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Wallabies planning for SBW’s selection

“He does provide some really strong points of difference which will provide opportunities for them, but also provide opportunities for us” … Wallabies coaching coordinator Tony McGahan.DESPITE the uncertainty over whether Sonny Bill Williams will play in the opening Bledisloe Cup match, the Wallabies are preparing for the dynamic All Blacks midfielder to be running onto ANZ Stadium on Saturday week.
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Whether Williams appears in the All Blacks colours depends on talks between the Panasonic club, where he will play in Japan, and the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Wallabies coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan said when the 30-man Australian squad assembled in Sydney yesterday, he assumed the All Blacks would do everything they could to have him playing, especially after his crucial role in the Chiefs’ first Super Rugby title triumph.

”We just have to wait and see, because they were ruling him out on Sunday. On Monday he was back in, and then today he could be ruled out again,” McGahan said. ”From the All Blacks perspective they are very keen to play him, and they’ll do everything they can to get him out on the field, because he has had a wonderful season.

”He does provide some really strong points of difference which will provide opportunities for them, but also provide opportunities for us.”

McGahan understood if the Panasonic-NZRU negotiations became complicated. ”I have worked in Japan and they can be quite clinical and demanding on what their expectations are.”

McGahan, who joined the Wallabies coaching staff this year, said management had been closely watching recent videos.

”He’s a real focal point of all the back lines he has been involved with, and certainly been a positive influence on the side he has played with this year. We’ve been looking at that, and coming up with a plan to counter it.”

The Williams influence aside, the Wallabies are not expecting any radical changes in the New Zealand approach this season, even if they have a new coach in Steve Hansen. Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans argued the top New Zealand provincial sides played ”a similar brand of football”. ”Obviously the Chiefs have

some special individuals with the likes of Sonny Bill, but beyond that there is a lot of consistency in the way they approach their work. And with Steve now in charge, I don’t think there will be a huge change in style because he has been part of the furniture for a fair while,” Deans said.

Deans is also relieved the Bledisloe Cup has reverted back to a three-Test series for the first time since 2006.

”It’s good to be involved in a series where you get a genuine outcome every year. It has been a long time. There used to be two fixtures a year, and then we went through a long period where there was four. I’d imagine for the general public it is unsatisfying to finish with a one-all or two-all draw, but one side still wins. That doesn’t quite sit right. To play three, with the knowledge that more than likely there will be a clear result, is great.

”And obviously mathematically it makes it a little more achievable as well.”

Deans confirmed that while Quade Cooper is likely to be available for the second Rugby Championship match, after playing club football in Brisbane on the weekend, James O’Connor and Pat McCabe will be missing until at least next month due to injury.

”James is making good progress, but we will not promote him before he is ready, particularly with the potential of him suffering a recurring hamstring injury. We have to make sure we take care of his long term future,” Deans said.

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Malthouse won’t travel to coach

MICK Malthouse has revealed he is interested in coaching again, but not at Port Adelaide, and has recommended the Power pursue forgotten former coach Terry Wallace.
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Malthouse, a three-time premiership coach, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Matthew Primus, with the Power keen to pursue an experienced replacement.

Malthouse said he would only coach a Victorian side and any overtures from Port would be a ”waste of time”.

Rodney Eade has emerged as the front-runner for the Port Adelaide role, but Malthouse was quick to turn the spotlight on Wallace, the former Western Bulldogs and Richmond coach.

Wallace coached the Bulldogs from 1996 to 2002, when he left on messy terms, and the Tigers from 2005 until late in the 2009 campaign.

Asked about the Power approaching Eade, Malthouse said: ”He has got experience, certainly a finals coach, he knows what it’s like in the big league … [but] I would look at Terry Wallace.”

Malthouse denied Wallace, a media commentator, had been out of the game for too long. ”No, because he is right over the top of the game. He has been watching the game,” he said on Adelaide radio.

”I know he has a hold on the game, he thinks about it very much in the terms probably I would, playing to players’ strengths.”

Wallace guided the Bulldogs to two preliminary finals but failed to feature in September with the Tigers.

”He is the sort of bloke that could bring discipline, a bit of flair where needed. He is a person players like. By and large you hear a lot of good stuff about Terry Wallace,” Malthouse said. Eade is now football and coaching strategist at Collingwood, helping first-season senior coach Nathan Buckley.

Malthouse said Port Adelaide should also consider Dean Laidley, the former North Melbourne coach who is now an assistant at St Kilda, and Peter Sumich, a long-time assistant at West Coast now with Fremantle. Sumich had a strong background but agreed he might not have the charisma possibly required for the top job.

