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AFL charter is one change for the better

In the midst of the latest kerfuffle about a cap on interchanges, rule changes and the entire raison d’etre of the laws of the game committee, the AFL has come up with a nice piece of clear thinking.
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That is to establish a charter outlining the virtues of the game it wants to enshrine, the idea being that if we’re going to have a committee tinkering with the rules as much as this one has in recent times, shouldn’t there be a clear big picture towards which it is working?

It’s the brainchild of new laws of the game committee chairman Gillon McLachlan, who says the input will come from key stakeholders such as clubs, coaches, players and, significantly, supporters.

It’s a terrific idea, one that, had it been canvassed earlier, might have helped spare us some of the rule changes introduced for the purpose of counteracting the unintended consequences of previous rule changes, like a dog chasing its tail.

Exactly what is the type of game we want to be playing and watching at the elite level? Already, plenty of informed debate has been generated.

On SEN on Wednesday morning, former coaches and players such Terry Wallace, David King and Scott Lucas offered their suggestions for such a charter, the AFL a very interested listener.

King said a fundamental had to be no alteration to the scoring system, resisting any temptation for a NAB Cup-style ”supergoal” from long range.

Former Bomber forward Lucas was dismissive of some suggestions that the AFL revert from 18 to 16 players a side on the ground, as per the old days of the VFA.

He made a particularly cogent call to protect the players of all shapes and sizes, always a selling point of the game, but one perhaps now endangered on a couple of fronts.

One is the apparent determination by the laws people to stretch players even more in terms of endurance, the danger that the scales become tilted too heavily in favour of athletic gifts at the expense of football nous.

The other impact may already have been felt, Lucas making the valid point that the introduction of the substitute has rendered a second ruckman all but obsolete, that role now falling to a more mobile pinch-hitter.

Wallace said a key tenet had to be the preservation of the one-on-one contest, dramatically reduced by the greater licence taken by forwards and backs in the modern game, as well as not legislating fair physical contact out of existence.

We all have our particular hobby horses. Mine is umpires clearing congestion by calling for quicker ball-ups rather than waiting, hoping for the ball to come out on its own.

Another is that rules be trialled for at least two years in the NAB Cup for a more accurate indicator of their potential impact. That would also allow emerging trends in the game to be judged more accurately. Is a trend an entrenched blight on the game or merely a passing fad? Hard to tell if you don’t allow the rules to remain long enough for a decent sample size.

On the question of supporter input, McLachlan says ”we have a facility to quickly get feedback from 15,000 people”.

That might be the biggest test of the charter idea, too, because you know that even before such a survey, the overwhelming response from fans will still be: ”Leave the rules alone.” And after 50 rules changes in the past 20 years alone, that’s perfectly understandable.

What remain arguably the most profound changes to the AFL rules – the free kick for out-of-bounds on the full, the centre diamond becoming a square after two years, and the introduction of the interchange bench rather than reserves who couldn’t be replaced – came in 1969, 1973 and 1978 respectively.

Does that mean most of what has come since has been unnecessary tinkering around the edges? Or fine-tuning that has kept the modern game as watchable as it still is? At least now with a charter we might have a definitive guide to help us answer those sorts of philosophical questions.

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PM’s gangs plan hits three hurdles

Julia Gillard’s campaign to tackle criminal gangs is wobbling, with three state governments unhappy about her idea of national laws and a crime statistician saying she has exaggerated the gun problem in NSW.
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As part of her five-day campaign to win back Labor votes in western Sydney, the Prime Minister has talked tough on law and order.

On Sunday, she announced a $64 million ”national anti-gang taskforce”. Ms Gillard said: ”When we look at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, we see that over the past 15 years, shootings in public places have soared.”

But the director of the bureau, Don Weatherburn, said Ms Gillard was wrong to claim that shootings had ”soared”. According to Dr Weatherburn, the number of non-fatal shooting offences in NSW peaked in 2001 and then began to fall.

