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Australian News

The tall and tall of it: How AFL ruck strategy has evolved



Footy is different this year. Quarters are shorter, there are fewer games, and scoring is down.

But, despite predictions of its demise, the second ruck has somehow survived.

Extremely tall and marginally talented men were supposed to have been exorcised from the league by now, replaced by smaller, nimbler players.

With shorter quarters, the prevailing wisdom was that a single ruck could see out almost the entire game, with little to no relief from a specialist backup.

Instead, 2020 has increasingly seen teams use two or more rucks to share the load, often with great success.

So, is the strategy here to stay?

Rucking through the ages

Ruckwork has undergone several phases throughout the long and winding history of Australian Football. In the early years of the game, very little of the game was played above the heads of players.

It took more than a decade for a ball up to be introduced to start the second half, and it was the 20th year of the game that saw the ball up or bounce introduced to discourage scrimmages.

It was a full decade later, in 1887, that the bounce was brought in to start each quarter. Before then, multiple rucks were used, but their roles would be hardly recognisable from the rucks we see today.

For the early part of the 20th century, a critical role on the ground was the “second ruck” (or “ruck shepherd”).

The ruck shepherd’s job was not to compete for the ball but instead actively impede the opposing ruck, be it by holding or occasionally hacking and kicking.

Eventually, as football modernised and societal standards changed, the second ruck’s role did too.

The prototypical second ruck these days is often a ruck-forward, a template outlined by Paul Salmon, or two big men operating in shifts, such as Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui.

Good rucks help win games

With less-heralded rucks such as Toby Nankervis, Scott Lycett and Jordan Roughead leading their sides to premierships in recent years, some doubt has been cast on the idea that a dominant ruck is needed to win games.

But a quick look shows that the relationship is clear.

Over the past eight years, there is a direct link between how many AFL Player Rating points a ruck earns and the outcome of a match.

It isn’t just a nice highlight when Brodie Grundy makes something out of nothing — it’s a sign that his team is getting on top.

It isn’t always the tapwork of a ruck that matters to their output on the field either.

Winning a hitout is one thing — but directing it to a teammate who is in the position to receive it is another thing altogether.

Given the significant advancements in strategy and movement in the last decade, it is harder than ever for a ruck to direct the ball effectively to a teammate, despite rule changes helping them to do so.

It is important to remember that not all hitouts look like this.

Instead, far more look like this.

While some even look like this.

Instead, it’s the around-the-ground impact — the contested marks, the decisive spoils, the spacing — that gives rucks much of their value.

For every team that was able to get by with makeshift rucks, such as the Bulldogs in 2016, there are other successful teams that deploy top-class talls.

The importance of the second ruck

While having a good primary ruck is important, it is potentially more critical to have a valuable player in the second ruck position.

The reason for this lies in how to best maximise the 22 players in a squad.

Players aren’t completely interchangeable. Not all players are suited to every role and some are only able to be utilised in very narrow ways.

This is particularly the case for the biggest players. Some rucks can loiter up forward, play as a spare back or even as an extra linkman/tall marking target down the line. However, more get lost when asked to do anything outside their main role.

At the same time, the drastic increase in the number of interchanges in a game means the days of carrying a spare ruck on the bench to play 27 per cent of the game, as Stephen Doyle did in the 2003 Preliminary Final for Sydney against Brisbane, are firmly over.

A team’s second ruck has to play meaningful minutes in non-ruck roles, otherwise other teams will exploit them around the ground. It doesn’t even really matter if they win hitouts when forced into the ruck.

The data suggests a relieving ruck who can’t justify their place in the team with another role shouldn’t be selected.

This appears to be part of the thinking that the Bulldogs and Tigers have employed in recent years by deploying midfielders Josh Dunkley and Shaun Grigg as relieving rucks.

The very best secondary rucks are good players who happen to also be serving a ruck need. They can be critical difference makers.

The ability to serve multiple roles while only using one of 22 player selection slots is particularly precious.

To go with one or two?

Knowing all of this, clubs are often faced with a difficult dilemma.

In the current AFL landscape, one of the biggest tactical questions each team has to answer is: Should we go with one specialist ruck or two?

The wisdom in recent years has leaned towards one dominant ruck and a supporting tall who plays much of the game in another role.

The biggest change to ruck selection strategy occurred in 2017, when the rule banning the “third man up” was introduced. No longer could a side play a holding tall in a ruck contest while a teammate leapt over the top.

As Mark Evans from the AFL stated at the time: “Eliminating the ‘third man up’ at ruck contests will support the recruitment of tall players and ensure our game continues to be played at the elite level by players of various sizes and differing abilities.”

In the wake of the new rule, teams generally moved to fielding a primary ruck assisted by a pinch hitter.

However, one club stuck to its tried and tested formula.

Having both Dean Cox and Nic Naitanui fit into one team is a good problem for a club to have.

With two elite talls, West Coast became accustomed to playing two rucks in the same side — and they did so to great success.

