Pyne’s pitfalls, and the wind from the west: How the Liberal leadership crisis unfolded

January 15: The government backs down on its $20 Medicare cut. The reduced rebate had been widely criticised by doctors. Labor said the Coalition’s health policies were in a “shambles”. Only 24 hours earlier, Tony Abbott had been robustly defending the cut.

January 26: Abbott announces that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will be knighted, a move which was widely ridiculed and raised internal questions about his judgment. He later confirmed it was a “captain’s call”.

January 28: Rupert Murdoch tweets that Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin should be sacked. “Tough to write, but if he won’t replace top aide Peta Credlin she must do her patriotic duty and resign …” he wrote.

January 31: Campbell Newman’s Liberal government suffers a massive backlash in the Queensland election. Meanwhile Queensland MP Mal Brough reveals he could challenge Abbott.

Feburary 1: Abbott meets Julie Bishop in Sydney to discuss leadership

February 2: Abbott delivers a speech at the National Press Club, admitting that he had made some mistakes, but he was not considering resigning.

Jeff Kennett says the Liberal Party’s leadership was now “terminal”. “It needs to be resolved as quickly as possible so that the party can move on,” he said.

February 5: Abbott tells the media he is “confident” that he will be leader next week, but news of a secret leadership meeting with Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull emerges. February 6:  A motion is called for a leadership spill by WA MP Luke Simkins. Tony Abbott says Julie Bishop and he will stand together during the motion on Tuesday (10 February). 

February 6: 6am: Christopher Pyne says he “hopes” the Prime Minister still has the numbers in the party room, raising speculation Abbott’s support in the cabinet is waning.

1pm: Bishop refuses to quell rumours of the spill motion, saying she does not have any advice for her colleagues because they are elected members of Parliament and “they take whatever action they see fit”.

1.30pm: West Australian MP Luke Simpkins writes an email to his colleague, announcing he will move a spill against Abbott. Fellow West Australian MP Don Randall supports it. Both are supporters of Bishop.

1.50pm: Phillip Ruddock, the chief government whip, writes an email confirming a motion will be moved by a secret ballot that the “senior positions of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant” on Tuesday.

3.10pm: Social Services Minister Scott Morrison says he will not contend the leadership.

3.30pm: Abbott fronts the media in a short conference, where he confirms the spill of the two positions, but says he and Bishop will stand together to defeat the motion.

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Liberal Party Tony Abbott spill: Twittersphere awash with reactions

Bring it on: Tony Abbott, with insets Luke Simpkins (top) and Don Randall. Photo: SuppliedLive: Tony Abbott faces leadership challenge’We must bring this to a head and test support’Julie Bishop refuses to quell unrestAbbott’s leadership enters the killing zone#libspill spills into ‘political protest’

West Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins has emailed his colleagues, announcing he will move a spill motion against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In his email he said: “In the last two weeks I have been inundated with emails and walk-ins to my electorate office all questioning the direction the government is being led in.

“The knighthood issue was for many the final proof of disconnection with the people.

“I have therefore submitted to the Chief Government Whip [Philip Ruddock] a motion to spill the leadership position of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party… “

It was seconded by fellow West Australian Liberal MP Don Randall.

The motion has been listed for discussion at the Liberal Party meeting on Tuesday.

The Twittersphere is awash with quips and pictures of reactions to the spill, especially on the hastag #itson.  BREAKING: IT’S ON! Here’s @JuliaGillard watching @ABCNews24 as we speak… #itson#libspill#auspolpic.twitter杭州龙凤419m/4VkfxyReWh — Chris Chamberlin (@popculturechris) February 6, 2015 Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott debate the republic. Pic from The Australian Moment’s gallery of rivals. #itsonpic.twitter杭州龙凤419m/kutARysGz8 — George Megalogenis (@GMegalogenis) February 6, 2015 Bet you’re regretting making this tweet #itsonpic.twitter杭州龙凤419m/GfFKnurGWa — James Mc9 (@cashbonez) February 6, 2015 Fairfax and Sky News reporting of the #itson story has been first class. They’ve been slaking my thirst for stories. — Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) February 6, 2015  

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Revamped V8 Supercars television coverage to start on Sunday

As well as having to pay for live TV coverage of every race for the first time, V8 Supercars fans will also have to get used to new commentary teams.

