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NRL halfbacks are changing what it means to play as number seven


Greats of the modern game like Peter Sterling, Allan Langer and Andrew Johns taught multiple generations how to be a brilliant rugby league halfback.

Handed the keys to their teams at first receiver, these players were the entertainers of the game in the 1980s, ’90s and early noughties.

Their dummies, grubbers, and feints were mimicked by young men and women on fields from Albury to Aurukun.

But today, wearing number 7 in rugby league means something different.

Choosing a side

Two men stand next to each other after a football match
Jack Wighton (L) with his Raiders halves partner George Williams.(Twitter: @NRLonNine)

In Canberra, diminutive English halfback George Williams and hard-running, 189-centimetre five-eighth Jack Wighton appear about as traditional as a halves pairing can be.

But today the Raiders — like most rugby league teams — operate with their halfback and five-eighth occupying either side of the field in attack.

Look where they touch the ball, and you can see each one operates almost exclusively on either flank.

Although Wighton more closely resembles iconic Raiders five-eighth Laurie Daley than champion halfback Ricky Stuart (who is now his coach), this approach means he is actually more often than not first receiver — traditionally the job of a number seven.

Chart showing most of Jack Wighton's touches are at first receiver

In fact, when you look at all his touches, Wighton is more likely to play the role of a hooker and pick the ball up from dummy half, usually early in the tackle count, than he is to receive it as second receiver — the traditional role of a five-eighth.

Across the NRL, whether a player formally plays halfback or five-eighth, this pattern is more or less the norm.

Source: NRL.com Stats & ABC analysis, includes players classified by NRL.com as halfback or five-eighth with at least 300 touches in 2020

Identifying differences

Although halfbacks and five-eighths may now operate mostly as interchangeable first-receivers, each player has their own strengths and tendencies.

Some are better with the boot than others, and may therefore shoulder more of the burden of their team’s kicking.

Mitchell Moses, Adam Reynolds and Blake Green have all kicked the ball more often than they’ve run it this season.

But the traditional running five-eighth has not been abandoned entirely and Scott Drinkwater, Cody Walker and Cameron Munster are today’s archetypes.

Beyond the stats

Penrith and TikTok star Nathan Cleary has driven his side to the top of the table and earned plaudits along the way.

But a glance at major statistical tallies suggests Cronulla’s Shaun Johnson may be the most devastating half to date in this interrupted NRL season.

He has 16 try assists and 10 line break assists (though as has been shown there is considerable overlap between the two), far more than Cleary’s tallies of six and five respectively.

But video of Cleary’s red zone involvements shows that he has been instrumental in at least nine more Panthers’ four-pointers.

Quick, flat distribution to beat a closing umbrella defence or putting a teammate into a hole with a sage read have proven potent.

Where it matters

Earlier this season during a discussion about Cleary, Peter Sterling told TripleM radio: “I want the number 7 to touch the ball three or four times in an attacking set of six.”

Indeed, Cleary has become the driving force of his side’s attacking structure, as the above video indicates.

On 75 occasions, he has touched the ball three or more times in an attacking set, almost 20 more than the next highest tally — that of Newcastle’s Mitchell Pearce.

Cleary, Pearce and Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans dominate the ball inside the opponent’s 20 within central areas more than any other halves.

By planting themselves in the middle of the field, they involve themselves on average once in every seven attacking touches.

Chart showing locations of touches of all halves

Although halves like Johnson occupy wider areas, and may tally more tries and try assists, these three playmaking generals are perhaps more influential overall.

And of the three, only Cleary’s club boasts an elite attack, having scored more than 25 points per game on average.

Nathan Cleary’s Panthers play Jack Wighton, George Williams and their Raiders teammates at 7:30pm on Saturday evening.



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Sydney Roosters utility Mitchell Aubusson to play 300th NRL match for defending premiers


When the greats of the Eastern Suburbs/Sydney Roosters are spoken about, it is names such as the late Arthur Beetson, Anthony Minichiello, Kevin Hastings, Luke Ricketson and Brad Fittler who come to mind.

Reliable utility player Mitchell Aubusson does not usually rate a mention but that could be about to change. The one-club player will make his 300th NRL appearance when the Roosters meet St George Illawarra in Wollongong on Thursday night.