Ms Gillard has pitched her new gang policies as the government’s way of reining in the violence on suburban streets and in particular in western Sydney, where Labor could lose more than 10 seats in the September election.

At a press conference in Punchbowl on Wednesday, Ms Gillard said she would ask the state premiers at next month’s Council of Australian Governments meeting to endorse new national laws that would give the federal government unprecedented powers to tackle organised crime.

”National laws will prevent members of organised criminal groups from easily shifting their operations to other states and territories,” she said.

The new national laws would include powers to seize ”unexplained wealth” from criminals, including cash, cars and houses.

Courts would be allowed to label a particular group as a ”criminal organisation” and then impose controls on the gang, such as banning members from visiting their clubhouse.

But for Ms Gillard’s plan to work she needs the states to agree to refer their powers to the Commonwealth. At least three appear unwilling.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said he thought national laws would ”risk disrupting the states’ work in tackling drug trafficking and other organised crime”.

The federal government failed last year to convince the states to accept national anti-gang laws.

”There is nothing in today’s announcement to suggest the Commonwealth has changed its position from the proposal already rejected,” Mr Clark said.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie accused Ms Gillard of trying to take revenue from the states and said he would not relinquish the Queensland government’s powers to confiscate unexplained wealth.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said his state would co-operate ”where the Commonwealth could play a role” but ”we’re not going to hand over powers”.

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Coaching the coaches next priority

LOST, loose and lonely athletes weren’t the only recurring theme in the recently released probes of Australia’s dysfunctional Olympic swimming team. Highlighted several times in Doctor Pippa Grange’s Bluestone Review was a startling absence of leadership that pointed to major failings of national coaches.
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Among Doctor Grange’s recommendations was that Swimming Australia invest in an “intensive coach-the-coach leadership program” that would see the team’s big boss, Leigh Nugent, tutored by an “industry expert” for a minimum of three months.

The Australian Sports Commission also recognised the benefit of coaching coaches when it released its masterplan to rectify the nation’s deteriorating performance in international sport last November it. A priority outlined in the ‘Winning Edge’ blueprint was increased investment into coaches and high performance personnel, and the establishment of a very modern sounding “new cross-sport centre for performance coaching and leadership” designed to encourage information sharing across sports and raise the standard of those working in the industry.

Federal sport Minister Kate Lundy will announce on Thursday that the Australian Institute of Sport is ready for its first intake of coaches who are eager to be pupils again in order to become better teachers.

There are just 30 places – 15 for emerging coaches who will be trained over two years, and 15 for established high performance leaders from national sporting organisations who will be trained for a minimum of 12 months – for the program beginning in May that Senator Lundy is spruiking as “cutting edge”.

“A contemporary sports system is open to the ideas of coaches and high performance staff sharing knowledge,” Lundy said.

“There is no reason a cricket, football or netball coach or leader cannot learn valuable lessons from a swimming, rowing or athletics coach or vice versa.”

The successful candidates will be trained not only by the Melbourne Business School, but by the National Institute of Dramatic Art, and undertake programs the ASC says will be “thematic rather than discipline based, with content delivered via a series of face-to-face residential labs” and involve study tours and individual assessment.

Units for year one include ‘Maximising your Leadership Potential’ and ‘Strategic Thinking and Action’, to be run by the Melbourne Business School. The National Institute of Dramatic Art will run ‘Creating Excellent Communicators’ and ‘Communicating with Impact’ while other units, to be run by the AIS, will broach science (‘Maximising Altitude’), psychology (‘Mental Health First Aid’) and general wellbeing (‘Optimising Sleep for athletes and coaches’).

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Accept bans, Sharks told

Dark days: The investigation into Cronulla has focused on the 2011 season and the involvement of sports scientist Stephen Dank.Up to 14 Cronulla players left a meeting at Sharkies Leagues Club on Tuesday night with their careers in tatters after being told to accept a six-month suspension or risk further sanctions over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
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A lawyer, hired by Cronulla to negotiate with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority following the investigation of the use of peptides, went to the meeting with documents already prepared for the players to sign, admitting to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The players were told if they signed the documents they would not face further sanctions and would remain employed by the club. But if they did not sign, they would open themselves up to the possibility of longer suspensions.

