Roberts’ sacking a ‘blessing in disguise’

Return bout: James Roberts is set to play his first game for the Titans against Penrith – the team that cut him loose in March. Photo: Wolter PeetersJames Roberts was a shattered man at the time of his sacking from Penrith, and while he holds no grudges against his former club, he has labelled his move to the Gold Coast as a blessing in disguise.
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As he prepares for what could be his first game for the Titans against his former club on Saturday night, Roberts has broken his silence after he was axed by the Panthers in March following an alcohol-fuelled off-field misdemeanour during the preseason.

The talented 21-year-old, who has been named on an extended bench for the Titans this weekend, said he owed a lot to Panthers general manager Phil Gould and club welfare officer Glen Liddiard for helping to turn his life around.

“I was shattered when they released me and told me I was no longer needed there,” Roberts said.

“I think Glen was more shattered than me, he almost burst out in tears. It was pretty heartbreaking and I never really wanted to leave. Gus called me in and said it was one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make. He told me ‘we’re going to have to let you go’ and that ‘we as a club believe it’s not working’. He said ‘we wish you luck at whatever club you go to, which I’m sure you’ll find’. He just said it wasn’t working out and that I’ve had enough warnings.

“I got along with Gus. He’s like the godfather at Penrith and he always came around to check on me and make sure everything was all good. That’s why I was shocked when he called me in and told me they had to let me go. Gus has helped me out a lot and I couldn’t thank him enough for what he did for me. I’m still looking to give him a buzz once I get my life back on track, but it’s all worked out perfect for me on the Gold Coast. One of my uncles told me it was a blessing in disguise.”

At the start of last year, Roberts was homeless. He was living out of his car for a fortnight as he looked to get his life back on track at the foot of the mountains after he was dumped by South Sydney.

His talent has never been questioned, winning the Jack Gibson medal last year as the best player in Penrith’s Holden Cup premiership triumph.

He’s now living at Tweed Heads with Titans teammate and cousin Caleb Binge. While some may see this as his last chance, Roberts said the move was his best shot at making the most of his freakish talent.

“I don’t feel like it’s my last chance, I feel like it’s my best chance,” Roberts said.

“I will make it work. You’d have to have something wrong with you for it to not work out up here given the lifestyle, the boys and the facilities. It’s good for me to be up here with my close mate Brad Tighe. When I found out he was going to the Titans, I started thinking I wanted to leave the club too because I was training at right centre but the Panthers had signed Jamal [Idris] to play there.

“I was a bit heartbroken when I was told they were going to run Jamal at centre and, if injuries occur, then I’ll get my crack. They wanted me to run on the right wing and I didn’t like that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”

Since the preseason incident that culminated in his sacking from Penrith, Roberts has been on an alcohol ban imposed by the NRL’s integrity unit.

While that ban is set to be lifted in just over a fortnight, Roberts has vowed to stay off the drink in a bid to fulfil his potential.

“After leaving Penrith, I haven’t touched a drink since,” Roberts said.

“Nothing good comes out of it, especially when you’re an athlete. The Integrity Unit put me on an alcohol ban, which at first I didn’t like. But now it’s my choice not to drink. I’m still on a ban but when it finishes, I’m not going to drink. I’ve learnt that alcohol is not my mate.”

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Brumbies Nic White replaces dumped Will Genia

Tyro combo gets the nod for French series opener
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Dumped Test halfback Will Genia became a victim of his own world-class standard when he was dropped from the Wallabies match day squad for the first time in four years on Tuesday.

Ewen McKenzie named Brumbies No.9 Nic White to start against France on Saturday.Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps is on the bench, the Wallabies coach saying he was looking for more from the once dominant Queensland No.9.

“Sometimes it’s only little things and that’s the way it is, but you have to be at the peak of your powers,” he said.

“Players set a standard for themselves and you reference against that. That’s why I’ve been talking about consistency, you reference every player against what you know they’re capable of.

“We apply that criteria to everyone. The guys who are getting picked are playing the closest to their potential.”

White will partner with No.10 Bernard Foley in the NSW playmaker’s first start and just his fifth Test.

It is the first time since Australia’s Test against Ireland in June 2010 that Genia has been left out of the Wallabies match day squad.

Though the 55-Test halfback missed most of the Test season in 2012 through injury and was benched in favour of White for two Tests in last year’s Rugby Championship, he has been one of the most immovable members of the Wallabies starting 15 since the Robbie Deans era.

In another big – but not entirely unexpected – selection, uncapped Brumbies second-rower Sam Carter trumped James Horwill for a starting spot next to Queenslander Rob Simmons.

Horwill will come off the bench in an effort to regain the abrasive form that made him a must-have starting inclusion in Wallabies sides just 12 months ago.

Carter, 24, revealed the former Test captain was the first to congratulate him on his upcoming debut.

