Wallabies warned to beware warm Irish welcome

Ewen McKenzie has predicted a “desperate and attritional” Ireland will meet the Wallabies at Aviva Stadium this weekend.
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The Australians flew into Dublin – for so long a favourite touring destination for the Wallabies – on Sunday.

But any lingering euphoria from their seven-try rout of Italy at the weekend was well and truly put to bed as McKenzie made clear the task ahead.

“The reality is we’ve been OK at knocking over teams behind us but we have to do be better at knocking over teams ahead of us,” the Wallabies coach said.

“The teams we’re about to play aren’t ahead of us [in the rankings] but they could be if we don’t get it right. We have to be able to compete in that environment.”

McKenzie is hugely fond of Dublin, having spent two weeks here in the knock-out stages of the 1991 World Cup.

But his experiences in one of the most hospitable northern hemisphere rugby cities mean there are no Guinness factory tours on the official schedule this week.

“We’re well aware that they’ll host us really well and say nice things about us but when we get on the field it’s a different story,” McKenzie said.

“We don’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security; there’s never been an easy game played [here] at all, not in my memory.”

After a balmy week in northern Italy, the Wallabies will have to adjust of daily tops of 10 degrees and frequent showers.

The Test this weekend will more closely resemble Australia’s nightmare against England than their dream run in Turin.

Ireland marks the halfway point of the five-Test tour. Plenty of Wallabies have played plenty of rugby, and McKenzie signalled he would rest players during training to ensure they were fresh for the weekend.

He also flagged straight swaps in certain positions, where bench depth allowed it.

“I think [Ireland] will try and play us into a space, it will be desperate and attritional in that sense,” McKenzie predicted. “But by the same token I think their coach has a little bit of expectation around [the fact that] they’re going to express themselves with the ball.”

Ireland’s recent high water mark – apart from mauling Australia in the World Cup – was their 2009 Six Nations grand slam victory.

But after that glorious season of nine wins, one draw and not a single loss, victory has been harder and harder to come by.

New coach Joe Schmidt has come in with promises – much like McKenzie – to reinvigorate Ireland in attack.

A five-try performance against a depleted Samoa was, as Schmidt said, “a super exercise”.

The real test is old foes Australia, who are not at their peak, and then the big dogs of world rugby, the All Blacks.

“Everyone’s going to see us as an opportunity. They’ll look at the win loss [record], and say it’s a good time to play us,” McKenzie said.

“I don’t know beyond that. They’re in a situation where they won the Six Nations [in 2009] and then every year they’ve won fewer games … so they’ll be looking to climb the mountain themselves.

“They’ve got their own backyard to be looking at. From a confidence point of view, we know what they’re aiming at. Hopefully they’re concentrating on New Zealand.”

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Ashes 2013: Ryan Harris backs George Bailey to be a Test success

George Bailey is ready to make the leap from limited-overs sensation to the Test arena, according to Australia’s pace leader Ryan Harris.
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The 31-year-old Tasmania captain has been heavily tipped to be named in the Australian team on Tuesday for the opening match of the Ashes series next week, an honour that would make him the country’s 436th Test cricketer.

It is a squad captain Michael Clarke predicted, on Monday, was full of ”no-brainers”, all but picking itself. But, for Bailey, selection against England would be the culmination of a long-held ambition.

Nine years after his first-class debut, he was considered for a berth on Australia’s tour of India earlier this year but, after a Sheffield Shield season in which he averaged only 18, his inclusion could not be justified.

Form, however, is anything but an issue for him at present, even if it is with a different coloured ball.

Bailey’s 478 runs in six games, at an average of 95.6, lit up Australia’s one-day series in India and rammed home what he has been quietly arguing with the bat since his ODI debut 20 months ago: that he can be an international player to be reckoned with.

Australia are searching for a middle-order rock that can go some way towards replicating what another late Test bloomer, Mike Hussey, was able to provide and Bailey, who has been in competition with state colleague Alex Doolan for a maiden call-up in Brisbane, will be hoping he can be it.

