Sydney Roosters swap lagers for lattes

The Sydney Roosters have slapped an alcohol ban on themselves to ensure their premiership defence gets back on track.
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It has been revealed the players made a pact to stay off the booze at an honesty session following their 42-10 loss to North Queensland last month. The playing and coaching staff held a meeting the day after the defeat in Townsville to address the performance, arguably the worst since Trent Robinson took over as coach last year.

With the team sitting outside the top eight and still reeling from the fallout of Mitchell Pearce and Boyd Cordner’s big night out, the coaches were looking for answers. A number of issues were addressed, with captain Anthony Minichiello understood to be one of the more vocal players as the club dissected a disappointing start to the season.

The result was an indefinite booze ban, which is likely to remain until the end of the season.

“It was just a conventional debrief meeting the next day after a heavy loss against North Queensland,” Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan said.

“It was a heavy loss, we were poor. Not only does the consumption of alcohol and other issues drain energy from individuals but from the club – and the team performance drops.

“If you drop 1 per cent it can convert into 10 points. If you’re talking about a 2 or 3 per cent drop, you get 30 or 40 points put on you.

“The players realised we needed to do something a bit different to get a performance.

“The conversation went along those lines, looking at the one-percenters. And [banning alcohol] was one of them and probably the first one.”

It’s not the first time the Roosters have swapped lagers for lattes. The tricolours swore off the grog during the final eight rounds of the regular season of last year. After noticing the improvements in performance, they continued to abstain until their campaign ended, resulting in an epic grand final triumph against Manly.

Pearce had already vowed not to imbibe again in-season after he was involved in an incident with a female patron at the Beach Haus nightclub in Kings Cross, which led to his arrest and an infringement notice for failing to leave a licensed premises.

The halfback, who had already been marched from the Clovelly Hotel that evening, was fined $20,000 and handed a one-match ban, which was served during that fateful loss to the Cowboys. The punishment could end up being even heftier, with Pearce set to miss out on the $90,000 Origin match payments he would have been entitled to had he played all three games of the series. Cordner was fined $5000 for his role in the evening.

The boozy incident, and the response to it, may now be a positive for the tricolours. The club is likely to retain halves pairing Pearce and James Maloney throughout the Origin period after being resigned to coping without them. And the turnaround following the Cowboys post-mortem has been emphatic, if convincing wins against Canterbury and Canberra are any guide.

“That poor performance that evening made us click into another mindset,” Canavan said.

“There was an inquiry as to why we served up a 40-point loss to the Cowboys. They were good, but we were very poor. The conversation went from there, continued on into next week, and away we went.”

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AFL clubs unhappy with equalisation plans

The AFL’s historic bid to create an even football competition is facing a mutinous response from at least five middle-level clubs disenchanted in the belief they will be harshly taxed by Gillon McLachlan’s complex equalisation formula.
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Fairfax Media understands Carlton, Essendon, Fremantle, Geelong and Richmond have been stunned at learning they will be taxed between $200,000 and $400,000 annually over the next two years compared with the capped $500,000 to be carried by  Collingwood, Hawthorn and West Coast.

McLachlan will roll out his new competitive balance formula to the 18 clubs on Wednesday in what looms as a lengthy session at head office, which will also mark Andrew Demetriou’s final day as AFL chief executive.

”The devil will be in the detail,’’ Fremantle chief Steve Rosich said. ‘‘Hopefully the detail won’t be the devil. Hopefully the middle clubs won’t be disproportionate contributors.

“You’d hate to see a disproportionate burden to be carried by a mid-tier club as opposed to a top-tier club.”

Several disillusioned chief executives have pointed out to the AFL that middle-ranked clubs will be the hardest hit, with some being taxed close to 50 per cent of their profits compared with closer to 10 per cent  by Collingwood.

Intense lobbying from the wealthy clubs, led by the Magpies, led to the AFL backing down from its original revenue tax equation. Now the 2015 equalisation pool will include club contributions of no more than $4 million and as low as $3 million, although the AFL will top up that amount with money from its club future fund.