Some familiar names have been replaced in V8’s switch from Channel Seven to an AFL/NRL-style split broadcast deal with pay TV’s Fox Sports and Channel Ten.

The $241 million six-year agreement begins on Sunday with live coverage of the final day of the two-day pre-season V8 SuperTest at Sydney Motorsport Park by Fox Sports and delayed highlights on the Ten Network.

The key casualty of the change is V8 legend Mark Skaife, who makes way for former Ten Network motor sport presenter Greg Rust.

Returning to the V8 commentary team after an eight-year absence, Rust takes over as the lead caller.

Also missing from the new-look line-up is popular pit lane analyst and ex-V8 racer/team owner Mark Larkham, replaced by four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Greg Murphy.

New Zealander Murphy, an outspoken observer famous for his Bathurst 1000 heroics, has retired from co-driving in the V8 endurance races to become a full-time commentator.

Skaife, winner of five V8 championships, is expected to have a role on Fox Sport’s new weekly V8 Supercars discussion panel show, which may also feature regular appearances by Larkham.

Staying on as the expert commentator is veteran V8 analyst and former racer Neil Crompton, with Riana Crehan also returning as the other pit lane reporter alongside Murphy.

Fox Sports and Channel Ten, which will simulcast the six biggest events, are sharing the commentary across the season, adding their own hosts, experts and guests around the common coverage of track action.

Fox Sports will telecast every practice and qualifying session, and all races of the 14-event V8 championship series live, while Network Ten will simulcast the Adelaide 500, Townsville 500, Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000, Gold Coast 600 and Sydney 500.

Channel Ten will show delayed highlights of the remaining eight events following Fox Sports’ coverage.

V8 Supercars’ move to primary coverage on subscription TV is controversial because it is the first time fans have had to pay to watch every race since regular telecasts of major Australian touring car racing began in the mid-1970s.

While the split broadcast deal is good for V8 teams, which will receive more income from the much more lucrative arrangement, dedicated motor sport followers are upset that only six events will be screened on free-to-air TV.

It will cost $50 a month for a Foxtel subscription that includes Fox Sports’ wall-to-wall live coverage on all days of each event.

V8 Supercars and Fox Sports maintain that the improved and expanded coverage, which will include all supporting races, justifies the cost for hardcore motor sport followers while enhancing the service for existing subscribers.

V8 executives predict the total viewing audience will increase because Fox Sport’s coverage will be augmented by Ten’s free-to-air telecasts.

Fox Sports is expected to announce its additional V8 on-air line-up to supplement the shared commentary team, while Channel Ten will confirm its presenters later this month.

It is expected that Fox Sport’s motor sport presenter Jessica Yates will host the network’s V8 coverage. Former Channel Seven frontman Matt White will host Ten’s telecasts, joined by ex-F1 star Mark Webber at the season-opening Adelaide 500 and the blue ribband Bathurst 1000.

White will also host the return of the weekly RPM motor sport magazine show, which will feature V8 drivers as regular guests.

Fairfax Media understands that former V8 champion Rick Kelly has signed with Ten to provide behind-the-scenes insights during race weekends.

The pre-season V8 SuperTest this weekend will be a trial run for Fox Sport’s coverage, which is produced by V8 Supercar’s own broadcast production unit.

Fox Sports is promising telecasts loaded with new technology that will enable viewers to select alternative in-car and on-track vision during the broadcasts of track action.

The free-admission SuperTest consists of three practice sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday morning, with the pre-season hit-out culminating with a shoot-out for the fastest lap time on Sunday afternoon.

All 25 cars will race one at a time against the clock over a flying lap.

