All bets are off as rumour mill sends bookies into a panic

Bookmakers reacted swiftly to the crisis engulfing Cronulla, suspending betting on the club’s round-one clash with Gold Coast as well as other markets.
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While the bookies maintained they did so as a precaution, they were quick to halt betting on Sunday’s game, as well as the markets on most losses and to miss the top eight. TAB Sportsbet spokesman Glenn Munsie stressed the measure was precautionary only after the rumour mill went into overdrive on Wednesday.

“All we’re hearing is there are investigations and they (ASADA) are interviewing people at Cronulla,” Munsie said. “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong there, but we need to protect people who don’t know what’s going on. It’s suspended until we find out some further information.”

Tattsbet’s Gerard Daffy told AAP his agency had suspended betting on the Sharks game and a number of its futures markets at 4.30pm on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of rumour and innuendo, particularly about one side, the Sharks,” he said. “There’s rumours a lot of players are going to be stood down, and not all from the one club.”

Sportingbet Australia spokesman Bill Richmond said his agency had also stopped betting on the Sharks-Titans game. “We stopped all markets associated with the Sharks game,” Richmond said. “We have calls from people already wanting to back the Gold Coast.”

The Sharks, still without a stadium sponsor and the only club without a major backer, had just secured a sleeve sponsor. However, plans for an announcement are likely to now be on hold. The timing couldn’t be any worse for the club or the game. The Sharks were expected to be major contenders for the 2013 title, and heading into the season were $11 to win the grand final

after adding Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan and Jonathan Wright to an already impressive roster.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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League shock as Sharks hunted

Rugby league has been thrown into chaos on the eve of the season after speculation Cronulla were to become the first big victim of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into drugs in sport. Up to 14 players are believed to have been told they are facing a minimum six-month ban.
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Fairfax Media understands the players have received legal advice suggesting they admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs in the hope of avoiding longer suspensions. It is understood the players refused.

Devastated Sharks officials are resigned to being without a host of star players for the season, some of whom could be suspended before their season-opening match against the Gold Coast on Sunday.

Bookmakers suspended betting on the game amid speculation Cronulla were negotiating with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials to cut a deal which would result in bans of just six months. Eight players from other clubs have also been implicated. The NRL refused to comment.

Sharks insiders believe a former staffer has turned whistleblower on the Shire club, one of six rugby league teams named in the ACC’s report into the integrity of Australian sport, alongside Newcastle, Manly, Penrith, Canberra and the North Queensland Cowboys.

ASADA officials interviewed staff from the club during the week and are expected to continue their inquiries in the coming days. Sharks players, some accompanied by their agents, were summoned to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the situation. Coach Shane Flanagan cancelled media engagements and a planned store appearance as the club locked down. Wednesday’s training session was held behind locked doors.

There were reports an emergency Sharks board meeting was called on Wednesday night to decide the club’s fate but club spokesman Rob Willis denied this.

The Cronulla club operates without a chief executive, and its chairman, Damian Irvine, is overseas.

It is understood the focus of ASADA’s investigations revolve around the time sports scientist Stephen Dank spent at the club in 2011. He was at Cronulla only a short while, falling out with team doctor Dave Givney. Sources said some players were concerned they were being investigated for their dealings with Dank after he left the club. Dank has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

”Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club has been very proactive in fully co-operating with ASADA and taking other measures that prioritise the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group,” the club said in a statement.

”While there are strict boundaries around what we can say while the ASADA investigation is ongoing, fans should be assured that as soon as there is an opportunity to provide further information we will do so.”

An ASADA representative refused to comment on the latest developments and wouldn’t confirm the meetings with the Sharks.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Big dreams, but little tribes rule the roost

It’s the last Friday of a soggy pre-season, and again the northern beaches are flooded. Instead of jumping castles and kicking games at Brookie, the Sea Eagles’ launch has been moved to the leagues club. Undaunted, hundreds of supporters press in to have their photos taken and jerseys signed. Here are the Stewart brothers, Jamie Lyon, some unfamiliar young guys, Igor the Eagle, as the players come in from afternoon visits to hospitals and schools.
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There are the trademarks of the ad hoc event: a dodgy microphone, a late-running schedule and, Manly being Manly, some officials giving others a wide berth. But no amount of rain or mayhem can douse the defiant excitement you get in a community club at its season launch. It might be damp, but here and in 15 other clubs, this is the smell of hope.

Though its central administration is corporate, rugby league is a fundamentally local game. In cricket, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson appear for their clubs once. The endless cricket summer has no linear narrative. With league, the heroes of the sport are locally embedded, and the season has a clear ending, which 15 clubs prefer to forget, and a beginning, which is now.

Manly chief executive David Perry sums it up: “When you finish the season in October it feels like a long period for fans and players to wait. Everyone’s a bit restless now.”

The coach, Geoff Toovey, describes his mood as one of “nervous excitement”. “The players are chomping at the bit. They’re well and truly over running around the oval. Bring on Brisbane.”

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who became a father last month, is ready. “To be honest, my partner’s doing most of the work getting up through the night. I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my bit to support her.”

This is the tingling of early autumn. Manly, twice premiers in the past four seasons, have a dozen new players to inject hunger. In Brad Arthur and Andrew Johns, it has two high-profile new assistant coaches. Every start is a fresh one, for every player and every club. But in the bigger picture, 2013 is truly fresh, with a new broadcast deal and new chief executive, and the first fully prepared season of the Australian Rugby League Commission.

The commission was designed to shift power to the clubs. This is significant, because so many of the clubs face uncertainty that can only be alleviated by unity. “The clubs are the key stakeholders, and we’re hoping the new money and resources will be used wisely,” Perry says.