Cox, with his ability to read the play, was often deployed a kick behind the ball, while the attacking skill of Naitanui often headed goal-side.

Cox’s retirement in 2014 left some temptation to return to a more traditional structure, but the Eagles doubled down — even when Naitanui got hurt. Players such as Nathan Vardy, Jonathan Giles, Scott Lycett, and Tom Hickey have rotated through the ruck spots, as the Eagles persevered down the dual ruck path.

The Eagles are leaning on a one-ruck strategy this year more than at any other time since 2012, with Naitanui taking the lion’s share of ruck contests. But West Coast may be bucking the league-wide trend.

Who is doing what in 2020?

Generally, most sides still use one ruck most of the time, with a part-timer filling in the gaps. But the circumstances of this strange, strange season have changed the narrative.

There was an early presumption that reduced total game time would mean sides with good rucks would rely as much as possible on them to ruck the entire game.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in Australia impacting fixtures further, the wall-to-wall blocks of games meant sides had as little as three days to recuperate between matches.

These intensive periods meant reduced football departments had to rework their strategy on the run — again. More clubs started using second rucks to rest their primary options to nurse them through the period, while others stuck to their solo guns.

Notably, a couple of rising finalist sides are exploring the dual ruck approach long taken by the Eagles.

St Kilda are justifying the acquisition of veteran recruit Paddy Ryder by pairing him with the rising Rowan Marshall. The pair combine solid ruck craft with two goals a game of output when combined.

Brisbane started the year with Oscar McInerney and Stefan Martin in a pretty even pairing, then, with Martin’s injury, smoothly adjusted McInerney into the more senior position paired with Archie Smith.

Other clubs, such as Melbourne (Max Gawn), North Melbourne (Todd Goldstein), Gold Coast (Jarrod Witts) and Collingwood (Brodie Grundy) have leaned heavily on a solo ruck as much as possible.

As the home-ish and mostly away season nears a close, fatigue and injury niggles may be a concern for these rucks if they get to play finals.



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NRLW surviving COVID-19 cuts but strategy needed to steer game once pandemic ends, stakeholders say


Corban McGregor has been a rugby league fanatic since childhood, watching her idols compete for the ultimate prize of the premiership.

But growing up, she only had men to look up to.

Today, the 26-year-old is the female role model for young girls that she never had.

“It’s really cool, I feel like I have to pinch myself every time people say that we’re role models or heroes,” the Jillaroos, NSW Blues and Roosters player said.

Taking time off from training ahead of the 2020 NRLW competition, McGregor met aspiring players from the Kellyville Bushrangers.

The number of women playing the game has grown by 150 per cent over the past five years.

Teenagers dream of NRLW future

Teenage players Charli Buhagiar and Hayley Bell, both 14, are part of the wave of girls joining the women’s game.

They want to be just like their hero McGregor and they were blown away meeting her.

“I really love it and I think it would be good to get involved [in the NRLW] and I want to make it,” Buhagiar said.

A female rugby league player holds the ball in her hands, preparing to pass to teammate in training.
Hayley Bell (right) and Charli Buhagiar play for Kellyville Bushrangers and both dream of a career in the NRLW.(ABC News: Chloe Hart)

Bell has been playing since she was seven.

“I’ve been playing for seven years now and I enjoy going out and having a hit. It’s so fun and I’ve seen a lot more rugby league women’s sides since the NRLW competition started two years ago,” Bell said.

She believes female-only sides have made the game much more accessible to women.

McGregor beams with pride when talking about the possibilities for the next generation.

She has had to overcome a lot to get to where she is today, including having a son when she was just 16.

“When it started [getting women involved in the game] it had a main focus around players’ partners and families,” McGregor said.

“We should still acknowledge that, but it’s also grown into more female players, officials and females in senior leadership roles — it’s great to see.”

On top of being a mother, representing her country, her state and the Roosters and working, she is now doing an internship with the NRL in order to get involved in the game in another role after she finishes playing.

NRLW scaled back but still going ahead in 2020

Female athletes talking in a group
Corban McGregor has played league at the highest level. She is already planning for a role in the game after her playing career.(ABC News: Chloe Hart)

She will play for the Roosters in the NRLW 2020 premiership season, which will run alongside the men’s finals series next month.

This year the competition was meant to expand to six rounds, but the format will be the same as that played in 2018 and 2019 because of the financial pressures caused by COVID-19.

Last year’s premiers Brisbane Broncos will play runners-up St George Illawarra, as well as the Sydney Roosters and New Zealand Warriors.

“I am really proud that we’ve had such strong growth rates all across the board,” she said.

“It’s amazing and I hope that continues to grow. There is still room for improvement.”

Continued growth key for women’s game

Harvey Norman CEO Katie Page founded the Women In League Round 14 years ago to give women a bigger voice in the game.

“Why aren’t we bringing the women through? Why aren’t they playing? Why aren’t they feeling like this? They’re as big as contributors to the sport as men,” she said.

Ms Page was the strong female lead the initiative needed.

