AFL coaching guru Mick Malthouse says Israel Folau’s decision to quit his Greater Western Sydney contract is a ”no-brainer”, with the Giants ready to use the salary cap freedom to pounce on potential recruit Kurt Tippett.
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The three-time premiership coach thinks the loss of Folau, recruited from rugby league with a big pay cheque to raise the profile of AFL in western Sydney, is no big deal.

”It’s a great convenience for Greater Western Sydney, him out of the salary cap and Tippett in,” Malthouse said.

”It’s a no-brainer – one wasn’t equipped for the game and the other one’s a very good footballer.”

Malthouse, who was in Canberra on Saturday as part of a book tour, said he did not think Folau proved to be a good promoter of the game.

”Not really, I wouldn’t have thought so.

”I admire him for changing over, he’s got some great athletic ability but he wasn’t born with a football in his hands, and it was always going to be very, very difficult, the way I saw it, to adjust to the game.

”At the end of the day you can see that he was really struggling with the mechanics of the game, where to get, where to stand, how to react to the game, now that he’s decided to leave … it’s a great opportunity now for GWS to open up that salary cap hole for Tippett.”

Malthouse officially takes the reins at Carlton on Monday. With the Blues finishing 10th in the premiership race this season, Malthouse’s priority is returning them to the top eight.

”It’s going to be a big challenge, a massive challenge, but I took Collingwood over when they were on the bottom, West Coast were 11th of 14 clubs, and Bulldogs were well down the ladder, so it’s not foreign to take on challenges, and this one will be a beauty.”

■The AFL’s latest effort to spread the gospel in the form of this weekend’s UK exhibition match between the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaide at The Oval has not attracted much interest from the British media. But, as shown by the code’s aggressive forays into New South Wales and Queensland, the cashed-up AFL is not easily discouraged and has its sights set on putting a team in New Zealand down the track.

Tony Woods, the AFL’s international development manager believes there are plenty of players to be gleaned from other countries.

”For me that really crystallised the vision of the wider footy public to see what can be done,” Woods said.

”Does the next Mike Pyke [Canadian, Sydney] come from New Zealand or the US or maybe even somewhere in Europe?” said Woods, who claims the code aimed to double its overseas participants within four years and the number of foreign players on AFL club lists.

”We have set a participation target in 2016 of over 200,000 participants outside of Australia which will make the international segment the third highest behind Victoria and New South Wales,” he said.

”So that will be significant. We will set a target that we have up to 38 international players on AFL club lists by 2016 [compared with just under 20 at present], so that is an aggressive target.”

With aap

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Illustration: Mick ConnollyMELBOURNE and Adelaide are facing punishments for misdeeds that, in AFL jargon, ”compromise the integrity of the competition”. We think one was trying not to win, while the other was trying not to lose someone – a vastly overpaid player.
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So, they did what they – stupidly – thought had to be done. These clandestine dealings didn’t remain in the vault, since, as Benjamin Franklin sagely noted, three people may keep a secret, ”if two of them are dead”.

Melbourne is accused of seeking to exploit one of the AFL’s two ”pillars” – the draft; the Crows of messing with both draft/trading rules and the other great edifice that is supposed to ensure equality, the salary cap.

In the middle of these scandalous events, the AFL released what used to be called ”the draw”, but, tellingly, these days is referred to as ”the fixture”. Melbourne and Adelaide, funnily enough, were handed fixtures that were favourable from an on-field viewpoint. In Melbourne’s case, the schedule wasn’t so financially helpful, though it retained that Queen’s Birthday cash cow against Collingwood.

The fixture seems to have stealthily become the proverbial ”third pillar” of an equalised competition on the field, while at the same time being the source of great inequality off it. Over time, everyone has been conditioned to the notion that it’s OK for bad teams to have easier draws than top sides. Why?

There is not another major competition in the world that seeks to handicap certain teams on the basis of their quality. Manchester United doesn’t play fewer games against the bottom sides, nor do the New England Patriots or the New York Yankees.

The AFL and the clubs need to step back, look at the fixture and place on-field fairness first.

I understand that with 18 teams and 22 games, there are bound to be unequal outcomes, but why is the marketing cart so obviously 10 lengths ahead of the ”integrity of the competition” horse?

Consider first the AFL’s ”welfare division” of last season’s bottom third, where the hapless Demons reside with the two expansion teams, the Bulldogs, Brisbane and Port Adelaide. These clubs won’t play on the coveted Friday night time slot next year. Only the Lions have a Friday night game, against Collingwood, because Channel Seven has paid for games that will give it high ratings. These teams won’t, so they don’t play Fridays.

The Dees, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney all play one another twice, an arrangement that will help all of them win more games than they otherwise would, but which makes it harder to make money.

The Suns, indeed, play only teams in the bottom six twice; the Lions have the Suns, Dogs and Dees twice each, Port has GWS and Gold Coast twice. The poor Dogs have been dudded, relatively speaking, since they’ve been given only Melbourne twice and have return games against tough teams Adelaide, West Coast and Richmond, yet they aren’t getting much box office compensation.