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Coach Matthew Beckenham says beating Sally Pearson an important step for Melissa Breen

Breen Pearson was an ultra-consistent performer and a close result with a quick Pearson would also be a good result. Photo: Rohan ThomsonCoach Matthew Beckenham says Canberra sprint queen Melissa Breen has the perfect chance to start silencing doubts she can compete against the world’s best when she takes on Australian golden girl Sally Pearson on Saturday.
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While Breen and Pearson have played down the importance of the showdown that pits the Australian women’s 100-metre record holder against the national 100m champion at the AIS Track – with the importance switched to the world championships in Beijing in August – Beckenham still sees it as an important race for Breen.

About a year ago she shocked the Australian athletics world when she scorched down the AIS track to break Melinda Gainsford-Taylor’s 20-year-old national record in 11.11 seconds.

It was on the same day Breen beat Pearson for the first and only time in their careers. While that run proved Breen was fast, Beckenham said there were still doubts about whether she could run quickly at a major meet – or against Sally Pearson.

He felt his charge was closing the gap on the Olympic champion hurdler, and every time Breen ran against Pearson it was a chance to remove the question marks.

“As we’ve learnt with Mel, she can run well in Canberra, but the jury that decide whether or not she’s a successful athlete judge it on how she runs at the majors,” Beckenham said. “This is a real opportunity on her home track … let’s run a good race against Sally.

“Let’s see if you can execute what we’ve been practising for the last 12 weeks on your own. The easiest way to assess it is she beats Sally.”

He said Breen was an ultra-consistent performer and a close result would also be a good result.

Breen is still in a heavy training mode and won’t be at her fastest on Saturday, with an eye on peaking in Beijing.

She reiterated her desire to simply run as fast as she can, with the goal of breaking the 11-second barrier.

It is the combination of Breen’s national record and Pearson’s glittering resume – an Olympic Games gold medal, a world championship crown and two Commonwealth Games golds in her beloved 100m hurdles – that has generated so much interest in this meet.

But Breen tempered expectations the national record would again be lowered on the super-quick Canberra track. “I appreciate, on face value, that’s great but it took 20 years for someone to do it, it’s not a thing that was easy to do,” she said.

“Obviously you’d always want to see an Aussie record … but for us right now, the top athletes … their main goal is to run their best times at world championships where you can make finals and get on the podium.”

Breen said there was added pressure running against Pearson, someone she has always looked up to.

“She’s probably one of the best starters in the world and in 100m that’s pretty critical and it obviously brings a lot more hype to [the race],” she said.

“So it makes you nervous, but it also makes you excited because you know it is going to be a fast race because she always turns up and she’s always in good shape.

“You always know you’re going to have a battle on your hands and that’s something you want to thrive on.”

Beckenham said another Canberran, 400m hurdler Lauren Wells, was in good shape and would be looking to run a world qualifying time of 56.2s on Saturday.

“Loz will run well tomorrow, I’d like her to get a qualifier,” he said.

“She’s got this week, she’s [got] Perth and the ACT champs three weeks in a row, which are normally good conditions.”


Saturday: At the AIS Track, from 3.30pm.

Tickets $10, under-18s free.

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Alex Rowe aiming for world champs qualifier at Canberra Track Classic

Time is of the essence for Australian 800-metre record holder Alex Rowe, and the medical student has vowed to back Canberra to host the national championships if he runs a fast time at the AIS Track on Saturday.
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Rowe holds the record along with Ralph Doubell, who set the mark of one minute 44.4 seconds at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, and the 22-year-old wants to hit the ground running at the Canberra Track Classic on Saturday to book his place to the world championships in Beijing in August.

With his medical studies set to ramp up a notch in 2015, Rowe will have limited time to travel and compete abroad, making the Australian domestic season of the utmost importance to qualify for the worlds.

“Getting the qualifier here in Australia is a bit more important than it has been in previous years, which makes Canberra just another opportunity to try and get that qualifier,” Rowe said.