The players refused to sign.

It is believed the same lawyer had previously told Cronulla players they had little to worry about, before dramatically changing tack this week after further talks with ASADA.

The investigation into Cronulla has focused on the 2011 season and the involvement of sports scientist Stephen Dank.

The players believe a former employee has blown the whistle on the use of supplements at the club.

The Australian Crime Commission and ASADA had come under pressure since the release of an unclassified document to name names. But the events of the past few days have brought the focus clearly on to Cronulla, leaving Sharks officials devastated.

But it is understood that eight players at other NRL clubs have been implicated in the latest ASADA investigations.

Fairfax Media was told the meeting on Tuesday night was the sixth attended by the Sharks players since the dramatic media conference in Canberra last month to announce the findings of an ACC report into doping and match fixing in sport.

No player is thought to have failed a drugs test.

It is believed that if players did admit to taking a banned substance, they would claim they did so unknowingly.

Fairfax Media has been told that Sharks players were given beta thymosin and CJC 1295 during the 2011 season. It has been suggested the substances were not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list at the time.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and football manager Darren Mooney did not return calls on Wednesday night.

A club spokesman denied reports players had been interviewed by ASADA on Wednesday.

Instead, the players trained as normal in preparation for Sunday night’s match against Gold Coast, but their futures are uncertain amid speculation that either ASADA or the club will stand them down on Friday.

A shopping centre appearance by players on Thursday night has been scrapped and an announcement of a new sleeve sponsor has been delayed.

The Sharks say they have already lost a sponsorship deal of up to $2 million for the naming rights of their stadium after they were one of six NRL clubs named in the ACC report.

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Drug policy a concern: Dogs boss

Peter Gordon at the Western Bulldogs family day at Whitten Oval last month. Photo: Wayne TaylorWestern Bulldogs president Peter Gordon has highlighted concerns about the AFL’s illicit drugs policy, which had created a series of unfortunate issues for clubs and players, despite the AFL’s best intentions to deal with a society-wide problem.
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Gordon said the AFL had sought ”to cure an incurable problem” and the Bulldogs president also suggested he did not feel he had the right to act ”as moral policeman” to experienced players in terms of what they did in their own homes during the off-season.

”The policy is imperfect and has created a whole series of issues, including civil liberties issues, but also this cops and robbers mentality of which players might be caught next by an increasingly voracious media,” said Gordon.

Gordon said he found it difficult to stand in front of older experienced players – as distinct from kids just out of high school – and act as ”moral policeman”. ”What is my right to play moral policeman about what they do, in the sanctuary of their home, in the off-season?

”There is no moral right. There is a contractual right with the drug policy as an instrument of the AFL player contract and that was the only basis I felt I could say to them with a straight face ‘you will do this because you are contracted to do so’.”

The Bulldogs president said the media were ”only doing their job” in a massively competitive field, adding ”and this is the sexiest of stories – who will be the next player caught?”

Gordon made his comments in a forum at the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday night and subsequently expanded on and clarified them to Fairfax Media, calling the three-strikes policy – based on a medical model – ”the least worst solution”.

”The issue of prudent management of the illicit drugs issue is a complete nightmare,” he said at the Wheeler Centre forum.

”The idea that you stand before young players who you know are in the age demographic, asking if they know we’ve got anything … knowing that the chances of their fessing up, in any circumstances, is illusory.

”All this is from a club management point of view. The potential for this risk to eventuate is uncertain, it’s uncontrollable and potentially catastrophic.”

He said all clubs were at risk of losing sponsors and financial contributors to illicit drug scandals and if the Dogs lost sponsors ”we’re in serious financial trouble”.

”I certainly think that the AFL, in framing this policy, sought to cure an incurable problem.