Toovey says: “We’re hoping to see positive changes. It’s such a great game, we believe it can be even greater. We’re excited at the possibilities of the commission doing it for us.” And yes, there is a new referees’ administration. Rugby league has always been the game that will change itself for the sake of the spectacle, and of the fans.

League is a fans’ game, which creates a tension between the aims of the centre and the needs of the local.

Adam Muyt, a Manly supporter, says the league is “chugging along beautifully as a game to watch. Its simplicity is its advantage. In the last few years the standard has got better and better.” But as a Manly fan, there is the constant spectre of nationalisation and rationalisation. Broadcasters have not paid millions to please northern beaches locals; the aims of the game’s chiefs are distinctly anti-local.

Keeping the big picture and the small linked is the challenge facing not only Manly, Muyt says, but all clubs. “The demographic shifts concern me,” he says. “Manly is not the same place as in the 1960s and ’70s. No place is, but that’s Manly’s biggest problem long term. Add in the push to rationalise the grounds. Brookie feels like it’s still 1978. The problem with rationalising is that Sydney is much more geographically decentralised than Melbourne, with the clubs a long way out and people strongly identified with them.”

Muyt says he would not follow league if Manly were rationalised – as they were, into the ill-fated Northern Eagles, 13 years ago. But the perennial tide keeps moving against Sydney community clubs. “The heart and soul of rugby league has shifted 1500 kilometres north,” Muyt says. “The strength of the game is its Queensland base. It might not sit well with Sydney, but Queensland could support two more teams at least. Papua New Guinea and New Zealand could probably have more teams. Does going national and international mean going back to the push to rationalise the Sydney teams?”

Up in Queensland, Matt O’Hanlon has been involved as a player, coach, even ground announcer, for decades. When Manly travel north this week, he will be with a thousand others at the Beenleigh Annual Prawn Luncheon, the appetiser for a trip to Lang Park. O’Hanlon is a “bigoted rugby league follower – there’s no other game”, though he does not follow any club. “I was a Newtown supporter, then Wests, then the South Queensland Crushers. Clubs are happy for me not to support them,” he says. He is a season ticket-holder at Lang Park, and goes to Gold Coast matches. A high school teacher, O’Hanlon agrees on the game’s northern strength. “Junior numbers are up in south-east Queensland. The kids at school are a barometer, and every Monday they’re talking about league.”

Anti-Sydney feeling has made the game national. O’Hanlon says: “Hardly a Queenslander wouldn’t say Melbourne is their second team.” The Storm, with its Queensland Origin stars and Super League foundations, is the league’s southern shopfront. Yet the local-national tension also complicates the Storm’s position. Paul Dalligan, a South Sydney supporter who moved to Melbourne seven years ago, says: “Melbourne people are never going to get better rugby league than this Storm team produces. That’s what worries me.” The game is still battling in the AFL stronghold, where, Dalligan says, “they wouldn’t know Gorden Tallis from Gordon Ramsay”.

AFL’s crowds dwarf rugby league’s. Dalligan says he is often asked ” ‘If your sport’s so good, why are your crowds so low?’ My response is, first, NRL’s a much better television sport than AFL, which is shown in the NRL’s television rights being worth $50 a minute more. And second, Sydney is not as centralised as Melbourne. People want to watch their team locally, whereas in Melbourne they’re happy to come to the MCG.”

Dalligan, like O’Hanlon and Muyt, belong to a community of league tragics who contributed to the inaugural Rugby League Almanac, a publishing idea imported from the AFL this year, in which fans write reports on every match. Dalligan supports South Sydney, and on Thursday will travel north to see his team play the Roosters. “I’m more confident than I have been, which is dangerous,” he says. But a Rabbitoh fan bears too many scars to be complacent. Dalligan says league wrecked his first marriage. “Souths were leading against the Broncos, and Gorden Tallis scored in the last minute. I was in the foetal position in the shower. My then wife walked in and saw me, and the look on her face said, ‘No . . .’ “

Hoping to prolong Dalligan’s agony will be Roosters diehard Brett Oaten, also an Almanac writer. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated Souths, as is required. The Roosters and Souths have never had good years at the same time. That makes this year particularly interesting,” he says.

Being a glamour team sits more easily with the Roosters, but Oaten has had his share of heartbreak. “I think I’ve loved them more than they’ve loved me back . . . I’ve had the same season tickets for 15 years. I like going to the footie even when we lose. I get angry, but keep coming back.” For this week, he says: “I’m nervous. All my mates are nervous. And we’re not even playing.”

That nervousness is all about to come to a head, from all corners of the rugby league nation. Matt Tedeschi, who lives in Orange and supports the Canberra Raiders, will travel to Penrith for their first game. “I’ve been counting down the weeks and days. It’s been a boring summer waiting,” he says.

It’s been even longer for Peta Bryant, who epitomises the transcendence of league fandom. Last year, Bryant lived in Cambodia and was only able to follow league online. “I was coming last in the family tipping comp,” she says. “I’m just looking forward to seeing any game live, it doesn’t matter who.”

Bryant is club-agnostic; she just loves her league. “Some families go to church on Sundays. For us it was going to the grandparents’ for lunch, then settling down to watch the Sunday afternoon league game.” Who she follows “depends on which family member I’m watching with. There are Bulldogs, Knights and Dragons fans among us. They get into me for my lack of loyalty, but it’s the game I love, not a team. I know that’s unusual.” It is her own way of conquering the local-national tension: support the game itself. Back in league civilisation, she will spend the 2013 winter in Canberra. “I’ll be going to watch Raiders games, for sure. That’ll give me a fourth team.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Aku pens new deal at Knights

SO much for Japanese rugby union.
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After speculation that Knights flyer Akuila Uate would receive an offer too good to refuse to switch codes and countries, he re-signed yesterday with Newcastle for four more years.