”I think he’s ready for it,” Harris said. ”I think he’s in the form of his life. He’s done very well in the one-day arena and just bowling to him last week [in the Shield match between Queensland and Tasmania] … he just looks solid.

”He’s obviously got his game where he wants it to be and he’s on top of his game. If someone is like that and is in form, I think it [doesn’t matter] what form of the game you’re playing, it’s the same result – you’ve still got to watch the ball and hit the ball and that’s what he’s doing.”

The great-great-grandson of George Herbert Bailey, a Tasmanian cricketer who toured England in 1878, Bailey is rated for his leadership qualities; the attribute behind his shock elevation to the Twenty20 captaincy two summers ago when he had not yet played for Australia.

Harris said Bailey’s modest return in first-class cricket last season should be overlooked given his recent output.

”Sometimes you have to forget about averages and, at this point in time, with such a big series, you’ve got to pick your best players to be in those positions,” he said. ”He’s one of those guys at the moment.”

Elsewhere, the Australian squad was expected to have few surprises, with David Warner retained at the top of the order after an explosive start to the season and Mitchell Johnson to join Harris and Peter Siddle in the attack after also starring in India.

Likely Australia team for first Test in Brisbane:

Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Ben Hilfenhaus/James Faulkner.

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Ashes 2013: MitchellJohnson to go for Poms’ throats

Mitchell Johnson says he is bowling faster than he ever has, and has vowed to give Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook a good going over with the short ball in the first Test.
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And if the left-armer, who is set to receive an Ashes recall on Tuesday, cannot send England’s linchpins packing, then hurting them would be the second option, he said.

Trott received a sneak peek of what he can come to expect from Johnson next week in Brisbane during the one-day international series in September, when he was hit on the head by a searing bouncer and also lost his wicket to another short ball.

”I look at the England one-day series and really went hard at a few of those players, in particular Trott. I think he’s come out and said he’s not worried about the short ball, but we saw what he was like in the one-day series, he definitely didn’t like it,” Johnson said.

”There are guys in their team who we’ll definitely go after.”

Cook, the England captain, can also expect to receive some rough stuff from the fiery and rejuvenated Johnson, who has twice broken Graeme Smith’s hands and last summer shattered Kumar Sangakkara’s finger.

”If I can get a few of those rearing balls towards the ribs or those throat balls and if he gets in the way of it that’s his own fault,” Johnson said. ”You’d rather get the wicket more than anything, you get a lot of joy out of that when you get a player like that out. I [had] a look at last summer and Sangakkara was an example. I’ve busted his finger and he’s one of their best players, so they were one short and I got a couple of those in the middle order. If you can’t get them out, that’s the second option.”

Johnson could well be the fastest bowler in world cricket at the moment. During the recent limited-overs series in India, which was dominated by the batsmen, Johnson frequently broke the 150km/h mark, once reaching as high as 155km/h. The scary thing for England is Johnson was not even trying to bowl fast. Not surprisingly, batsmen are not exactly lining up to face him in the nets.

”It was something I wasn’t actually working on in my time off, I was a little bit surprised that my speeds were getting there,” he said. ”I felt like it was coming out of my hands at good pace. When you speak to some of your teammates and those you play against, they give you a good indication it’s good pace.

”I don’t think I’ve consistently hit the 150s. If I can do that and swing the ball it becomes a big weapon.”

The great Dennis Lillee has also been working closely with Johnson, encouraging him on long runs to help him build the fitness required for the longer run-up he has used since coming back last year from a career-threatening toe injury. ”When I sit back and look at it, I felt like my run-up rhythm was the best it’s ever been, I’ve lengthened my run-up since coming back from my toe injury.

”That’s made a big difference. I just feel like I’m getting better momentum through the crease and being able to hit those speeds without applying myself out of the water or forcing it, it felt pretty good.”

Johnson said he had also been used in shorter spells, which allows him to bowl at a higher intensity.

