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Scott Morrison defends watching Sharks football game during pandemic


Scott Morrison has defended his decision to enjoy a beer and watch his beloved Cronulla Sharks at the weekend as Melbourne remains in lockdown after a social media backlash.

The Prime Minister is taking some time with his family this week near Sydney but has not taken formal leave and remains on the job.

Broadcaster Ray Hadley urged the PM to “take the phone off and just absolutely relax” for 24 hours, but Mr Morrison said today it wasn’t the time for that.

“Well, I appreciate that, Ray, but you know there’s a lot going on at the moment so we remain very connected,’’ he said.

“We’ve got great teams. Just because you don’t see me on cameras doesn’t mean I am not hard on the task.”

“The game wasn’t that great to watch but you have got to be loyal to your team. Always.”

Mr Morrison was plagued with a “crook” phone line during the radio interview but insisted he was close to Sydney.

“I am within an hour of the CBD, so anyway,’’ he said.

RELATED: More virus cases linked to Sydney pub

Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews refused to be drawn into the drama on Sunday, declining to criticise the PM for attending a rugby league game in NSW while Victoria is in lockdown.

“I wouldn’t begrudge anyone taking time off with their family, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing,” Mr Andrews said.

“And before you give me the footy question, I’ve got better things to worry about than who went to the footy in New South Wales.”

On Friday, the Prime Minister revealed he would be spending some time outside of Sydney with his wife and two daughters during the school holidays but insisted he would not be on holidays “full-time.”

“As you know, it is a school holidays and Jenny and the girls will be taking some time on the outskirts of Sydney but given the changing critical situation we have in Victoria, I will not be joining them for that full-time,” he said.

“I will also not be standing aside from the tasks I have all day.



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Andrews rebuffs question about Morrison attending NRL game


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has refused to criticise the Prime Minister for attending an NRL match amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Morrison was photographed in the stands at yesterday’s game between his beloved Cronulla Sharks and the Penrith Panthers.

On Friday, the Prime Minister announced he would try to take a short break with his family, but would remain in charge.

“As you know, it is the school holidays, and Jenny and the girls will be taking some time on the outskirts of Sydney,” he told reporters.

“Given the changing critical situation we have in Victoria, I will not be joining (the family) for that full time.

“We have technology where I can be with them and continue to take briefings, calls and meetings.

“As a dad, I will take some time if I can get it during that period … but at the same time I can assure you, we will remain absolutely focused on the things we need to focus on.”

RELATED: Follow our live coronavirus updates here

At today’s coronavirus media briefing, where he reported 273 new cases of the virus, Mr Andrews brushed off two questions about Mr Morrison’s decisions to take time off, and to attend the football.

The Premier said he had “better things to worry about”.

“What do you make of the Prime Minister‘s decision to take some time off to spend time with his own children?” a reporter asked.

“I was asked similar questions during the summer. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone taking time off with their family. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing,” Mr Andrews said, alluding to Mr Morrison’s trip to Hawaii during the bushfire crisis.

“And before you give me the footy question, I’ve got better things to worry about than who went to the footy in New South Wales.”

RELATED: Photo emerges of Scott Morrison in Hawaii

RELATED: ‘No alternative’ sees remote learning return to Vic schools

“Do you have anything to say about the Prime Minister?” another journalist pressed towards the end of the press conference.

“I’m focused on what I need to be focused on, and I have answered the question,” Mr Andrews responded.

“Just as back during the summer, I am not going to chip a bloke for spending some time with his family.

“As for who goes to the footy in other states, I don’t have anything to say about that. Nothing is gained by me offering gratuitous opinions on that.”

RELATED: NSW to make returning Aussies pay for quarantine hotels

Mr Morrison drew heavy criticism over his decision to jet off to Hawaii during the bushfires. He has, however, been working tirelessly for months to address the pandemic.

Some personalities on social media, including Labor MP Josh Burns, have nevertheless criticised his decision to take a break now.

Others have defended the Prime Minister.

“Global Pandemic that lasts for months. Opens up the restrictions and supports the sporting industry. What do you want him to do?” one person wrote.



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Addin Fonua-Blake breached anti-vilification code, NRL says after reviewing Manly-Newcastle game


The NRL may yet extend a suspension for Manly’s Addin Fonua-Blake after a review found he breached the league’s anti-vilification code.

