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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Police slam risky driving in floods

POLICE have put Hunter drivers who fail to steer clear of floodwater on notice: stay away or risk a $232 fine.
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STUCK: A man and child walk toward a car abandoned in water at Testers Hollow near Cliftleigh. Picture: Peter Stoop

Central Hunter duty officer Inspector Brian Tracey said emergency services were becoming exasperated by drivers who were ignoring calls to use commonsense in the dangerous conditions.

Police are attempting to find the owner of a car abandoned in flooded Testers Hollow near Maitland on Tuesday night.

Police used farm equipment to reach the car to confirm no one was trapped inside.

“Police and emergency services put themselves in danger to save these reckless drivers,” Inspector Tracey said on Wednesday.

“The depth meters on the roadside might say it’s a metre deep but the whole road could be washed away underneath.”

SES Hunter Region duty officer Mandy Haigh said volunteers had rescued between 15 and 20 drivers across the Hunter after they had pushed through floodwaters .

Ignoring road closure and flood warning signs carries a penalty of $232 and two demerit points.

Despite another rain-free day in the Hunter, waters are only receding slowly.

Cessnock council has warned motorists to take care in the Wollombi and Laguna area, where roads are said to be badly damaged.

Council crews have not been able to access all roads to inspect them or schedule repairs.

At Carrowbrook, near Lake St Clair, fast-flowing crossings stopped Ausgrid crews from moving in heavy machinery to repair high-voltage lines damaged by a fallen tree.

Crews will revisit the area today to try to restore power.

The township of Hinton is expected to remain isolated until late on Friday.

Residents kept spirits up last night with music and a sausage sizzle at a Flood Fest gathering in the School of Arts hall.

Elizabeth Armstrong said it was a chance to get togetherbefore the water dropped.

“We’re very community-minded here and when it floods it reminds us we need to band together,” Ms Armstrong, one of the organisers, said.

Thursday is expected to be mostly sunny with possible showers on Friday. Extra water releases from Glennies Creek Dam were scaled back on Wednesday.

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Steve Mascord: News reinforces need for change

Nervous wait: The Cronulla club is under investigation for alleged drug use. Photo: Chrisopher LaneDEVELOPMENTS in recent hours involving the ASADA investigation at Cronulla give us an insight into just how much infrastructure we really need to put around the NRL so that it operates with integrity and transparency in this punting-crazy world.
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In case you missed it (but still found this column – unlikely, I know), betting has been frozen on the Cronulla-Gold Coast match this Sunday because the Australian Crime Commission and ASADA have been interviewing officials and players at the Sharks.

There is speculation a number of players will be stood down and that authorities are trying to ‘cut a deal’ with the club which would involve a suspension of six months for those involved in doping in 2011.

Media was shut out of training as the story broke.

Discord has been bleating for years about the NRL setting up an internal integrity unit. One of the arguments against this was that the external expert they used, Ray Murrihy, was better-connected and more experienced than anyone they could hire.

So you would imagine that should Ray Murrihy put his hand up for the job, he’d have it. Well, apparently not ….

In any case, the key to protecting the integrity of the competition in the face of multiple threats associated with betting is not just about forming a unit to deal with dirty laundry.

It’s about airing ALL the laundry.

The biggest problem is inside information. If you use inside information to make a buck in business, you could get thrown in jail. In betting, everyone pats you on the back. How does that work?

In the NFL, clubs have to list who trained and who didn’t and why. Non-disclosure carries draconian penalties. And in most US states, it’s illegal to bet on the NFL anyway.

Locking the gates at training may be the first instinct of rugby league clubs when there’s drama. But the more you interact with gambling, the more transparent you need to be or else you will be dragged down by it.

Secrets are worth money and can be exploited. The day should not be far away when Cronulla – as part of the price it pays in return for a slice of the betting cake – has to announce at the earliest possible juncture “training now closed and function cancelled due to ASADA interviews with six players”

If you’re going to take money from punters, then compel clubs to say whether a star player like Sonny Bill Williams is actually playing. How many rules and protocols do they have in horse racing? We need to replicate every one of them in rugby league – stewards, scratchings, the lot.

If rugby league wants to keep its nose clean while it pockets millions from bookmakers, it needs much, much fewer secrets.

You can’t be half pregnant and you can’t half-engage bookmakers.

Hard done by

I feel sorry for Phil Veivers, the Salford coach who was sacked yesterday.

His team’s comeback against Hull KR two Sundays ago was one of the most stunning I have ever seen, and yet a week later he was gone after a heavy home loss to London.