“He’s a class act, he was the first person who congratulated me, straight after the meeting he was running through my roles in the lineout,” Carter said.

It was good news for NSW back rower Wycliff Palu, who was named ahead of Ben McCalman at No.8, while blindside breakaway Scott Fardy will add additional on-ball abrasiveness to complement Michael Hooper at the breakdown.

McKenzie said Palu’s big game experience was important against France.

“Cliffy finished second in the John Eales Medal [voting] last year and he only played half the Tests,” he said.

“He’s rated by the players in terms of the contribution he makes and he’s been in good form, particularly in the more physical parts of the game, which is part of Test matches.”

Foley, meanwhile, will also take on the goal-kicking responsibilities in his first start for the Wallabies. The 24-year-old made his Test debut against Argentina in Rosario in last year’s Rugby Championship, scoring a try.

Foley beat NSW teammate and playmaking partner Kurtley Beale to the starting spot. Beale  is on the bench alongside Phipps and resurgent Brumbies back Pat McCabe.

Matt Toomua and Tevita Kuridrani have retained their spots in the midfield. In-form NSW No.13 Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins reprise their spots on the wing. Try-scoring powerhouse Israel Folau – probably the first name on McKenzie’s list – returns at fullback.

In the front row, new Wallabies captain Stephen Moore will start at hooker. James Slipper is at loosehead and Sekope Kepu at tighthead.

Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Nick Cummins, Bernard Foley, Nic White; Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (c), James Slipper. Res: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan, Paddy Ryan, James Horwill, Ben McCalman, Nick Phipps, Kurtley Beale, Pat McCabe.

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Tyro Wallabies halves combo gets nod for French Test series opener

They have spent just six minutes on the field together in a Test match after struggling to be seen behind much bigger names in gold jerseys.
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But on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, new Wallabies halves partners Nic White and Bernard Foley will step out from the shadows of Will Genia and Quade Cooper to steer the Wallabies around the park against an imposing France.

It is five-eighth Foley’s first start and just his fifth Test, but a try and two conversions in the Wallabies’ rousing 54-17 win against Argentina last year, plus a pivotal role in the Waratahs’ climb to second in Super Rugby this season, ensured the former sevens player’s name was at the forefront of Ewen McKenzie’s mind all year.

“He’s a very talented player, I think he’s had an outstanding season, so it wasn’t a complicated exercise thinking that one through,” the Wallabies coach said on Tuesday.

“Even before Quade was injured it wasn’t like Quade was [definitely] in – in every position we’ve looked at all the candidates and had really good options. [Foley] was well and truly in the mix, regardless of injuries.”

Foley will also take responsibility for most of the goalkicking, while White will take the long-range shots and No.12 Matt Toomua to kick for touch.

White has played 10 Tests since his debut against the All Blacks in August but it is only his third start. The Brumbies halfback said his performances against Argentina and South Africa in the Rugby Championship last year had exposed his decision-making, particularly in the Wallabies’ 28-8 loss in Cape Town.

“They give you the responsibility out there to judge the game and maybe I didn’t get that right and that’s why I lost my spot [to Genia],” White said. “Since then I’ve worked on being able to read the game and I think I’ve found the balance. I learnt the hard way, but it’s a lesson I had to have.”

An honest exchange with McKenzie and attack coach Jim McKay, plus season-long tutelage under Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham and Test great George Gregan, has inspired White to career-best form in Canberra this year.

He had stiff competition from NSW No.9 Nick Phipps, who was named as White’s replacement on the bench, while the world-class spectre of Genia only returned with one round to spare at Suncorp Stadium last week.

White said he appreciated McKenzie’s willingness to back up talk about form with selection.

“It’s certainly encouraging and gives a lot of faith to a lot of players that when you go out there and play well, [McKenzie] will reward you for it,” he said.

As for their connection, the six minutes on ground together at Gigante de Arroyito in Rosario last year were fruitful if also brief. There was also a NSW Schools pairing in 2007, and McKenzie said there was time to learn on the go.

“You see us playing on the weekend but that’s only one fifth of the time spent in combination, working together,” he said.

“I’m pleased with what I’ve seen in a short space of time, that adaptation process and the understanding and communication, all that’s flowing pretty well.

“Obviously you need the pressure cooker of the Test match and we’ll find out. It won’t all be perfect, I can guarantee you that, but the attitude and the willingness at the moment in training has been outstanding.”

Foley, who was selected ahead of NSW teammate Kurtley Beale, said he was delighted to have the opportunity to move his sparkling Super Rugby form into the main arena.

“It was definitely a goal of mine at the start of the year … you don’t always want to be the filler, you want to cement your spot somewhere,” he said.