“He’s a very unassuming player,” Minichiello, a former Roosters teammate, said.

“To be honest, even though he hasn’t got a high profile, he’s a player that everyone wants in the side.

“He’s probably one of the first players picked because he’s so consistent and he’s a guy that can play any position.

“He’s played every position, bar front row, and excelled in each of those positions, which is pretty amazing.”

Aubusson, who played his junior rugby league with the Ballina Seagulls in New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region, was recruited by Beetson and has been the Roosters’ “Mr Fix It” since his first-grade debut in 2007.

Fittler, who was a Roosters assistant coach at the time, told Aubusson he was a five-eighth. Since then, he has switched between second row, lock, the centres, the bench and wherever else he has been required to play.

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Aubusson’s versatility has made him an indispensable member of the Roosters team but it also caused some sleepless nights in the week leading up to the 2018 grand final.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson named Aubusson as a shock replacement for half-back Cooper Cronk, who was carrying a shoulder injury.

“Robbo gave me a call and said, ‘I’m going to name you at seven,’ and I went, ‘This is a joke?'” Aubusson told Roosters TV with a laugh.

“He said, ‘Coops is a small chance of playing, I’m going to name you at seven, everyone will think it won’t happen but it’s going to happen,’.

“I was thinking it could end badly. As the week went on, I got my head around it. Then [at the] captain’s run (the day before the grand final) he (Cronk) gave us the nod and said, ‘Boys, I’m going to play,’ and I’ve never been so relieved in my life.

“I thought if this guy is going to do this for us, then we’ll lay it on the line for him.

As it turned out, Cronk played with one working arm and the Roosters beat the Melbourne Storm.

Mitchell Aubusson of the Roosters is tackled by Jake Granville of the Cowboys.
Aubusson (left) has been a Roosters stalwart across 14 seasons.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Last year, the Tricolours defeated Canberra in the season decider and Aubusson’s night ended with a knee injury in the 13th minute.

“Watching the last 20 minutes of that game, it was some sort of torture, a nightmare knowing the game’s going on and you don’t have an impact,” Aubusson said.

State of Origin eludes Aubusson

It is one of the NRL’s great mysteries that such a versatile player with three premierships on his CV has never featured in State of Origin.

“I think he would’ve been perfect off the bench for New South Wales,” said Minichiello, who captained Aubusson in the Roosters’ 2013 grand final-winning team.

“Four or five years ago he would’ve been a huge asset to have on the bench because he can play any position and in Origin things can change pretty quickly.”

The 32-year-old Aubusson only needs four more first-grade appearances to become the club’s most capped player ahead of Minichiello (302) and Ricketson (301).

Two Sydney Roosters NRL players celebrate a try against the Newcastle Knights.
Aubusson (right) and Anthony Minichiello were Roosters teammates between 2007 and 2014.(AAP: Renee McKay)

Minichiello said he would be delighted to hand over the record to Aubusson.

“He’s just an all-round champion bloke on and off the field,” Minichiello said.

“When he first came to the club as a shy boy, he wasn’t a big guy but he’s worked hard on his game, his fitness.

“Away from the sport is where you make all your gains and that’s where some young kids can come unstuck, especially in the heart of the Eastern Suburbs [of Sydney].

“He’s a guy that’s never been in trouble, a guy that’s never looked like getting in trouble. He’s a total professional that people look to and say, ‘You know what, if I want to play 300 games, I’ve got to do what Mitch is doing’.

Minichiello said the fact he, Ricketson and Aubusson had reached 300 matches with the Roosters this century spoke volumes about the Roosters as a club.

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“The Roosters always have criticism of trying to buy new players and [there’s] salary cap stuff but we nurture guys from a young age that stay loyal to the club,” he said.

Aubusson said the Roosters’ current success could be traced back to the 2010 grand final when they lost to St George Illawarra.

“We got ourselves to a grand final and we fell short but it gave us a taste of what we could do,” he said.

“We want to be back here, we want to be on the other end of it.”

Now Aubusson is a part of the Roosters’ bid to become the first team since Parramatta (1981-1983) to win three consecutive premierships.