“I’d like to hit the ground running in Canberra because it’s an amazing track … but with subsequent runs you do improve. I like to start the season at a high level and then improve.”

But he also has an eye on regaining the national title he lost to Josh Ralph last year.

He won the title in 2013 and missed the feeling of being on top of the podium when he finished second to Ralph.

Like many athletes, Rowe loves running in Canberra due to the typically fast conditions and said he’d love for the Canberra Track Classic to become a permanent fixture on the Athletics Australia calendar.

Not just for himself, but also to gain publicity for the sport – records create interest.

But the Australian Sports Commission is currently reviewing AA, which is expected to be completed at the end of February or early March.

It will decide the organisation’s structure going forward and they can’t commit to continuing the CTC until they know the review’s outcome.

But Rowe said he’d back it to even host the nationals – if he runs a good time on Saturday.

“It wouldn’t be a bad atmosphere and the size of the venue is also fantastic because it’s not a massive, massive venue that dwarfs [everything],” he said.

“I’ll run here tomorrow night [Satruday] and I’ll give you more details about whether nationals should be here – if I run fast then you’ll know what the answer will be.”


Saturday: At the AIS Track, from 3.30pm.

Tickets $10, under-18 free.

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Commonwealth gold medallist Michael Shelley to contest world cross-country titles

Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist Michael Shelley will contest the Australian cross-country championships at Stromlo Forest Park on Sunday. Photo: Andrej IsakovicIf it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the mantra Commonwealth Games gold medallist Michael Shelley is following with his decade-long long-distance partnership with renowned Canberra coach Dick Telford.
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Shelley will catch up with Telford when he competes in the IAAF World Cross-Country Championships selection trial at Stromlo Forest Park on Sunday.

Shelley will bypass the world titles in China in March, electing instead to direct his energy towards preparing for the London marathon on April 26.

The 31-year-old became just the fourth Australian to win the men’s marathon at the Commonwealth Games with victory at Glasgow last year in a personal best time of 2 hours, 11 minutes,15 seconds.

Shelley has trained on the Gold Coast since 2005, working with Telford via correspondence. He transmits a detailed heart-rate graph of all of his training sessions to Telford from a GPS watch.

“We talk once or twice a week and I send him my training through the internet with the heart-rate graph, so I can’t slacken off and he knows what’s going on,” Shelley said.

“I can’t rehash old heart-rate graphs either because he’s on to it, not that I’ve tried it. He knows I train hard and I know he expects me to train hard, we just know what’s each other is doing. It’s been working out well since I moved back here in 2005, so why go changing it.”

Telford is one of Australia’s most revered distance-running coaches, having mentored the likes of Lisa Martin (nee Ondieki), Andrew Lloyd, Kate Anderson and Susan Hobson. He was the first sports scientist employed by the Australian Institute of Sport and was last year inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Shelley does the majority of his training individually and has encountered dangerous customers during his runs through the Gold Coast hinterland.

“I have to focus on some of the trails I run anyhow because there’s snakes and that sort of thing, so it keeps you on your toes,” Shelley said. “Training by myself doesn’t really worry me, but occasionally it would be nice to have another person with me so they could keep any eye out.

“I used to see [snakes] quite regularly, but this summer I haven’t seen any, so it’s been a good summer.”

The 12-kilometre cross-country event is at the perfect time and distance for Shelley ahead of the London marathon.

Shelley placed 65th at the world cross-country championships in 2007 and completed his first marathon in 2010, finishing 12th at the Rotterdam marathon.

He won silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and 16th at the 2012 London Olympic Games, but says it’s difficult to put expectations on how he might fare at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“The marathon is a different beast,” he said. “Hopefully you wake up fantastic on the day and you’re training will pay off.”

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ICC’s anti-corruption boss likens grooming tactics of cricket corrupters to paedophiles

The head of world cricket’s anti-corruption and security unit Sir Ronnie Flanagan has likened criminals who lure cricketers into illegal activity to  paedophiles grooming their victims.
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Just over a week before the  World Cup begins, the ICC has outlined security measures that  it believes will ensure the tournament is free from corruption and the threat of corruption.