It is understood whatever interest big-spending clubs in Japan showed in the representative winger did not crystallise into a deal on the table.

That suited Knights officials, who were happy to make Uate one of their highest-paid players – on a deal believed to be worth in the vicinity of $500,000 a season – but had no intention of entering into a bidding war.

‘‘I said right from the start we were never going to be able to compete with Japanese rugby or French rugby or whoever it was out there,’’ Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said yesterday.

‘‘We put a really fair offer on the table, right from the outset, to make our intentions really clear.

‘‘Then we just sat back and waited. We’re pleased to finalise the deal and have Aku in the red and blue for another four years.’’

Asked if the deal that ties Uate up until the end of the 2016 season would make him Newcastle’s best-paid player, Gidley replied: ‘‘He’s certainly in the top tier.

‘‘We think we got the right value for Aku. He deserves to be in the top bracket of earners in our club.’’

Gidley said the Knights were happy to pay top dollar for Uate’s proven strikepower and drawcard status.

In 90 NRL games, the 25-year-old crowd-pleaser has scored 70 tries. He has been Dally M winger of the year for the past three seasons and played in five Tests for Australia and five Origins for NSW.

‘‘He’s a genuine superstar of our game,’’ Gidley said.

‘‘He’s arguably the best finisher in the game, I believe.

‘‘He scores on average 20 tries a year and there’s not many players can bring that to their club. We’re ecstatic to have him on board.

‘‘He’s come through our junior system and something we want to do is hang on to our best players.’’

Gidley said that in the modern game ‘‘it has never been harder to score tries’’, yet Uate continued to find his way to the line.

‘‘It’s quite amazing, his strike rate,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s up there with the Brett Stewarts and the guys who are wonderful finishers in our game.’’

Uate said last night that he was pleased to be staying with the Knights, who he first joined as a 15-year-old soon after immigrating from his native Fiji.

“I love playing for the Knights and am really happy to stay here for the next four years,” he said. “I can’t imagine playing anywhere else and the decision to re-sign was an easy one.

“Now my future is secured I am even more excited about running on to Hunter Stadium on Monday night.”

Newcastle trained with a depleted squad yesterday minus front-rowers Kade Snowden and Willie Mason, who were unavailable because of personal reasons.

Young tyro Zane Tetevano, named to play in Newcastle’s NSW Cup team this weekend, limped off with a leg injury.

AAP reports: Shaun Johnson’s right elbow might not be 100per cent but he is confident it will stand up to the rigours of the Warriors’ opening match against Parramatta in Sydney on Saturday night.

Johnson, 22, has made an earlier than expected return after hyperextending the joint in the Warriors’ win over Brisbane in a trial in Dunedin on February 23.

Johnson said he did all the contact work during training yesterday.

‘‘Passing is another big thing and that seemed to go all right. From Monday’s field session to today’s field session, I’m feeling a lot more confident about it.’’

Having got the all-clear, he was buoyed by being able to be on deck at the start of the season under new coach Matthew Elliott.

He admitted that with the Warriors having a new hooker in Elijah Taylor and a new five-eighth in Thomas Leuluai, it was less than ideal that he was unable to train last week.

RE-SIGNED: Aku Uate at training yesterday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

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Just one snag after another

“Regensburg is the northernmost city on the Danube and one of Germany’s oldest towns.
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“We found it absolutely fascinating, because of the architecture and the fact that it’s still so intact.

“The town was largely spared by Allied bombing in World War II and stands today as a mediaeval city with most of its structures preserved.

“When you go and stand on the town’s old stone bridge, it isn’t hard to visualise the Crusaders coming through on their way to fight in the Crusades, or to picture princes and ambassadors coming to visit the town.

“For me, it was very easy to ‘see’ all of that.

“We started our time in Regensburg with an organised shore tour and then had time to explore on our own.

“Viking uses local guides for its tours and they manage to be informative and entertaining at the same time; it’s not just someone droning on about history.

“We enjoyed seeing the grand old buildings, including the landmark ‘Goliath House’ with a huge David and Goliath mural painted on the side, and exploring the little alleys around the town.

“Along with its architecture, Regensburg is known for what is claimed to be the world’s oldest ‘sausage kitchen’, which is next to the stone bridge.

“It has been there so long it apparently catered for the workers who built the bridge.

“People were queuing up to go in, so we didn’t try it, but all they serve is sausages, with mustard and sauerkraut if you want it.

“Regensburg also has a famous confectionary shop, in the downstairs section of Cafe Prinzess, which is opposite the Old Town Hall and is said to be the oldest cafe in Germany.

“I’m not really a chocolate person so I was able to resist temptation, but I was amused by some of the names they gave to the chocolates, such as Barbara’s Kisses, Smart Gloria and Town Councillor’s Draught.

“For those who love to shop, Regensburg has something for everyone, including boutiques, and for those who like golf there is a golf museum.

“You can also just spend your time enjoying good food and local beer while soaking up the wonderful atmosphere of the outdoor cafes and restaurants.”

Value for money

All excursions were included on Robert and Jan’s cruise, which they rated very highly .

“It was like two holidays for the price of one,” Robert says.

“You could stay on board for the entire cruise, just relaxing and enjoying the wonderful scenery, but as a bonus you get to do all these incredible shore excursions.