Fonua-Blake was caught on a live microphone calling referee Grant Atkins a “f***ing retard” after Sunday’s loss to Newcastle.

The argument came after the video referee ruled the Knights had done nothing wrong in preventing what would have been a game-winning try for Manly.

Newcastle centre Bradman Best pushed Manly winger Tevita Funa just after he grubbered through in the final seconds of the game, and video referee Jared Maxwell found no infringement.

The Sea Eagles were furious and Fonua-Blake was sent off for his vitriol directed at the ref before being suspended for two weeks.

Addin Fonua-Blake, Jake Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans speak to the referee at the end of an NRL game.
Fonua-Blake abused the referee on the field and was heard abusing them in the tunnel after the game.(YouTube: NRL)

That decision that was compared unfavourably with a four-week ban that was handed to Bulldogs captain James Graham in 2015, but that was a combined penalty for a nasty tackle and dissent towards referee Gerard Sutton.

On Tuesday, Manly released a video of Fonua-Blake answering questions from the club about the incident, saying he did not understand how harmful his words were.

“Now that I know what it means I’m very apologetic. I didn’t mean any harm and I didn’t mean to use it in a derogatory type of way to offend anyone. If I have offended anyone, I am very sorry.”

He also addressed reports that he further insulted the referees in the tunnel after the game, but did not say what he said.

“I remember walking back into the sheds and speaking there loudly. I wasn’t aware that the refs were in the tunnels and they must have heard me say what I said in the sheds,” he said.

“I didn’t say it directly to their face, it was just me venting out loud in the sheds and they happened to hear it.”

NRL to speak to Fonua-Blake before deciding on next step

About half an hour after Fonua-Blake’s video landed on the team’s website, the NRL released a statement saying a review of the match had found a breach of the anti-vilification code, in addition to the contrary conduct charge for which he copped a two-week ban.

“What happened on Sunday was divisive and against the fabric of what we stand for as a game,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said.

“There is no place for comments like that in our game. Sport is about bringing people and communities together and we pride ourselves on being an inclusive game for everyone.

“Now that the match review process is complete, I want to speak directly with Addin and the club about the incidents before determining any penalty.

“This is more than a simple sanction. It’s important there is an education and rehabilitation component to issues like this to ensure players learn from these mistakes and realise the impact of their actions on the community.”

Fonua-Blake said he apologised to the referees in person after the game as well as putting out a public statement via the club on Sunday night.

“Referees have a very tough job and we all need to respect their decisions even when we may not agree with them,” Fonua-Blake said.

“I should not have let my emotions get the better of me and I am very sorry for the comments I made.”



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Plan to reduce NSW Rugby Union workforce tipped to have ‘devastating’ effect on local game



Central North Rugby Union says the grassroots level of competition will be hardest hit by recently announced job cuts at New South Wales Rugby Union.

The state’s governing body last week confirmed an organisation-wide restructure by making 12 development officers redundant and letting go almost a quarter of its staff.

Seventy per cent of its workforce has been stood down since April.

Chief executive Paul Doorn said the cuts were required to protect the organisation’s future.

“NSW Rugby came into the COVID-19 pandemic in a solid financial position, but with Super Rugby suspended, a loss in broadcast, sponsorship, ticketing and other revenue sources has seen reduced funding available from Rugby Australia as well as NSW Waratahs revenue, along with a loss of revenue coming into the community game,” he said.

‘Lifeblood of rugby’

The ABC understands the cuts will affect positions of regional development officers, who have played a prominent role in building and maintaining junior competitions in areas such as the central north.

CNRU president Tony Byrnes said the decision could have a devastating impact on the next generation of players.

“It certainly won’t help the effort that’s already been made by our development officer in assisting to get the regional competition going in the 14s, 16s and 18s, which really are the lifeblood of rugby.”

Mr Byrnes said he hoped the decision would be reversed before September, when the staff would be let go as JobKeeper runs out.

“It takes a long time to become a development officer and have all that expertise and skill, so if we lose them and when times improve they might have moved on and we’ve lost all that experience, all that knowledge, all that skill …”

Mr Doorn said NSW Rugby was still committed to the game in regional areas.

“Our commitment to supporting rugby from the beach to the bush is our top priority,” he said.

“That is why we have retained experienced staff that can support our clubs and zones and get the community game back and up and running, as well as support our NSW Waratahs teams, members and fans.