The key recipients of the equalisation pool in 2015 will be the Brisbane Lions, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs, with Melbourne and potentially Port Adelaide and North Melbourne also having money put back into their football spending.

All the clubs facing six-figure taxes have been told the formula has been based on last year’s profits to dissuade – they suspect – any attempts to rewrite revenues.

It is understood the AFL has chosen to tax the clubs on all revenue, including gaming profits. But McLachlan is understood to have been more sympathetic towards fund-raising foundations, such as those being run by Richmond and Sydney and more recently established by St Kilda, which will not be included in club taxable revenues.

Several clubs remain hopeful the AFL will not include player welfare costs in the football department revenue equation, arguing  such a move would result in that area of football spending decreased significantly to beat the tax.

The ambition is to allow every club to pay its players 100 per cent of the salary cap. The two expansion clubs, which are still being fully funded by the AFL, are not expected to be included until at least 2017 when the new broadcast rights agreement is struck.

The tax on football department spending will also be capped and only clubs spending more than $9.5million on football outside of its total player payments will be hit.  The prevailing view is only Collingwood and West Coast will be taxed, although that money will reach poorer clubs until 2016.

The disillusionment shared by those middle-ranked clubs has been compounded by the belief they were under-represented by the working party that travelled to the US last July to examine the equalisation strategies in  American football. Only Richmond’s Brendon Gale was on that trip  and subsequent working sessions, compared with stronger representation from the wealthy and poorer clubs.

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AFL player salary cap to rise

The AFL salary cap for players will have a larger increase next year, and in 2016, but clubs will not have to pay 100 per cent of their player payments, under the AFL’s new deal and equalisation measures.
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And while there will be a limit on what clubs can spend on football – and tax on clubs that exceed that amount – there will be no minimum spend outside of player payments.

Under the new arrangements, which the AFL’s new boss Gillon McLachlan will outline to the 18 clubs on Wednesday, the salary cap will be increased by about 4.5 per cent in 2015 and 2016 – higher than the 3 per cent rises that were guaranteed.

But clubs will not have to pay 100 per cent of the salary cap, with the minimum for total player payments and additional services agreements (capped marketing-related payments) remaining at 95 per cent. This is despite the near universal view that all clubs should have the capacity to pay 100 per cent of the player salary cap – a key goal of equalisation.

While there has been a strong push for salary cap equality – with Sydney’s contentious cost of living allowance (COLA) to be phased out and replaced by a rental allowance – the AFL will retain the veterans’ allowance for the next two years. This rule allows players with 10 years’ service at a club to be paid an extra $118,000 a year outside of the salary cap in 2014.

The veteran’s allowance enabled Geelong to play players an extra $1 million in 2012, when it had nine veterans, and $710,000 outside the cap in 2014, with six veterans.

The veteran payments, which have assisted older players in being retained at their club, were under threat as part of the equalisation, but there has been a strong pushback from the players’ association and player managers, with the upshot being that the allowance for 10-year players will be kept for the next two years. Some smaller clubs do not take advantage of the veterans’ allowance, for financial reasons.

The increased salary cap means that some clubs – such as St Kilda and the Bulldogs – will have to spend more heavily on players. In effect, this means that some of the equalisation funds those clubs receive will be allocated already.

The smaller clubs with poor stadium deals will not receive funds from the luxury tax until 2016, because it will be based on football spending in 2015.

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Dees embrace games against top guns

Demons players train on Tuesday. Photo: Penny StephensMelbourne forward Chris Dawes sees his team’s clash with Collingwood on Monday as a “winnable game”, and is looking forward to introducing himself to some of the newer members of his former team.
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“There’s a lot of new faces in their team . . . [Jack] Frost will probably be playing on me,” said Dawes, who returns after a one-match ban. “I haven’t even met that bloke.”

Dawes is irked by suggestions the game is “like a final”, but admits the Demons need big-game experience. “As a team that has aspirations – possibly not this year but in coming years – to be playing in the finals, we need experience in front of big crowds,” he said.

“It’s a winnable game,” he added about a clash in which 80,000 are expected at the MCG.

Coach Paul Roos is also refusing to play the underdog card.