“I would rank it as the best holiday we’ve ever had.

“We enjoyed it so much we have booked to do another one of their cruises this year.”

WHO Robert Owen of Grafton, NSW, on his first river cruise.

WHAT A day tour of the mediaeval town of Regensburg, Germany.

WHERE Regensburg is on the Danube River in southern Germany.

THE SHIP Robert travelled with his wife Jan on a 15-day cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on Viking River Cruises’ Viking Idun (vikingrivercruises上海夜网m.au).

As told to Jane E. Fraser

Have you done an interesting shore excursion? Drop us a line at [email protected]上海夜网m.au.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Aussies camping it up

Australian actors Rachel Griffiths and Rodger Corser have secured lead roles in Camp, the romantic comedy-drama series set in a holiday camp being produced for the US network NBC in Australia. The series will also star three relatively unknown Australian actors – Dena Kaplan, Tim Pocock and Tom Green. Griffiths will play the ”relentlessly positive” camp leader. Matchbox Pictures will produce 10 episodes of Camp for NBC, with filming to take place on the NSW north coast.
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Ratings could take a dive

Tom Williams, Rachael Finch and Todd McKenney are three of the names in circulation attached to Channel Seven’s diving-with-the-stars format Celebrity Splash. The series is being produced for Seven by Eyeworks, with casting under way at present. The series was announced in 2012 with enormous fanfare, though the British version launched to softer-than-anticipated ratings. An American version is also in development, with American diving champion David Boudia and diving legend Greg Louganis attached.

Property that’s hot property

Foxtel has commissioned a second series of the property series Location Location Location Australia. The series follows hosts (and buyers’ agents) Veronica Morgan and Bryce Holdaway as they help families find their dream homes. The first series, which screened in 2012 on Foxtel’s LifeStyle channel, was one of the highest-rating programs on the channel. The production company Shine Australia will produce the second series of 10 episodes. It will screen later in 2013.

Lost Boys find a place on ABC3

Boutique production house Matchbox Pictures has started filming in Melbourne on a 10-part fantasy action-adventure series for ABC3. The Lost Boys (working title only) follows four mismatched teenage boys who return from a school trip to discover they have come back to an alternate world where they no longer exist. Joel Lok (Tangle, Sea Patrol), Dougie Baldwin (the forthcoming Upper Middle Bogan), Rahart Sadiqzai (Neighbours, Prank Patrol) and newcomer Matthew Testro star in the series. It will screen later in 2013 or in early 2014.

Keeping Victoria’s Secret for two more years

Pay TV platform Foxtel has moved to strengthen its relationship with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, signing a deal that will keep the annual TV special on Fox8 for two more years. The special, essentially a lingerie runway show, has become a valuable television property worldwide. The first show was staged in 1995 in New York and featured a dozen models including Gail Elliott. It has been broadcast on television since 2001. It aired in 2012 in Australia on Fox8.

Brent’s back for a visit

It’s short (just 27 seconds) and not very sweet (there’s almost zero details on what we’ll see) but a brief teaser trailer from comic Ricky Gervais has sent fans of The Office into a frenzy, with the British icon revealing he has decided to revisit David Brent. It will be just for a ”short mini episode” Gervais says, called The Office Revisited and made for Comic Relief. It will air on the BBC and Gervais’ YouTube channel on March 15.

Judgment day approaches

Speculation is mounting that both Mel B and Guy Sebastian will not return to The X Factor. Fremantle and Seven are casting a new judge line-up that may include LMFAO singer Redfoo. Meanwhile, Fremantle and Channel Nine are also casting a new judging line-up for Nine’s reboot of Australia’s Got Talent. A lot of names are rumoured, including reality star Sharon Osbourne and singer Chris Isaak.

TV Tweets

Only 14 more shoot days and The Office will be over.Rainn Wilson (soon to be out of work, that countdown started last Wednesday) @rainnwilson

THE PAPERBOY: Talk about peeing on Fellini …At the Movies (channelling a less-than-impressed David Stratton) @abcatthemovies

The way things are going with his face, Leonardo Dicaprio could totally play Clive Palmer. #TitanicIIHannah Gadsby (comedian and casting consultant) @Hannahgadsby

Just took a quick look at the ABC password dump. Cracked more than half of the 50,000 password hash dump in 45 secs. Blog post coming …Troy Hunt (internet security expert and not a Friend of the ABC) @troyhunt

Right now all of focus in on Greys and Scandal. No new shows.Shonda Rhimes (executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and denier of persistent rumours) @shondarhimes

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Parental guidance

“We’re all intrigued” … Flip Byrnes and her parents savour the sights and sounds of Marocco.With her daredevil parents in tow, Flip Byrnes finds lots to love about this North African gem.
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In a cool riad courtyard in Fes at midnight, I’m being serenaded by an employee, Jamal, with Blowin’ in the Wind in Arabic. Waving a cigarette lighter, we giggle like teenagers while my parents sleep upstairs. But we’re not teens; Jamal has a beard and I’m mid-30s, undertaking what many Gen Xers would consider sheer lunacy — a 10-day Moroccan odyssey with my sixtysomething parents.

To clarify, I really like my parents, as uncool and as unfashionable as that may be. Their good-natured appeal is wide.

In recent years they have turned the tables on their adult children and have been having a whale of a time, sending postcards from ruin clambering in Syria, hot air ballooning in Cappadocia and even going MIA (en route to Mauritius, mum wound up in Mumbai).

So to join their adventures is a hot ticket, a chance to experience Grandparents Gone Wild firsthand, a new twist on intergenerational travel usually involving travelling with babies, not parents. The question is, can I keep up?