Now working in the media, Malthouse said he would be interested in coaching again. ”The only way I would get back into coaching, it would have to be in Melbourne,” he said. ”That’s being selfish in many respects, but … probably for the right reasons.”

Malthouse said the new Port Adelaide coach would need up to seven years to transform the club. ”A coach that takes on a role like that, he is probably not going to get any more than three, maybe four [years], if he is worthy of it,” he said.

”You would need probably six or seven years to settle the dust, have a close look at what you have got, weigh up the draft – now it’s not going to be the barrier it was in the last couple of seasons – what players you have got of currency, what game structure you have got, how long is it going to take to reorganise the game structure if, in fact, it needs reorganising, what is [Travis] Boak doing.”

Interim Power coach Garry Hocking said he would not know whether to apply for the top job until after the season.

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Hyped ‘Hawk’ starts to spread his huge wings

BEING a first-round draft pick at a football club comes with a bit of pressure. It’s the world we live in – 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds expected to have an instant impact in AFL. Well, that is the the case for most. I was lucky, I was drafted alongside the much-hyped Tom Hawkins.
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‘Hawk’ had the public expectation to turn into a superstar within five minutes – a teenage key forward expected to manhandle and outsmart veteran defenders immediately. It was unfair and was never going to happen. It takes time. His first two games probably didn’t help him, he kicked three and four goals respectively. He was 110 kilograms, had never done a pre-season before and went from monstering boys while playing with Melbourne Grammar to playing against men.

At first, all the outside pressure from the media and football public didn’t bother him, it just happened around him while he took very little interest in it.

I find some teenage players are very naive about the fanfare associated with their performances. It’s like they are still just playing at school or TAC Cup but just with 60,000 people watching them. Over the course of Hawk’s short career, the outside pressure hasn’t really got to him. But the high standards that he has set for himself have probably paralysed him at times.

He has just continued to work hard. He’s had patience in his development, faith that he was being taught and coached the right way, and always believed the rest was going to take care of itself.

Hawk came back at the start of his third pre-season (2009) chiselled with skin folds under 45 millimetres. I’m not sure what it was but things had changed. He went from a likeable kid who had an easy-going attitude about most things in life to a man who didn’t waste a session when he trained. He ensures that every weights, skills, speed and conditioning session is done to the best of his ability and he is getting the most out of it. He is still working hard on game reviews and education sessions – however, we all know he dreads the thought of Chris Scott or Nige Lappin asking him a question in front of the boys.

He has a real addictive, caring personality that draws people to him. He is a loyal friend who is quickly becoming a leader of our footy club. Hawk rarely sits still if he is not training. He loves playing golf any chance he can get and if it’s not golf then he is rounding up a group of boys to go out for lunch. He is the butt of 90 per cent of the jokes and pranks that happen around the footy club. Especially if it comes to the quantity of food being eaten in our players’ lounge after training, or if someone feels his hygiene issues need attention.

He is a complete romantic to his long-term girlfriend Emma. This side to him gets a majority of us other boys in trouble with our girlfriends as we are constantly being told we don’t put in the effort Hawk does.

Over the weekend, I was asked several times how a guy who hands a ball to Stevie Johnson in a grand final because he has got himself into such a panic about his set-shot kicking for goal, ends up drilling a 55-metre goal after the siren to win a big game? The answer is easy. As a playing group we have told him we want him to go back and have a shot when in range. Hawk does more work then anyone with his goalkicking. He is one of the better ground kicks in our team.

I ran over to him quickly on Friday when he took that mark at the death because I knew he was capable of kicking it. At times his teammates/coaches have more belief in him then he has in himself.

Hawk is maturing as a player quicker then ever. Several times this year he has dragged us to victory. On the weekend we played a team we really respect and without arguably their best player they fought back from 51 points down. They are premiership favourites and going to be hard to beat. He delivered for us. With Hawk, what you see is what you get.

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First things first, players who err need support

ILLICIT drugs in sport are again in the spotlight after the activities of young Bulldog Tom Liberatore over the weekend.
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The AFL has a three-strikes policy, which means that players will suffer public consequences only after a third positive test. Debate on this issue and whether it is the best way to keep players on the right path will continue to simmer.

There has always been the doubt as to whether testing for recreational drugs is relevant and how appropriate the method is. The AFL would be an industry leader in the way it collects the data, maintains confidentiality and assists players who have tested positive through rehabilitation. The priority is, of course, education and giving the guilty parties the opportunity to get their lives back on track. The argument has been made, why wait until a third strike?