”If I was bowling eight-over spells I wouldn’t be able to bowl at that pace for a long period of time,” he said. ”Maybe I could get through a Test match doing it like I could during the week [last week] but I don’t think I could sustain it for the whole summer.”

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Racing NSW, government combine to boost autumn carnival

John Messara: “If you are interested in racing, you will want to be in Sydney for this week”. Photo: Louise KennerleyThe state government and Racing NSW are set to deliver a long-promised boost to the Randwick autumn carnival with huge prizemoney injections to attract the racing world to Sydney.
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And it is hoped that one week of racing at Randwick in April will come to rival the eight-day Melbourne Cup carnival at Flemington, which is the crowning jewel of Melbourne’s racing calendar.

The concept has been in the pipeline for more than two years and will be announced by Racing Minister George Souris at Racing NSW headquarters on Tuesday.

A small committee has been working on the meeting for the past year and former Australian Turf Club chief operating officer Ian Mackay was appointed the chief executive of the series last January.

Racing officials were extremely tight-lipped about the final make-up of the series on Monday, claiming that “it could still fall over” if it was to appear in the press.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys said at the time of Mackay’s appointment he could not reveal much about the series because of ”commercially sensitive negotiations”.

“This new race series will complement the wonderful facility that is being developed at Royal Randwick and give Sydney a world class racing carnival. The hard work now begins for us to deliver this, ideally in time for 2014,” V’landys said in January.

The Herald understands the carnival will target the best horses from Asia and North America and Canterbury racecourse is set to become a quarantine centre for the overseas visitors.

Canterbury is scheduled to hold its last meting for the autumn on March 12 and will not race again until April 23, which will allow it to be used as a training and quarantine venue by any international stables.

Racing NSW chairman John Messara told a select group of owners and breeders during this year’s Easter sales in April about the concept.

”If you are interested in racing, you will want to be in Sydney for this week,” he said. ”I would think we would get horses from Japan and North America to compete at the meeting.”

It is believed the funding will come from a revamp of the way the NSW government distributes funds under its agreement with Tabcorp, bringing it into line with the Victorian model, under which racing in that state picks up about $85 million a year more than its northern neighbour.

”If we can get this plan in place it will be an incredible boost for the industry in NSW,” said Messara about the difference in funding levels during his address in April.

”We have been working on this for quite some time and it would make NSW the leading open jurisdiction in the world in terms of returns to owners.

”We can’t match some of the closed markets in Asia but in the next couple of years it will be great to be part of the industry in NSW.”

The focus will be the races at Randwick during the autumn carnival – the main group 1s, including the Doncaster, the T.J. Smith, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Sydney Cup, are likely to get significant boosts in stakes. The announcement on Tuesday is expected to make it clear whether the goal of a start next year has been reached.

However, there are also plans to use some of the additional funding in grassroots racing around the state.

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Michael Clarke takes swing at ‘naive’ former coach Mickey Arthur

Michael Clarke has opened up for the first time about his rift with Mickey Arthur, saying he was ”pissed off” at the former coach during the Ashes and labelling the South African naive for the way he handled the aftermath to his sacking.
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Launching The Ashes Diary in Sydney on Monday, the Test captain said he believed Australia had emerged as a stronger group before next week’s first Test against England at the Gabba.

The book does not contain the same fireworks that catapulted Ricky Ponting’s autobiography into the headlines last month but Clarke does not spare Arthur, who was sensationally cut as head coach less than three weeks before the series in England.

Clarke revealed he was furious when details of Arthur’s subsequent unfair dismissal action against Cricket Australia were made public in July, just before the second Test at Lord’s. According to a TV station’s report, Arthur’s claim to the Fair Work Commission said that Clarke had described Shane Watson and his faction as a ”cancer” on the team, and that the coach had become the ”meat in the sandwich” in the stand-off between Clarke and Watson.

Clarke strongly defends his relationship with Watson in his Ashes diary but takes aim at Arthur.