“There’s no point turning up to games to be competitive, at some point you’ve got to turn up to games to win,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to test ourselves and continue to get better.”

Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley is also refusing to take the match for granted, saying he’s impressed with how Roos is rebuilding a club that has become accustomed to finishing near the bottom of the ladder.

“They have our respect,” he said. “We’ll be going [into] Monday’s game with our eyes wide open, understanding fully what the football they’ve been able to play [and] the discipline they’ve displayed.”

While Melbourne has only managed three wins from 11 rounds, Roos said he was happy with how player attitudes were changing and becoming more competitive. While those changes haven’t resulted in many wins, he has kept his promise to increase the club’s percentage. At the end of the 2013 season, the Demons ended on a miserable 54.1 per cent. Halfway through the 2014 season, they’re on 78.7.

The team’s gutsy effort against top of the ladder Port Adelaide last Saturday – the Demons led by 10 points midway through the third quarter – was something to be proud of, Roos said, although it proved they still had a long way to go to be competitive against the best sides.

“We thought we played really well for about 100 minutes against a top side, but we have to play well for 120 minutes every time.”

The Collingwood clash was a good opportunity for his team to prove it can play “consistent football on a weekly basis”.

Collingwood will be without midfielder Steele Sidebottom after he accepted a three-match ban for rough conduct, but Luke Ball, Dane Swan and Brodie Grundy all trained on Tuesday and could be up for selection.

Jesse White could also be a contender despite suffering a dislocation to a finger last weekend.

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Newcastle Poetry Prize showcases city’s artistic leanings

RECOGNITION: Perennial Newcastle Poetry Prize entrant Magdalena Ball, of Martinsville. Picture: Dean OslandTHE Newcastle Poetry Prize is a driving inspiration for Martinsville writer Magdalena Ball.
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With a full-time job and three kids, she finds a deadline is a useful driving force for creating good poetry.

Ms Ball has been entering the competition since 2004, when she made the shortlist with her collaborative multimedia piece.

She has written two novels, one full-length book of poetry and many chapbooks of poetry.

“I’ve been writing as long as I can remember,” she said.

“The Newcastle Poetry Prize is my go-to. I enter it every year.”

Ms Ball said she thought poetry competitions were a great way to get some recognition and make a name in the industry.

She said it was not just about winning.

“I love the competition because it has Newcastle in the name,” she said.

“It’s close to home and I love the fact that it bolsters the local neighbourhood and gives this area a bit more of an artistic reputation beyond being an industrial city.”

Established and emerging writers alike from all over Australia are preparing for this year’s Newcastle Poetry Prize.

The competition, in its 33rd year, is co-ordinated by the Hunter Writers’ Centre and has been funded by the University of Newcastle since 2005.

The cash prize pool totals $20,000, including $12,000 for first place. There is also a category winner for local Hunter poets and the Harri Jones Memorial Prize for young poets under the age of 36.

“The Newcastle Poetry Prize harnesses the diverse talents from across the country and each year a high calibre of poems from both published and emerging poets are submitted,” university deputy vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Parfitt said.

The competition is judged blind, giving both experienced and novice poets an even playing field.

Twenty-five entries will be compiled in an anthology linked to the competition.

Entries close at 5pm on Friday, June 20.

To read Ms Ball’s work, visit magdalenaball上海后花园m.

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Adam Taggart in Socceroos final 23

Adam Taggart in Socceroos final 23 Adam Taggart kicks for goal during the practice game against Brazil second tier side Clube Parana. He and Oliver Bozanic both scored.
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Adam Taggart in action against Parana Clube.

Adam Taggart.

TweetFacebook Socceroos defeat Parana Clube 2-0The Socceroos make a solid start, defeating Brazilian Parana Clube in a warm up match. Pictures: Getty ImagesADAM Taggart has tonight became the first Jets player to be selected for a World Cup.

The 21-year-old striker was a surprise inclusion in the Socceroos’ final 23-man squad to compete in Brazil.

His promotion came at the expense of Josh Kennedy, who along with attacking midfielder Tom Rojic was ruled out due to fitness concerns.