Drugs in sport can be put into four categories: performance-enhancing in competition; performance-enhancing out of competition; recreational drugs in competition; and recreational drugs out of competition.

It is widely accepted that performance-enhancing drugs, either in or out of competition, are not accepted. In fact, it is regarded as an appalling act of deception. The argument regarding recreational drugs is problematic and the jury is out as to whether their use can be deemed performance-enhancing – or enough to gain a significant edge over the competition.

The media attention surrounding Liberatore, accused of being in possession of an illicit substance, focuses on the effect on society of having an elite AFL player semi-conscious with a banned substance in his possession rather than why players need to use such means to ”enjoy” themselves. The AFL has done a good job providing education and all relevant data suggests its policy is working.

The recent example should not be one of, is the AFL’s policy relevant? But rather, what still needs to be done?

Before we as a community judge this young man, we must understand the parameters in which players have to perform their duties every week.

Are the expectations placed on young players too great? Are they not ready to become automatic role models? Is the draft age too young?

The simple answer might be that young men, a lot of money, social superiority and instant fame might not be the best mix.

The review of allowing players into the AFL must look at other ways to further educate them and have more mature players entering the AFL.

The AFL Players Association already has a mandatory induction camp where drugs, alcohol and treating women with respect are all covered. The AFLPA also provides players with yearly seminars, so they are very well educated.

The Bulldogs have insisted Liberatore take on full-time work. Perhaps this suggests they think this will help players have an appreciation of life away from football. If the age of AFL draftees was, say 20, they may have two years of employment under their belts. Does it then help them understand the meaning of a dollar and what is acceptable in society?

Life is not always about having a perfect, trouble-free path. Temptation is a dangerous curse.

Unfortunately, Liberatore has found himself in the wrong. But as a society, we will forgive and assist those who need it, provided their intentions are clear to make it right.

First, understand what has made this young man choose this path and then provide him with the education he needs to understand that this is something he does not need in order to have a good time with his mates.

The Secret Agent is one of the AFL’s 95 accredited agents.

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Pietersen hits out at politics

KEVIN Pietersen has hinted that dressing-room politics with the England and Wales Cricket Board are behind his raising the possibility of early retirement from Test cricket.
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Pietersen admitted that next week’s third Test against South Africa at Lord’s could be his last for England, although the ECB may decide that his farewell appearance came in the draw at Headingley after his outspoken comments.

”All will become clear after the next Test match, I am not going to say any more at this stage,” Pietersen said.

”There are things that I am trying to sort out in the dressing room, but it’s 100 per cent not about money.

”For me, the saddest part about this is that spectators just love watching me play and I love playing for England. But the politics is what I have to deal with personally and it’s tough for me in this dressing room. We will see.”

Pietersen also suggested he was disappointed that confidential details of his negotiations with the ECB over the possibility of being allowed to miss next summer’s Test series against New Zealand to play a full season in the Indian Premier League had become public.

”There’s always speculation. You can read my Twitter feed, you speculate about my life all day every single day,” he said. ”I am going to make some decisions that are going to make me very happy.

”It was blamed on me pre the Test series that I was grabbing headlines.

”Did I leak anything about the meetings I was having with the ECB? I never spoke to the media but it was me grabbing the headlines and journalists talking about me grabbing the headlines.

”I never spoke a single word about anything that happened behind closed doors. So you guys are always going to speculate and make me out to be the bad guy.”

England captain Andrew Strauss refused to be drawn on Pietersen’s comments or whether there was a problem in the England dressing room.

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Coleman battle going down to the wire

THIS year’s premiership race is shaping as the most unpredictable in a long time. The same could be said for the Coleman Medal.
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After 19 rounds, there are four leading contenders for the flag – Sydney (1st on the ladder), Adelaide (2nd), Collingwood (3rd) and Hawthorn (4th) – separated by not much, and then a sleeper (Geelong, 6th) which would have to come from a long way back. You would probably keep West Coast (5th) in the mix too.

If there is one club standing slightly above the rest, Hawthorn is it, provided the Hawks can put it all together when it counts.

Draw, then, the parallels with this season’s leading goalkickers.

There are four main contenders – Matthew Pavlich (55), Drew Petrie (52), Lance Franklin (51) and Jack Riewoldt (49) – with four rounds remaining.

The sleeper also comes from Geelong – Tom Hawkins on 47 – who will have to come from a long way back, and you would probably keep St Kilda’s Nick Riewoldt (46) in the mix too.