”I’m filthy. I had a long talk with [his wife] Kyly about it tonight, pouring out my frustrations,” Clarke writes in his diary entry of July 16. ”I’ve supported Mickey through thick and thin, and it pisses me off that this has come up now.

”I sent him a text to tell him as much. He’d said that he didn’t want it to come out publicly, but somehow it leaked out anyway. If Mickey didn’t know this was going to happen, he’s been naive. I still can’t believe he would allow this to happen to the team members, who had no part in his dismissal. As I’ve said until I’m blue in the face, Shane and I get on fine, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. That is healthy and natural. I am frustrated about this continually being brought up. The important thing is that our relationship has improved out of sight.”

Arthur, who strongly denies he or his lawyers leaked details of his claim, reached a confidential settlement with CA in August.

Promoting his book on Monday, Clarke said the off-field controversy that dogged Australia in England – from David Warner’s nightclub altercation with Joe Root in Birmingham to Arthur’s sacking in Bristol – had strengthened them before the return series.

”There was a number of incidents on and off the field where this team could have fallen apart and broke down. We could have lost the series 5-0,” Clarke said. ”But I think everything that happened to the team has brought us closer, and I really believe that. I really believe that the work we put in in the UK will hold us in great stead, and I believe we’ll get some rewards this summer. I think the team is in a fantastic place. The feeling in the group is outstanding. I know all the guys are looking forward to Thursday week.”

Clarke declared he would not be changing his attacking captaincy style this summer as Australia seek to turn around a year in which they have won only one of 10 Tests.

”I don’t have that negativity in me to be honest,” he said. ”It’s about trying to win games of cricket. I’ll do everything I can to help our team win as many games of cricket as possible, and sometimes you risk losing.”

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Ashes 2013: Peter Siddle wants pacemen to be kept fresh

Stalwart spearhead Peter Siddle has defended the resting of fast bowlers before a busy Ashes schedule, saying critics of the decision don’t understand the demands on modern pacemen.
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Former Test greats Geoff Lawson and Glenn McGrath have criticised the resting of promising NSW speedster Josh Hazlewood from the just completed Sheffield Shield match against Victoria, continuing calls from past players for quicks to bowl more to avoid the injuries that have sidelined pacemen Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird, Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Starc.

Siddle and fellow Ashes linchpin Ryan Harris will be rested from this week’s Shield games before next week’s first Test in Brisbane, and the 28-year-old Victorian said that made sense.

”That’s been the plan for a long time and … touch wood, everything goes all right. It is a five-Test series, so to be backing up continuously throughout the summer … [you need] a bit of a break. Have that now and get ready.”

Siddle said it was ”disappointing” that Lawson, the NSW fast-bowling coach, did not understand why such rests were necessary.

”The simple thing is that the games have increased. There’s a lot more games now than Geoff Lawson would have played,” Siddle told SEN on Monday. ”That’s the thing that annoys me a little bit. He’s had a long run of injuries throughout his career. It was said that his career lasted 10 years, and Mitchell Johnson played Geoff Lawson’s career in 3½. That’s a comparison of the games difference and where we’re at.”

In June, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said, ”You won’t see any of that rotation policy,” during this summer’s Ashes series, although selectors would still ”give players opportunities” in international limited-overs cricket to see how they responded.

Criticism of the policy reached fever pitch last summer after Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were left out of a series-deciding Test in Perth against South Africa, days after nearly bowling their team to victory in Adelaide, and Starc was stood down from the Boxing Day line-up the week after bowling Australia to victory against Sri Lanka in Hobart.

The same day Sutherland made his comments, CA’s high performance manager, Pat Howard, seemed to contradict his boss.

”The workload management policy is still in place,” he said. ”The Ashes is obviously an extremely important series for us, and the selectors will select the best players available for every Test.

”However, if players are injured or we are not confident a player will finish the match, the selectors will consider this. Ultimately a player needs to be able to perform for an entire match.”