Salford owner Marwan Koukash seems like an entertaining fellow and the fact that he is chasing the best players in the world – and now the best coach – is good for the game.

But his call for the salary cap to be raised is ill-conceived at best. Many clubs in Super League cannot afford to spend up to the cap and there are even calls for it to go down.

If Super League wants a cash injection and to operate at a higher level financially, then – as I’ve said before – they should talk to some of the franchises who have tried and failed to get into the NRL.

I know for a fact the West Coast Pirates have discussed entering Super League at a board meeting. What a great fillip it would be for Super League if they announced the Central Coast Bears or Brisbane Bombers had been granted franchises in 2015!

Going underground

Thanks to everyone for their comments last week. From now on until the World Cup, you will only be able to read Discord here online, which is part of the agreement between Fairfax and my primary employers, Rugby League Week.

Marto (I think I know you), as far as my ponytail is concerned it is long-gone. However, it’s getting a bit woolly again and I’ll get another haircut as soon as I can afford one!

Gav commented on the UK television rights. Since the last column, Premier Sports signed a new five-year deal. There’ll be six live games and two delayed every week. Here’s the statement from Premier:

Here’s the forum: http://whitelinefever.ning上海夜网m/forum/categories/discord/listForCategory

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Finance expert new acting GM 

NEWCASTLE City Council’s new acting general manager says he has “no false expectations” about the challenges facing the city during a $190 million round of cost cutting.
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Ken Gouldthorp, the former Toowoomba Regional Council chief executive, will begin his new job in Newcastle on Monday.

Mr Gouldthorp has accepted a six-month contract as the city’s interim chief, and said yesterday it was “too early to mention” whether he would be a candidate for the job on a permanent basis.

“I’d never rule anything out,” he said.

Mr Gouldthorp arrives in Newcastle with experience leading councils and other organisations through periods of significant change. At Mackay and Toowoomba he steered regional councils through mergers.

This has not always been without controversy. In Mackay he was dubbed “cashed-up Ken” by local media when he walked away from the newly amalgamated regional council with two years’ salary.

At Toowoomba, he managed about 1700 staff before resigning suddenly last year. Newcastle is a smaller organisation but the job comes with a higher profile and the responsibility of reversing dire budget projections.

Mr Gouldthorp is a qualified accountant and has degrees in economics and finance and a masters degree in commerce.

His financial qualifications are understood to have weighed heavily during the selection process.

The immediate challenge in Newcastle will be cost-cutting plans that are already well underway.

The council wants to cut 10 per cent from its annual budgets over two years and is working through proposals internally before releasing them for comment in the coming months.

Mr Gouldthorp said his first tasks would include going over council budgets and financial projections.

“I have no false expectations about the work and the changes that are required,” he said.

Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said he was pleased to get Mr Gouldthorp on board, although the Newcastle Herald understands the council decision to appoint Mr Gouldthorp was not unanimous.

“Mr Gouldthorp is very keen to get started and help council’s executive leadership team guide the city through its current financial challenges,” Cr McCloy said.

He will become the fifth occupant of the general manager’s office since 2008.

The revolving door has spat out Janet Dore, Lindy Hyam, acting boss Rob Noble and Phil Pearce.

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OPINION: Slingshot launch pad for bright new ideas

LIGHT UP: The government is committed to supporting entrepreneurs.LIGHT UP: The government is committed to supporting entrepreneurs.
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AS our economy undergoes structural change, the future success of many Australian industries will rely heavily upon their ability to innovate and adapt.

Those who develop new ideas, integrate new technologies and employ modern, competitive ways of doing business will be out in front.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of launching the first Hunter-based technology accelerator, Slingshot – a fine example of the power of innovation at work.

This unique program will invest $10million of seed funding into Australian companies to help them turn innovative ideas into commercial realities.

Ten emerging businesses will be selected to take part in the intense 12-week program where they will co-locate in Slingshot’s Newcastle offices, be given access to leading business mentors and be exposed to investors, partners and sponsors.

The end result could be remarkable new companies ready to pitch themselves to venture capitalists for further funding here and abroad; helping create new jobs.

The journey from good idea to new product or service can present many challenges.

The Gillard government is focused on fostering competitive and innovative industries, including through promoting venture capital.

The Slingshot program, for example, utilises the government’s Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership tax arrangements to raise the dedicated seed funding required to support successful enterprises.

