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Ever since last year’s draft ended, every AFL club has been building hope.
Hope that this year is the year and that the new faces can provide that extra improvement necessary.
Hope, by definition, is a positive, but it also can be fragile if it is not grounded in realism.
And that is a challenge facing every club over the off-season.
I coached Hawthorn from 2000 to 2004 and in my last season in charge, I made a statement that created headlines.
Speaking at the 2004 season launch, I said that Hawthorn would win the premiership.
It wasn’t based on my or the playing group’s realistic belief. I said it to raise the proposition that playing in the AFL was all about trying to win the grand final.
The media took me literally and when the season unravelled, the club’s on-field failures and the absurdity of my statement were jumped upon.
By round 17, I was sacked as coach.
It wasn’t because of my statement, though. The club did not accept how far below expectations we had fallen.
Once the new season starts on Thursday night, the reality of expectation among all clubs will be revealed.
As always, the interest will lie with those who exceed and those who fall below expectations.
The dramatic improvement shown by the Western Bulldogs in 2016 and Richmond in 2017 to win a premiership was unusual.
But both clubs give every footy fan cause for hope, because they showed the ultimate success is not the minimum five-year build-up many think.
The pressure on coaches is now bigger than ever and there are many reasons a club might fall below expectations.
The success of a club’s recruits and the inequity in the AFL fixture, due to teams not playing each other twice, can naturally favour some and disadvantage others over the course of a season.
But only one factor can be seen as a legitimate reason: injuries.
If a club loses key players for lengthy periods of time, losses can start to build.
Conversely, keep your best team healthy and you build consistency, continuity and confidence. Often the self-belief and wins grow from there.
In 2017, there is no doubt that this benefitted Richmond, while Sydney’s heavy injury list significantly dented the club’s premiership chances in the early rounds.
So in 2018 who can convince us their expectations are genuine?
Richmond remains determined to keep its level of performance as an ongoing possibility and not just a historic spike of unexpected glory.
It seems likely that the Tigers can challenge again.
Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney and Sydney should share the other top four spots and appear to be the only premiership alternatives in 2018.
Melbourne is a fascinating proposition.
The minimum expectation at the Demons needs to be a finals spot based on the talent of their list and the potential the team appears to have.
But for them to rise into the eight, another must fall.
I tip that West Coast will fall heavily in 2018, to be replaced by the Demons.
I also see Geelong losing its finals spot to the Western Bulldogs, leaving Port Adelaide and Essendon as other finalists, but none of these teams can win the premiership.
Collingwood – with four consecutive seasons outside the finals – and Fremantle will both look likely as a top-eight team at some stage, along with Hawthorn and St Kilda, but I can’t see any of them featuring when it matters this year.
At the bottom end of the ladder, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Carlton and North Melbourne will all believe they can improve.
But it is hard to see any of them featuring outside the bottom four, despite some well-placed optimism of 2018 improvement.
At best, Carlton could rise slightly higher.
Peter Schwab’s 2018 ladder
1. Greater Western Sydney
6. Port Adelaide
7. Western Bulldogs
13. West Coast Eagles
14. St Kilda
17. Gold Coast
18. North Melbourne
Peter Schwab played 171 VFL/AFL matches for Hawthorn from 1980 to 1991, winning three premierships. He later served as Hawthorn coach, AFL National Umpiring director, AFL Match Review Panel chairman and Brisbane Lions list manager.
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Brisbane Broncos’ principal sponsor NRMA Insurance has condemned the past behaviour of forward Matthew Lodge, describing it as “completely unacceptable”.
The company says it is “very concerned” about the impact of Lodge’s violence on victims and families.
“Matthew Lodge’s past behaviour is completely unacceptable and we are very concerned by the long-term impact this has had on his victims and their families,” an NRMA Insurance spokeswoman said.
Lodge is yet to pay for compensation to the victims of his 2015 drunken rampage in New York, and details have surfaced in recent days about his guilty plea for domestic violence.
NRMA Insurance said it was continuing to discuss its concerns with the club and the NRL.