“We have ensured that staff retained have the skills and experience to support community competitions, referee and coach development as well as the different zones.”



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Geelong beats Gold Coast by 37 in milestone game for Joel Selwood, Gary Ablett as Suns’ Matt Rowell injured


Geelong has ended Gold Coast’s three-match winning run with victory at Kardinia Park, but the big news of the day was the blow to the Suns’ season with an injury to young gun Matt Rowell.

Halfway through the opening quarter, Rowell took his spot in the centre square as the umpire threw the ball up. He took possession and was immediately tackled by Geelong’s Brandan Parfitt, who brought him to ground.

Rowell appeared to put his arm up to protect himself and the impact jarred his arm and shoulder.

He got up holding his shoulder and came from the ground in pain. He played no further part in the game.

Without him, the Suns tried their hardest on a ground where they had been beaten by more than 100 points in three of their five previous outings.

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But they faded in the final term to go down 13.11 (89) to 8.4 (52).

Rowell had brought one of the genuine good news stories of the competition in its early rounds, with his stunning form in the Suns’ three wins on the trot — including three maximum 10-vote games in the AFL Coaches Association award.

He was being viewed as the hot favourite for this year’s Rising Star award after just four rounds.

Gold Coast confirmed that their medical staff had managed to successfully put Rowell’s shoulder back, but they will be anxiously awaiting scans to confirm the severity of the injury.

Coach Stuart Dew said it was not clear how bad things were.

“He was trying to get back on [the ground],” Dew said.

“It’s hard to tell [how bad it is], he [Rowell] is probably not the best gauge.

“But any shoulder that pops out … we’ll see what the damage is.”

Rowell will come with the team to NSW — the Suns will next face Melbourne at Giants Stadium in Sydney.

Geelong superstars mark milestones with win

Two AFL stars leave the ground smiling with their arms around each other after milestone games.
Gary Ablett (L) and Joel Selwood had a win in their milestone games, with Ablett booting a big goal late on.(AAP: Dylan Burns)

For Geelong, the victory was the perfect way to celebrate the milestone games of Joel Selwood (300th AFL game) and Gary Ablett (350th).

Without a crowd at Kardinia Park, the atmosphere was missing the fans, families and friends of both stars.

The game was a huge test for the Suns, who went into the contest in second place on the ladder.

The visitors opened the scoring with a goal to Lachie Weller, but they were then placed under huge pressure by Geelong, and the Cats found their groove.

Four goals in just nine minutes appeared to blow the game open, with Rowell’s injury making matters worse for the visitors.

The Cats led by 20 points at quarter-time, but against all expectations, the Suns sorted themselves out in the second term, tightening their defence and raising the pressure levels on Geelong.

Even without Rowell in the middle, Gold Coast was cracking in hard, and making Geelong work for everything.

By the main break, Geelong led solidly in almost every category, bar hit-outs and tackles. In particular, the marks inside 50 were 7-1 in Geelong’s favour.

But on the scoreboard, the Cats’ easy run to victory had been stalled. They led by only four points.

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The Suns put first-year player Connor Budarick on Ablett, who had a quiet game for much of the night although he displayed a few of his trademark pinpoint passes to set up teammates.

Going against the general trend of the season, the difference was made by tall key forwards at both ends of the ground.

Cats spearhead Tom Hawkins kicked three to half-time, and early on he looked like he would win the game off his own boot, as the Suns’ defence struggled to stop his influence.

The Suns’ experienced players stood up after Rowell’s exit, like Touk Miller and recruited trio Hugh Greenwood (ex-Crows), Brandon Ellis (ex-Tigers) and Lachie Weller — the former Docker kicked two goals to half-time.

But the real hope for Gold Coast was agile big forward Ben King, who kicked three majors in the second term as the Suns hit back.

Suns threaten but Cats make them pay for errors

Thoughts of an upset grew as another tall, Sam Day, kicked back-to-back goals at the start of the third quarter to give the Suns the lead.

The visitors were threatening to kick away, but Geelong turned things around, gaining the upper hand at the clearances and getting quick ball forward to one-on-ones.

Brandon Parfitt, Luke Dahlhaus and Gary Rohan all scored goals and suddenly the Cats led by nine.

The pressure ratcheted up again, and Sam Menegola added another to break free near three-quarter-time.

Errors and 50-metre penalties given away at key times did as much as anything to end the Suns’ hopes.