Opportunities exist, for assistance, through other government initiatives such as the Innovation Investment Fund, Commercialisation Australia, the R&D Tax Incentive, Enterprise Connect and Industry Innovation Precincts.

This approach also plays into the Gillard government’s central objective of creating and supporting local jobs.

Our recently-released Industry and Innovation Statement, A Plan for Australian Jobs, is a $1billion investment in productivity, prosperity and jobs.

It will ensure Australian firms have the opportunity to bid for more work, create industry precincts that strengthen our ability to win business abroad, and help small and medium businesses grow.

As part of this plan, the government will invest a further $350million in the Innovation Investment Fund, matched by private industry, to create an additional $700million in venture capital for smart Australian businesses.

There are improvements to venture capital taxation arrangements, and support for emerging technology is also evident through the government’s investment in high speed broadband – the backbone of the new digital economy.

The National Broadband Network (NBN), which is already rolling out in our region, will improve the competitive advantage of regional centres such as Newcastle and support entry into global markets and supply chains.

We are committed to supporting small business and entrepreneurs to reach their potential. The government’s Digital Enterprise Program, for example, is providing free group training and face-to-face support for SMEs and not-for-profit organisations to help improve service delivery online.

There is a positive alignment between what Slingshot, created by locals Craig Lambert and Trent Bagnall, aims to achieve and the Gillard government’s vision to drive innovation, create jobs and improve our competitiveness for the future.

Slingshot’s partners include the Newcastle Herald, Sparke Helmore, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hunter Business Chamber, University of Newcastle, and TAFE.

By bringing together our best businesses and researchers to create global quality products, boosting capability for business and entrepreneurs, and providing access to capital to grow early stage businesses, the government is creating the base from which creative entrepreneurs, through initiatives like Slingshot, can thrive.

The key drivers of economic change are the rise of the digital economy and the shift towards a low-carbon global economy.

Our investments in the NBN and the Clean Energy Future package will help Australian industry, including those based here in the Hunter, to embrace and profit from these changes.

Greg Combet is the federal Labor member for Charlton and the Minister for Industry and Innovation.

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Family happy with peacekeeper decision

NO ONE could ever tell proud father Peter Pridue that his son Beau’s service wasn’t worthy of the Australian War Memorial’s roll of honour.
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Yesterday, after a sustained campaign by Mr Pridue and the families of other fallen soldiers, the war memorial council made the historic decision to overturn its policy on the recognition of peacekeepers.

Speers Point soldier Beau Pridue, who died in a vehicle crash in East Timor in 2011, will now have his name etched on the panels that mark the service of Australia’s 102,000 war dead.

‘‘It’s probably the best day since he passed away, just knowing that it’s probably the last thing I will be able to do for him,’’ Mr Pridue said yesterday.

‘‘It’s just brilliant.

‘‘All those young lads who were killed will all be looking down saying ‘we have been remembered and respected’.’’

For decades, the war memorial has not recognised peacekeepers on the roll of honour if their service was not deemed ‘‘warlike’’.

If Craftsman Pridue’s accident had occurred in Afghanistan, his name would have automatically been recorded on the honour roll.

Instead, his name is one of 48 included in a remembrance book that remains locked away behind a glass cabinet at the Australian War Memorial.

The campaign to recognise peacekeepers began with Perth mother Avril Clarke, whose son Jamie died in the Solomon Islands in 2005.

Ms Clarke’s Change上海夜网 petition gained 41,000 signatures. The campaign was also supported by the Newcastle Herald.

Yesterday’s Herald online poll found readers more than 95per cent in favour of peacekeepers being included in the honour roll.

“This is an incredible victory for people power. I am just over the moon,” Ms Clarke said.

“For years, I had been fighting a lone battle to win some respect and recognition for peacekeepers like Jamie who had died serving their country.’’

War memorial council chairman Rear Admiral Ken Doolan said the decision reflected ‘‘a wider community perspective in a changing world.

“The founder of the memorial, Charles Bean, could not have envisioned the world in which we now live, but it is important that we uphold the spirit of his vision,’’ he said.

He said it is of vital importance that members of the defence force be fittingly commemorated.

The council will add a new plaque to the honour roll to commemorate the fallen peacekeepers. It is expected to be completed by September.

Change上海夜网 campaigns director Karen Skinner said the decision was a David and Goliath story.

“A working mum from Perth has managed to create a national movement and convince one of the most venerable institutions in Australia to change their policy,” Ms Skinner said.