Two junior rugby players, an NRLW star and a business chief stand in front of rugby league posts.
Harvey Norman’s Katie Bell (second from left) founded the NRL’s Women in League round. She says building the women’s game will take time.(Supplied: NRL Media)

“Not everyone is going to be able to be an elite player but they can certainly play the game or can be involved,” Ms Page said.

She is pleased the NRL committed to investing in the women’s game amid huge budget cuts in response to coronavirus.

“For all sport, that’s their next challenge,” she said. “Because we’ve been through COVID, we’re still going through COVID, and a lot of things have had to be put on hold obviously.”

Ms Page sees this as an opportunity to make the game stronger.

“Take this moment to be doing your strategy for when the world returns hopefully next year and what does it look like,” she said.

She says the game must continue growing and those behind it cannot be complacent given the growth it has experienced.

“It’s about how we are evolving and doing better and growing — that’s the measure of growth,” she said. “Are we doing the right thing for this code? Are we representing community with this as well? Why are we here?”

One game of the women’s State of Origin will take place as a standalone event on Friday, November 13.



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Australian News

Face mask strategy copied from US state


With the US leading the way in terms of coronavirus cases, it’s hard to imagine Australia would want to be copying anything they do.

But some states within the country – that’s recorded 4.4 million cases and 150,000 deaths so far – have done quite well at flattening the curve and are “outstanding examples” on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say.

The comments come after Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews revealed that his Australian state was essentially copying mask policies in Oregon and other places, though he didn’t specify which.

The revelation came in response to a question over how making face coverings mandatory would work in regional Victoria for people still able to go to restaurants or the gym.

“There are some models from overseas that we’re going to essentially copy,” he said, after announcing Victoria’s worst day with 723 cases and 13 deaths.

“If you are seated, you don’t need to have a mask on, so when you’re eating or drinking.

“But if you are not seated, then you need to have your mask on.

“I know that’s going to be hospitality looking a bit different than it’s ever looked.”

Mr Andrews said he believed people could adapt, announcing he was extending the policy he implemented for Melbourne last Thursday to the whole state.

“That has worked in other parts of the world and we are confident it can work here also,” he said.

Oregon’s statewide face covering guidance stipulates people must wear a mask outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained and at any indoor public places. They are not required while eating, drinking or swimming.

RELATED: Disgusting video shows what happens when you don’t wear a mask

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WHO IS REQUIRED TO WEAR MASKS?

One of the main differences between Victoria and Oregan is that in the US state, children over five are required to wear a mask and it is “strongly recommended” for children aged between two and five.

Victoria has only mandated masks for over 12s.

Oregon has recorded 17,721 cases and 311 deaths.

Governor Kate Brown first introduced mandatory masks for select counties on June 24 before extending the order to the whole state on July 1.

On July 14 she announced they were expanding the policy again to include all outdoor spaces after cases continued to spike.

“Today we are sounding the alarm because we are at risk of letting the virus spiral out of control,” Brown said in a press conference at the time

“The question now is whether Oregon will be the next New York or the next Texas.”

She then added children over five last week.

After cases peaked on July 7 with 447 recorded, they have been gradually going down with just three recorded on July 28.

Their coronavirus website highlights that the state’s graph of cases shows what “flattening the curve” looks like.

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Dr Alex Polyakov, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne, who holds masters degrees in epidemiology, biostatistics, and health law, said Victoria was yet to see the results of mask wearing.

“Lockdowns are only effective to an extent so I think wearing a mask all the time, unless eating or drinking, is a wise strategy and I do think it will have an effect, they just haven’t had enough time,” he said.
“It will take a couple of weeks to see the effect on numbers.

“Oregon is one of the outstanding examples (in the US). I think they have done quite well containing the pandemic.”

Oregon has a population of 4.2 million and Victoria 6.3 million.

Dr Philip Russo, deputy chair of a group of infection control experts advising the

Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, said we had typically not followed what was happening in the US and the UK because of their high case numbers.

“But we had always said masks could be warranted when the prevalence of infections increased and that’s what we’re seeing in Victoria,” he said.

Hassan Vally, Associate Professor in Epidemiology at La Trobe University, said looking at overall trends, modelling suggested Victoria was at its peak.

“We’ll have to watch what happens over the next few days,” he said.

“There’s nothing majorly controversial about what we’re doing and what Oregon is doing, just wearing masks and we know masks work.”



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Local News - Victoria

Doctors call for virus elimination strategy in Victoria as stage four restrictions loom


On Friday, 122 Victorians with the virus were in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said: ‘‘This is a serious situation. We are in the fight of our lives.’’

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Cases have now been reported in 32 nursing homes and at least eight clusters of the illness have emerged in hospitals and other healthcare sites.

Up to 800 healthcare workers have either been diagnosed with the illness or are in isolation as a close contact, according to one union.

Both Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said stage four restrictions were being considered with “everything on the table”.