”I think that they, no doubt, did start with the best of intentions to articulate a policy.”

Gordon later told Fairfax Media that, upon reflection, he did not think there was a better solution to the illicit drugs issue, than the three-strikes policy that the AFL devised.

Gordon also criticised the conflating of ”illicit drugs” with performance-enhancing drugs by the Australian Crime Commission, which had ”blackened” the AFL and its clubs’ reputations.

”It’s blackened the name of the competition.”

It’s done enormous reputational damage,” said Gordon, who is one of Australia’s best known litigators. He said all of the clubs and competition ”have been subject to enormous reputational damage … I think it’s been most regrettable.”

”Who knows what prospective opportunities have been lost because of the risks involved.”

In clarifying his Wheeler Centre remarks, Gordon added on the illicit drugs and ACC issues: ”It’s a massive problem in Australian society. There is a significant proportion of the young people who use drugs. I think it was very unhelpful for it [illicit drugs] to be conflated in the report with what are performance-enhancing drugs.”

He said the AFL, in devising the illicit drugs policy, ”did the best that they could with the responsibilities that they’ve got … I think what they came up with its the least worst policy”.

”I think the conflating of the issue of PED with illicit drugs is unfortunate.” He said illicit drugs were criminal, but performance-enhancing ones, in some but not all cases, were not illegal.”

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Argus: we can still be No.1

Former BHP chairman Don Argus, whose landmark review of Australian cricket charted a course back to world domination. Photo: Nic WalkerEXCLUSIVE
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Don Argus, whose landmark review of Australian cricket charted a course back to world domination, says there is no quick fix for the problems laid bare in India, and implored selectors and administrators to ”hold their steel”.

Although largely supportive of Cricket Australia’s efforts to implement many of the recommendations in the Argus review of team performance, tabled in response to the 2010-11 Ashes disaster, the former BHP Billiton chairman cautioned against panic, expressed concern about the lack of emphasis on spin bowling in the coaching structure, and warned the schedule of the Big Bash League must not detract from Australia’s Test objectives.

In an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media, Argus said the report’s ultimate goal – to restore the Test team to No. 1 by 2015 – was ”absolutely” still achievable.

He said the harrowing results in India – defeats by eight wickets and an innings and 135 runs in the first two Tests – demonstrated how deep-seated Australia’s problems were to begin with.

”I think they have been quite bold in implementing a lot of the stuff and going down the recommendation path in the report,” Argus said. ”Everyone wants instant success … and the trouble when you go through a transition or succession phase is that impatience manifests itself into a bit of emotion.

”Up until this series, the guys have done pretty well in trying to unearth new talent and things like that. Everyone is going to have to hold their steel here to get the ultimate outcome, because if you start thrashing around in water then you drown, and up until now I think they’ve held it pretty well.

”I think India is probably the toughest environment of all to blood new talent and that’s what is happening over there.

”I’m not that despondent. I think it’s probably teaching the selectors a lot more about the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. I don’t think they could put together a better squad.

”They’ve tried a lot of people and you can add a few here and a few there, but they’ve gone about a process quite systematically that will

get us there in the end, but it was never going to be a short-term fix.”

Almost two years after the Argus report was released, its architect backed CA’s controversial injury management methods, and called on former players who criticised to ”give up their day jobs to offer their services to go and help”.

On selection, he said John Inverarity’s panel had, ”by and large”, adhered to his philosophy that dictated ”players must earn their positions in the time-honoured way of making runs, taking wickets and showing that they are ready to play at the next level”.

But he acknowledged the selection of Xavier Doherty for the second Test in India, after taking just two Sheffield Shield wickets at an average of 80 this season, was an exception.

”Selectors will sometimes make subjective judgments for whatever reason … I’m sure they can justify their selections. Up until probably that one [Doherty], they’ve stuck with what they’ve said they were going to do, and I think that has paid off for them,” Argus said.