The Suns had kept in touch with a goal from Alex Sexton after the ball went over the back of the Cats’ defence.

The Suns could not grab the momentum, with the high-flying Esava Ratugolea taking four top contested marks for the game.

Cats get the win before hitting the road

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His kicking was off, but another 50-metre penalty against the Suns for encroaching left the Cats forward with a set shot which he converted.

Geelong went into the final change with a 15-point lead.

The Suns tried to push forward at the start of the final term, but another error let Geelong in — a long ball to Patrick Dangerfield led to a mark and goal that all but killed the game off.

As Geelong grew in confidence and control, the Suns fell away.

Gold Coast had done best in goals direct from centre bounce clearances. But the Cats began to cut through in the late stages, and with a few minutes left, Ablett took a mark outside the 50m arc.

There was never any chance of him handing off, and he went back and kicked a booming drop punt which sailed through — Ablett raised his arms in the air as his teammates joined him to celebrate.

The win was an important one for Geelong, who rise to second on the ladder at least for the moment.

The Cats will travel to NSW to play the Lions at the SCG next Thursday, before heading west to join a hub in Perth.

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Super Rugby AU rule changes hoped to bring crowds back and change future of the game


It’s fair to say there will be many more eyes on Australia’s new domestic rugby competition when it kicks off this weekend than just those of the diehard fans.

Super Rugby AU is Australia’s equivalent of New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa, and was quickly formed to fill the breach left by the 15-team, five-nations Super Rugby tournament which went into COVID-19-enforced hibernation in mid-March.

The future of that competition remains in limbo, with both South Africa and Argentina isolated and their new case curve still trending upwards. Japan’s Sunwolves were to be mothballed at the end of the 2020 season anyway, and though there were attempts to have them play in the new Australian competition, they’ve now played their last game.

Australia’s four Super Rugby sides — the Queensland Reds, NSW Waratahs, Melbourne Rebels, and the Brumbies — will be joined by the Perth-based Western Force in a full home-and-away competition played over 10 weeks plus two weeks of finals.

For the Force, it marks their return to top-flight Australian rugby for the first time since their axing from Super Rugby at the end of the 2017 season.

Western Force players wait for a try decision during the World Series Rugby match against Fiji in 2018.
The Western Force will be welcomed back to the fold.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

But it’s the law variations in place that will draw the extra attention, and from the moment the Reds and Waratahs run out onto Brisbane’s Lang Park on Friday night. Behind every one of the changes is an intention to make a more enjoyable spectacle of the game for spectators, fans and players alike.

A couple are already in place over the ditch, with Super Rugby Aotearoa implementing 10 minutes of “golden point” extra time in the event of a scoreboard deadlock after 80 minutes.

The other is the allowance to replace a player sent from the field with a red card after 20 minutes. The sent-off player can’t play any further part in the game, but the contest can be restored to 15 players on 15, 20 minutes later.

Neither has been seen in New Zealand yet in three rounds, but Australia’s leading referee Angus Gardner is a fan.

“You definitely want the players to decide the game and as a ref you prefer to not make a decision that decides it,” he said last week, of the extra time allowance.

Gardner has been busy over the past fortnight, running live familiarity sessions around the new variations with the Waratahs and Rebels. The focus on the breakdown contest in Super Rugby Aotearoa — and the sharp upsurge in penalties — were a cause for concern initially, and were undoubtedly a reason Gardner and his colleagues were utilised during these intra-squad sessions around the country.

Ryan Louwrens holds a rugby ball in both hands and prepares to pass it away from a ruck
New rules around the breakdown have sped up play, but has also seen an initial uptick in penalties.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

“They’re really rewarding speed to the breakdown, I think for us that’s going to highlight our breakdown presence,” Rebels backrower Michael Wells said, his side spending this week of preparation in Canberra to escape the recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Melbourne.

“Attacking wise, you can’t be slow; you have to be really fast. Defensively, if you have a good on-ball presence you’re really going to get pay out of it. I think that was the biggest thing about having Gus [Gardner] here, just to be exposed to those new rules, because it’s different watching it in the New Zealand comp,” Wells said.

But the breakdown focus is having a positive impact already over the Tasman. In half a dozen games over the first three rounds in New Zealand, the rugby on display has been wonderful to watch, no doubt spurred on by huge crowds now allowed with no restrictions in place.