Taggart, whose birthday was on Monday, was one of seven A-League players to make the cut.

“I’m over the moon,”Taggart said after the announcement.

“It’s a dream come true and something you can onlywish for as a little kid.”

He said he was “extremely grateful” and selection was “something I won’ttake for granted”.

With Tim Cahill and Matthew Leckie the only other strikers in the squad, the adopted Novocastrian has a chance of getting game time.

The Socceroos begin Group B against Chile on June 14 (AEST) before matches against Holland (June 19) and Spain (June 24).

There was no room for Jets teammate Mark Birighitti, who missed out to Germany-based Mitch Langerak, Adelaide United’s Eugene Galekovic and Mat Ryan (Club Brugge).

Langerak is on the comeback from a knee injury and Birighitti will stay with the squad until the opening game against Chile.

Right back Luke Wilkshire was the other player trimmed from the group, which has been in camp in Vitoria, Brazil.

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou had insisted from day one that fitness and form were the main criteria for selection and lived up to that mantra.

Kennedy’s injury is not thought to be serious, but having missed five weeks for Japanese club Nagoya Grampus on the eve of the World Cup, his back flared up during the Socceroos’ high-intensity sessions.

The stringbean striker, who scored the goal against Iraq which earned Australia a place in Brazil, was on course to play in the warm-up game against second division side Parana Clube on Monday before his back seized up at the end of training.

His setback opened the way for Taggart, who made the most of the opportunity with a well taken goal to seal a 2-0 victory.

Selection caps an amazing rise for the Perth-born front man, who scored a club-record 16 goals for the Jets to claim the A-League Golden Boot and Young Player of the Year awards last season, his second at the club.

Recruited by Gary van Egmond, Taggart was lured east after two seasons at the Glory in which he was stuck behind Shane Smeltz and Billy Mehmet.

He scored two goals in 19 appearances, nine in the starting side, in his maiden campaign in Newcastle before exploding into form.

Col ‘‘Bunny’’ Curran is the only Newcastle-born player to compete at a World Cup.

He was a member of the 1974 side, who until 2006 were the only Australian side to have made the final.

Ray Baartz was vice-captain but had his dream dashed by a career-ending blow to the throat in a lead-up game against Uruguay.

Meanwhile, coach Phil Stubbins confirmed that the Jets were close finalising a deal with a South American striker.

‘‘We have a couple of little hurdles in dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s to overcome, but hopefully that’s a formality and we will be in position to announce something very soon,’’ Stubbins told SBS.

‘‘He has played for his national team at an early age and is from a country doing good things and he would be a good, solid signing for us.

‘‘We believe that in tandem with Adam Taggart and Joel Griffiths he can be very effective.

“He has pace, strength and would handle the rigours of the A-League with no problem.”

The striker is a replacement for marquee Emile Heskey.

‘‘Emile was somebody who came and had a real impact at the club,’’ the coach said.

‘‘You can only say good things about the guy as a person and as a professional – but that said we have decided to take a different direction with the player we have in mind.’’

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Ruben Zadkovich : I didn’t want to leave Jets

Perth bound former Newcastle Jets Captain Ruben Zadkovich with his fiance Bianca Foteff, relaxing at Bianca’s parents home in Cooks Hill. Ruben wanted to stay at the Jets, but has been told that he doesn’t feature in the clubs plans. Picture Jonathan Carroll RUBEN Zadkovich never wanted to leave the Jets.
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In the end, the wholehearted midfielder felt he had no choice.

Zadkovich last week agreed to terminate the final year of his contract at the Jets and will head west on a two-year deal at Perth Glory.

‘‘It is bittersweet,’’ Zadkovich told the Herald yesterday.

‘‘I love Newcastle. I think everyone knows that. It was such a massive honour to lead the Jets. It was one of the highlights of my career and something I hold very close to my heart.

‘‘All the fans, members, sponsors, business owners, media – all of the honest, hard-working people I have made friends with in Newcastle – I’d like to think I’d be friends with them long after the stadium lights are out. That is what I will be taking away from Newcastle.

‘‘It was a hard pill to swallow at first.