He said his wife Laura and their two young children, Daisy and Odie, were the reasons why he was hungry for another premiership title.

“The last thing I think about when I walk on the field are those three people. They’re my family, they’re everything to me,” Aubusson said.

“Nothing else matters than seeing them proud of you at the end of the day.”



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Nick Kyrgios says he won’t play at the US Open over COVID-19 fears, warns players not to be selfish


Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has ruled out playing in this year’s US Open, saying he is making his decision for “my Aussies”, and for the people who have lost their lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He becomes the second high-profile Australian tennis player to announce he will be staying away from the New York-based tournament, following this week’s statement by women’s world number one Ash Barty.

The tournament is scheduled to start on August 31 — it will be held at its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Kyrgios posted a video on Sunday, where he read from a statement.

“I will not be playing this year at the US Open,” he said.

“It hurts me at my core not to be out there, competing in one of the sport’s greatest arenas, Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s my decision.”

A tennis player stands with his head down and his fist in front of his face after losing a point.
Nick Kyrgios says he is sitting out the US Open for Australians, and for the Americans who have died from COVID-19.(AP: Adam Hunger)

Uncertainty remains around the tournament that is usually the last major of the year.

The tennis world has been largely shut down for months in response to the pandemic, and players have expressed concerns over safety.

While tournaments are just about to restart, there have been a number of exhibition events held — the most notorious being the ADRIA Cup, a tournament organised by world number one Novak Djokovic, held in a number of countries, but which featured poor social distancing.

Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Borna Coric later tested positive. Kyrgios described the decision to go ahead with the exhibition as “boneheaded”, saying people had to stick to the protocols.

Kyrgios has also been drawn into online exchanges with Coric and former world number one Boris Becker over their approach to the virus.

“Dear tennis, let’s take a breath here and remember what’s important, which is health and safety as a community,” he said in the video.

The Canberra native said he had no problem with the USTA putting on the US Open, and that if players wanted to go, that was up to them.

“So long as everyone acts appropriately, and acts safely,” he said.

“No-one wants people to keep their jobs more than me. I’m speaking for the guy who works in the restaurant, the cleaners, the locker room attendants.

“These are the people that need their jobs back the most and fair play to them.”

Kyrgios called on players to act in each other’s best interests and work together.

“That’s just so selfish. Think of all the other people for once.



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Local News - Victoria

Play the individual, not the Karen


But apart from the risk to others’ health posed by a woman who will be lodged in lockdown folklore as “Bunnings Karen”, there’s a dark side and it is becoming increasingly troubling.

The fact that Nash and several others who have chosen this public health crisis as the moment to grandstand ignorance happen to be female is being taken by some as a free ticket to sexism – particularly when it comes to the treatment of middle-aged women.

Now, all you need to do to silence and generally mock her in a socially sanctioned, but sex-specific, way is to simply spit “Karen!”

In a public dialogue already rife with sex discrimination – one more example of which can be viewed in MP Nicolle Flint’s on-point post this week about appearance trolling of female politicians – it’s all a bit convenient.

“Karen”, once mainly an American Twitter slur to which there is no male equivalent, is fast becoming a potent put-down for any woman over 25 raising her voice in Australia.

It is morphing into a modern version of “shrew” or “harridan” or, let’s go there, “silly old bag”; a pain in the arse whose views are risible owing to their particularly female expression.

Depending on where you look, the term “Karen” has been around between five and 15 years. One version has it appearing in 2005 after a (male) comedian used Karen to denote that annoying friend.

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Another has it gaining currency after a bitter bloke on Reddit unleashed so much dirt on his ex, Karen, that “Karen” went mainstream. Later it was the label for overly entitled, middle-aged white women in the US who talked down to people of colour in service roles.

No doubt these exist and have earned the contempt. Maybe there is cause for a collective noun: go your hardest internet but maybe don’t make it gendered. After women’s decades-long struggle for the (legitimate) right to be heard, in our context “Karen” already feels past its humour-by date. It must not be permitted to become another gag.





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Ash Barty says she will not play in this year’s US Open, amid travel fears during the coronavirus pandemic


World women’s number one Ash Barty has withdrawn from the US Open in a massive blow to the grand slam tournament in New York.

