boot Daniel McBreen – and you get the picture.

Despite that attacking arsenal, the Mariners will probably play reasonably conservatively, invite the Jets to make the running and hope to sting on the counterattack.

They are capable of pressing very effectively when necessary. But I’d imagine that will be done at chosen times, and for limited periods.

Van Egmond will be well aware of the outlook of Arnold and his stylistic preference. And his response – both in a tactical sense and in terms of starting personnel – will be of much interest.

There has been an almost public appeal for the return of Emile Heskey – it is hoped his presence will solve the Jets goal-scoring woes.

The almost unwavering modern belief in the merits of sports science would surely rule out a starting role for the big Englishman for fear of any fatigue-related injuries.

You’d imagine a cameo role off the bench might be the start to the marquee man’s season, easing him back to full capacity.

Regardless, it is probably lumping a little too much pressure on one man to turn around the club’s goal-scoring deficiencies.

The derby games with the Mariners are usually fairly spicy affairs. Both sets of players hate to lose this fixture but probably not as much as the respective fans do.

The 7.30pm kick-off on a Saturday will help the spectacle and add to the atmosphere.

I’m working backwards on my triumvirate of off-hand predictions. And yes, we do have a new Melbourne Cup favourite following a couple of scratchings and the effort of Fiorente, which was set a bigger task than the early settlers in Saturday’s Cox Plate. But more on that – and perhaps a sneaky tip – in next week’s column.

Which leaves us with the appointment of Ange Postecoglou as the Australian coach for the next five years. All the hints in the media suggested that this was the road the FFA would take. And so it was. It wasn’t until a good friend, and very respected figure in the game asked me, ‘‘What do you make of the appointment, Lowie,’’ that I stopped to gather my thoughts.

Was it the right time for an Aussie coach? Would we seek a long-term appointment, or an interim coach to see us past the World Cup in Brazil? Hiddink? Rijkaard? Houllier? Ferguson even?

SBS analyst Craig Foster made some very valid points about patriotism running rampant and clouding clear thinking. Ange himself was quoted as saying that the FFA should pick the best candidate for the job, regardless of nationality.

He also later stated that he believed he was that candidate, and I admire that confidence and belief. More importantly, he has the form line and CV to back up his self-assurance.

Championships with South Melbourne in the old NSL, and with Brisbane more recently, attest to his ability to harness stylish football and consistent winning results – not always comfortable bedfellows.

I also like his pragmatism. His credo of hard work and high standards is supplemented by an acknowledgement that coaching alone will take a team so far – quality players are a must to make a difference. See the recruitment of Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha at Brisbane, and their impact.

This season at the Victory he decided that he needed mobility and goals. So in came Mitch Nichols and Kosta Barbarouses, and out went Marcos Flores. Need to improve the defence? Let’s get a marquee centre-back with vast international experience.

The fact that Postecoglou negotiated a five-year deal suggests he is a formidable force behind closed doors, and confirms the long-term option being exercised.

I honestly believe Postecoglou will do an excellent job long term. He is thorough, meticulous, knowledgeable, very firm, but ultimately fair.

A word for Graham Arnold. I’m not sure how he’s feeling at this time, but he too would have ticked all the major boxes.

Can Ange make the Socceroos respectable by Rio? It’s a big ask but I absolutely hope so. He certainly won’t have the individual quality of players circa Hiddink in 2006.

And it begs the question – is it about players or coaches? Perhaps both? Stay tuned.

SUPERSTAR: Emile Heskey during a recent Jets training session at Ray Watt Oval.