If there is a favourite, he also comes from Hawthorn – Lance Franklin – provided he gets back on the park and stays injury-free.

Even St Kilda goalsneak Stephen Milne (44) and Collingwood powerhouse Travis Cloke (42) are still close enough if they went on an end-of-season rampage.

There is nothing in it, and no one keeps a closer eye on how tight these things are more than the bookmakers.

”It’s certainly been one of the more intriguing and, can we say, challenging markets for us to operate this year,” TAB Sportsbet’s Adam Hamilton said.

Franklin was the man a month ago, and with the Hawks still to play crisis-hit Port Adelaide in Tasmania on Sunday and Gold Coast at the MCG the following week, he looms large in the run home.

Yet the superstar left-footer is no certainty to play this week and while he has been sidelined with a hamstring injury in the past month, others such as Pavlich and Petrie have made their move.

Pavlich has kicked 44 goals in the past nine games, which accounts for 38.5 per cent of the Dockers’ goals in that period – a staggering dominance of a forward line.

After round nine, he had just 11 goals and was a $251 shot for the Coleman. Now, he is equal favourite with Franklin.

Two-time Coleman medallist Fraser Gehrig said that Pavlich – regarded as perhaps the most versatile player in modern football – had benefited from coach Ross Lyon leaving him inside forward-50 this year.

”He’s always had it in him to win a Coleman Medal, it’s just now they are playing him a lot closer to goal,” Gehrig said.

”He is getting a bit older as well, so it is probably a wise thing to do. They might get a few more years out of him.”

As for Pavlich’s sudden burst of goals, Gehrig – who played under Lyon at St Kilda – said he believed the Dockers were starting to understand the new coach’s game plan, and how to use their superstar spearhead to better effect.

Fremantle has, on average, gone to Pavlich inside forward-50 10 times a game in the past nine matches – up from seven for the season overall – and the Dockers have been able to isolate the six-time All-Australian one-out more often. Former Melbourne captain David Neitz, who won the Coleman Medal in 2002 in a tight and low-scoring race similar to this year, said he would love to see Pavlich win the Coleman.

”It’s ridiculous that you could say this, but in some ways he is still an underrated player,” Neitz said.

”If he was able to continue with the form he is in and win the Coleman, I think there would be a lot of people that would be pretty pleased for him.”

Petrie has also come from nowhere to put the heat on Franklin and Richmond’s pre-season favourite Jack Riewoldt. Not even listed in betting markets at round one, he is now second in the Coleman Medal race and has kicked an astounding 23.3 in the past four matches.

Then there is Hawkins, who booted a career-high six goals in a match-winning performance against Hawthorn last Friday night and is also running hot with 14 in his past three games.

Don’t forget the Riewoldts, either, particularly younger cousin Jack. He is still only six goals behind Pavlich despite an average season by his standards and has games against non-finals contenders Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide to come.

Gehrig said he believed the draw would come into it ”big time” in the run home. ”If you are playing some of the weaker sides you can certainly kick some big bags and that will change things significantly in a year like this where it’s so late in the season and there is only a handful of goals between the top six,” he said.

”To be honest, there are not too many great defenders out there at the moment that are six-foot-four and 100 kilograms that can defend one-on-one. You’ve got a lot of guys that are only 90 kilograms and six-foot-three playing full-back, and it makes a difference because the big monster forwards can tear them up if they get the opportunity.”

Neitz agreed, adding that the wafer-thin gap between Pavlich and the rest could be closed ”very quickly”. ”I don’t think there would be any one of those six who would be feeling comfortable at this point. A couple of good weeks and you can make a big surge,” he said.

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Cats to focus on ensuring Eagles’ kicks aren’t free

Big man, big job: Orren Stephenson at training yesterday.GEELONG coach Chris Scott has warned his team to lift its discipline and stop giving away ”clumsy” free kicks, fearing West Coast’s knack of being paid free kicks could cost the Cats victory at Patersons Stadium on Friday night.
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Scott yesterday said Perth was the toughest trip in the AFL and the Cats could not afford ill-discipline.

The Eagles are No. 1 in the competition for receiving frees, having been awarded 405 for the season so far, 99 more than they have given away. The Cats are the worst in the league, conceding 55 more free kicks than they have earned, with 326 received to 381 against.

Scott said frees were unavoidable, but he said his team was sloppy in several areas and needed to iron out those weaknesses if it hoped to conquer fifth-placed West Coast on its home ground.