Victorians in regional areas on Friday were asked to join the rest of the state in wearing face masks, and non-essential dental work has been postponed in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Mr Andrews flagged a stricter lockdown if the daily case-load figures did not improve.

“If the data shows the strategy is not being as effective as quickly as we would like then we may need to go to new rules,” Mr Andrews said.

The record number of new cases comes just 24 hours after the state recorded its previous high of 317 cases on Thursday and a week after metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire were placed under stage three lockdown restrictions.

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The deaths of a man in his 80s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s brought the state’s death toll to 32 and Professor Sutton warned on Friday that more lives would be lost.

“We have not turned the corner here,” the Chief Health Officer said.

“There will be dozens of individuals who will require hospitalisation from these 428 people.

“Tragically there will be several who require intensive care support and a number of people will die, so it has to turn around.”

On Friday, 122 Victorians with the virus were in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.

“This is a serious situation. We are in the fight of our lives,” Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

Restrictions are not set to change in regional Victoria, where 42 new cases have emerged since July 1. But Victorians in the regions have been advised to wear face masks in places such as supermarkets, shops, public transport and taxis where they cannot maintain social distancing.

Ms Mikakos also suspended non-urgent public dental procedures in the lockdown zones, including cleaning, fillings and some specialist care.

Emergency and urgent dental care would be available at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, and community dental services around the state.

In an article for the Medical Journal of Australia, a group of physicians led by epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely urged the state government to impose a six-week lockdown, with the aim of eliminating community transmission of the virus in Victoria.

The doctors argue the nation faces a two-speed economic and social recovery from the first wave of the pandemic, with Victoria lagging as it remains in partial lockdown trying to contain its second surge outbreaks.

Professor Blakely and his colleagues argue for a ‘‘going hard’’ strategy, saying it would not be too far advanced of the current plan.

“Given the State is in lock-down for six-weeks there is only a marginal cost of ‘going hard’ with a rigorous public health response that increases the probability of achieving elimination,” the group wrote.

The doctors believe that a clear goal of elimination of community spread of the virus and the prospect of a return to near normality would unite the community behind the effort and reduce the calls for an early end to the lockdown.

But there would be a price to pay, with all schools closed as well as all shops – except chemists and supermarkets – massively increased use of masks and only 20 per cent of the workforce to have “essential worker” status.

The state and federal government remain committed to the strategy known as “aggressive suppression” of the spread of the virus with the Commonwealth repeatedly rejecting the elimination strategy as unrealistic.

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PM won’t pursue elimination strategy


Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia won’t be pursuing a “risky” elimination strategy to defeat COVID-19.

Speaking at a press conference today, Mr Morrison warned such a move would result in the country suffering a massive economic downfall.

He said countries that have gone for the elimination strategy have seen much greater economic impacts than Australia.

“You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of more people unemployed for a start and other businesses closing and livelihoods destroyed,” he said.

“In Victoria, they had the hardest lockdowns and theirs is the state that has succumbed to that outbreak, (which) was initiated by a failure in hotel quarantine by returning Australians.

“The idea that people wouldn’t be allowed to return to Australia or exporters can’t sell

products overseas we hold all shipping to Australia, that’s where the risk comes from and the greater risk of an eradication strategy is.”

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He said the view of the Government and health advisers is that an aggressive suppression strategy is the best option.

Elimination and suppression strategies have a lot of the same control measures, including rapid identification and isolation of cases, fast contact tracing, testing and quarantining, social distancing and lockdown measures and border controls.

Where the strategies diverge is when these measures are introduced and how long they stay in place, with suppression strategy aiming to lift restrictions earlier to so as not to have as much impact on the economy.

Mr Morrison branded the elimination strategy “very risky and very illusory”.

“You can’t mortgage off your economy for what would prove to be an illusory goal by the process,” he said.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth released a statement today branding the renewed calls for an elimination strategy “unrealistic and dangerous”.

“The inference is that if Victoria had eliminated community transmission, this second outbreak would not have occurred – something which is patently false,” he said in a statement.

“As the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, has said, this outbreak has largely stemmed from breaches in quarantine arrangements for Australian citizens returning from overseas. Such breaches would have ceded this outbreak even if community transmission had been eliminated for several weeks.”

Dr Coatsworth said true elimination is only a realistic strategy when there is a vaccine available.

He used measles as an example, noting the World Health Organisation (WHO) branded the illness eliminated in Australia in 2014.

“We have occasional outbreaks, which are quickly brought under control by our public health teams and because we have an excellent immunisation program,” he said.

“In Australia, we have pursued aggressive suppression with the knowledge this will lead to periods of elimination in parts of the country.”

Australia is not in a position to achieve elimination as global transmission is increasing, the deputy CMO said.

“It is impossible to completely seal the borders of any country – even an island continent such as Australia – and nor should we try to. Returning travellers, freight vessels and associated crews will continue to come from countries with widespread transmission,” he said.

“No country or part of a country can assume that a period of local elimination is protection against further community outbreaks.

“Our systems are excellent, but they will never be perfect, and it would be irresponsible for any leader to claim they could be.”