BEST: Peter Pridue at Speers Point. Picture: Simone De Peak

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Tapuai fancied a Rebels move

Queensland Reds inside-centre Ben Tapuai last year seriously contemplated a future as a Melbourne Rebel.
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The Rebels chased him hard and he was tempted to return to the city where he grew up, but in the end he decided to remain at the Reds and take advantage of the start he had been given by coach Ewen McKenzie, when he snared a regular position in 2011 and was part of the championship-winning team.

Tapuai had moved to the Gold Coast after taking up a scholarship to The Southport School.

So the 24-year-old remains part of the cluster of Australian players who grew up in Victoria but are part of rival teams, with the talented back among the Reds team that will play against the Rebels at AAMI Park on Friday night.

Tapuai is contracted to the Reds until the end of next year, and while he has not thought about his future beyond that date, he said the possibility of one day playing for the Rebels held some appeal.

”I just pretty much started, so if I moved again [last year] it just would have felt like I had started again,” said Tapuai, who played rugby at Box Hill.

”I was contemplating going, but at the end of the day I stuck at it and stuck with the Reds … but in saying that it would be awesome to go back to Melbourne and to finish off there, but I haven’t even thought of that.”

Tapuai’s star has risen to the extent that he has now played seven Tests for the Wallabies and is regarded as an integral part of the Reds back line, despite the bigger name players around him, such as Quade Cooper, the injured Will Genia and Digby Ioane. He said a change in attitude before the 2011 season sparked the upward momentum of his career.

”I think it’s commitment and diet. I was pretty bad in the diet situation. I just kind of ate anything and everything and then that pre-season – end of 2010, start of 2011 – that’s when I started to try and take things serious and things worked for me and it paid off.”

But Tapuai’s immediate thoughts are on Friday night’s clash with a Rebels team that he believed would provide more challenges than at any time during the Reds’ previous games this season.

”If they were playing in Melbourne last week against the Tahs, I reckon they would have got away with it … they were up 16-6 at half-time and they let it go in the last 20,” he said.

”But if you look at them from two years ago when they were beaten by the Waratahs by at least 30 points … they’ve improved immensely.”

Tapuai said the Rebels would lose little with James O’Connor replacing Kurtley Beale at five-eighth, with Beale sidelined with a broken hand.

Reds five-eighth Quade Cooper agreed with that assessment, noting that O’Connor had bulked up during his lay-off with injury. ”He’s grown up a lot and he’s a lot bigger. He’s not like a little 18-year-old any more.”

With aap

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Transform with NBN or miss out: Conroy

SMALL businesses will ‘‘have their lunch cut’’ by new, tech-savvy rivals if they don’t tap into the National Broadband Network and build their online capacity.
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The warning came from Senator Stephen Conroy, the federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, during a whistlestop visit to the Hunter yesterday.

Visiting an NBN-ready exchange in Hamilton with the federal Member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, and federal Labor candidate Sharon Claydon, Senator Conroy said the network would begin to roll out in Newcastle in the second half of this year. ‘‘I wouldn’t want to say in which street and on what day, because we are renting Telstra’s [facilities], so there might be need for remediation, but construction will be commencing,’’ he said.

‘‘Once we start digging in your streets, within 12 months you should get the box on the side of your house and it should go up.’’

Senator Conroy said initial work would connect about 9700 homes and businesses in Hamilton, Newcastle and surrounding suburbs.

By mid-2015 work would be under way or completed for 85,400 homes and businesses in Newcastle and surrounding areas including Charlestown, Mayfield and New Lambton.

Senator Conroy said Newcastle had ‘‘done it tough’’ when the steelworks closed and the NBN was the ‘‘extra piece in the jigsaw to really turbocharge’’ transformation.

He said the message behind the government’s digital enterprise programs, which will train individuals and business to use the NBN, was ‘‘get on board or miss out’’.

‘‘Eighty-sixper cent of Australians buy online but only a third of businesses have websites,’’ he said.

‘‘Businesses have to take this step otherwise you will have your lunch cut by new businesses coming along.’’

Brendan Brooks, president of the Hunter Digital Industry Growth and Innovation Taskforce (DiGiT), said he had received an assurance that the NBN three-year rollout regions announced last year for Newcastle, Maitland and some areas of Lake Macquarie were ‘‘locked in’’ regardless of the result of the federal election.

‘‘The NBN is very real, and the business community needs to prepare itself to take advantage of this transformational infrastructure in order to pursue competitive advantage,’’ he said.

READY TO GO: Labor candidate Sharon Claydon, left, and federal Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy, centre.

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