‘‘From what I have learned in football, you are best to be around people who really want you.

‘‘[Hunter Sports Group CEO] Troy Palmer told me that if I wanted to stay until the end of the contract, go for it, and that he would support me.

‘‘When it came down to it, the Jets didn’t really see me in their plans.

‘‘While that can be a slap in the face, you just have to find the positives.’’

Zadkovich played 97 games in four seasons at the Jets.

He won the club’s Ray Baartz medal in 2013, finished third last season, and 10th inthe Alex Tobin Medal for the Fox Sports player of the year.

The only Jet to start every game last season, Zadkovich was called in to a meeting with club management last month and told of the interest from Perth.

‘‘I was not outwardly looking to leave,’’ he said. ‘‘I was keen to stay here and captain Newcastle as long as I could.

‘‘Management made it clear to me that I was not in their plans moving forward.

‘‘I was told it was more a business decision. They wanted to free up some money in the cap and look for more attacking players. Initially it was a shock. I thought there would have been a bit more loyalty and respect shown. Football is a business. I’m no mug. I know what it is like.’’

Although yet to speak to Zadkovich, coach Phil Stubbins believed the best outcome had been reached for both parties.

The Jets have missed the finals for the past four years, and Stubbins decided something – someone – had to give.

‘‘I certainly needed, along with the direction of the staff, to make some changes,’’ Stubbins said. ‘‘Everyone knows Ruben is a very good player and has been a good servant for the Jets. There is no doubt about that.

‘‘Having looked at the squad, and a good salary goes to a good player, it was felt that we needed to get somebody else in at the pointy end who could service the needs of the team in the front third.

‘‘We had quite a few players in that central midfield position who could fulfil that role – Ben Kantarovski, Josh Brillante, Zenon Caravella, Mitch Oxborrow – and quite a bit of money tied up in that position.

‘‘When the interest came from Perth and they offered him the time frame of the deal they did, it made sense.’’

On the surface it might have seemed a cut-and-dried decision for Zadkovich. But nothing is that simple when, like Zadkovich, you have given your heart and soul to a club – to a region – for four years.

‘‘I had so much going on and, to be honest, it [the decision] was getting the better of me,’’ Zadkovich said.

But any lingering doubts were dispelled after a get-to-know-you chat with Glory coach Kenny Lowe.

‘‘I asked him what role he had in mind for me,’’ Zadkovich said. ‘‘He laughed and said, ‘I just want you to do what you do.’ It was a simple sentence, but it says a lot.

‘‘He doesn’t want to change me. He knows I can more than hold a spot in that position and he is grateful to have me. That means everything to me. To have people who want you, I will look to repay that faith by giving them 150 per cent.’’

Zadkovich and fiancee Bianca Foteff have recently bought an apartment in Cooks Hill and are in the process of planning their wedding next May.

‘‘We have a lot of things going on,’’ he said. ‘‘Things like this happen for a reason. That is the silver lining. It gives me and Bianca a chance to let our relationship evolve. It is a new challenge for both of us.

‘‘She has never lived anywhere but Newcastle, whereas I have been around the world a few times.

‘‘Her family and friends are very supportive.

‘‘We will set up camp somewhere near the beach.

‘‘All the people I have spoken to over there love Perth and the area around it.’’ Zadkovich will replace retired Glory skipper Jacob Burns, who now works for the club in football operations

‘‘I think that says a lot about the kind of club they are looking to build,’’ he said.

‘‘They are keeping the good-quality players involved in the club when their careers have finished.’’

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Valeri signs with Melbourne Victory

Carl Valeri is set to sign with the Melbourne Victory.Socceroos veteran Carl Valeri has signed a three-year deal with A-League club Melbourne after completing a medical on Tuesday.
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It ends the midfielder’s 11-year stint in Italy, where he fell narrowly short of realising his dream of playing in the Serie A – Italy’s top flight.

The 29-year-old always planned to return to Australia at an age when he could contribute, rather than just to cash in during the twilight of his career.

His wife is originally from Victoria, which makes Melbourne a perfect fit for Valeri and his young family.