WHO recently confirmed its view that elimination and eradication are unrealistic goals, Dr Coatsworth said.

“In Australia, we will continue to strive for local elimination wherever possible. We remain one of the world’s most successful nations in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

“We have achieved this, not by pursuing the false hope of elimination, but by realistic, pragmatic and proportionate action when it is most necessary.”



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Dr Shane Oliver, AMP Capital’s Chief Economist and Head of Investment Strategy and Economics, answers your questions


A leading Australian economist has revealed that the recession might already be over.

Answering readers’ questions in News Corp Australia Network’s Ask The Expert Q&A, Dr Shane Oliver said he believed the low point of the recession came in April.

However, he said this would not be confirmed until the September quarter GDP data comes out in early December

Dr Oliver, AMP Capital’s Chief Economist and Head of Investment Strategy and Economics, was answering a reader’s question about how long he thought the recession would last and what would happen to property prices.

“I think the recession is already over with the low point being the most intense period of the COVID shutdown in April,” Dr Oliver replied.

“Since then we a have seen an easing in the lockdown and the economy has started to recover – evident in more people in shops, cafes, going away on the long weekend, etc. But because the focus is on quarterly GDP data, June quarter GDP will still be down on the March quarter very sharply and the recovery won’t become evident till the September quarter GDP data. “That said many Australian’s won’t fell a full recovery for a while yet because the unemployment rate will take several years to fall back to the 5 per cent level we saw earlier this year. In fact with the end of JobKeeper and enhanced JobSeeker in September it may get worse in October before it gets better. But at least with the economy starting to grow again unemployment should be falling later this year.”

It has been almost 30 years since Australia’s last recession, so there would be plenty of Australians out there who have been wondering what to expect since Federal Treasurer confirmed earlier this month that the nation was now in the midst of a recession.

However this is not tipped to be a ‘typical’ recession, with Australia expected to rally faster than it did in the 1991 recession.

Writing in AMP Capital’s Insights Hub a week ago, Dr Oliver said while going into a recession was ‘bad news’ there were some things worth noting that ‘might make it easier to bear’.

“Australia has been battling through a calamitous start to 2020 so far. We kicked off the year with devastating bushfires, which were already detracting from growth in the first quarter. February saw the beginning of COVID-19 disruptions to the local economy, starting with travel bans and moving to a lockdown from mid March which meant some sectors – like retail, tourism and hospitality – had to grind to a halt,” he wrote.

“This accounts for negative growth in the March quarter, and the worst is yet to come in the June quarter results, meaning Australia is likely in its first recession since 1991, when Bob Hawke was prime minister and Paul Keating was treasurer. Many Australians weren’t even born then, and for those who were, it’s been nearly 29 years of growth since.”

Dr Oliver said this was not an average recession, which was typically preceded by a boom. As inflation rises, the central bank tries to control it with higher interest rates, and this results in a bust.

“The situation preceding this recession was almost the opposite – growth was low, interest rates were at record lows,” Dr Oliver wrote.

“Because most of the economic damage has been caused by a disruption in the form of the coronavirus shutdown, and we haven’t had the classic build up of excesses you’d normally see before a recession, we should be able to restart the economy a bit faster than we did in 1991.”

Here is some of what else Dr Oliver had to say in the Q&A:

Q. How long do you think the recession will last and what will happen to property prices?

A. I think the recession is already over with the low point being the most intense period of the COVID shutdown in April. Since then we a have seen an easing in the lockdown and the economy has started to recover – evident in more people in shops, cafes, going away on the long weekend, etc. But because the focus is on quarterly GDP data, June quarter GDP will still be down on the March quarter very sharply and the recovery won’t become evident till the September quarter GDP data. That said many Australian’s won’t fell a full recovery for a while yet because the unemployment rate will take several years to fall back to the 5 per cent level we saw earlier this year. In fact with the end of JobKeeper and enhanced JobSeeker in September it may get worse in October before it gets better. But at least with the economy starting to grow again unemployment should be falling later this year. Property prices lag the economy a bit and we see them having five to 10 per cent downside ahead for Australian capital cities, and around 10 per cent downside in Sydney reflecting the ending of JobKeeper and the bank payment holiday later this year and the collapse in immigration.

Q. My grandkids have been asking a lot of questions about the recession. They don’t remember the GFC either (they were only toddlers). How do I explain it to them so they understand but don’t get scared?

A. Since the last recession ended nearly 29 years ago there are many of Australians who have not seen one. Basically a recession is a period where the economy goes backwards – there are less jobs, less spending in the shops, more shop closures, less home building, less cars on the road, people having cheaper holidays. Most people keep their jobs but they feel uncertain because they usually know someone who has lost their job or had their hours cut back. This recession is a bit different in that it was not caused by a boom that went too far and had to be snuffed out by higher interest rates. Rather it was caused by the need to shutdown much of the economy to stop the spread of spread of COVID. And the government moved quickly to help protect businesses, jobs and incomes through the shutdown whereas normally in recessions governments are slower to respond. So with the shutdown now easing and people starting to spend again the worst of the recession is likely now behind us. I reckon April was the low point and so we should see a gradual recovery going forward. The other thing to note about recession is that they are usually brief, we do recover and they through up opportunities for savvy investors who can see bargains – cheap shares, cheap business and eventually cheaper housing.