”They’ve won in the West Indies, they’ve comprehensively won two series at home [against India and Sri Lanka, but also lost to No.1 team South Africa], and they go to the toughest environment in the world with an inexperienced side in those conditions, and it’s tough.”

Of the need to reduce the impact of the BBL on the Test summer, he said: ”If you deviate from your priorities, if you compromise on your plan … you’ll always get caught out. If Test cricket is the No.1 game, and we say it is, that’s the way it is.”

On coaching, Argus said there was scope for a dedicated spin coach on tour, a job currently performed by assistant coach and former wicketkeeper Steve Rixon. ”Whether they’ve got enough concentration on spin bowling is probably debatable … but if there’s a weakness, you’ve got to do something about helping to develop someone that can [address] that weakness.”

As Michael Clarke prepares to move up the order to paper over the batting woes, Argus said CA could only have prepared for the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey by resting star batsmen from the Test team, which would have provoked an even greater public outcry than rotating fast bowlers.

Argus said he had not given up on success in the Ashes this year and stands by the ambition of Australia returning to No.1 by 2015. ”I wouldn’t compromise on that at all. It’s like a five-year plan in a company – if you commit to something, you’ve got to get it, and all these players have committed to it.

”I don’t believe in blind faith. I believe in a lot of hard work, and it doesn’t come tomorrow. I think there’s a lot of effort going into getting this team to its goals. I’ve got great faith they will get to where they want to get to.

”Stay the course, but also recognise the challenges that are there. We tend to fall back into thinking we’ve still got this side with seven champions in it. Maybe that will come again, but that just doesn’t come overnight.”

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UPDATE: Sharks up in arms with former trainer

Cronulla players and officials believe former head trainer Trent Elkin has informed the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency about the drug and supplements program which was in place during his time at the NRL club.
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Sources have told Fairfax Media that Elkin, who finished his tenure at the club last year to take up a position at Parramatta, met with ASADA recently. It is understood players and officials are furious at Elkin.

When contacted by Fairfax Media, Elkin refused to comment about any matter regarding his involvement with the Sharks.

Cronulla players are believed to be considering legal action if they are suspended for inadvertently taking performance-enhancing substances.

Up to 14 Sharks players are understood to have been offered six-month bans if they plead guilty to using prohibited drugs. But it is understood they argued that if they had taken drugs, they did so unknowingly. It is unclear whether former Cronulla players now at other clubs have been offered the same deal, which would save them from the usual two-year bans handed down to athletes testing positive to performance-enhancing drugs.

Fairfax Media has been told Sharks players were given Thymosin Beta 4 and CJC-1295 peptides during the 2011 season.

It is understood the products were not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list at the time but both were included in the Australian Crime Commission report into doping and match fixing under the heading “Performance and Image Enhancing Substances”.

If the players were to be suspended, Fairfax Media was told the players might sue the club, claiming to have been told the substances were legal. A source told Fairfax Media the players could claim the Sharks had a duty of care for them while they were employed by the club.

If they were suspended for six months, the players would not only miss the majority of this season but there was a risk their long-term careers would be severely damaged. The players would also lose 50 per cent of their contract money for the year as Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority guidelines prevent the payment to athletes suspended for drugs use.

Cronulla officials will also come under scrutiny over the decision to hire controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank and the level of autonomy he was given at the club.

Dank is at the centre of the ASADA investigation into AFL club Essendon and similar allegations about the use of peptides by their players and has been interviewed twice by the ACC. He has denied any wrongdoing, and Fairfax Media has been told there are allegations against another member of the Sharks’ off-field staff over the use of performance-enhancing substances by players.

The ACC report described CJC-1295 as a growth hormone releasing peptide and “one of the principal peptides identified by the ACC and ASADA as being misused in both professional sports and the broader population”.

Thymosin Beta 4 is used to aid injury recovery and is described in the ACC report as “not regulated”. It is used extensively for performance enhancement in horses.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan shut the media out of training on Wednesday and could not be contacted afterwards.