The destination is easy: Morocco. We’re all intrigued. It’s off the beaten track enough to be alluring, yet safe to wander. There’s rich cultural fabric to unweave, ruins that need fixing, ancient alleyways hiding crockery for a new house and delicious cuisine. Add the promise of unexpected adventure and we have a unanimous winner.

We have a buffer against the unknown, Michele, an Australian expat married to Fes local Youssef. These owners of Yomikha Morocco agency have developed an itinerary with room to mosey. They’ll take us from Fes to Marrakesh, Chefchaouen and Essaouira, arranging accommodation and guides. In short we have space, but with local, expert back-up.

Back-up is required before even arriving to meet the parentals in Fes.

The budget airline cancels my flight from Paris. Magical Michele springs into action and a car awaits the new, 2am flight. Driving to a solid wall with narrow opening (the 13th-century wall that encircles Fes el Bali, old Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage site), we wake a sleeping figure with our headlights. It’s Jamal, of Dar El Menia riad. There are no cars in Fes and few lamps. Without this personal nocturnal rendezvous, even Hansel and Gretel couldn’t find the riad with a breadcrumb trail, located as it is in the labyrinthine heart of one of the world’s oldest mediaeval cities.

I find mum and dad breakfasting on the rooftop terrace overlooking the medina and arid, rolling surrounds. Dad announces that the previous day he “cased the joint”. “It’s amazing!” he says enthusiastically. “You’re going to love it.”

To gain my bearings, I take a two-hour tour. The medina covers 350 hectares, with 9400 alleyways, 220 mosques, 67 hammans, 65 bakeries and 84 fountains. Founded in AD789, the medina is divided into communities, each with a furnace (most kitchens don’t have fires) where women take bread and tagines to be immersed in embers; a fountain, school, hamman and, Fes being the spiritual capital of Morocco, a mosque.

The alleyways are pedestrian-only and goods are transported on donkeys, the Vespas of the medina. They gallop around corners, with different jobs. There are food-carrying donkeys, material-carrying donkeys and the garbage donkey, who clearly drew the short straw.

It’s a moving, visual feast. Stolen glimpses through doorways (with high door knockers for those on horseback, lower for those on feet) reveal intricate mosaics and limpid atrium pools. Figures float by in djellaba, kaftans with hoods and leather slippers with curling toes.

The scent of the mediaeval honeycomb-shaped tanneries is the undiluted, pungent smell of 500 years of history, while the call to prayer resonates from stone walls.

“Whatever is beautiful, cannot be expensive at any price. What is enthralling is never costly,” stated Abou Inan, who built the Bou Inania Medersa (a theological college) in 1350. The result? Unparalleled beauty, with zellij (puzzlework mosaics) and panels of plaster and egg white stucco featuring finely carved Koranic verses decorating every surface of the marble paved courtyard.

Among Fes’s treasures is also the world’s oldest university

(Al-Karaouine), constructed in AD859, 500 years before Cambridge and the Sorbonne. Al-Karaouine continues as a leading Muslim spiritual and educational centre, having created Islamic/European cultural and academic relations in the Middle Ages. (The cartography here aided European Renaissance exploration).

For our trio, Fes is spell binding. And during a cooking adventure we discover it’s the 250,000 inhabitants who make Fes special. Mum has one cooking rule — no bulls’ testicles. We leave pa to make a tagine (Michele organises chef and translator), while we join Gail, a British expat and Fes resident who organised Heston Blumenthal’s Moroccan feast episode. Today we’ll learn that the tanjia (an elongated pot slow cooking “anything you like”) had Heston quivering.

Setting up on a butcher’s alleyway, Gail sends us to purchase ingredients, enforcing cultural immersion. It’s a cooking lesson unlike any other, surrounded by skinned horse hooves and lambs’ brains. The butcher checks our progress, adding saffron, ground mince and onions to our preserved lemon and herbs. Delivering the tanjia to the furnace causes a scene. Strangers stop to inspect our ingredients, nodding approval or offering suggestions: “Garlic! You need more garlic!” All smile to see foreigners attempting their traditional dish.

Returning, we sniff troughs of orange blossom like truffle pigs and stop by the honey souk.

Reluctantly we leave for Marrakesh.

Immediately, Marrakesh differs from Fes in one crucial way. The donkeys were hazardous yet charming, unlike the scooters tearing through Marrakesh’s alleyways belching black smoke. If the sound of clopping hooves is the lullaby of Fes, the yammer of two-stroke motors are the unwelcome whine of Marrakesh.

But for shoppers, thesouk is an Aladdin’s cave of exotic loot, including Arabian lights, wooden doors and gleaming gold. Modern maalems (master craftsmen) reinvigorate trades, such as blacksmithing, saddle-making and lute-carving. And pottery.

We visit must-see sights; the Bahia Palace, Saadia tombs and Koutoubia Minaret. But visiting the seedy Jamaa el Fna square night markets, the sinister ambience makes us instinctively cluster together. While the souk harassment (so unlike laid-back Fes) has been tolerable, now we’re beleaguered and badgered.

At one point I run, horrified, to intercept men chasing my parents with wooden (lifelike) cobras. Not funny, then or in hindsight.

Having a male is a distinct blessing. “Where’s your husband?” hisses a passerby. Don’t have one. The next question is inevitable. “Your father?” Right there! Seeing I’m chaperoned, they slink away. Go dad!

We leave Marrakesh on a good note. We’re keen to wander Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Jardin, in particular the cactus gardens. There are 44 types of cacti in the garden and they’re flowering, transfixing us with tiny, rare buds. It’s an unexpected Marrakesh gem and with my parents’ botanical knowledge, mesmerising.