He sustained a dreadful ankle injury during his 50th game for the Socceroos – against South Korea in November 2012 – and spent more than a year on the sidelines.

“I’ve certainly watched and admired the A-League from afar,” Valeri said.

“The league just keeps getting better and better each season and I’m really looking forward to being back home and playing in a competition that has such great potential.

“You just to have to look at all the quality young players over in Brazil with the Socceroos to see how far the game has come in this country.

“A lot of those boys started their professional careers in the A-League, and that speaks volumes.

“The opportunity to join Melbourne Victory and work with [coach] Kevin [Muscat] was one I certainly couldn’t pass up and I can’t wait for pre-season training to get under way.”

Valeri joined Italian giant Inter Milan as a teenager, but couldn’t crack their Serie A side.

After years playing in the second-tier Serie B, Valeri finally looked like making it when Sassuolo was promoted to the top flight for the 2013-14 season.

But when he was finally over his ankle injury, Sassuolo couldn’t guarantee him game time and he opted to move to Serie B’s Ternana during the January transfer window, where he helped them avoid relegation.

Now he’ll join the Victory, where fellow Canberran Tom Rogic was on loan from Scottish giant Celtic last season.

Muscat said Valeri’s expertise on the pitch wasn’t the only asset Victory were getting.

“Carl has a wealth of football experience and will be a very valuable addition to our club and we can’t wait to see him in Victory colours,” Muscat said.

“Carl is a versatile midfielder and I have no doubt he will have an impact on the A-League and we are very much looking forward to his leadership around the club also.”

Valeri is back to full fitness and while he’s missed out on Ange Postecoglou’s squad for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, his move to the A-League could still re-ignite his Socceroos career.

The Asian Cup will be held in Australia, including games in Canberra, next summer and if Valeri finds form at Victory then he could add to his 50 international caps.

”I am back at full fitness and looking forward to the next challenge … maybe [playing for Australia at the Asian Cup] can happen, but there’s work to do between now and then,” he told SBS’s The World Game last week.

The Melbourne Victory didn’t return Fairfax Media’s calls.

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Charlestown to coast cycleway plan hits obstacle

IT’S long been a dream of cyclists – a cycleway from Charlestown to the coast, linking the Fernleigh Track.
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COAL ROUTE: Phil Buckner and Don Owers want a cycle path on the old rail route used by trains from Burwood mine. Photo by Marina Neil

IT’S long been a dream of cyclists – a cycleway from Charlestown to the coast, linking the Fernleigh Track.

The route would use the historic coal-haul railway line at Dudley and take in schools and a public swimming pool on its way to Charlestown.

Dudley residents have been pushing for the track for 20 years.

They were buoyed when Lake Macquarie City Council was set to conduct community consultation on the plan last September. .

Dudley resident Phil Buckner said the council “put the kibosh on it at the last minute”.

Asked why it did this, the council did not directly say.

“Council has a comprehensive cycling strategy that was compiled using community consultation,” it said.

However, in an email to Mr Buckner, the council said its resources “can be more effectively deployed engaging community members about projects that will be funded in the short and medium term”.

Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell said the council’s cycleway strategy had underestimated the cost of the Dudley route.

Mr Buckner said there were “various funding sources we could go for”.

“All we needed was a plan from council and costing,” he said.

Dudley resident Don Owers said Gosford MP Chris Holstein had won millions in state funds for transport infrastructure, including a $25 million pedestrian and cycleway underpass at Woy Woy.

“If they can do that in Woy Woy, they can do it here,” Mr Owers said.

“We are probably going to get a ghastly [Glendale] interchange that will cost more and give land to developers.”

The Dudley miners train at Burwood Colliery. Photo by Ralph Snowball 1898

Mr Cornwell said he was “very supportive” of the Dudley project but the council must do more before applying for state grants.

“Council needs to conduct further consultation with adjacent property owners because they have concerns,” Mr Cornwell said.

Mr Buckner said officials had prevaricated over the plan because of “opposition from a few residents”.

He said the two-kilometre route would require a tunnel under Burwood Road, costing about $1 million, and a further $2 million for the track.