However, it is understood he does not anticipate any changes to the side he named on Tuesday to host Gold Coast in Sunday night’s opening round fixture.

A statement posted on the Cronulla website on Wednesday night said the club was fully assisting with the ASADA investigation.

“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 statement said. “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.”

– SMH

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Corby’s lack of compliance threatens to extend her sentence

Schapelle Corby’s lack of compliance in prison is threatening to extend her sentence after jail governor Ngurah Wiratna appeared to publicly lose patience with her yesterday.
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Prisoners rely on the governor to commend them for good behaviour when twice-yearly cuts in their sentences are handed out.

But when Corby, who was convicted of smuggling of smuggling 4.1kg of marijuana into Bali in 2004, failed to turn up to an event held by the Governor in Kerobokan prison on Wednesday afternoon, he called her out by name.

Mr Wiratna had ordered all able-bodied prisoners into the yard to address them on the subject of “zero mobile phones, zero bribes, and zero drugs”. Of the 130 female prisoners, only three neglected to turn up — two because of ill health, and Corby.

To media after his speech, Mr Wiratna said: “If a prisoner neglects their duty [to be involved in prison activities] they can forget about their rights”.

“One Indonesian female prisoner was sick, which was confirmed by the doctor. [British death row grandmother] Lindsay Sandiford claimed she didn’t feel well … Corby didn’t show up and she had no clear reason.”

“Prisoners can’t just ask for their rights when they never join or show up for prison activities,” Mr Wiratna continued. “It will all be taken into account.”

In the Indonesian system, remissions of sentences are given twice a year — two months at Christmas (for Christians) and up to six months at Indonesia’s Independence day in August. For Corby, if the governor recommends full remissions and they are accepted, it could cut two years off her sentence, allowing her out in 2015 rather than 2017.

Ms Corby is also now eligible for parole, but has not yet applied for it because of uncertainty over what her immigration status would be.

But Mr Wiratna even appeared to threaten that.

“Parole is not up to me, but the parole team will take into account how active a prisoner is at joining prison programs, their behaviour and so on.”

Corby is notorious for avoiding the public gaze. She rarely leaves the women’s block, and has not for a number of years engaged in prison activities where there is a danger of a member of the public or media seeing her. She is rarely, if ever, seen in the visiting room.

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Behaviour putting Corby at risk of longer sentence

Schapelle Corby’s lack of compliance in prison is threatening to extend her sentence after jail governor Ngurah Wiratna appeared to publicly lose patience with her on Wednesday.
Shanghai night field

Prisoners rely on the governor to commend them for good behaviour when twice-yearly cuts in their sentences are handed out.

But when Corby, who was convicted of smuggling 4.1 kilograms of marijuana into Bali in 2004, failed to turn up to an event held by the governor in Kerobokan prison on Wednesday afternoon, he called her out by name.

Mr Wiratna had ordered all able-bodied prisoners into the yard to address them on the subject of “zero mobile phones, zero bribes, and zero drugs”. Of the 130 female prisoners, only three neglected to turn up – two because of ill health, and Corby.

Mr Wiratna told the media after his speech: “If a prisoner neglects their duty [to be involved in prison activities] they can forget about their rights.

“One Indonesian female prisoner was sick, which was confirmed by the doctor. [British death row grandmother] Lindsay Sandiford claimed she didn’t feel well . . . Corby didn’t show up and she had no clear reason.

“Prisoners can’t just ask for their rights when they never join or show up for prison activities,” Mr Wiratna said. “It will all be taken into account.”

In the Indonesian system, remissions of sentences are given twice a year — two months at Christmas (for Christians) and up to six months at Indonesia’s Independence day in August. For Corby, if the governor recommends full remissions and they are accepted, it could cut two years off her sentence, allowing her out in 2015 rather than 2017.

Corby is also now eligible for parole, but has not yet applied for it because of uncertainty over what her immigration status would be.

But Mr Wiratna even appeared to threaten that.