Finally, at seaside Essaouira, it’s time to part. The parentals are accustomed to my regular intrepid travel writing departures, but leaving a daughter on the roadside in the Moroccan wilderness (slight exaggeration) must be disconcerting.

Pa holds me close, and pats me on the shoulder. “Stay safe,” he whispers out of mum’s earshot, and I know he means it.

Trip notes

Getting there

Etihad flies from Sydney to Casablanca five times weekly, from $1800. 1300 532 215, etihad上海夜网m.

Touring there

Fes-based Yomikha Morocco, formed by an Australian-Moroccan couple, creates bespoke, economical itineraries. [email protected]上海夜网m, +212 642 0704 601.

Doing there

Take a food tour with UK expat Gail Leonard. fez-food上海夜网m.

For distinctive blue and white pottery, visit a ceramics factory such as Art Naji, 20 QI, Ain Nokbi. +212 535 669 166.

In Marrakesh, visit Yves Saint Laurent’s cactus garden. jardinmajorelle上海夜网m.

More information

lonelyplanet上海夜网m/morocco.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Hot food trend: Yuzu

Grilled prawns with yuzu dressing. Photo: Photo: Edwina PicklesWhat is it?
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What the lime is to Thai cuisine, the yuzu is to Japanese cooking. A small, yellow-skinned citrus, it’s loved for its tart, smack-in-the-mouth tang. Fresh fruit is difficult to source, but yuzu juice is increasingly available from Asian food stores and specialists. ”It’s as much a fragrance as a taste,” importer Leigh Hudson of Chef’s Armoury says. ”Use it anywhere you would use lemon juice. It’s mind-blowingly delicious.”

Where is it?

VICTORIA

At Matteo’s in Fitzroy North, chef Brendan McQueen serves poached meringue with a heart of yuzu ice-cream, with nashi pear and salted pistachio crumbs. “We use it in both sweet and savoury dishes,” he says. “We do a yuzu butter sauce that’s great for fish and for heirloom carrots. It’s pretty expensive, but it goes a long way.”

Head chef Kengo Hiromatsu of Akachochin on South Wharf says using Japanese ingredients such as yuzu juice makes him happy. “It has 100,000 uses in the kitchen,” he says. “We use it for its flavour and its sharpness, for marinades and for curing.”

One of the most popular dishes on the menu is a salad of ocean trout marinated in yuzu juice, soy, garlic and grape seed oil, then drizzled with truffle oil and served over mixed leaves. “We marinate the fish for just two minutes to keep it tasting very fresh,” Hiromatsu says.

At the newish Nama Nama in Spring Street, yuzu winds up in everything from a little breakfast teacake to a “lime spider” of yuzu, green melon liqueur, ice-cream and soda. “It has a wonderfully mandarin-lemony flavour with a little sea-salty kick,” co-owner Simon Denton says. “If you close your eyes, you feel as if you’re in Japan.”

NSW

At the tiny Cafe Cre Asion in Surry Hills, Yu Sasaki makes swoon-worthy macarons in 15 different flavours daily, and yuzu is always one of them. ”It cuts through the sweetness of the meringue beautifully,” he explains.

Sepia chef Martin Benn charcoal-smokes freshwater eel and serves it with a tangy fresh yuzu curd, pistachios, tapioca, liquorice, watercress and nasturtiums. ”Yuzu is one of my favourite things ever,” he says. ”The taste is somewhere between a lemon and a mandarin, with lightly floral notes. People just go ‘wow’ ”.

In Bronte, Mark LaBrooy and Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks work yuzu into both sweet and savoury dishes, from scampi with avocado mousse and yuzu curd to a dessert of yuzu curd with burnt meringue.

At the forthcoming Taste of Sydney food festival in Centennial Park (March 14-17), they’ll be doing toasted marshmallow with yuzu curd and chocolate ganache. ”It’s quite potent,” LaBrooy says. ”But it makes those dishes in which you would normally use lemon or lime juice much more interesting.”

Why do I care?

Because there’s nothing else quite like it: tart, bright and refreshing.

Can I do it at home?

What’s Japanese for yes? Mix yuzu and soy for a quick Japanese ”ponzu” dip for fish and seafood, add to vinaigrettes, mayonnaise and the odd vodka cocktail.

Sourcing it

VICTORIA

Matteo’s, 533 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9481 1177.

Nama Nama, 31 Spring Street, city, 9639 9500.

Akachochin, Shed 7, 33 Dukes Walk, South Melbourne, 9245 9900.

Chef’s Armoury, 422Church Street, Richmond, 94291139, chefsarmoury上海夜网m

NSW

Sepia, 201 Sussex Street, city 9283 1990.

Cafe Cre Asion, 21 Alberta Street, city, 0404 941 528.

Three Blue Ducks, 143 Macpherson Street, Bronte, 9389 0010.

Chef’s Armoury, 747 Botany Road, Rosebery, 9699 2353, chefsarmoury上海夜网m

Grilled prawns with yuzu dressing

6 fresh green prawns in shell

Handful of rocket or cress leaves

1 tsp sesame seeds

Togarashi (Japanese sprinkles)

Dressing

1 tbsp yuzu juice

1 tbsp Japanese mirin

4 tbsp grape seed or light olive oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp finely grated garlic

1 tbsp whole egg mayonnaise

1. Heat an overhead grill.

2. Cut the prawns in half lengthwise with a cleaver and devein.

3. Whisk the dressing ingredients together until smooth.

4. Brush the prawns with the dressing and grill them cut-side up for 3 minutes or until just cooked (I like charring the shells a little, too).