“[We] reiterated today that we believe Matthew Lodge’s successful return to the game depends on his ongoing rehabilitation, which includes taking full accountability for his actions by compensating his victims in the US,” it said.
“We are disappointed that compensation is yet to be paid and we have told the club that our expectation is that they work with Lodge to ensure this happens.”
A spokeswoman for XXXX, another Broncos sponsor, said Lodge’s past behaviour “has been below the standards the community would expect”.
“The NRL and Broncos management have made the case for Matt to be given a chance to rehabilitate himself within the game and have assured all sponsors that they have a comprehensive management program in place in respect of Matt and also the entire team,” the beer company said.
Andrew Catsoulis, managing director of Broncos sponsor National Storage, said he has held discussions with Broncos CEO Paul White over Lodge.
“I believe that the appropriate authorities, including the Broncos organisation and the NRL, have fully investigated this issue and have made their own assessment of Matt’s fitness to play and it would not be appropriate for me to comment further,” Ms Catsoulis said.
Another sponsor, Ladbrokes, said it was not reassessing its sponsorship of the club, while Arrow Energy said it would not be commenting.
“They are a professional, well-run organisation and we will leave both they and the NRL to deal with the matter as they see fit,” a spokesman for Ladbrokes said.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Broncos were role models in Queensland and it was an issue for the club to address.
“Those issues that have been raised are quite disturbing … I think they’re serious matters the Broncos need to address.”
‘Slapped, pushed to the ground’
An ex-girlfriend of the controversial Brisbane forward revealed details of her two-year relationship on Sunday, claiming she “lived the cycle of domestic abuse” before charges were laid in 2015.
Lodge was charged with eight counts of domestic violence against Charlene Saliba in August 2015 – of which he pleaded guilty to one and eventually had no conviction recorded with a good behaviour bond on appeal the following year.
Lodge’s guilty plea to common assault came after a neighbour allegedly saw him attack Ms Saliba, slapping her in the face and pushing her to the ground according to court documents obtained by News Corp.
Ms Saliba did not attend court, and the rest of the seven charges were dropped.
She said she feared the attention it would bring on her and was satisfied after an Apprehended Violence Order had been put in place.
The alleged incidents occurred just two months before Lodge’s infamous New York rampage, where he told a female German tourist “this is the night you die” before assaulting the man who came to her and a friend’s rescue.
Lodge has since pleaded guilty to a reckless assault charge over the New York matter, and owes $1.6 million in damages to his victims.
Broncos and NRL both aware of guilty plea
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said the domestic violence matters related to Lodge were assessed by the NRL integrity unit.
“He spent a huge amount of time in counselling and rehabilitation, including a specific course around domestic violence and we made the decision to register his contract, and nothing that was written on the weekend was new information to us,” he said.
“The commentary on certain things in rugby league will always surprise me from time to time, but, again we make decisions that sometimes aren’t popular and will divide opinion and I understand that.
“This particular one goes to the core of my own personal values too. I thought long and hard about this, I deliberated on this for a long period of time.
“But like anything in life it’s not about punishment, it’s about rehabilitation and it’s about a game that tries to help others and I think rugby league that’s what it stands for.”
Brisbane Broncos CEO Paul White said the club took Lodge’s guilty plea into account and that the club had always taken the strongest stance against violence against women.
“When signing Matt, the Broncos were aware that the NRL took this matter into consideration when it mandated a range of work and courses that Matt was required to complete over a two-year period before he would be considered for a return to the NRL,” he said.
“Inside the last fortnight, Matt has also publicly stated that he in no way supports violence against women, and continues to work hard to improve himself as a member of society and within the NRL community.”
Ms Saliba claimed she felt the need to speak to the media after Lodge told Fox Sports in his only interview earlier this month he had “never hit any woman” before his return for the Broncos.
The News Corp report also cited police and court documents and detailed complaints of slapping, elbowing and threats that if she called the police her “life wouldn’t end well”.
“It started with controlling behaviour, then name-calling, then came the emotional abuse,” Ms Saliba said.
“He started throwing things, physically restraining me, [he] spat in my face, then pushing and shoving me, which then lead to threats on my life.”