“Parole is not up to me, but the parole team will take into account how active a prisoner is at joining prison programs, their behaviour and so on.”

Corby is notorious for avoiding the public gaze. She rarely leaves the women’s block, and has not for a number of years engaged in prison activities where there is a danger of a member of the public or media seeing her. She is rarely, if ever, seen in the visiting room.

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McCabe confident on return

Pat McCabe at Brumbies training on Wednesday. He will make his comeback from a neck injury on Thursday night. Photo: Jay CronanPat McCabe is adamant his hard-nosed crash-and-bash style will not be affected by the broken neck that threatened to end his career.
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But as he prepares to make his return to rugby on Thursday night, McCabe admits he contemplated an early retirement when doctors told him he had fractured his C1 vertebra last November.

A world away from the Test arena and the Wallabies’ loss to France, McCabe will make a low-key return to action when he plays for the ACT XV against Tonga A at Viking Park.

It’s the first step in his journey back to the ACT Brumbies line-up and into the Wallabies squad. Three times a week he spends in gym sessions wearing a ”horrendous looking mask” and chains around his neck in a bid to strengthen his muscles.

In his first three seasons of Super Rugby, the 24-year-old built his game on being one of the most tenacious players in the competition, willing to put his body on the line to save the team.

More often than not he leaves the field bloodied and bruised. And while there’s a neck brace at the bottom of his cupboard to remind him of how close it was to ending, McCabe will not change his approach.

”I really do think this has given me a greater appreciation of what it’s like to play and how good we’ve got it as rugby players,” McCabe said.

”Physically, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt and it will take me a couple of weeks to get back into rugby, but it’s just good to be around,” he said.

”I guess it’s just about getting that confidence back and I expect to perform reasonably well, I’ve been training pretty hard. I’ve taken a few knocks on [my neck] at training, nothing changes and hopefully we get through and everything is fine.”

McCabe’s no stranger to pain. He played the entire 2011 season with a broken shoulder and continued to push through the pain barrier to help the Wallabies in their World Cup campaign before having reconstruction surgery.

McCabe is in line to be part of the Brumbies 26-man touring squad to South Africa if he gets through his comeback match unscathed.

The next challenge is fitting him into the team; McCabe plays inside-centre for the Wallabies, but is also capable of playing wing or fullback.

He will play fullback in his comeback match.

Because of the seriousness of his injury, the Brumbies and McCabe don’t want to risk any further problems if he’s not 100 per cent.

He first felt pain at the back of his neck after getting hit in a ruck in the Wallabies’ clash with France last year. He trained the next week, but when the pain increased doctors sent him for scans and he was immediately put in a neck brace.

He wore the brace every day for two months, getting rashes on his neck. He wasn’t allowed to drive and lost 10 kilograms. Slowly he has increased his training load with the Brumbies and has resumed full contact sessions.

But he spends time alone in the gym building strength in his neck to ensure he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.

”Until you get some knocks and bumps on it, that’s when you get the confidence back,” McCabe said.

”The uncertainty surrounding it was pretty tough. But when I was in the neck brace they said if I did everything right it would heal well, so it was a matter of doing the time.

”I probably had a few moments where I thought about what I would have to do if I didn’t play again, but everyone was confident.”

THURSDAY: ACT XV v TONGA A at Viking Park, 4.30pm: ACT XV: 1. Ruaidhri Murphy, 2. Robbie Abel, 3. Ruan Smith, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 5. Leon Power, 6. Jordan Smiler, 7. Colby Faingaa, 8. Tim Cree, 9. Mark Swanepoel, 10. Zack Holmes, 11. Stephan Van Der Walt, 12. Rodney Iona, 13. Jordan Rapana, 14. Tom Cox, 15. Pat McCabe. Reserves: 16. Josh Mann-Rea, 17. Ray Dobson, 18. Les Makin, 19. Gareth Clouston, 20. Ben McGee, 21. Beau Mokotupu, 22. Sam Windsor, 23. Andrew Barrell.

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