The 2020 Brownlow Medal is here — but not as you know it.
Follow all the glamour and drama of the night, with Brisbane’s Lachie Neale the favourite to take home the medal.
By Dean Bilton
What do we know about tonight?
While much of how tonight will work is a mystery, there are a few things we know for sure. We know that players will be gathering in little mini-Brownlow events all over the country, so as to stay in line with coronavirus restrictions. We know that Lachie Neale is the favourite. That’s about it.
By Dean Bilton
A Brownlow Medal night with a difference
Hello one and all and welcome, on this fine Sunday night in mid-October, to the 2020 Brownlow Medal. A strange season in a strange year has tossed up a strange Brownlow night, with so many of the event’s traditions made impossible by the rona and whatnot.
And so we are left with… whatever this is. A rearranged and rescheduled digital ceremony that, if nothing else, should at least allow us to crown and celebrate the best player of this AFL season.
How will it work? Not really sure! Will everyone still be wearing the fancy clothes? Don’t know! Can anyone stop Lachie Neale from winning? Probably not! But we’re going to have some fun finding out. Stick around for the night as we navigate this peculiar COVID Brownlow together.
It says very little about Cameron Smith and much more about the blood sport that is rugby league that his wife Barb has somehow become the most controversial owner of a ring since Gollum.
Barb Smith didn’t have to kill anyone to get her band of gold. The token of appreciation was presented by the NRL last season to acknowledge her role in her husband’s achievement of playing 400 NRL matches. The ring came from the bottom of the game’s heart, not the bottom of a river.
But such is the NRL’s constant craving for confrontation, conspiracy and controversy Barb’s ring has been used to symbolise Smith’s alleged entitlement and cast as an affront to ordinary rugby league folk.
Because, you know, if then-NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg hadn’t bought the ring, cash-strapped country leagues would have been lifted from the doldrums, ticket prices would tumble, new stadiums would magically appear in the suburbs and Orphan Timmy would have that Panthers jersey he’s always dreamed of.
Never mind that the $15,000 price tag wouldn’t cover the bar tab at some of the NRL events frequented by the same journalists who begrudge a gift that was unusual, though no more so than the unprecedented achievement it commemorated.
Yet, inevitably, the Curse of Barb’s Ring has had another airing this week. This time the ring was the mystical item that almost caused the friendship of Craig Bellamy and former teammate Ricky Stuart — and even the close relationship between Bellamy and Smith — to dissolve.
I will spare you the details.
All you need to know is that in the lead-up to what could be Smith’s final game — and almost certainly his last game at Lang Park — the prattle is about almost anything other than Smith’s vast achievements on the park.
You might argue that over the course of 56 games for Australia, 42 for Queensland and 428 for the Storm there is not much left to say about Smith’s career and the famously circumspect hooker has never been particularly forthcoming about his own achievements.
As an interview subject Smith can be generous and expansive about the game but equally dry and even evasive about his own role. I suspect we will find out far more about him when he releases the autobiography being written in collaboration with The Sydney Morning Herald’s accomplished sportswriter Andrew Webster.
Of course, Smith has not announced his retirement plans. The singular Melbourne skipper was always more likely to leave the Storm’s game plan in the Raiders’ sheds before Saturday night’s game than signal his intentions before he was good and ready.
But rather than leaving his possible replacements Brandon Smith and Harry Grant in limbo, the most regrettable consequence of Smith’s refusal to call it quits — if that is what he intends to do — is how this has inflamed those elements of the media determined to hold him in contempt.
Smith’s media treatment
If rugby league is an unruly beast, its reportage can be like bare-knuckle boxing. Never more so when someone refuses to march to the constantly throbbing beat of the media drum.
Some choose to play the media game, courting favourite journalists and outlets and — inevitably — get burnt by those they spurn.
Some shun all approaches and are persecuted for “failing to engage with the fans” — code for “why won’t you tell me your most intimate secrets just because I wrote you were a cheating bum last week?”
Others think they are treading a dignified line between cooperation and conspiracy, only to find their agent or even coach has been trading on their name to curry media favours.
Inevitably all these strange bedfellows satisfy the public’s appetite for rumour, conspiracy and endless fighting and feuding, although you wonder how well-informed it leaves them.