The ICC has handed a “watch list” – featuring the names of 100 corrupters – to law enforcement agencies in Australia and New Zealand who are banned from entering the World Cup venues. Players and officials from the 14 competing nations will be shown videos this weekend reminding them of their obligations to report suspicious corruption-related behaviour.

Flanagan, a retired senior British police officer, said the ICC had seen a “100 per cent increase” in reports by players, many of whom  are innocent, in the past three years. The video includes a message from Flanagan, other international players and at least one disgraced player, who urges today’s stars not to make the same mistake he did. The disgraced player is not former Pakistan seamer and spot-fixer Mohammad Amir, who  last week was cleared by the ICC to return to domestic cricket.

Flanagan has told players they have the trust of the ICC’s ACSU but warns them of “rotten” criminal elements who “do all in their power to get at players” and officials.

“They’ll trick them, coerce them, try and attract them, they’re almost like paedophiles in how they attempt to groom people into ultimately doing what suits their nefarious intentions in terms of illegal betting and other elements of criminality,” Flanagan said.

“I’m certain the players, match officials and support staff will be working very carefully in support of what we do and we’ll work in partnership to ensure  [criminals] never get their way in this tournament.”

The ICC signed in August 2013 a memorandum of understanding with Australian Federal Police in their fight against corruption at the World Cup.

Fraud detection providers Sportradar have been hired to monitor betting on regulated markets. Analysts will  trawl through social media looking for  approaches  to players.

Security staff  have also been briefed to watch out for “pitchsiders”, the term given to fans who attend matches live and capitalise on the TV delay to either bet or pass on information to bookmakers.

Although pitchsiders do not influence results, the ICC believe it is a threat to the integrity of the game as “it feeds into wider and more sophisticated network of illegal betting”, Flanagan said.

“That’s where there is a risk of it being a minor contagion.”

Pitchsiding is not illegal but Flanagan said pitchsiders can be ejected and banned from World Cup venues for breaching the terms and conditions of entry, which is what happened to a British national during this summer’s Big Bash League.

Fairfax Media has been told pitchsiders apprehended by security staff are often tight-lipped, but the ICC has gleaned enough information to believe their interventions have disrupted the business of illegal bookmakers and gambling syndicates.

“The disruption we bring about from that multiplies. The people whom they will be talking to will be talking to other people,” Flanagan said.

“We’ve had instances after the removal of one person where we know the messages are coming: “Where has he gone? What has happened to the commentary?”.

Flanagan said the intelligence gathered by cricket’s anti-corruption fighters would be shared among other sports.

“I’m certain these bad guys don’t put themselves in pigeonholes and say I only deal with cricket, tennis or snooker,” Flanagan said.

“The same people will be seeking to be in operation wherever they can make money. It’s important all sports keep in close contact with each other.’

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Injury-time own goal sinks plucky Jets

HIGH POINT: Jets substitute Radovan Pavicevic scores his first A-League goal. Picture: Getty ImagesTHE new-look Newcastle Jets gave up a goal in injury time to suffer a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Brisbane Roar in front of 6944 fans at Hunter Stadium on Friday night.
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Teenage substitute Radovan Pavicevic looked to have earned Newcastle a deserved draw when he scored his maiden A-League goal in the 72nd minute.

But with moments remaining, substitute Allan Welsh, who had been on the field for 14 seconds, stuck out his right boot to clear a low free kick from Thomas Broich only to deflect it into his own net.

The rookie defender had just replaced Scott Neville, who had given the free kick away.

The Jets showed plenty of fight after two weeks of turmoil at the club which included the sacking of five of their teammates and three of their coaching staff.

Striker Jean Carlos Solorzano put the visitors ahead in the 35th minute when he was left unmarked at a corner and flicked the ball home from inside the six-yard box.