Meanwhile, at the business end of the ladder, Hawthorn has been dealt a fixture that the club’s marketing department will be slapping its thighs about, but Alastair Clarkson will not.

The same goes for Collingwood, which, in a football sense, is hoist on its own blockbuster petard. The Hawks play five finalists twice. Once again, they will have to be awfully good to make the top four and have an awful season not to make a pile.

North Melbourne’s fixture was so favourable last year, football-wise, that it really had to make the eight. This year, the Roos will need to improve significantly to hold their ground, given they have four finalists twice, including three from the top four. But, as the eighth team, they’ve graduated from the welfare slots to have the opportunity to make money, with three Friday nights and home games against the better drawing half dozen Victorian teams, bar Essendon.

If we are talking about fairness, we must be fair too. The AFL, to a large degree, shapes the fixture according to what the clubs want, and the clubs want to make money. Chief executives who present flow charts to sponsors have to show membership, audience reach and media exposure – all of which are augmented by a fixture that pits their team against high drawing/top teams.

The league has never pretended that the fixture isn’t compromised, either. Andrew Demetriou’s consistent line has been that, despite all the anomalies and travesties, the best four teams somehow, mysteriously, find themselves in their rightful spots in the top four.

Demetriou’s statement is one of hope, rather than fact. On the whole, it’s true that the very best teams usually find a way. But we may be entering ”even” times – without a Geelong-style super team – and it cannot be said that the fixture doesn’t influence the outcome of the premiership.

This year, precious little separated first from sixth or seventh. Sydney lost three of its last four home-and-away games, yet won the flag. Geelong beat the Swans in round 22, but had no double chance and went out of the finals in week one.

Teams who make the top four beating those below them, once the finals are under way, is a self-fulfilling outcome. Collingwood had the advantages of home field and two extra days break against West Coast, which, with a touch more luck, was good enough to make a grand final. A more taxing home-and-away fixture can exhaust a team. Increasingly, the fresher and fitter side is prevailing at the end of an enervating season.

How can these compromises to integrity be reduced? Readers like the idea of conferences (I don’t), or, more feasibly, of dividing the previous year’s ladder into thirds and allocating the five return games into 2-2-1 splits. This certainly has merit, though it would perpetuate the idea that the bottom six have an easier draw than the top and middle six. It might work next year, but every so often a team will underperform, due to injuries/coaching problems (see Adelaide 2011), then receive a soft draw that compromises the ladder’s pointy end.

The fixture ought to at least try to be the set-weights Derby, not the Cup, where the best horse carries the most weight.

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INJURED pace ace Pat Cummins vowed the latest injury to sideline him would not dampen his desire to bowl fast and furious when he is cleared to take the new ball again.
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The 19-year-old from Sydney’s west said he would not be scared to extend himself despite suffering a litany of injuries, which included stress fractures and an ankle problem, that had conspired to put his career on hold since he took seven South African wickets during his only Test last November.

However, he could not hide his despair on Friday when scans revealed he had suffered a small stress fracture in his back as he helped steer the Sydney Sixers to victory in the lucrative Champions League T20 tournament in South Africa.

”It wasn’t great news, unfortunately,” Cummins said. ”It was not what I was hoping for or expecting.”

He promised to remain true to the paceman’s creed when he returned. ”It’s your job as a fast bowler to run in and bowl 100 per cent, and that’s what I like to do,” Cummins said. ”The good thing is I have time on my side. I never second-guess myself … [if I’m] fully fit I want to tear in.”

Before he needed scans for his sore back on Wednesday, Cummins had hoped to play for Penrith in Sydney grade cricket on Saturday and to head for Brisbane where he was set to replace Test bowler Mitchell Starc during Monday’s final day of the Sheffield Shield match against Queensland.

Under a Cricket Australia plan, David Warner, Shane Watson, Starc and Test skipper Michael Clarke will be replaced to give them an extra day to recover before the opening Test of the series against South Africa starts on Friday.

While Cummins was frustrated by the setbacks that have plagued him, he remained upbeat and philosophical. He also accepted chairman of selectors John Inverarity’s comment it was highly unlikely Cummins would play back-to-back Tests at this stage of his career.

”[Cricket Australia] are just looking after us,” said Cummins. ”I guess there aren’t too many young people who’ve played a few Tests in a row so I understand where they’re coming from – and it’s not only about looking after me but [also] James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and all the other guys involved. Certainly, down the track you want to be playing as many games as possible and you see guys like Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus who are getting through a lot more games than the younger blokes. Hopefully I’ll get there.”

After playing for the Sydney Sixers during their recent $2.5 million T20 Champions League triumph in South Africa, Cummins was earmarked for the third Test against the Proteas, but his back injury has sent his summer into a tailspin.

”I had clear goals the other day but now I’m just waiting to see,” he said. However, he considered his situation was an endorsement of CA’s divisive rotation policy, a program designed to allow Australia’s pacemen such as Cummins and Pattinson to rest from the heavy workloads that have been breaking them and their ilk.