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Donation to help grieving families

WHEN Shellie O’Connell lost her third child, Lachlan, in 2002, when he was just three weeks old, her motivation to get out of bed was her two young daughters.
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Lachlan was born two months early and eventually succumbed to non-immune hydrops, or a build-up of fluid.

It took months before Mrs O’Connell realised that SIDS and Kids was an organisation that also assisted families who had lost children from non-SIDS causes, including miscarriage, stillbirth, in palliative care, accidents and drownings. When she visited its Hunter chapter’s office in Stewart Avenue, Hamilton, it was life-changing.

‘‘I didn’t feel so alone, I was talking to other families who had been through similar things, because at the time you are in a bubble, floating along, the world is still happening and you just want everything to stop.’’ Mrs O’Connell soon began volunteering at the drop-in centre, and when she learnt she was pregnant, once again found solace there.

Mrs O’Connell, whose fourth child, Cameron, will turn nine next week, works as a peer support representative at the centre. She was on hand yesterday with co-worker and SIDS and Kids Hunter Region general manager Kate Middleton when the centre received a $25,000 cheque from Beyond Bank (formerly Companion Credit Union).

Beyond chief executive Robert Keogh said the customer-owned bank had donated $8million to charities, not-for-profit organisations and community groups since 2007.

Mrs Middleton, a mother-of-three whose first child, Hamish, died of whooping cough, said the funds would enable the centre to employ a fund-raising person, allowing staff to focus on education campaigns.

SUPPORT: Shellie O’Connell found solace at SIDS and Kids in Hamilton. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

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No pause on Levee project

MAITLAND mayor Peter Blackmore has dismissed fears the city’s $14.7million Levee project could stall over a political fight.
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The major two-part development, which its hoped would provide a facelift and injection of life to the ailing Heritage Mall precinct, is earmarked to take a step forward tonight.

Councillors will confidentially discuss a shortlist of contractors to oversee the riverside re-invention, inviting those who made the cut to submit a formal tender.

Work on the Levee is scheduled to start in early 2014 but the project had fallen under a cloud after a major portion of funding was caught in political crossfire.

The Newcastle Herald has reported the federal government labelled $7million Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon announced for the project shortly before the election a ‘‘hoax’’.

Mr Fitzgibbon has slammed the Liberal government for failing to honour the commitment.

Cr Blackmore said the 2014 start date for the Levee was unchanged and the council would ‘‘make a determination’’ on funding.

Potentially moving to the next stage on Thursday by selecting a head contractor sent a clear message about the project’s future, he said.

‘‘We are giving a commitment it will be going ahead,’’ Cr Blackmore said.

He said many businesses had prepared for work in that timeframe, a commitment the council was not taking lightly.

‘‘We are certainly very conscious to make sure we can stick to that [early 2014] timeframe,’’ Cr Blackmore said.

Maitland councillors unanimously voted to forge ahead with the two-stage $14.7million project in June.

It would open the mall to traffic as well as creating a ‘‘river link’’ structure to connect the shopping promenade with the riverbank.

FACELIFT: A council concept image of the Levee project.

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Boom times ahead

Boomers head coach Andrej Lemanis conducts a coaching clinic at Maitland Federation Centre, Maitland. Pictures: Jonathan CarrollANDREJ Lemanis has been handed the keys to Australian basketball’s new Ferrari.
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A few of the colts still need breaking in but Lemanis feels privileged, rather than pressured, to be sitting in the driver’s seat with all that horsepower under the hood.

One of only a select few to have won National Basketball League titles as a player (South East Melbourne Magic 1992) and coach (New Zealand Breakers 2010-12), 44-year-old Lemanis was appointed Boomers coach in April after guiding the Breakers to a third-straight championship.

He navigated the first road block in August, steering the Boomers to a 2-0 sweep of New Zealand in the Oceania qualifying series to secure a spot in the FIBA World Cup in Spain next September, and his tenure includes that tournament and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Lemanis has at his disposal a core of players strutting their stuff in professional leagues in the United States and Europe, and others from the US college system, meaning Australian-based NBL players will struggle to make the cut when he trims his World Cup squad to 12 in July.

Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Matthew Dellavedova (Cleveland Cavaliers) and San Antonio’s Patrick Mills and Aron Baynes are in the National Basketball Association.

Joe Ingles (Israel), Brad Newley (Spain), David Barlow (Poland) and David Andersen and Ryan Broekhoff (both Turkey) are also “balling” on the world stage, and teenagers Dante Exum and Ben Simmons have been projected as first-round NBA draft picks.

Eighteen-year-old Exum and 17-year-old Simmons, a former Newcastle Hunters junior, are Australian-born sons of former NBL American imports Cecil Exum and Dave Simmons.

Other retired former Americans who stayed to raise families Down Under have inadvertently provided the Boomers with a nursery of second-generation athletes to pick from.

“It’s a really exciting time to be involved with the Boomers. I said when I got the job, and I still believe it, that we’ve got a good core of athletes there that have been together for a while,” Lemanis told the Newcastle Herald.

“If you look at Joe Ingles, Brad Newley, Patrick Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, all those guys are in their mid-20s, so it’s not like they’re at the end of their careers. They’re still in the prime of their careers, and someone like ‘Delly’ is just starting his international career.

“So to have that as a core of the group, and then to have these exciting young guys come through, who add this other special element with their athleticism and ability to just make plays out of nothing because of what they are athletically, that puts us in a really good position.”

Lemanis served his national senior-team apprenticeship as an assistant to Brett Brown at the 2010 World Championships in Turkey and 2012 Olympic Games in London. Brown is now head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.

After the Tall Blacks series, where Exum and Simmons made their Boomers debuts, Lemanis went to Europe to check in with the likes of Newley, Ingles and Nathan Jawai, who will be sidelined for up to six months after suffering a neck trauma injury last month.

Lemanis does not anticipate the Boomers playing together again until they gather in Europe in August for training camp and trials before the World Cup.

“It’s now about staying in contact with those guys and monitoring how they’re going, and keeping a Boomers element to what they’re doing day-to-day on their own games and their skill development,” Lemanis said.

“We want them to understand that we’re here to support them, and if they need something from us, we’re only a phone call away and we’ll help them however we can.

“We want them to know that we can continue to help them and service them from afar – paying attention to them, and visiting with them to see their environments and see how they’re doing.

“I was lucky enough to do that when I went over to visit with some of our guys in Europe in September, but the reality is everyone’s in their own professional environment until the middle of June, then we will have a camp towards the end of July.

“At the end of that camp we will cut our squad to 12, pick our team, then we’ll head to Europe in early August and base ourselves out of Europe and seek some good quality competition and games leading into the World Cup.”

Whether 29-year-old Bogut, who has not played for Australia since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, suits up at the World Cup or the Rio Olympics remains to be seen, but Lemanis said Australia’s only No.1 NBA draft pick was keen to wear the green and gold again.

“Bogut’s skill level would be a tremendous asset to add to the group,” he said.

“I’ve had good conversations with Andrew, he’s certainly committed to the Boomers’ program, and he wants to be a Boomer. He’s just had an unbelievably unlucky run with injuries.

“He needs to be comfortable within himself that he can get through an NBA schedule – 82 games plus play-offs – have an off-season playing with the Boomers, then get through another 82-game season plus play-offs.

“He needs to be confident that his body can handle that but it would be very exciting for us, obviously, if he was able to make himself available.”

Bogut’s shocking run of bad luck, and the unavailability of other first-choice players for different reasons at different times, has given others an opportunity to represent the Boomers.

Lemanis hopes that leaves him with some tough choices to make in nine months, when he has to name an Australian team to take on the world.

The Boomers were beaten in the quarter-finals by eventual Olympic gold medallists USA in London, having finished 10th at the World Championships in Turkey in 2010.

It is a far cry from the golden era when they were fourth at the Olympics of 1988, 1996 and 2000, but it seems the only way is up for the most athletically gifted squad in Boomers history.

“To have that depth, it’s obviously a good position to be in.