Plucked from the youth team, Pavicevic equalised when he collected a misdirected back pass from Corey Brown, rounded goalkeeper Michael Theo and kept his cool when the ball bobbled up from Brown’s late challenge to volley it deftly between two defenders.

Radovan Pavicevic scoring a goal for Newcastle. Picture: Dean Osland

In the end, it was not the win the Jets craved, but it was a vast improvement on the insipid performance in the 7-0 surrender to Adelaide two weeks earlier.

Content to sit back for much of the contest, the Jets finished the stronger and could have snatched all three points.

Daniel Mullen hit the crossbar with a header and the Roar had to defend desperately at the death to hang on before snatching the winner against the run of play.

Taylor Regan, who had not played since round six, led a bare-bones outfit after a fortnight of bloodletting.

Former Wanderers centre back Mullen made his Jets debut alongside Regan in five team changes from the Adelaide rout.

New assistant coaches Mark Jones, James Pascoe and Jesse Vanstrattan, who also acted as back-up keeper, joined besieged coach Phil Stubbins on the sideline for the first time.

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Newcastle City Council garbage collectors close to striking

NEWCASTLE garbage collectors almost went on strike this week after council pays were a day late for the third time in recent months, their union has confirmed.
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The United Services Union confirmed the pay unrest after a NSW Industrial Relations Commission report-back on Friday.

Union industrial officer Noel Martin said Newcastle City Council’s pay-day had changed in a new system of fortnightly, rather than weekly, pay.

Mr Martin said some employees had been hit with penalties by their banks when there were insufficient funds in their accounts for automatic deductions on mortgage repayments and the like.

The council confirmed the delays but said that ‘‘in every case the issues have been resolved within 24hours’’.

Mr Martin said the pay delays added to already substantial morale problems and he could not rule out immediate industrial action should another delay occur.

Mr Martin said the dispute in the industrial commission began when the council refused to allow a union delegate to be present during a staff disciplinary matter.

Mr Martin said the union was still waiting for an assurance that such a thing would not happen again.

The council’s human resources manger, Graeme Holland, said the union had not responded to his correspondence on the matter.

Mr Martin said the council talked about ‘‘wanting a relationship’’ with the union but had twice ignored the industrial commission’s recommendations – the only times he could recall any council doing so in 18years representing the union.

Summing up, Deputy President Rod Harrison said that rather than ‘‘bickering over who should be at a meeting’’, it would be better if the council and the union addressed ‘‘the real issues of productivity, efficiency and job security’’.

The parties are set to meet on Thursday with a return to the commision on Monday, February 16.

The council told the Newcastle Herald it gave ‘‘due consideration to all’’ the commission’s recommendations.

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Rhys Smith rises to the occasion for Merewether at Surfest

STRONG PERFORMER: James McMorland competes in the Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach for Frenchmans. Picture: Ryan OslandTHE steadying influence of Rhys Smith helped Merewether stay in the mix for a quarter-final berth after day one of the Surfest Tag Team Challenge at Stockton beach.
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Smith stepped into the breach after a string of withdrawals and was among Merewether’s best on Friday as they finished second in rounds one and two.

Jesse and Marc Adam as well as youngsters Morgan Cibilic and Zephyr Le Rougetel make up the Merewether side, which is missing stars Ryan Callinan, Craig Anderson and Jake Sylvester. Young guns Jackson Baker and Luke Hamilton are competing at the Australian Open of Surfing pro junior at Manly this weekend.

The two second placings left Merewether in sixth place overall with two more rounds remaining on Saturday. The top eight then progress to the the finals on Sunday.

North Avalon defeated Merewether in round one 57.63 to 36.71 and North Shelly prevailed over the local powerhouse 45.3 to 36.51 in the second.

North Shelly, North Avalon and North Narrabeen Black won both of their four-team rounds to be 20 points and lead the 16-team field after the opening day.

North Narrabeen White and Norah Head were on 16 points after a win and a second.