”Australia’s fast-bowling depth is pretty exciting,” he said. ”And that’s where the rotation policy will hopefully work because when everyone gets their chance to play they’ll be going flat out and trying to hold that position. I think it’s great for Australian cricket and it will only strengthen the Sheffield Shield as well. They’re exciting times.

”I think a lot of the criticism [of the policy] comes down to old-school people who think if you’re fit you should play in every Test.

”There’s obviously merit in that, but there’s also merit in the idea if you have the bowlers to rotate then the facts and the science show there are huge spikes in our workloads which makes us more susceptible to injury. Its short-term pain for long-term gain. The rotation policy, I think, might save you from suffering an injury that’ll keep you sidelined down the track.”

Cummins said watching his Sixers and NSW teammate Josh Hazlewood – another young player who has battled injuries – star in the T20 tournament was inspirational. ”He was amazing,” said Cummins.

Twitter – @BombsAwayLane

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Eyeballing the pace attacker … Tasmanian Alex Doolan scored an unconquered 161, to allay concerns about the fitness of Australia’s Test batsman.AFTER scoring an unconquered 161 against South Africa at the SCG on Saturday, Australia A batsman Alex Doolan hoped his innings would warrant some discussion when the national selectors met before this week’s opening Test in Brisbane.
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With concerns surrounding Test players Shane Watson (calf muscle) and Ricky Ponting (hamstring) and a string of poor scores from Australia’s top batsmen, the 26-year-old Tasmanian picked the perfect moment to play the innings of his 35-first-class-match career.

The century came on the back of a stellar start to the season which has yielded 490 runs at an average of 81. His effort to post his highest score – and against a world-class South African attack – was the highlight of a tough day which resulted in only one legitimate wicket falling after almost seven hours of toil by both teams.

”I certainly hope it’s talked about,” Doolan said when asked if the knock might’ve caught the attention of the Test selectors. “But there’s plenty of quality players in that dressing room. I mean, Phil Hughes has 19 first-class centuries, three Test centuries and two against South Africa. I think he’d be in the firing line as far as next man in.

”Who knows? Hopefully it puts my name up there and hopefully people are starting to talk.”

Doolan, whose father Bruce faced the first ball for Tasmania when the state joined the Sheffield Shield competition in 1977, said he wouldn’t disappoint his country should his greatest wish be fulfilled.

”I feel there’s a little bit of work to be done before that chance may arise,” he said. “But certainly [I] feel confident enough to hold my own out there.”

Doolan resumed his innings on 76 and immediately made an impact when he hit paceman Dale Steyn for 10 runs in the first over of the morning. With his intent declared, he could seemingly do nothing wrong on a lifeless pitch. While on 88, he tried to pull out of a shot against Rory Kleinveldt’s bowling, but the ball still raced to the boundary after it found the toe of his bat. He notched his fifth first-class century when he cut Kleinveldt sweetly for four.

“Probably coming to terms with the fact you were playing against the world’s best team was my biggest battle and overcoming some nerves to a certain extent,” he replied when asked about the biggest challenge of the knock.

He and Tasmanian teammate Tim Paine built on the foundation Rob Quiney (85), Steve Smith (67) and Glenn Maxwell (64) laid for the Aussie second XI on Friday. They frustrated the Proteas attack and, as their partnership ticked past the milestone marks of 50, 100 and homed in on 150, the Proteas looked disinterested.

Steyn was rested after four overs when it became clear the pitch offered the pacemen nothing. Skipper Graeme Smith left the bulk of the yakka to his spin bowlers Imran Tahir, J.P. Duminy and Faf du Plessis when paceman Vernon Philander was given a spell. Hashim Amla, with only one first-class wicket at an average of 236, was certainly enthusiastic. One appeal was done with such a strong, fine voice he would’ve impressed Opera Australia scouts, but his bowling didn’t trouble either batsman. Even Amla agreed the South African approach, to toss him the ball to kill time before the hosts finally declared at 7-480, wasn’t the attitude expected from the world’s top Test nation after it was pointed out his countrymen would scan the scores and lament their team couldn’t dismiss Australia’s second-stringers. “That’s one of the challenges [to crank up the intensity in a tour match] because when you are playing a Test match you’re playing for your country; you have the butterflies in the stomach,” Amla said. “These warm-up games are exactly that, warm-up. You don’t go full out all the time. You do have patches where you try and push the pace but not the whole game. During our bowling performance we just went through the motions and gave guys a bowl.”

Smith wasted no time when South Africa finally batted and scored 60 runs from 84 balls – 11 of which found the boundary – before he retired when South Africa had reached 81. The reason for his voluntary departure when a big score beckoned was to allow Amla an opportunity to bat before the first Test. Victoria’s John Hastings, a surprise choice to open the bowling in tandem with Nathan Coulter-Nile, bowled sharply and smartly as the Proteas managed only eight runs from his 11 overs.

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