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Gold Coast no longer fear Sydney

Gold Coast Suns coach Guy McKenna says his players no longer fear the Sydney Swans and will take confidence from their recent form, the best in the club’s history, into Sunday’s match.
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The Suns’ four-game winning streak was brought to a screaming halt by a spirited fourth quarter effort from the Adelaide Crows last week, while Sydney’s 110-point demolition of Geelong has put them into serious premiership contention heading into round 12.

In the Suns’ three-and-a-half-year club history they have never beaten Sydney, going down by 41 points last year, 72 points in 2012 and 70 points in round 16 the previous year.

McKenna said that while the Swans’ six-game winning streak is nothing to scoff at, he believes the gap is narrowing between the two teams.

“We’re into our fourth year and about 70 games old,” McKenna said. ”In our first year we might have been three games old but we’re a lot older and a lot wiser now. You look at the experience and age of Sydney, they’ve still got us covered, but we’re narrowing that gap, I think.

“Adelaide was an opponent we haven’t beaten and Sydney are an opponent we haven’t beaten, so opportunities are going to arrive this weekend. We want to keep playing that consistent brand of football and give ourselves the best chance of knocking these opponents over. This is an opportunity now that we’ve got some form and confidence within the group; we’re definitely a better chance to win it.”

The Swans forward line of Kurt Tippett, Lance Franklin and Adam Goodes were at their destructive best against Geelong on Friday night, kicking 12 of Sydney’s 22 goals, but McKenna said his team will be working extremely hard to shut down Sydney’s big men.

“Clearly the one-on-one contests are where we need to win it,” he said. “For Buddy and Kurt it’s well documented their presence in the Sydney forward line, but if we can affect the movement of the ball, the ball actually going into our back line on our terms more so than Sydney’s terms, that’s going to allow our defenders to have a chance to compete better and stay in the game for longer.”

Sydney and Gold Coast have notched up seven wins apiece this season, but the Swans’ for and against puts them two spots ahead of the Suns in third. Despite a 32-point loss to the Crows last week, McKenna said his team have proved the doubters wrong that they are a one-man team.

“We can win games on the back of Gary [Ablett] not having his normal standout game and almost dragging us across the line, but the form of David Swallow, Dion Prestia and Jeager O’Meara around the midfield and the service from Zac Smith – that unit is really working well together.

“Gary’s been a fine leader and a great example for our young kids; they’ve watched him and learned from him and got better themselves. Now they’re actually able to dictate terms to opponents if you like. The challenges are going to be massive for us though this weekend.”

Swans ruckman Mike Pyke will return to training on Wednesday after being on the sidelines for almost a month with a hamstring strain, while Dane Rampe will be given an extra day to get his bad knee ready for Sunday’s game.

“We’d like them to be able to train tomorrow and Friday in order to be available,” Swans physiotherapist Matt Cameron said.

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NRL heavyweight Jim Doyle sees silver lining in Australian sport’s ‘blackest day’

NRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle. Photo: Tamara DeanNRL chief operating officer Jim Doyle hopes the 15-month investigation into doping allegations in the game will be complete before he leaves at the end of the season to take charge of the Warriors.
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Doyle, who responsibilities include overseeing the NRL integrity unit and the administration of the salary cap, will return home to New Zealand after two years with the NRL to replace Wayne Scurrah as Warriors chief executive.

In doing so he will become the latest in several senior officials to exit the NRL this year, but Doyle had nothing but praise for the way chief executive Dave Smith is running the organisation.

“I really enjoy working with Dave, he is the smartest guy I have ever worked with,” Doyle said. “I know that he is making a massive difference for the game and taking it in the right direction, but when I came here I always knew it would only be for two or three years.

“New Zealand is home for me but I wanted to stay in the game, so when the Warriors approached me that was an opportunity for me to do both.”

A key part of Doyle’s job has been spent dealing with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority’s long-running investigation into the supplements program at Cronulla in 2011 and allegations that other players had used banned substances.

While reluctant to join the growing chorus of criticism of the way ASADA has handled the investigation, Doyle said he hoped there would be a conclusion before he departs.

“I have got another five months to go before I leave and hopefully we can get this completely finished and put to bed before then,” he said. “It would certainly be disappointing for me to go and have it still hanging around.

“We have introduced a lot of new rules around supplements etc, the club doctor now reporting to the CEO, so in every dark cloud there is a silver lining and I think the sport is in a better position now with respect to that than it has been before.”

Warriors owner Eric Watson said Scurrah had decided to leave the club at the end of last season but agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement was found, and he described Doyle as the perfect person for the job.

“Jim’s a highly successful businessman first and foremost but his understanding and connection with the game is a great asset,” Watson said. “I think something in our favour was that he had a great experience with NZRL when he was here and he truly is excited about coming back and being part of the Warriors. It was a mutual affair rather than a wooing by me.”

With Doyle credited for taking Navman from a $3 million company to a $500 million worldwide brand, one rival chief executive described the potential for the Warriors with him in charge as “scary”.

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