Where Smith stands in this sometimes self-interested, sometimes self-destructive world is hard to know.
But his vilification for everything from arguing with a referee while oblivious to the plight of the paralysed Alex McKinnon to the supposed mindlock he puts on referees suggests he either refuses to play the media game or is very bad at it.
Inevitably, the coverage of Smith’s career has pandered to the innate prejudice of those fans whose dim perspective of the Storm great is amplified by their team’s inability to tame him.
Consequently, the player of immense talent and almost preternatural resilience has sometimes been lost amid cliched taunts and false accusations.
Respected rugby league analyst Peter Sterling was just one to fall for this narrative when he declared Smith’s place as the best number nine in the NRL had been usurped by Josh Hodgson after a poor early-season game against the Raiders.
A week later Smith put on yet another clinic and Sterling was seen ordering a large helping of humble pie in the Network Nine canteen.
Smith enters Saturday night’s game with a noose around his neck. An accumulation of minor offences means he will miss the grand final should he so much as rupture a Raiders’ cuticle.
It would be a great shame if Smith spent what was supposed to be his final triumphant game on the sidelines; although it would add another chapter to that great NRL fairytale, the Curse of Barb’s Ring.
Offsiders host Kelli Underwood and the panel will analyse all the big sports issues and events this Sunday at 10:00am on ABC TV.
Alexander Zverev revealed he played with fever and breathing difficulties following his loss to Italian Jannik Sinner at the French Open.
German Alex Zverev was beaten in four sets after complaining of being “completely sick”
Rafael Nadal beat Sebastian Korda, who named his cat after the 12-time winner
Hot women’s favourite Simona Halep was beaten in 68 minutes by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek
Sixth seed Zverev was seen coughing on court and admitted he “should not have played” after a 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-3 defeat by teenager Sinner.
“I am completely sick after the match with Cecchinato in the night [session], Zverev said.
“Yeah, what can I say? I’m completely sick. I can’t really breathe, as you can hear by my voice. I had fever, you know … I’m not in the best physical state, I would say.
“I think that had a little bit of an effect on the match today.
The French Tennis Federation (FFT), which runs the clay-court grand slam, told Reuters that Zverev last tested for COVID-19 on September 29 and the test returned a negative result the following day.
Elsewhere, twelve-time champion Rafa Nadal raced into another quarter-final with a 6-1 6-1 6-2 victory over American qualifier Sebastian Korda.
Korda, who named his cat after the Spanish champion and asked for an autograph at the net after the result, said that despite the one-sided nature of the result, he was still pleased to have played his idol on the big stage.
“Ever since I was a kid, I mean, I was in love with him and everything about him,” Korda said.
US Open champion Dominic Thiem survived a scare as he edged out French wildcard Hugo Gaston 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3.
The Austrian said that he was “lucky” to have made it through after another stirring performance from Gaston put the sport’s newest grand slam champion under enormous pressure.
“He’s got such a big touch in his hand, his drop shots are from another planet. I must have sprinted 400 times to the net,” said Thiem, who is on course to collide with 12-time champion Nadal in the semi-finals.
“If he continues like this he’s gonna be a huge player and give this stadium a lot of joy. I’m lucky I made it through today.”
Halep falls to Polish teen as seeds tumble in women’s draw
Top seed Simona Halep and fifth seed Kiki Bertens suffered shock fourth-round defeats at the French Open on Sunday.
Halep, a heavy favourite to lift a second title at Roland Garros, was stunned 6-1 6-2 by Polish teenager Iga Swiatek, who moved into a grand slam quarter-final for the first time.
Swiatek, the only teenager who reached the fourth round, avenged a crushing defeat by Halep at the same stage last year.
The Romanian won that match 6-1, 6-0, in just 45 minutes but was never in this contest as she lost the first set in just 26 minutes and never recovered, her career-best 17-match winning streak coming to a juddering halt.
“I felt I was playing perfectly,” Swiatek said.
That result was good news for Ash Barty, who will retain the world number one spot until the end of the year at least, despite not setting foot on a court in anger since the sport resumed after the coronavirus break.