Former Broncos captain Darren Lockyer said the weekend story about Lodge “wasn’t great reading”.
“It’ll be something that will be continuing to happen at the Broncos, his rehabilitation,” Lockyer said.
“I think he knows just as well as anybody else, he needs to do all the right things.”
‘Broncos need to address the issue’
LNP deputy leader and former NRL referee Tim Mander said the Broncos needed to resolve the serious issues surrounding Lodge.
“I think those issues do need to be addressed, that statements need to be made so it’s absolutely categorical that the Broncos don’t support that type of behaviour and nor do rugby league followers either,” he said.
“It’s obviously in their best interest, I think, and his best interest need to clear this up as quickly as possible.”
But he would not go as far as saying Lodge should be pulled from the field.
“Look that’s the tension with those things, I mean people do make mistakes in the past and you want to do everything possible to help them move forward but they have to acknowledge those mistakes and on occasions have to pay compensation for the mistakes that they’ve made.”
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Australian Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga says the fan who allegedly racially abused South Sydney centre Greg Inglis during Saturday’s match against Penrith should be banned for life.
Inglis left the field to undertake a head injury assessment during the Rabbitohs’ 18-14 loss at Penrith Stadium.
He was booed as he made his way to the bench, with one fan allegedly calling him a ‘black dog’.
The Panthers yesterday issued an apology to Inglis for the behaviour, and are now investigating the incident alongside the NRL Integrity Unit.
An angry Meninga labelled the act ‘disgusting’ and said the person responsible should be banned for life.
“I thought racial vilification was gone out of our game, it obviously hasn’t,” he said.
I reckon Greg will be hurting, and I applaud him for his actions and hopefully they find the perpetrator and kick him out for life.
“It does make me angry because you know how much effort he [Inglis] puts in to the recognition of Aboriginal people and the work he does around the game.”
NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg personally reached out to Inglis yesterday to reiterate that the game will not tolerate racism.
“I wanted to make sure he realised that, that’s not the game, that’s not what rugby league stands for and he knows that,” Greenberg said.
“He’s got faith in us to do what’s right and we will do that if we can find that person, and as I said, Penrith have spent a lot of time dealing with CCTV footage.”
Greenberg would not confirm a potential life ban for the person involved but did say the NRL will “throw the book at them”.
“It is one person, but it is one person too many,” he said.
“The message is simple, we don’t tolerate that sort of behaviour and nor does the community.
“We will do everything we can to make sure that person is not welcome inside the game.”
Inglis has been at the centre of a number of race-related incidents in the past.
In 2013 he was the victim of a racial attack on a social media website, while in 2010 former New South Wales winger Timana Tahu walked out of State of Origin camp after hearing then assistant coach Andrew Johns use a racist slur to describe Inglis.
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Roger Federer’s incredible winning streak to start 2018 came to an end in a thrilling BNP Paribas Open final on Monday morning (AEDT) that saw tempers flare.
Federer returned to the world No.1 ranking after victories at the Australian Open and in Rotterdam but his 17-match streak was halted by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells.
In the final of what is widely regarded as tennis’ ‘fifth grand slam’, Del Potro saved three match points to win a classic and tense encounter 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-2).
“I feel frustrated, you know, that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer, who was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set.
“Serving 40-15, any game I probably win … I don’t know what the stat is … 90 something per cent. So it should sting.
“The question is how long? It won’t long, but it’s disappointing talking about a great match like this, losing, even though I was right there … it’s a tough one.”
In typically classy fashion, Federer also praised del Potro for his performance.
Del Potro is on a winning streak of his own, having now succeeded in 11 successive matches, culminating in titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells.
The injury-prone big man has beaten Federer in seven of 25 attempts, including a famous triumph in the 2009 US Open final, but he has found it difficult to reach those levels in recent years due to troubles with his body.
“I’m happy for Juan Marti … it was a great match, honestly,” Federer said.
“You deserve it – you were the better player at the end. Well done and enjoy the moment.”