Not comfortable about travelling during the coronavirus pandemic, Barty is the biggest tennis name yet to opt out of the August 31 — September 13 major because of the global health crisis.

“My team and I have decided that we won’t be travelling to the US and [Cincinnati Masters] and the US Open this year,” Barty said in a statement on Thursday.

“I love both events so it was a difficult decision but there are still significant risks involved due to COVID-19 and I don’t feel comfortable putting my team and I in that position.

“I wish the USTA all the best for the tournaments and I look forward to being back in the US next year.

“I will make my decision on the French Open and the surrounding WTA European tournaments in the coming weeks.”

Sam Stosur will also reportedly miss the tournament at Flushing Meadows.

The Cincinnati Masters, which is held annually, has been moved to New York this year and is set to start in mid-August.

No Australian women’s players are entered for the leadup event, although Alex de Minaur, Nick Kyrgios and John Millman are down for the men’s tournament.

The US Open will be held in its usual home in Flushing Meadows, Queens but will be played without fans in attendance to limit the risk of spreading of the virus.

Deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 150,000 in the United States on Wednesday, more than any other country and nearly a quarter of the world’s total.

ABC/wires



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Australian News

Toddler sexually assaulted at western Sydney play centre


Police are investigating the alleged sexual assault of a toddler at a play centre in western Sydney yesterday.

Emergency services were called to the play centre on Mulgoa Rd in Penrith about 12.20pm on Sunday after a two-year-old girl was found injured.

Officers were told the girl’s mum was looking for her for some time before she was found by a member of the public in a store room in the play centre.

Nepean Police Officers established a crime scene. The matter has now been referred to the State Crime Command’s Child Abuse and Sex Crimes squad who launched an investigation into the incident.

Initial inquiries suggest the girl was sexually assaulted by an unknown man.

Detectives are appealing for anyone with information to contact police — particularly anyone at the play centre yesterday who noticed suspicious behaviour.

Anyone with concerns about suspected child abuse or exploitation should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or contact Crime Stoppers online.

Police will provide an update later today when they appeal for information into the assault.



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Local News - Victoria

History focus can play an important role in reconciliation


Divides have deepened when understanding and healing should be our goals.

Our school system is partly to blame for this failure of knowledge and understanding. Far too little Australian history is taught. In fact, without radical action, the only school subject that focuses specifically on our history — “Australian history”, at year 12 — will die within the next five years, maybe sooner.

Last year, of 49,324 Victorian students to complete the VCE, only 628, or 1 per cent, did Australian history. Over the past six years, this figure has been almost halved, with almost 100 fewer students enrolling every year.

A key reason why so few students choose to study Australian history in year 12 is that little has been done in earlier years to fire their passion. History is not even a standalone learning area, but is subsumed within the broader “humanities”.

So across years 7 and 8, students complete only one short unit on ancient “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture”. Then, in years 9 and 10, there is another unit focusing on Australia during the world wars.

For many Victorian students, that is the sum of Australian history taught across their secondary years. At years 9 and 10, there is another optional unit covering the period from 1750-1918.

Three actions should urgently be taken to save Australian history in Victorian schools. First, history must become a standalone learning area like English, maths and science.

Because history is taught only as part of the humanities, it is given little space within the curriculum. It is also normally taught by humanities generalists who have not studied history themselves.

Historical skills, such as the analysis of evidence, are complex. We must recruit more specialist history teachers to make sure these are taught in an accessible and exciting way.

Third, the study of Australian history from 1788 to 1914 must become compulsory. Students love familiarity. So many of my former students decided against Australian history in year 12 because they would have had to learn the content from scratch.

Knowledge of our history alone will not bridge our deep racial divides. But without it, as the Victorian curriculum makes clear, the task is hopeless.

Dr Matthew Bach is a Liberal member of the Victorian Parliament and former deputy principal of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar.

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AFL to play matches across 20 straight days as part of next fixture block



The AFL will stage matches across 20 consecutive days as part of its fixture for rounds nine to 12 of the premiership season.