Swiatek will next face Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan who secured a hard-fought 6-4 6-4 win over Dutchwoman Bertens.
Losses for Halep and Bertens mean there are only four seeded players remaining in the women’s singles draw — Elina Svitolina, Sofia Kenin, Petra Kvitova and Ons Jabeur.
Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth gave a hilarious response to a question on hydroxychloroquine at his press conference on Friday.
Trump’s favourite virus drug was spruiked in parliament on Thursday by Coalition MP Craig Kelly, who controversially said “groupthink” and the ”complete abandonment of reason” were driving a ”war” on hydroxychloroquine.
But Mr Coatsworth said Australians know “which Kelly should be listened to in COVID-19”.
Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has said the drug – which has been labelled “potentially harmful” by the country’s peak COVID research body – “doesn’t work”.
Mr Coatsworth backed him up on Friday.
“With regards to the comments made in parliament on hydroxychloroquine, I think Australians are very clear on which Kelly should be listened to in COVID-19 and that is Paul Kelly,” he said.
“Paul Kelly, like myself, like all clinicians around Australia, understands that regrettably hydroxychloroquine is not effective for COVID-19.
“While I understand why there are many Australians out there looking for a solution, we have solutions come across our desk literally every day and have to work whether they are or they aren’t effective.”
Mr Coatsworth said if the drug, which is used to treat malaria and lupus, was effective at treating COVID-19 they would use it.
“I believe we have tonnes of hydroxychloroquine in this country, which was really generously donated by Clive Palmer, early on in the pandemic where there was a possibility hydroxychloroquine would be useful,” he said.
“Now, there are no circumstances where we, as government, or clinicians, would sit on several tonnes worth of hydroxychloroquine in the national medical stockpile if it were useful for COVID-19. We would be giving it to patients right now.
“But unfortunately it’s not — the trials are very clear on that.
“And in fact the World Health Organisation pulled hydroxychloroquine from one of its trial arms because the evidence was so clear that it was not effective. Now, that doesn’t happen very often and it only happens when it’s clear there’s no benefit at all from the treatment.
“So, regrettably, hydroxychloroquine is not the answer.”
He said the country’s peak coronavirus research body, the National COVID Evidence Taskforce, was on the case when it came to finding safe and effective treatments for the disease.
“We’ve got the best evidence for treatment at the moment and we’ll continue to communicate that to the Australian people.”
“We were really concerned after the three losses we had. The identity of our side was a little bit off,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson said after the win.
“I really thought our players really took ownership. Our leadership, from the older guys to the guys coming through, really stepped up.
“I don’t know where we’re at in terms of the competition, but I feel like we’ve caught up a little bit, more than anything.
“It goes from being crisis to flag favourites.”
Big guns hit stride with friendly run ahead
The Eagles have restricted sides to six goals or less in their last four outings, with their midfield, led by Tim Kelly and Nic Naitanui, beginning to gel.
Adding to what can only be a buoyant mood for West Coast is the resurgent form of Josh Kennedy.
The veteran spearhead kicked four goals against Fremantle a week ago, and followed that effort up with seven majors against the Magpies.
With the limited view of how the AFL season will play out, it’s hard to see any immediate hurdles awaiting the Eagles.
They will play at least three more games at Perth Stadium, against Geelong, Carlton and a struggling Hawthorn, and could be in Perth for even longer depending on the situation on the east coast.
Indeed, West Coast will likely continue to improve.
Kennedy’s fellow key forward, Jack Darling, has kicked goals in each of his past four matches but appears a little off his best, while defender Jeremy McGovern will return at some point from a thumb injury
The Eagles are the bookies’ favourite, and it’s hard to argue against that, especially if WA snags the grand final.
Some restaurants and cafes require people to have downloaded the COVIDSafe app or to provide their contact details before they can dine at the venue for contact tracing purposes, and because of customer limits, pre-bookings are recommended.
Or perhaps a nightclub?
Sorry party animals — nightclubs aren’t at the top of the list to reopen first in most places.
In Victoria, sport can resume if it’s outside, non-competitive, everyone stays at least 1.5 metres apart and there’s no more than ten people in a group — so if you can’t modify your sport so there’s no contact, it’s not allowed.