Both players get angry
Victory would have given Federer his 28th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
For Del Potro, this was his first, and he had to do it in a match that saw Federer enjoy so much crowd support the former complained to the umpire about it.
“I’m still shaking. It’s difficult to describe with words. It’s like a dream,” he said.
“After all my problems, after all my surgeries, I couldn’t believe I’m here winning a Masters 1000 and beating Roger. It’s amazing.”
Speaking about the crowd during the match, del Potro yelled at umpire Fergus Murphy: “The people are screaming when I miss a first serve.”
He urged Murphy to keep the crowd quiet, adding: “Just do it.”
Federer was annoyed with the result, as the umpire regularly intervened during the match.
A tale of blown chances
Del Potro – who has had three wrist operations in recent years – dug deep to win the first set and had a match point of his own in the second.
But he blew it, with Federer finally converting his seventh set point to level proceedings.
It set up a thrilling final set and Federer was next to blow match points, failing to convert three when serving for the contest, before a pair of double-faults proved crucial in del Potro’s triumph.
Both players have now won 17 matches in 2018, with Federer now needing to reach the quarter-finals at the upcoming Miami Open if he is to retain his World No.1 ranking.
If he can’t make the last eight at that event, Rafael Nadal will replace him in the coveted spot.
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Tennis great Martina Navratilova has hit out at the BBC after discovering fellow Wimbledon television pundit John McEnroe is paid at least 10 times more than her.
McEnroe’s pay packet of £150,000 to £199,999 ($270,000-$361,000), was revealed in a list of the BBC’s top-paid talent last summer.
Navratilova, 61, told television current affairs program Panorama she is paid around £15,000 by the BBC for her commentator role at Wimbledon.
“It was a shock because John McEnroe makes at least £150,000 … I get about £15,000 for Wimbledon and unless John McEnroe’s doing a whole bunch of stuff outside of Wimbledon he’s getting at least 10 times as much money”, she said.
Navratilova said she was told she was getting paid a comparable amount to men doing the same job as her, adding: “We were not told the truth, that’s for sure …
“(I’m) not happy … It’s shocking … It’s still the good old boys network … The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.”
Navratilova, who was crowned Wimbledon ladies’ champion nine times, said her agent will ask for more money in future.
BBC Sport told Panorama “John and Martina perform different roles in the team, and John’s role is of a different scale, scope and time commitment”.
“They are simply not comparable. John’s pay reflects all of this, gender isn’t a factor.”
Panorama said it estimated McEnroe, 59, who was crowned Wimbledon champion three times, appeared around 30 times for the BBC at Wimbledon last year, compared to Navratilova’s 10 appearances.
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Legendary Olympic athlete Usain Bolt will attend next month’s Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
The retired Olympic legend will be a spectator at Carrara Stadium for the men’s 100m final on April 9, compatriot Yohan Blake has confirmed.
Blake was a surprise guest at a media sleepover at the Games Village on Sunday night when he revealed Bolt was heading to Australia.
“My friend Usain Bolt is coming as well; he’s coming to watch the 100m final,” Blake told reporters.
“At the track in Jamaica before I left he said, ‘When I come to Australia, if you don’t win there is going to be problems’.”
Blake’s revelation is a bit of an embarrassment for Games organisers who were trying to keep the eight-time Olympic gold medallist’s appearance under wraps.
Bolt’s presence at the Games will be a huge boost for the event’s profile internationally despite the presence of royalty including Prince Charles.
Blake flew into Brisbane on Sunday morning and made an immediate trip to the Village to view the facilities.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist, who trained alongside Bolt in Jamaica, said his objective on the Gold Coast was to add a Commonwealth Games medal to his career tally.
Several other big names have reportedly been invited to attend the Games, including Hollywood stars Margot Robbie and Chris Hemsworth and surfing champion Mick Fanning.
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Comments emanating from South Africa’s cricket team suggest it will enter Monday’s hearing over Kagiso Rabada’s two-Test ban with high hopes but low expectations.
Judicial commissioner Michael Heron, who is based in New Zealand and more commonly assesses tip tackles and other Super Rugby incidents, will soon chair a video conference over Rabada’s charge of making “inappropriate and deliberate physical contact” with Steve Smith during the second Test.