Q. What do you see happening to interest rates? I have been looking to buy my first home. I have a stable job but wondered whether a recession means interest rates are going to rise?

A. Interest rates are going to stay low for a long time. The RBA does not want to cut its official cash rate (which anchors most bank mortgage rates in Australia) because it sees no value in taking rates negative and nor do I (negative rates didn’t work in Japan or Europe). In the meantime the COVID shutdown driven recession means it can’t raise rates and with unemployment likely to take a long time to come back down again (meaning ongoing low inflation and wages growth) probably won’t be able to raise rates for at least the next three years. So that will mean at least three years with the official cash rate stuck at 0.25 per cent and hence very low mortgage rates for some time to come. It will be a good time to use the saving on rates to pay down debt faster than otherwise if you buy that first home.

Q. We were thinking of selling our house this spring. Should we wait, put it on the market now or just abandon the plan altogether. Do you think it is currently a buyers’ or sellers’ market?

A. I think it’s more of a buyers’ market. Listings are now picking up again and may rise further after JobKeeper and the bank payment holiday end at the end of September. At the same time immigration is basically stopped which has slashed underlying demand for housing by around 80,000 dwelling across Australia. This points to more downwards pressure on house prices into next year and we expect falls of around five to 10 per cent for capital cities with Sydney around -10 per cent. So things may be a bit weaker later this year.

Q. What do you see happening on the stock market over the next few months. Is it a good time to invest (I have just been made redundant and got a payout and am considering what to do with the money)? What sort of shares are better than others at the moment?

A. Australian shares fell 36.5 per cent to their March low. But after a 35 per cent rally from its 23 March low to its high on Tuesday, the Australian share market was a bit extended and due for a pause or correction. So too with global markets (the US had rallied 44 per cent). This correction may now be underway with worries about a second wave of COVID cases in some US states. However, assuming coronavirus does not get out of control again (and I think we have done a very good job of controlling it in Australia) then this is likely to be just a correction and the rising trend will resume sometime in the months ahead as the economy continues to recover and interest rates remain low. Right now the market is still down 18 per cent or so from its all time high and generally speaking recessions are a good time to invest in shares and other assets that then benefit from the eventual recovery. Of course there are no guarantees as to what the share market will and timing this is always hard though so averaging in over several months makes some sense. I can only make general comments though – the best approach may be to seek out a financial planner for specific advice as to your best approach.

Q. How long do you think the recession will last and what will happen to property prices?

A. I think the recession is already over with the low point being the most intense period of the COVID shutdown in April. Since then we a have seen an easing in the lockdown and the economy has started to recover – evident in more people in shops, cafes, going away on the long weekend, etc. But because the focus is on quarterly GDP data, June quarter GDP will still be down on the March quarter very sharply and the recovery won’t become evident till the September quarter GDP data. That said many Australian’s won’t fell a full recovery for a while yet because the unemployment rate will take several years to fall back to the five per cent level we saw earlier this year. In fact with the end of JobKeeper and enhanced JobSeeker in September it may get worse in October before it gets better. But at least with the economy starting to grow again unemployment should be falling later this year. Property prices lag the economy a bit and we see them having five to 10 per cent downside ahead for Australian capital cities, and around 10 per cent downside in Sydney reflecting the ending of JobKeeper and the bank payment holiday later this year and the collapse in immigration.

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A new strategy to combat influenza A and Zika virus


Leuven researchers have deployed synthetic amyloids to trigger protein misfolding as a strategy to combat the influenza A and Zika virus.

Amyloids are particular protein assemblies with properties similar to silk, that serve numerous functions. They also form upon protein misfolding resulting in protein inactivation.

Frederic Rousseau and Joost Schymkowitz (VIB-KU Leuven) used these properties to invent synthetic amyloid peptides that can be tailored to switch-off the function of desired target proteins.

These peptides, termed Pept-ins, already proved to be a valuable approach to tackle bacterial pathogens or slow down tumor growth. Now, Schymkowitz and Rousseau’s team wanted to explore whether pept-ins could also be used to inactivate viral proteins and thereby interfere with viral replication.

The researchers designed two Pept-ins encoding virus-specific amyloid sequences identified in influenza A and Zika virus proteins, respectively. In collaboration with Xavier Saelens (VIB-UGent) and Johan Neyts (KU Leuven), they tested the antiviral properties of these molecules.

We found that each amyloid interferes with the replication of the corresponding virus. For influenza A we show that our synthetic amyloid accumulates at the site of infection and interferes with viral replication in mice. The amyloid binds to the viral target protein, forcing the protein into a non-functional conformation. Influenza B is not affected by this Pept-in, highlighting the sequence specificity of this interaction.”