Fans applaud as players line up in the foreground
Super Rugby Aotearoa has returned to huge crowds.(Photosport via AP: Joe Allison)

The crowds will be much smaller when Super Rugby AU kicks off on Friday night, but it’s certainly hoped the rugby is no less exciting. Rugby Australia is also hoping the decision to go a bit further with law variations will have an impact, too.

Several of them roll over from last season’s National Rugby Championship, in which a rampant Western Force ran away with the title. The line drop-out allowance, which rewards the defending team if they’re able to hold the attacking team up in-goal, works as a faster way of restarting play instead of a five-metre scrum that risks multiple resets.

And 50-22 and 22-50 kicks carry over too, borrowing from rugby league’s 40-20, which will force teams to defend differently at the back, as well as open up attacking opportunity.

“Does that open up more space in the front line to play ball in hand?” Rebels attack coach Shaun Berne wondered.

“And if they don’t defend that back field, are we then able to kick and find those 50-22s?”

The players themselves can already see opportunities.

“It’s going to break some teams when we find that space and take those opportunities, it’s going to hurt a lot of teams,” Brumbies centre Irae Simone offered from Canberra.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney loves the removal of calling for a mark in the defensive 22 from kicks originating in the same portion of the field. But he’s equally wary of the architect of the idea.

“I am a bit worried about Matt Toomua and the impact that he is going to have. He is such a talented 10 and he has the ball on a string really,” Penney said of the Rebels and Wallabies flyhalf.

“I thought it was a real breath of fresh air to hear Matt talking about what could be really good for the game.”

A male rugby union player kicks the ball from a penalty goal attempt with his right foot.
Matt Toomua could have a huge impact with his boot under the new rules.(Reuters: Issei Kato)

As Rugby Australia works to negotiate its way to new TV deal for 2021 and beyond, the hope is that these variations and the exciting rugby it anticipates will result will be really good for the game over a longer term. Arguably, the future of the professional game is counting on it.

But the condensed campaign means there won’t be time for the five sides to work their way into contention. Most agree the Brumbies start overwhelming as the favourites, given they were running second overall when Super Rugby was suspended.

Brumbies prop James Slipper says that just means the side is already determined to pick up where they left off back in March.

“It’s always important to start well,” he said.

“We actually addressed that this year in Super Rugby and we did start well.

“What you find is when you have a good start is you try and build on that momentum and that winning habit.”

Super Rugby AU Round 1 fixtures

Friday: Queensland Reds vs NSW Waratahs, Brisbane 7:15pm AEST

Saturday: ACT Brumbies vs Melbourne Rebels, Canberra 7:15pm AEST

Western Force have the bye.



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Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak forces AFL to reschedule West Coast-Richmond game, reshuffle fixtures


The AFL has been forced into a late reshuffle of its fixture list due to the current coronavirus outbreak in Victoria.

Thursday night’s game between West Coast and Richmond on the Gold Coast has been postponed, due to the Queensland Government introducing new restrictions on sporting teams from Victorian COVID-19 hotspots.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young released a statement on Monday morning clarifying the state’s new guidelines for Victorian sporting teams.

The guidelines now state that any Queensland-based team which plays against a Melbourne team in Queensland is required to quarantine for 14 days.

The same rule will apply to any team returning from playing in Melbourne, or which has just played another team which has been in Melbourne recently.

“The new measures specifically impact all Queensland-based teams, regardless of the code, and their interactions with Victorian-based teams,” Dr Young said.

“These new measures do not prevent Victorian AFL teams travelling to Queensland for existing matches. The new arrangements do, however, place extra restrictions on Queensland-based teams who play teams who have been in hotspots.”

A young AFL player pumps his fists in celebration at the end of a game.
The Suns and Lions will now have to quarantine for 14 days after playing in Melbourne or playing a Melbourne team in Queensland.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

The reshuffle will see Sydney fly into the Eagles’ Gold Coast hub instead, for a game on Saturday, while the Tigers will now stay at home and play Melbourne on Sunday.

Carlton and St Kilda’s game, originally slated for Saturday afternoon, will also be moved to fill the now-vacant Thursday night slot.

How the Queensland Government’s new directive will impact the rest of the 2020 AFL season is unknown, but it is likely to force a significant rethink as Queensland teams will now no longer be able to play Melbourne-based opponents with the freedom the league had once expected.