Heron then has 48 hours to reach a verdict.
That timeline ensures the saga, which started when the Proteas spearhead brushed Smith’s shoulder during a screaming send-off, should be over before the four-Test series continues in Cape Town on Thursday.
See the incident below:
— Michael Sherman (@Golfhackno1) March 9, 2018
The judicial stoush has captivated much of the Rainbow Nation’s attention. Rabada’s representative Dali Mpofu opined it “has implications for our shared project of nation-building”, while former Springboks behemoth Bakkies Botha is among those to have weighed in.
Rabada would be a huge loss for the hosts, with the series level at 1-1 after he bowled them to victory in Port Elizabeth.
But the 22-year-old is seemingly resigned to the fact he won’t be playing at Newlands, having admitted he erred during the press conference that followed a haul of 11-150.
“It’s going to have to stop. I can’t keep doing this because I am letting the team down and I am letting myself down. I would’ve loved to have been playing the next game,” he said at the time.
Later in the week, the world’s top-ranked Test bowler told reporters he takes “responsibility for what happened”.
That was the view taken by match referee Jeff Crowe, who noted in a public statement that Rabada “had the opportunity to avoid the contact”.
“I could not see any evidence to support the argument that the contact was accidental,” Crowe said.
Faf du Plessis knows as well as anybody how hard it can be to overturn a match referee’s verdict at a formal appeal. South Africa’s skipper unsuccessfully took his ball-tampering charge resulting from ‘mint-gate’ to a judicial commissioner.
“Our strike rate is zero per cent at the moment with trying to challenge these cases, it will probably stay at zero,” du Plessis said after the second Test.
It is unclear whether Mpofu intends presenting new evidence. He is expected to argue both Rabada and Smith are culpable.
Heron has the option to settle on a new punishment for Rabada but it would be a major surprise if he opts for a harsher punishment.
Rabada’s problem is his poor disciplinary record, having started the series with five demerit points.
The International Cricket Council’s laws dictate that eight points result in an automatic two-Test ban, so he will most likely miss the next two Tests unless the charge is thrown out altogether.
Rafael Nadal’s uncle has described how the champion tennis player has suffered immensely due to injury for the bulk of his career, relying heavily on painkillers to get him through matches.
Toni Nadal, the man who was Rafa’s coach and mentor for much of his career, said the 16-time grand slam champion was told in 2005 his career was likely over due to a foot injury.
“In 2005 they told us they detected a problem in Rafa’s foot – a congenital injury – and the specialist we went to told us that Rafael’s career was pretty much finished,” Toni Nadal said at the Congreso Murcia Sport and Business on Friday.
“From the end of 2005 on, Rafael had to constantly live in pain. From that time on we couldn’t finish training sessions a lot of the time.
The current number two player in the world has endured injuries to his feet, wrist, back, hamstring and, most persistently, his knees, over the years.
He most recently suffered a hip injury in the Australian Open in January, forcing him out in the quarter-finals.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2018
He has since pulled out of the Acapulco and Indian Wells tournaments.
Toni Nadal said Rafael’s foot injury at the age of 19 led to further complications, and a career-long reliance on painkillers.
“A lot of times, almost always, he would have to take a painkiller because the pain would get worse and worse as matches went on,” he said.
“Because of some insoles that he started using, which solved his foot problem, he started having problems in his knee, back and other parts of his body.
“I remember in 2013 he told me once … after his year had been really good … he told me ‘sometimes I wish I’d win less and have less pain’.”
After his Australian Open exit, Nadal blasted ATP tour organisers over players’ intense schedule and workload.
“Somebody who is running the tour should think a little bit about what’s going on,” Nadal said.
“Too many people are getting injured.
“I don’t know if they have to think a little bit about the health of the players. Not for now that we are playing, but there is life after tennis.
“I don’t know if we keep playing on these very, very hard surfaces what’s going to happen in the future with our lives.”
Nadal is working on his recovery in the hope of participating in Spain’s Davis Cup quarter final against Germany in April.
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