Emiel Michiels, PhD Student in the lab of Schymkowitz and Rousseau

The new antiviral applications broaden the therapeutic potential of the Pept-in technology platform, which is explored by Aelin Therapeutics–a spin-off company based on Schymkowitz and Rousseau’s research. The researchers hope to investigate whether the same approach also work to target other types of viruses.

Source:

Journal reference:

Michiels, E., et al. (2020) Reverse engineering synthetic antiviral amyloids. Nature Communications. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16721-8.





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Jacinda Ardern to join national cabinet meeting as Australia, New Zealand share coronavirus strategy | World news


New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, will join Tuesday’s meeting of Australia’s national cabinet to discuss approaches to managing the coronavirus and Australia’s CovidSafe app.

Scott Morrison, who has been in regular dialogue with leaders during the pandemic, invited Ardern to join Tuesday’s national cabinet discussion with state premiers last week. Morrison and the premiers will meet twice this week to consider easing some of the restrictions imposed to flatten the curve of infections, with announcements expected on Friday.

Australia and New Zealand have both deployed successful strategies to manage the pandemic, although New Zealand’s lockdown has been more stringent than Australia’s.

New Zealand on Monday reported no new cases of Covid-19 for the first time in a month. The country has recently eased restrictions from level four to level three.

Ardern said in late April community transmission had now ceased in New Zealand. But she said isolated cases would continue to pop up and would continue “being stamped out” until a vaccine was found.


New Zealand to ease lockdown after ‘stopping wave of destruction’ – video

Last week, Morrison said he had been in dialogue with Ardern about relaxing travelling restrictions between the two countries.

“If there’s any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that’s New Zealand,” Morrison told reporters on Thursday.

“We have similar trajectories. Their restrictions have been far greater. Our [coronavirus] case response has been the same, if not better, than New Zealand.”

Morrison has been keen to project that Australia is now on a path to easing some of the domestic restrictions to enforce social distancing, and has also pressed for school students to return to classroom learning.

The states have hastened slowly on reopening schools, with Victoria refusing to switch course until the state has conducted mass testing over the next week.

The federal education minister, Dan Tehan, launched a swingeing political attack on the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, on Sunday, accusing him of taking a “sledgehammer” to education.

Tehan withdrew his comments a couple of hours later after Victoria queried whether he had overstepped the mark, and announced it would close a school campus because a teacher had returned a positive test for Covid-19. The federal education minister later blamed the outburst on “frustration”.

The closure of schools has been a persistent source of tension between the jurisdictions, but Andrews told reporters in Melbourne on Monday the national cabinet continued to work well, was taking the advice of “experts” and would not let “personal frustrations” get in the way of good decision-making.

“Comments were made yesterday morning, a statement was issued, that was the end of the matter as far as I was concerned … while they were out doing that, I tell you what we were doing – testing 13,000 people,” Andrews said Monday morning.

He told reporters he had not heard from Tehan, but was “not particularly worried” about him either.

Andrews also confirmed there was a new cluster of Covid-19 infections at a meat processing facility in Victoria.



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Hostplus CIO Sam Sicilia’s super high risk strategy faces its toughest test


But now, with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy and emergency government legislation enabling out-of-work Australians to draw down on their super savings well before retirement, the former business lecturer’s approach is being put to the test.

Figures show there have been more than 900,000 applications for the early access to super scheme totalling more than $7.5 billion since it opened two weeks ago. Hostplus processed 84,613 of those claims worth $603 million in the first week alone.

Proponents argue that unlisted assets provide diversification from listed markets such as shares and also deliver superior returns over the long term. But they are also much harder to sell in a downturn.

And for Hostplus this appears to be a problem.

Faith in technology

Blackbird Ventures founder Niki Scevak first met Sicilia in 2015 at the fund’s William Street office in Melbourne. Scevak had made the same pitch to every superannuation fund in the country and was rejected by almost all of them.

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Blackbird was looking for the “most ambitious Australians” to finance companies that Scevak said could become the best in the world. Sicilia was enthusiastic about the concept from the first meeting, Scevak says, and the wider Hostplus team was ahead of the curve in recognising the “renaissance” in Australia’s startup scene.

“There was a shared belief that Australia can create great technology companies and Sam, Neil [Stanford] and the team at Hostplus are certainly believers that it’s possible.”

Since that meeting, Hostplus has invested more than $100 million with Blackbird and over $1 billion more across about 30 venture funds including Square Peg Capital, Artesian, Safar Partners, Carthona Capital and Carnegie Venture Capital.

Its early exposure through Blackbird to local startups with billion-dollar valuations including $4.7 billion design platform Canva, employee tracking service CultureAmp and workplace safety software provider SafetyCulture remain poised to pay off handsomely.

Hostplus declined to comment for this story and Sicilia was not available for an interview. But the man’s passion for disruptive technology and investment philosophy was made clear in a Bloomberg interview in 2019. “We know unlisted assets provide downside protection from the volatility of equity markets,” Sicilia said. “And so we take advantage of that characteristic, and that’s what drives this fund.”