AFL manager in charge of fixtures, Travis Auld, said the league was prepared to be flexible to work through the next few weeks, and changes were expected.

“We knew we would have to be flexible and agile in 2020 and we will continue to be flexible and agile as we find our way through,” Auld said.

“Since the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic we have said consistently that every decision we make will be anchored in the advice of government and the Chief Health Officers and that we would always rely on their advice in developing the strict protocols we have in place to ensure we protect the wider community as well as our players and staff.

“The need to be flexible and agile has guided our thinking to this stage and the reason we reduced quarters and reduced the length of our season was in expectation that there would be further challenges to our season as we moved to complete the remaining matches.”



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Western Sydney Stadium turf inspected after multiple ACL injuries in Roosters-Dragons game


Western Sydney Stadium’s playing surface is expected to be given the all clear for Parramatta to host Canberra on Saturday night following an independent pitch inspection by the NRL.

Hours after Sydney Roosters players Victor Radley and Sam Verrills suffered season-ending knee injuries, the NRL conducted an inspection first thing on Saturday morning.

Stadium management were confident the pitch was safe and the match was expected to go ahead rather than be moved.

Both Radley and Verrills went down untouched in Friday night’s 26-12 win over St George Illawarra.

The team said on Saturday that scans have confirmed the pair have torn anterior cruciate ligaments.

They will see a surgeon on Monday.

There is no suggestion the turf was responsible for the injuries, with coach Trent Robinson distancing his club from any such claims after the match.

However, there is little doubt signs of wear and tear are showing at the ground.

Assuming all matches are played as scheduled, there will have been 11 games in 22 days come the end of Sunday night.

Another three are set to be played there next week.

A Sydney Roosters NRL player holds his face as he receives treatment for a knee injury against St George Illawarra.
It was a tough night for Sydney Roosters with Sam Verrills (ground) and Victor Radley suffering knee injuries.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

It comes after the NRL moved a game from Campbelltown to Kogarah this week to allow for a fresh surface given a heavy workload at the former venue.

“If we have any concerns around the safety of the pitch then we’ll move the [Eels v Raiders] game,” NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo told Nine on Friday night.

“You saw last week we made the move and we’ll assess that again tomorrow morning.

“I know there was a lot spoken about it. The playing surface has had a lot of wear and tear.”

There should be less reliance on Western Sydney Stadium, Campbelltown and Gosford from next weekend, with clubs returning to home grounds.

However, Western Sydney Stadium will still remain an option for up to four clubs, given its capped capacity of 7,500 is around three-times that can enter suburban grounds.

Abdo said the overuse of grounds was considered by the Project Apollo committee, and Western Sydney Stadium had passed a safety and stability test before play on Friday.

Roosters team manager Chris James and another club official took a close look at the turf where Verrills went down.

Meanwhile, stadium management said they would work with the NRL, but were confident there would not be any issues.

“The stadium turf has been holding up well under a heavy playing schedule,” a Western Sydney Stadium spokesman said.

“Any injuries to players are a concern.

“The stadium team will work with the NRL and clubs to ensure the best possible surface for each and every game.”

AAP/ABC



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Super Netball’s super shot rule change panders to those with no stake in the game


You are running a widely popular, predominantly female sport that has stood the test of time.

The game has evolved from its conservative roots; it has embraced semi-professionalism and become pleasingly dynamic; it has forged a storied international rivalry that has produced some of the most dramatic moments in Australian sport; it has withstood challenges from voracious competitors and maintained an enormous participant base.

It has even welcomed men to play in their own leagues and mixed competitions — even if they sometimes find it hard to check their fragile egos at the locker room door and keep their pointy elbows to themselves.

But you’ve looked at the TV ratings, you’ve compared the sponsorship model with other predominantly male sports and you want more eyeballs on your domestic competition.

A netballer jumps up and extends her arm as she prepares to pass over the defence.
Super Netball bosses want more people to watch its domestic competition.(AAP: Jono Searle)

So you’re thinking about making a radical rule change, one that will alter the most fundamental element of the game — scoring.

Naturally, you first take the proposal to your competition committee and carefully weigh their input.

Then you run it by the Players’ Association. Not because the lunatics run your asylum. Because, well, maybe the people who are actually going to be bound by this rule might have some practical suggestions about its application?

You have a quiet coffee with some ex-players and even the media types who are tapped into the thoughts of the fans and the game’s wider community to gauge potential reaction.