The Western Bulldogs and Richmond will kick off the schedule of matches when they face each other next Wednesday night, just two days after the completion of round eight.

Double-headers are a feature of the condensed schedule, while North Melbourne will play matches in Hobart in rounds 11 and 12.

More to come.



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Jofra Archer fined but allowed to play England’s next Test against West Indies after coronavirus breach



England fast bowler Jofra Archer has been fined and given an official warning for breaching the team’s biosecurity protocols, but is free to play the third Test against the West Indies.

Both teams are under strict restrictions to allow the series to go ahead safely.

Archer breached the measures when he stopped at his house during the drive from Southampton to Manchester between Tests.

He came into contact with a person outside the teams’ bubble at the house and was dropped for the second Test, announcing the decision hours before the start of the match at Old Trafford on Thursday.

“Following a disciplinary hearing held on Friday evening … Archer has been fined an undisclosed amount and received an official written warning after admitting to breaching the team’s bio-secure protocols on Monday 13 July when he made an unauthorised visit to his home in Hove,” the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said.

ECB director of cricket Ashley Giles said Archer’s mistake could have cost the board “tens of millions” of pounds but England vice-captain Ben Stokes said the team would be there to support the player.

Giles headed Archer’s disciplinary hearing, which was also attended by the player’s agent and a representative from the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

Barbados-born Archer will remain in self-isolation for five days and will undergo two COVID-19 tests, which must be negative before his isolation is lifted.

The 25-year-old is expected to rejoin the England squad on Tuesday ahead of the third and final Test starting on Friday, also at Old Trafford.

Archer said he was “extremely sorry” for his actions, but the team is managing alright without him so far, with twin tons from opener Dom Sibley and Ben Stokes leading the side to a declaration on 9-469.

The West Indies were 1-32 in reply at the end of day two before day three was completely rained out.

The tourists won the first Test by four wickets.

Reuters/ABC



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Local News - Victoria

While the Dogs are away the locals can play after club reopens oval


“It’s not enough to give us a few hours’ access a day, particularly when the club aren’t using it,” Ms Cafarella said.

Under the current stage-three lockdown rules, Melburnians have been directed to exercise close to home and locals say the closure of Whitten Oval limited their ability to do so.

Jonathan Baker, Deb Bain-King and Julia Baker with Delia the dog celebrate the club's decision to allow people to use the oval from Monday.

Jonathan Baker, Deb Bain-King and Julia Baker with Delia the dog celebrate the club’s decision to allow people to use the oval from Monday.Credit:Joe Armao

Deb Bain-King – who lives across the road from the oval, and counts the Bulldogs as her second team (after St Kilda) – said the Bulldogs do an “important service” for the community and the ground needs to be kept safe from COVID-19 risks.

“The team has really made the difference to the morale of the area, they’re really much loved. We just figure, a bit of love back would be nice. Give us a bit of it back.”

Ms Bain-King said that, particularly during the second lockdown with the team away, families needed the space to get out of their apartments and exercise locally.

“It’s a real mental health issue for a lot of people in the area,” she said. “Things are bad, things are really bad, and we are feeling it.

“There’s some people who don’t have cars … I’ve got a car so I can drive somewhere but it’s really not what we’re meant to be doing. There’s not that many parks in Footscray.”

She had said it would be a bonus for the oval to be open to locals for even just a few hours a day. That will be the case starting Monday, local MP Katie Hall said, from 7am to 1pm.

“It’s really great news. The club is actually terrific in the community,” Ms Hall said on Friday afternoon.

“I know that the club has been trying to work out a way to provide access … The Bulldogs have responded really quickly to calls to open this space for people to exercise in.”

Ms Cafarella said locals appreciated that the Bulldogs should have the space to themselves at times, and needed to keep players safe in the pandemic.

“People respect the fact that, when they’re training, they can use it. But when they’re not, people just want to be able to kick the footy and do all those things,” she said on Friday, before the club announced its change of heart.

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“We’re really, really scarce on public parkland here.

“I’m a mad Bulldogs supporter, I’m a longtime member, I love them. I really appreciate the things they do in the west. But we’re asking for some common sense – prioritise the people who live here.”

The club was contacted for comment.

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