It would be a “fitting acknowledgment of our mining tradition and the men who built the line 122 years ago”, Mr Buckner said.

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Classic comedy Withnail and Ihits stage

PHILOSOPHICAL: Actors Jay Piper and Michael Byrne engage in long pub sessions in the British comedy Withnail And I. Picture: Max Mason-HubersTHE cult classic British film comedy Withnail and I looks at two young men coming to terms with life’s realities. So it’s not surprising that a group of Newcastle people in the same age group saw it as an appropriate first work for their new theatre company.
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The members of the group, Pencil Case Productions, have adapted writer Bruce Robinson’s screenplay for the stage.

It will begin a four-performance season at Newcastle’s intimate Royal Exchange Theatre on Saturday.

Director Libby DeVenny, who appeared as a teenager in Tantrum Theatre productions, said Withnail and I appealed to the group because of the quality of the writing.

“The hilarious dialogue and characters entertain watchers in what initially feels like a light and somewhat flippant plot,” she said.

“But it deals with profoundly enduring themes, including the dynamics of friendship, the decay of youth, the loss of ambition and the end of an era.”

Pencil Case Productions isn’t alone in seeing Withnail and I as the basis of an engaging stage work. There have been numerous adaptations, including one that played to packed houses last December in a hotel called the Old Timers Bar near the University of Essex in Britain.

Robinson’s complete screenplay, which was based on his early life as an actor, was published just after the film’s release in 1987 and incorporates incidents that were cut from the film.

In their adaptation, the Pencil Case team have included lines and incidents that didn’t make the final cut, including a comic duel between the two title characters.

Scenes and characters that wouldn’t work in a theatre setting have also been cut.

Pencil Case Productions was formed late last year by Michael Byrne, Alp Akbas and Libby DeVenny and targets theatregoers aged from youth to middle age.

Their co-operative will program gritty comedic dramas that explore and reflect people’s aspirations, obsessions, disappointments, mistakes and successes.

The trio also want to offer opportunities for people with interests in writing, theatre and design to gain experience.

Ultimately, they hope to focus on works set in Newcastle and written and performed by Novocastrians.

The company’s name, Pencil Case Productions, incorporates the team’s hope that eventually much of the work will be locally written.

Bruce Robinson based Withnail and I on his experiences as a young actor seeking work in London in 1969.

He’s the “I” of the title, a character whose surname, Marwood, appears in the script’s commentary on the characters’ movements, but is only mentioned once in the dialogue.

Marwood succeeds in getting a good stage role, but his friend and flatmate Withnail finds success to be elusive.

The story has the pair becoming unhappy about their life in a gloomy and dirty flat in London’s Camden Town, with long pub sessions filling their spare time.

They talk Withnail’s uncle, Monty, into letting them have the key of his Yorkshire country house and head there for what they hope will be a relaxing holiday.

Things don’t go that way, of course.

The cast includes Michael Byrne as Withnail, Jay Piper as I, Simon Cattell as Danny, a young drug dealer who takes over their Camden Town flat while the pair are away, Libby DeVenny as Withnail’s effusively gay Uncle Monty, and Joe Lappin and Gus Milan in roles including a poacher, farmer, bartender, teahouse proprietor and policemen.

The show incorporates a narrator, played by Aaron Silver, who voices some of the comments about the characters’ behaviour that Robinson included in the directions in his screenplay.

Michael Byrne, who won a CONDA last year for his sensitive portrayal of a very troubled husband and father in Newcastle Theatre Company’s When the Rain Stops Falling, said the actors realised while rehearsing Withnail and I that at one stage in their lives they had lived in much the same way as Withnail and Marwood.

“It’s a story about moving into adulthood and making the most of your potential,” he said.

Libby DeVenny noted that Withnail is aware of the expectations placed on him by his experiences in attending a good school and acting college and feels betrayed by society as the story develops.

Withnail and I has made the top-50 British films list in several polls conducted by film organisations and magazines in the past decade.

Margaret Pomeranz, one of the reviewers on the ABC’s At The Movies, noted recently that it was the first film she gave a full five-star rating in her career as a film critic.

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