North Narrabeen Black were the standout team on Friday, racking up 123.04 in wave scores across the two rounds.

Chris Enever was a leading light for North Narrabeen Black, which included Kai Warner, former world tour surfer Brett Warner’s son.

James McMorland was a strong performer for Frenchmans, who are seemingly out of contention for a quarter-finals berth after securing 7.5 points from a second and fourth on Friday. McMorland clinched back-to-back Surfest wildcard trials victories last Sunday at Birubi Beach to book his place in the six-star Mark Richards Pro on February 16 at Merewether.

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Uni opt to ground Aaron Bird for T20 final

FULL STRIDE: Aaron Bird in action for NSW in 2006. Picture: Getty ImagesUNIVERSITY have resisted the temptation to parachute former NSW fast bowler Aaron Bird into their side for the Newcastle district cricket Twenty20 final on Sunday at No.1 Sportsground against Merewether.
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Bird has not played a game for Uni but was on their team sheet for their washed out T20 game on January 18 against Toronto Workers.

Newcastle District Cricket Association’s grade administrator, Alan Nichols, confirmed Bird was eligible to play. However, Uni skipper and Bird’s younger brother, Luke Bird, said the club had decided against playing the 31-year-old.

‘‘There were talks and we were thinking about it, but he hasn’t played a game for us and we have blokes who have played and trained week in week out, and I think it would have been a little unfair to sit them out for the final,’’ Luke Bird said.

Uni will field a formidable bowling line-up, even without the six-game Sheffield Shield veteran.

New Newcastle representative bowler Tim Prescott (38 wickets at 9.55) and Grant Stewart (26 at 14.69) are among the in-form seamers of the competition and Luke Bird has recaptured his top pace.

‘‘He’s deserved it. He’s been one of the form bowlers of the whole comp, the stats tell you that,’’ Bird said of Prescott.

‘‘With the new ball he can move it both ways, so he’s pretty lethal.’’

In last year’s T20 final Hamish Bartlett made 61 not out to carry Merewether to victory over Uni with three balls to go.

It was a match many believed Uni should have won, if not for some wayward bowling from the 15th to 17th overs that leaked 46 runs.

‘‘We’ve taken a lot out of that game last year and if you look at our team this year, compared to last year, we’ve improved with the addition of some new players,’’ Bird said.

‘‘I think we can take a lot of confidence out of that knowing we got so close last year.

‘‘We’re much more balanced and I think we can go that step further and win it.’’

Merewether will be without their own first-class fast bowler, Mark Cameron, but University of NSW left-arm quick Dan Morton will be available.

Left-arm orthodox spinner Tim O’Neill is in doubt due to a back injury.

Merewether have won the past three T20 finals and will again start firm favourites.

A victory would secure their second trophy of the summer, after they defeated Hamilton-Wickham in the SCG Country Cup final three weeks ago.

‘‘As the boys have always said, we play to win and you always play to win trophies,’’ Merewether vice-captain Troy Goodwin said. ‘‘For the second time this year we get another crack at it, we’ll be going hard at it, that’s for sure.’’

Meanwhile, the NSW government’s Home Ground Tour rolls into Newcastle this weekend to continue the build-up to the start of the World Cup next Saturday.

Smith Park at Hamilton North will host the tour on Saturday.

The tour includes cricket clinics, World Cup memorabilia from the Bradman Museum and other activities.

The tour moves to Foreshore Park on Sunday where former Australian bowler Nathan Bracken will attend.

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Aaron Townsend won’t play safe

FULL TILT: Aaron Townsend.CHARLESTOWN’S Aaron Townsend has vowed to maintain an aggressive approach at the Victorian Open after he rocketed into fourth position with an eight-under 64 at Barwon Heads on Friday.
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Townsend’s putting radar was switched on as he drained nine birdies in ideal scoring conditions to move to nine under.

The only time his putter failed him, on the 13th, it resulted in his sole bogey.

Amateur Andrew Schonewille leads at 11 under.