“The more pressure there is on those guys to keep their spot in the roster, the better positioned we are as a nation to do well.

“There’s going to be good players that miss out . . . because at the end of the day, the coach has got to make a call and you’re only allowed to pick 12. That’s a good position to be in, if you’re leaving out good players as opposed to putting players in because you have to have 12.”

● Lemanis held a coaching clinic at Maitland Federation Centre last night and will be guest speaker at Hunter Sports High’s presentation dinner at Wests New Lambton tonight.

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TOPICS: Activities aplenty  in November rain

HERE’S the scenario.
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You have friends staying from overseas, or interstate, or Sydney. You’ve looked forward to showing off the Hunter, your home, with its beaches and vineyards and urban cool, and did you tell them about the coffee? You did? Just checking.

But it’s raining, like it did yesterday and it’s meant to today. That’s speared your plans. As Guns N’ Roses once observed, kind of, it’s hard to see the Hunter in the cold November rain.

So what to do in a wet week, without resorting to laser tag at Charlestown Square?

Learn stuff at Newcastle Museum

The real fun lurks in the science wing. Hoist a car off the ground with a rope, or put your nephew in his place in the speed gun-timed tennis ball throw. Handy hint: limber up.

Lace up at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium

So your guests won’t find the romance of the rink at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Who cares? With fewer people on the ice, promotions like Friday Sk8 Night and the chance to catch a North Stars hockey game, you’ll feel like you’re in a winter wonderland designed by Torvill and Dean.

Dip-netting in the Hunter Wetlands

Just you, the birds and whatever ends up squirming in your net. Bring a raincoat.

A spot of culture at the Lock-Up

The current artists in residence are Paul Howard and David Matthews. One’s curated projects for the Tate Modern, the other’s written for Esquire and The Guardian.

Laser tag at Strike Bowling, Charlestown Square

Oh, all right. To quote Saul in Breaking Bad, drum roll, please… it’s laser tag! Rollicking fun in the Hunter’s retail hub.

There you are – a list guaranteed to speed up a wet week. Got a wet-weather tip? Let us know.

It makes horse sense

IF New York gets rid of the horse-drawn carriages that clip-clop through Central Park, can Newcastle have them?

Hear us out. New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, who sounds like a bit of a killjoy, has vowed to end the tradition ‘‘within the first week on the job’’. Meanwhile, our city’s rethinking its transport.

So alongside the blimp network devised by eight-year-old Oscar Wood (Topics, November 6), we propose a horse interchange at Wickham, Broadmeadow or wherever the rail line ends.

Imagine a twilight trot through Civic Park, past Bar Beach, or even down Hunter Street. Kids could arrive at their school formals in them, instead of Hummers. The council would find the streets brimming with free compost.

Hemp conspiracy

WE asked for conspiracy theories (Topics, November 11). Were you followed? Then come in, sit down, have a tin-foil hat.

Brian Casey, of Lemon Tree Passage, opened our eyes to the ‘‘hemp conspiracy’’. It goes like this, according to a website called Higher Perspective.

‘‘Marijuana is not dangerous. Pot is not harmful to the human body or mind … However, marijuana is very much a danger to the oil companies, alcohol, tobacco industries, and a large number of chemical corporations.’’

Lots of goods used to be made from hemp, you see, until big business with an interest in replacing it with their own products bankrolled a smear campaign against poor Mary Jane*.

‘‘It’s fair-dinkum, I think,’’ says Brian.

This all began with Topics’ bafflement at the opposition to fluoridated water in the Byron Shire, on the grounds that it’s mass medication.

Kevin Butters, of Lambton, thinks the good folk of Byron are indulging in mass daftness.

‘‘Isn’t that where the locals won’t immunise their kids?’’ says Kevin.

‘‘To the best of my knowledge most toothpaste contains fluoride, so what do they brush their teeth with?’’

* slang for marijuana

DON’T FRET: There are plenty of things to do in Newcastle when the heavens unleash.

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