”The really lazy free kicks, like falling into someone’s back or just going that little bit high in a tackle, is the stuff that we need to fix up and it will be a huge factor in the contested ball numbers [against West Coast],” Scott said.

”Frees for and against count as contested possessions, so you have got the best in the comp against the worst in the comp. If that continues, that is really going to put us behind the eight ball, so we’ve got to make sure our discipline is at a really high level and we are conscious of the way some of their players play and we react accordingly.”

West Coast has attracted criticism from rival clubs and commentators for the number of free kicks it receives at Patersons Stadium.

Carlton players Marc Murphy, Jarrad Waite and Jeremy Laidler were fined $7500 when they criticised umpiring decisions in the Blues’ 10-point loss to West Coast in round 12 on social media. Even coach Brett Ratten tried to be diplomatic but could not hide his true feelings in his post-game media conference.

”What can you say? You come here knowing that that’s the lay of the land,” he said. ”They only cost you goals those little incidental free kicks.”

But Scott said there would be no excuses on Friday night. ”We haven’t put too much work into why the Eagles are getting that many free kicks, with the possible exception that they do get a lot of free kicks for high contact,” Scott said. ”That’s been well documented.

”We have spent a lot of time on the fact that we are No. 1 in the comp for frees against. There is a little bit of an issue with discipline there, although I sort of use that term loosely. It’s more about the attention to detail with our technique and making sure we don’t give away clumsy free kicks.”

The Cats will again be without their No. 1 ruckman, Trent West, who injured his knee in the Cats’ 27-point triumph over Adelaide two weeks ago.

Scott lashed out at newspaper reports that said West could be out for the rest of the season.

”It’s just completely untrue,” he said. ”Someone just made that up. The initial prognosis was probably two weeks, and that’s where he is at the moment. He is no guarantee to come back for the St Kilda game, but he’s a very good chance.”

West’s absence in Perth where the Eagles’ formidable ruck duo Nic Naitanui and Dean Cox rule the roost means mature recruit Orren Stephenson and 19-year-old forward Josh Walker are likely to share ruck duties. Scott said he was happy with their work against the Hawks last week.

”You can assume that Naitanui and Cox will get their hands to the ball more often than our ruckmen, so in some respects that makes it a little bit more predictable. You are sort of setting up for a worst-case scenario to an extent. But we don’t want to be completely reactive to them,” he said.

”We have got some pretty good ground-level players and while we need to be aware of [Daniel] Kerr and [Matthew] Priddis, [Andrew] Gaff, [Luke] Shuey and those types, we have got to make sure that we’re proactive in there, and even though we might not get our hands first to the ball in ruck contests, we’ve got to work hard to make sure we get first possession from the stoppage.”

Veteran defender Josh Hunt is unlikely to play after he injured a quadricep against the Hawks.

”We haven’t ruled him out, but if I had to be specific … I’d say he’d be more unlikely than likely,” Scott said.

David Wojcinski could fill Hunt’s spot as he will return from a hamstring niggle. ”He played significant game time in the VFL [last week] and has pulled up quite well,” Scott said.

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Blues playing for respect

WITH hopes of playing in the finals all but over, stand-in Carlton captain Marc Murphy says the Blues are determined to regain the respect of their rivals in the next month.
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They remain two games adrift of the top eight and would appear to have little chance of featuring in September, although mathematically this remains a slight possibility.

They would have to win their remaining four matches, against the Brisbane Lions, Essendon, Gold Coast and St Kilda, and hope other results fell their way.

This appears highly unlikely, with Murphy declaring regaining respect was now the focal point.

”We are still a chance mathematically to get there,” he said yesterday.

”We have got a few things which we want to work on over the next month of footy and try and get back a bit of the respect that we probably lost a little bit from last year from opposition sides.”

Coach Brett Ratten had guaranteed the Blues would finish in the top four this season, while they were premiership favourites after the round-three win over the Magpies. Injuries and poor form have cruelled their expectations.

”That’s a real big focus over the next month, trying to get that respect back and play some good footy,” Murphy told the Blues website.

That will have to be done without key defender Michael Jamison for at least one week after he strained a hamstring against the Swans on Sunday. ”Jammo has pulled up reasonably well. It’s a low-grade strain of the hamstring,” Blues football manager Andrew McKay said yesterday.

”We are hoping for one [out] but it may end up two. Scans show there is a very, very, very small amount of swelling in the area, so it’s not too bad.”

Andrew Walker and Mitch Robinson are likely to be recalled after recovering from calf injuries.