Townsend’s 64 in the morning equalled the course record, which was then bettered by Mitchell Brown’s 10-under 63.

‘‘It was good to take advantage of the conditions as the course was a little softer and the greens were most receptive,’’ Townsend said.

‘‘I drove the ball nicely and didn’t hit it overly close, but I found a lot of greens and made some nice putts.’’

The high scoring is expected to continue over the weekend and Townsend has no plans to play it safe.

‘‘Tomorrow is supposed to be hot with a northerly so the course will dry out and become fast,’’ he said.

‘‘It will all be about course management.

‘‘You won’t be able to be complacent, you have to keep making birdies.

‘‘Everyone knows that, so you’ve got to be aggressive, but conservative.’’

Toronto’s Callan O’Reilly could also challenge over the weekend after carding a flawless 66 to move to sixth place at 136, eight under par.

The second-year professional only booked his spot on Monday when he finished runner-up in the qualifier at Kooringal.

After a disappointing end to his rookie season as a professional, O’Reilly said he spent the Christmas break working hard on his mental approach.

‘‘It wasn’t the best end to the season last year and I’m just been trying to wrap my head around it all,’’ O’Reilly said.

‘‘It feels like it’s working, it’s just a better mental attitude at the moment.

‘‘It’s easier to be good mentally when you’re playing well.’’

Charlestown’s Jamie Hook (69-70) in 23rd at five under and the Vintage’s Edward Stedman (74-69) scraped inside the cut at one under.

The Hunter’s big guns Kurt Barnes (75-69) and Nathan Green (73-73) missed the cut.

Meanwhile, Charlestown’s Jake Higginbottom and Waratah’s Andrew Dodt are three shots off the pace at the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.

England’s Lee Westwood and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell led after the first round.

The two Novocastrians carded three-under 69s.

Higginbottom was on fire early with birdies at the second, fifth, ninth and 12th before making bogey on 16.

Dodt shot a bogey-free round, making birdies at four, 11 and 17.

But it was the European big guns who lit up the course.

Westwood and McDowell both shot six-under 66.

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Fee Madigan finds restorative power of art

FLAME OF CREATIVITY: Fee Madigan busy working at her Art Mania Studio in Wallsend. Picture: Brock PerksFEELING burnt out after a demanding career in drug, alcohol and mental health rehabilitation, Fee Madigan turned to her lifelong love: art.
Shanghai night field

“I had always been involved in art but had never made it full-time as my career before,” she said.

“For me, it was a saviour and helped me to get back to wellness.

“Without it, I don’t think I would have coped very well.”

Ms Madigan relocated to Newcastle from Alice Springs – where she participated in shaping the Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act – in 2008 and soon established Art Mania Studio in Wallsend, which offers hands-on educational artistic programs for anyone aged five years old and upwards.

“Art allowed me to reflect and look at things in a different way and express how I felt,” she said.

“Getting back into it gave me a sense of purpose – and it can also help people facing anxiety or mild depression.

“We call it art as therapy, but not in a clinical sense, where people want to learn stuff but also want a safe environment to just sit and be part of a group and not really participate outwardly if they are struggling with a life situation.”

From her studio, Ms Madigan has expanded her repertoire beyond painting to also include leadlighting, mosaics, hebel carving, freeform knitting and crochet, and shares her skills in these areas through WEA Hunter.

She will focus on glass fusing in her first half-day workshop for the year on Saturday, showing participants how to select, cut and layer coloured glass before it is fired in a kiln to create items including bowls and jewellery.

“Its easy, accessible and once you get the knowledge it’s a learned technique,” she said.

“People say ‘I haven’t got a creative bone in my body’, but I ask them how they are able to drive and they say ‘I learned’.

Ms Madigan’s fused and kiln-fired glassworks are on show to February 8 in her exhibition, Glass Awakenings, at Art Systems Wickham, alongside works by Roger McFarlane, Don Stewart and Luka Basorios.

It is open Friday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm.

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