5. Arrange on plates with rocket or cress, spoon over the remaining dressing and scatter with sesame seeds and togarashi.

Serves 4 as a starter

TRENDING The disloyalty coffee card. Rather than binding you to one cafe, the disloyalty card encourages you to visit different cafes in the same community. Seen in London, Toronto, Seattle and Singapore.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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A farce, without any explanation offered

What a farce. The day began normally enough – with the Coalition in crisis. By the evening, the Liberal party room had a new premier, who was refusing to explain to the Victoria public what happened or why.
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Denis Napthine has been a credible and competent minister. But if he wants to govern the state, he must attempt to explain why his party deemed it necessary to torpedo a publicly elected premier.

In a press conference last night, Napthine didn’t even come close, merely saying it was his task to build on the great work of Baillieu and his team. ”The people of Victoria will understand what has happened,” he said.

Really? In the end, Ted Baillieu had little choice but to resign – and he did so with dignity – following an extended and corrosive campaign against him that locked him in a downward spiral from which he could not escape.

There were several factors that contributed to his demise, including a failure to manage his own party, a failure to communicate with the public, a failure to manage the media, and a failure to manage a series of political scandals.

Baillieu was also the victim of circumstance, inheriting power at a difficult time, with declining revenues, a patchy economic outlook, and a one-seat majority in Parliament.

Nevertheless, it has been one of the messiest episodes in recent political history, rivalling federal Labor’s disastrous decision to oust Kevin Rudd. The Coalition’s handling of this affair was unbecoming, messy, vituperative and incompetent. So much so that the public will have every right to be cynical about their ability to govern.

Baillieu’s decision to resign had been a long time coming, but it was precipitated on Wednesday by a decision by controversial Frankston MP Geoff Shaw to stand aside from the Liberal Party.

There is now a palpable danger that the change of leaders will incite open warfare within the government. The Coalition has clearly failed to heed the example of federal Labor’s experience. From the moment Gillard’s supporters knifed Rudd, her detractors have been busy undermining her authority. Federal Labor, now contemplating yet another leadership change, is heading for oblivion.

Whether the Coalition is headed for a similar fate is an open question.

Unless Napthine, who has already been knifed by his own party once when he was opposition leader, pulls something extraordinary out of the hat, he will have a hard time turning things around in the polls over the next 20 months.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Marginal difference in national sphere

Ted Baillieu’s shock resignation is a morale boost for Labor in Victoria that has few implications for the federal election that Julia Gillard has called for September 14.
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Tony Abbott might call Melbourne his second home, but the truth of it is that the national result will be much more influenced by what happens in western Sydney and in Queensland, where far more seats are in play, than in Victoria.

Here, the Coalition has a realistic prospect of picking up three federal seats, but it also holds two seats by very small margins.

Moreover, Victoria is the one state where Labor is ahead of the Coalition in two-party preferred terms, according to the most recent Age-Nielsen poll – and where Mr Abbott is most unpopular.

Earlier this week, Mr Abbott declared his unqualified support for the man he considers a friend. Clearly, he had no expectation of what unfolded on Wednesday night – and he was not alone. Among the many questions left hanging is what would have happened if Mr Baillieu had insisted that his chief of staff, Tony Nutt, step down over the revelations on leaked tape recordings of telephone conversations.

But there are many others. Would Mr Baillieu have been more successful if he was more ruthless, projected more urgency, hunger and passion? Undoubtedly.

That wasn’t his style, and he never tried to be what he wasn’t. To his detractors, his failure to communicate was a fatal flaw. Certainly, the love of Victoria and pride in its multicultural success that was so evident last night was not widely appreciated. Nor was his decency, but then, as one Liberal friend remarked: ”Decency doesn’t pay dividends.”

Whether the impression of a man without a clear direction would have been rectified if he had served a full term as premier is, sadly, something we will never know.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Pay TV show of the week

Buckwild is the redneck version of Jersey Shore.Buckwild, Tuesday, MTV, 9.30pm
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Take Jersey Shore, give it a redneck makeover, throw in a bunch of hair-raising Jackass-style stunts, and you’ve got MTV’s latest drinking-shouting-shagging ”reality” sensation.

Buckwild follows the rather contrived adventures of eight young people (five girls, three boys) who live up in the hollows outside the teeming metropolis of Sissonville, West Virginia (population about 4000).

The main difference between this show and the previous iterations of the format is the outdoorsiness and inventiveness of the boys, be it in turning a dump truck into a swimming pool or misusing earthmoving equipment as makeshift fun-fair rides.

Tonight Anna (”the Ringleader”) is still angry at Cara (”the Firecracker”) for having sex with Tyler (”the Pretty Boy”) in her bed. Shae (”the Spicy Southern Belle”) is sticking with her boyfriend, even though he has been trying to have sex with her friends.

The main story, though, involves the gang heading out to a nightclub in the big smoke. This is a first for yokel Shain, who doesn’t leave the hollow much – in fact, he agrees to go only on the condition that Cara stick her finger in his bug zapper.

Once in town, the girls get a body painter to completely cover their torsos so they can get away with dancing around topless inside the club. Must be the new fashion, I suppose. Apart from that, we’ve seen it all before.