Two netball opponents stoop to get their hands on the ball in a contest.
Netball has developed a compelling international rivalry between Australia and New Zealand without the gimmicks.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

This is exactly what the Super Netball Commission did NOT do before springing the introduction of a two point “super shot” on its players and fans just six weeks before the start of the season.

This non-consultation process, almost as much as the two-point shot, has caused uproar among the very people who should have had the greatest say in such a radical change.

Instead, the Super Netball commissioners made a mistake common among sports desperate to increase their “reach” — instead of asking what those who love netball wanted, they asked themselves what those who are mostly indifferent to the sport might hypothetically want.

In one sense, bypassing the people who are the cornerstone of your sport and bastardising your game for the edification of those who ticked the “have some interest” box on a fan engagement survey is understandable, even essential.

Caitlin Basset smiles looking over her shoulder
Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett said on Instagram she half-expected the next innovation to be to wear skimpier outfits.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

Sporting stalwarts are notoriously conservative. Cricket’s transition from Test to One Day to Twenty20s involved endless anguished debates pitting so-called traditionalists against the perceived desires of less cricket-savvy consumers.

The obvious difference is that cricket has imposed most of its changes on two new formats. Test cricket remains virtually as it was, albeit now crammed into a schedule dominated by limited-overs fixtures and with those ghastly numbers on the shirts.

Netball, on the other hand, has taken a gimmick from its own short-form game, Fast5, and imposed it on the second highest level of the sport without so much as a “What do you guys think?” in a competition committee Zoom meeting.

An Australian netballer shapes to pass the ball as she stands outside the two-point shot line.
The Super Shot Zone will become a feature of Super Netball, against the wishes of the majority of players.(AAP: Mark Evans)

No wonder a member of that committee, Diamonds’ star Jo Weston, was apoplectic when the news dropped via press release during the week.

Weston told The Guardian she was not just disappointed with the “insulting” lack of consultation, but by the rule itself.

Which makes you wonder if Super Netball teams will jog onto the court this season or arrive stuffed in a mini minor given the apparent desperation of the game’s administrators to pander to the non-fan.

The one-off media sugar hit of a radical rule change is far easier than the hard yards of long term grassroots engagement, clever promotional campaigns and relationship building with broadcasters.

Former West-Tigers chair Marina Go is now the Super Netball Commission chair and she admitted some inspiration had been taken from Australian Rugby League Commission chief Peter V’landys’ recent NRL rule changes.

This attempt to imitate the “innovative changes” in rugby league has proven about as popular with netball diehards as telling them players will wear lingerie and games will be played in a giant tub of jelly.

A female netball player holds the ball behind her head as she prepares to shoot for goal.
Netball’s super shot would change the very fabric of the game.(AAP: Julian Smith)

Yet, gallingly for the game’s ignored insiders, the change has gained support from the type of casual high-profile observers who are unlikely to be at a Super Netball game after the last canape in the corporate hospitality area disappears.

So what’s wrong with the “super shot” (to be taken from a designated spot inside the circle in the last five minutes of each quarter)?

The most obvious problem is that all goals will not be created equal. An artfully worked full court move that gets the ball into the hands of the goal attack will not be worth as much as a long bomb executed during an arbitrary time period.

It also perverts the power balance because a team that has gained the ascendency in general play can have its hard-earned lead erased by a couple of freak shots.

But don’t take my word for it.

I stand to be corrected by those who have played the game at all levels or who have spent years in the crowd or on the media bench at Super Netball games.

The kind of people who should be the first consulted when a beloved sport makes a radical change for the benefit of those who usually couldn’t care less.

All the latest sports news and issues including Australia’s 2023 Women’s World Cup bid will be discussed on Offsiders on ABC TV at 10:00am on Sunday.



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Essendon’s Conor McKenna tests positive for coronavirus, Bombers-Melbourne game postponed



Essendon defender Conor McKenna has tested positive for coronavirus, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has confirmed.

The news has forced the postponement of Sunday’s game between the Bombers and Melbourne, but all other games in round three and beyond will, at this stage, proceed as usual.

McKenna returned to his native Ireland during the COVID-19-enforced shutdown, but arrived back in May and has been training with his Bombers teammates since his 14-day quarantine period ended.

McLachlan said all Essendon players were tested on Friday night, and McKenna was the only one to test positive. He said McKenna had been asymptomatic.

More to come.



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