Ruckman Robbie Warnock is battling a shoulder injury and could miss another week.

”Robbie hurt his shoulder against Hawthorn just a little bit,” McKay said. ”Nothing structurally damaged or anything but it has just stiffened up. We are just waiting to loosen that shoulder a little bit so he can have a bit more function before we put him on the park.”

Defender Lachie Henderson has had surgery on his hip and thumb.

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Baby steps as Bombers on the mend

ESSENDON keeps taking two steps back for each step forward in the injury stakes, but the Bombers are anticipating they will have up to five fresh players back for the game against North Melbourne on Sunday.
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Nothing will be confirmed until the Dons’ main training session tomorrow, but Dustin Fletcher (shoulder), Stewart Crameri (hamstring), Michael Hibberd (quadriceps), Kyle Reimers (hamstring) and Ricky Dyson (ankle) have good chances of getting up for the crucial game at Etihad Stadium. None played in the four-point loss to Adelaide last weekend.

Angus Monfries (hamstring) also is a chance to play against the Kangaroos, and Brent Stanton (general soreness) is hopeful.

The two hamstring victims from last Sunday’s game, Jason Winderlich and Ben Howlett, are expected to miss the standard three weeks.

They are the latest chapters in the soft-tissue epidemic at Windy Hill this year, which numbers more than 20 separate incidents.

David Zaharakis (quad) and Paddy Ryder (calf) are at least a week away from resuming.

Meanwhile, St Kilda is pondering an infusion of youth for its game against Melbourne at the MCG on Saturday, with Arryn Siposs, Terry Milera, Daniel Markworth, Tom Ledger and Jamie Cripps all in the mix for selection, according to coach Scott Watters. Jason Blake is also likely to be available after recovering from an ankle injury.

The Saints need to win all four remaining games to have a chance of playing finals, but Watters said there could be one or two changes.

”I don’t think I’ll go with exactly the same side,” he said. ”I’d like to get one or two kids who played well [in the VFL] on the weekend in.”

■St Kilda’s Brett Peake has been fined for misconduct for throwing the ball at an umpire in a VFL match last weekend.

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Jewel poised on the Mark

WHEN you are dealing with perfection, there is little left to say, but luckily Mark Kavanagh didn’t need to concentrate solely on his unbeaten superstar Atlantic Jewel when previewing his spring chances at his Flemington stables yesterday.
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For while Atlantic Jewel is showing him all the signs she could live up to her rating and win a race like the Cox Plate this spring judging on her preparation work to date. Kavanagh also fancies his chances in a number of other spring features now he has the less-marketable but almost as remarkable import December Draw back to near race fitness.

Last year, December Draw progressed from restricted class import from England to one of the shortest-priced favourites for the Caulfield Cup in just six months. Ultimately he was galloped on in the Caulfield Cup and broke a splint bone in a hind leg, but what he achieved before that by winning five of his six starts, including the group 1 Turnbull Stakes, was baffling given his make-up.

”He was hairy and bony and small, but he’s put on something like 65 kilograms over his break from racing and has muscled up, is great in the coat and just looks fantastic,” Kavanagh said. ”Certainly bodywise he has taken that next step and he could develop into a genuine weight-for-age galloper this spring.”

Kavanagh said December Draw was given plenty of time to heal, but came into work for a month in April. ”He came in for a little while, then we sent him out again and he really hasn’t put a foot wrong since he’s been back in [work].”

December Draw is expected to make his return at Flemington in September’s group 2 Makybe Diva Stakes, and it is at Flemington where Kavanagh hopes the horse can enjoy his best day at the races in the Melbourne Cup. ”He loves racing at Flemington and the way he’s come back, anything is possible,” he said.

But while December Draw has his followers, Atlantic Jewel will be expected to take over Black Caviar’s role as the spring carnival’s most-photographed ambassador as she tries to closely emulate her unbeaten predecessor. She had a pre-spring showing for the cameras at Flemington yesterday and while a little overawed at the attention, she knows how to hold a pose.

With seven wins from seven runs, and as early favourite for October’s Cox Plate, Atlantic Jewel is nearing a return to racing on Saturday week at Caulfield and Kavanagh knows the next four months could give him a memory for life.

”She looked good in a jump-out here last Friday and if she jumps out well again on Friday, she’ll probably kick off at Caulfield in either the weight-for-age race [Lawrence Stakes] or the mares’ [Cockram Stakes],” he said. ”She’s lovely and athletic and she’s come back stronger.”

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