The one bright spot is the unpretentious, unselfconscious Shain, who is unencumbered by book learnin’ and happier than a hog in slop. He’s also the only one who has a real job. Well, MTV is pretending he does – it turns out he was fired from his job on the garbage trucks before filming began. Reality just ain’t reality no more.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Sponsors get on the brand wagon

Ads up: Phil & Amity do the logo motion in The Block: All Stars.MEMO From: Product placement and marketing initiative division, Nine Network. To: The producers, The Block and The Block: All Stars. Subject: Increased product placement strategies.
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Good morning all. Before we begin, we’d like to acknowledge the sponsors of this memo, Microsoft Office Works and Canon, while our treats of choice while preparing this document were from Cadbury. If this memo was human and had a driver’s licence, it would drive a Suzuki Swift Sport.

First, congratulations on achieving new highs with The Block: All Stars. Sure, the ratings are down on 2012 and, basically, we’re occasionally cracking the 1 million mark even when My Kitchen Rules is on but, in terms of product placement and leveraged sponsor presence, we’ve never managed to squeeze more clients into a single episode.

When it comes to promoting our commercial partners we are killing it; although if you look at the ratings we’re also killing those.

When the show began in the prehistoric age of product placement (i.e. 2003) we didn’t have much to work with other than Jamie Durie religiously mentioning the ”beefy Toyota RAV4” and visits to a hardware store. A decade on and The Block has its own hardware store on site, with 24-hour branding opportunities. No hammer handle need go bare; no ladder leg should lack a bright sticker.

By the way, you know what else is great? Getting a 30-year mortgage to buy a property whose renovation was rushed for commercial television. This memo’s home lender of choice is the Commonwealth Bank.

We’ve had great success this year with the dressing of our eight mobile advertising displays, which some of you might know better as the contestants. In previous years they’ve been allowed to choose their own clothing, which was wasteful.

This year we have them in branded T-shirts and baseball caps, because the viewing audience would never be suspicious that couples who are constantly talking about bettering their interior designs wouldn’t choose to view a T-shirt with Wattyl or Pacific Blue Design and Construction plastered across it.

The success of the T-shirts and caps has got us thinking. If we had larger mobile advertising displays – that is, fuller-figured contestants – we would have more space for logos on their clothes. We could get two companies on one T-shirt (synergy!). Another option? Branded neck tattoos. What hip homeboy wouldn’t want iiNet inked across their throat?

Stop reading this memo for a moment and think about your health and well-being.

Wouldn’t your life benefit from Swisse, Australia’s No.1 multivitamin? We also need to apply a horizontal approach to marketing, not just vertical.

Recently Dan managed to put a nail from a nail gun through his hand and, while it was first-rate work to make sure the public never saw the brand of nail gun he was using (not all product placements are desired), we really missed out in not being able to associate designated brands with his situation. Where were the close-ups of the medicinal dressing box and the private hospital sign?

Aside from that, let’s just keep the ”casual” placements flowing. Making the contestants find their new complimentary car every week or two courtesy of ”the Suzuki Fairy” is genius, and those positive testimonials as they drive across Sydney to select throw cushions are invaluable. Same with Mark buying Duncan a ”treat” from our friends at McDonald’s when they went shopping.

One last suggestion: Josh and Jenna announce she’s pregnant and we name the baby Wattyl Samsung Densten if it’s a boy, or iSelect Swisse Densten for a girl. Or the other way around.

Keep placing, your pals at the product placement and marketing initiative division.

P.S. We’re always open to fresh concepts, but we need to stamp out loose talk about one initiative that goes beyond the pale. Under no circumstances will Amity be recording another album.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Sex, lies and political types

Digging deep: Annabel Crabb explores the underbelly of Canberra.Should any current politicians be worried about what will be revealed on your new show, Canberra Confidential?
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All politicians past, present and future should be worried about how easily – as history demonstrates in Canberra Confidential – covert operations and intrigues can detonate, with disastrous effects.

Which skeletons to emerge from the proverbial closet most intrigued you, and why?

I knew that Canberra had a history full of secrets. But I didn’t know much about what an erotic secret life the city had until we made this show. That’s all I’ll say.

Should we really be surprised that Canberra’s political scene has a history of skulduggery and subterfuge?

Human beings love secrets. The thrill of being privy to something is a perfectly unsurprising human instinct. What surprised me is how much Australian politicians will excuse in the name of intelligence gathering; it’s as though they all had childhood dreams of espionage and haven’t entirely grown out of them.

What are your fondest memories of working in Canberra?

I am a sucker for secrets too. My favourite memory of working in Canberra is the day a politician leaked me a document by taping it to the underside of the giant billiard table that used to be in an annex to the Parliament House cafeteria.

And what memory would you rather forget?

I would rather forget the moment that Philip Ruddock walked into the room when I was loudly telling the story of the gorgeous security officer who had just been assigned to accompany him on his morning jog. The temperature in the room fell about 10 degrees. Later, I got a call from the security services warning me not to publish details of the minister’s movements. Awkward.

Which politicians, past and present, would be on your ultimate dinner party guest list, and why?

Fred Daly, for anecdotes. Amanda Vanstone, for cooking and outrage. Tony Abbott, to annoy Amanda. Colin Powell, for his mimicry. Harold Holt, for sheer surprise value. But if I could invite only one, it would be the former Thatcher-era minister Alan Clark. He was fearless, erudite, hopelessly optimistic as to his own abilities, and an extraordinary chronicler of his times. His diaries are among the best books on politics I’ve read. Sadly, his career never quite recovered from when he was caught bedding the wife and two daughters of a judge. But we might not mention that at dinner.

Why is politics so entertaining?

The same things that make it crucial that politicians are closely monitored: human relationships, secrets and intrigues that change the course of history.

What can we expect before the election?

Human relationships, secrets and intrigues that change the course of history.

Canberra Confidential screens on Thursday, March 14 at 8.30pm on ABC1.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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