Petre is confident the super sector will not retreat from VC investing due to the current liquidity issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “When you get away from ranting headlines and unpack it, good venture firms can hold their heads up high compared to the best performing private equity or credit funds,” he says.

Once in a hundred year event

Jeremy Colless, the chief executive of another VC firm Artesian, says a well-diversified alternatives portfolio can bring enormous rewards to members. “For every risk, there is a price,” he says.”If you ignore what’s going on in VC, you do so at your own peril. Technology companies now pretty much rule the world.”

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Colless says Hostplus was a natural fit for VC because it has one of the youngest member demographics. “If the purpose of super is to invest for the long term, then his investors have 30 plus years until retirement. He [Sicilia] was in a position where it was highly appropriate to collect the illiquidity premium.”

But that very demographic could now be the fund’s Achilles heel. The typical Hostplus member works in hospitality, sport or tourism – among the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus– meaning the fund has less money coming in and the higher potential for withdrawals.

Hostplus rushed to increase its cash reserves from just $530 million in September to more than $6 billion it has now. An out-of-cycle valuation resulted in Hostplus’ $1.04 billion investments in VC dropping by 15 per cent and the fund recently updated its product disclosure statement to highlight its powers to suspend cash redemptions. Chief executive David Elia has persistently defended the fund’s liquidity.

Funds including $100 billion First State Super and healthcare fund Hesta began dipping their toes into VC investing around 2012, but none as forcefully as Hostplus.

Colless says the startups in VC funds are better placed to weather a recession than larger companies and pointed to the years following the global financial crisis when many major US tech companies hit their strides. He acknowledged companies in Artesian’s VC fund are struggling right now but says this was “no different from any other industry”.

“The great thing about startups is they are small, nimble and innovative so they are probably far better positioned to address the new world on the other side of this crisis,” he says.

Blackbird’s Scevak says selling in financial markets has been indiscriminate and investors who stay the course will be rewarded. “The largest companies of the past decade are not going to be the largest companies of the next decade.”

Deloitte’s head of super Russell Mason did not want to comment on Hostplus specifically but said “armchair” criticism of investment strategies were unhelpful. “I really do believe this is a one in hundred year event. It’s very unfair to say people should have been expecting this.”

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Mudgee could host games and teams as part of NRL strategy to restart season


Updated

April 21, 2020 16:48:22

A plan being hatched inside the walls of rugby league headquarters could see Mudgee host games in a modified NRL competition.

Key points:

  • Mudgee is no stranger to the NRL, hosting City-Country Origin, the Charity Shield and regular-season fixtures in recent years
  • The town could be used as a base for one of four proposed “bubbles”, in which four teams could play each other three times
  • Officials are divided over whether it is too soon to relocate teams and still protect the community and the players

The ABC understands the tourist town in central-west New South Wales has been flagged as a possible site to host teams and games when the season resumes.

It is one of many options on the table.

The Australian Rugby League Commission met Tuesday to discuss its May 28 restart.

Mudgee could be used as a base for one of the four proposed “bubble” communities to be built in accordance with the Federal Government’s strict isolation policy.

Each bubble would have four teams that would potentially play each other three times.

Mudgee’s stadium is suited to the model as it can be blocked off from the town.

No stranger to NRL

Mudgee has hosted the City v Country Origin, the Charity Shield and regular-season fixtures in recent years at its Glen Willow Regional Sports Complex.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said regional areas would play a key role in a proposal being finalised by rugby league officials, despite advising people against travelling to the regions for holidays.

“You are already allowed to travel to the regions for work, so if you look at the sport of the NRL, it is an industry that is a job for those players, so it is work-related,” he said.

In a statement, the Mid-Western Regional Council said it would “happily consider hosting NRL teams and games provided all necessary measures were taken in accordance with social-distancing guidelines to protect the community and the teams”.

But Federal Minister for Regional Health Mark Coulton said opening the regions too soon could have a negative impact.

“We need to make sure that there’s the right protocols in place to make sure the community feels safe,” he said.

“At this stage I don’t think we are there.”

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Locals have their say

Many ABC Western Plains audience members agreed with Mr Coulton.

“We’d need to make a huge amount of money to justify the risk of bringing COVID-19 to the bush,” Chris from Mudgee wrote.

“If the NRL wants to save itself, let it take the disease risk.”

The NRL would not confirm if it had ruled out using regions for games or team bases.

The New Zealand Warriors were the first team to request a regional home base at Lennox Head.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George had applied to federal and state authorities for an exemption from the 14-day quarantine policy for international arrivals.

If granted, George said his team would train at the Lake Ainsworth sport and recreation centre.

What you need to know about coronavirus:

Topics:

sport,

rugby-league,

nrl,

regional-development,

health,

covid-19,

diseases-and-disorders,

community-and-society,

regional,

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First posted

April 21, 2020 16:43:26



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