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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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Giants great for ACT: Bolton

He grew up watching pre-season AFL games in the unfamiliar surroundings of Canberra Stadium, but premiership player Craig Bolton has predicted a brighter future as the GWS Giants continue to make inroads into the region.
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The Giants are embarking on the second year of a decade-long commitment to the ACT when they take on Essendon at Manuka on Friday night. The NAB Cup clash with the Bombers is the first AFL game under lights in Canberra, an achievement which would have been considered a long way off during Bolton’s formative years in the capital.

The Marist and Eastlake product carved out a successful top-flight career, playing 170 of his 199 games for the Sydney Swans, winning All-Australian honours in 2006 and 2009. He was an integral part of the Swans’ 2005 premiership.

And while he was a part of Swans teams which played annual games in Canberra, Bolton endorsed the Giants as the club to nurture the game in the ACT for years to come.

”The future’s looking really bright,” he said. ”I remember growing up as a kid and watching pre-season AFL matches at Bruce Stadium.

”In the last decade or two it’s been looking to take that next step, and in the last few years that’s really started to be realised.

”With GWS coming out, it’s provided something the region can latch on to.”

Bolton has a strong interest in the game’s development in Canberra after he was appointed as the deputy general manager for AFL NSW/ACT on Wednesday.

He believes the presence of the Giants, along with the establishment of the second-tier North East Australian Football League and the Giants Academy, will lead to a steady stream of Canberra juniors progressing to the elite level.

Three ACT players are currently on the lists of AFL clubs – Phil Davis and Josh Bruce with the Giants, and Ainslie product Jason Tutt at the Western Bulldogs.

”It’s a huge focus for us that we’re developing talent in Canberra,” Bolton said.

”Over the last 20 or 30 years there’s been some really good players come out of the region, and in the last few years we’re starting to see that evolve once again.

”With the GWS Academy and the NEAFL, it gives players a realistic pathway of getting into the AFL.

”Canberra is really starting to get some deserved attention and recognition, which will open opportunities for young players.”

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GWS happy if rotations are reduced

Greater Western Sydney will be one of the clubs to benefit the most if a cap on the number of interchanges is introduced next year, vice-captain Tom Scully says.
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A proposal to cut the high amount of rotations has generated widespread concern throughout the AFL, but Scully believes it could be an advantage to the competition’s youngest team.

”I’d be pretty happy with that rule coming in,” Scully said.

”We’ve got a lot of great endurance runners in our team, so I think for us personally as a team we wouldn’t be too disappointed with it.”

The rule has been trialled in the pre-season NAB Cup competition, with a limit of 80 rotations to be enforced in Friday night’s match between the Giants and Essendon at Manuka Oval.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said this week that a cap would definitely be applied for the 2014 premiership season, although how many interchanges would be allowed has not been finalised.

The Giants could be the major winners if a cap gets the green light for next season, given their extremely young list and lack of physical size.

”It’d be interesting to see if it does come in how training regimes would have to change to play and adapt and play more game time,” Scully said.

”Speaking to a few of the boys they’ve found it pretty tough.

”If the rule does get brought in it’s probably going to change the game a little bit.

”I suppose it’s almost going to be a tactic of how many times you use your rotations and how many times you rotate.”

The Giants exceeded all expectations in their debut season and have been competitive so far during their pre-season campaign.

They will welcome another youngster into their ranks when No.2 draft pick Jono O’Rourke makes his debut against the Bombers.

The 18-year-old midfielder starred for Vic Metro at last year’s under-18 national championships and was rewarded with All Australian honours.

Veteran ruckman Dean Brogan will also play his first match of the year, coming into the team alongside co-captain Phil Davis, Setanta O’hAilpin, Curtly Hampton and vice-captain Scully, who missed last week’s game with the Lions with a knee injury.

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Prizemoney and strategy woo Niwot

Niwot is set to race in Canberra. Photo: Vince CaligiuriThe impressive prizemoney and a chance to prepare Niwot for the Sydney Cup convinced the Hawkes stable that racing in the capital was a good fit for the accomplished stayer.
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And with Canberra’s biggest day of racing boasting a record prize pool of $766,000, Michael Hawkes has warned the capital’s trainers they will face more interstate competition for the Black Opal and Canberra Cup on Sunday.

Hawkes will accept with Niwot for the $200,000 Canberra Centenary Cup when the fields are finalised on Thursday morning.

The two-time Melbourne Cup runner has been handicapped on 60 kilograms at Canberra and will carry the No.1 saddlecloth.

Hawkes said the race fitted in perfectly for Niwot’s tilt at back-to-back Sydney Cups on April 27.

There’s also $250,000 up for grabs in the Black Opal Stakes for two-year-olds, with Canberra trainers vying for the top prize against the power stables of Hawkes, Gai Waterhouse and Peter Snowden.

The Canberra Racing Club will have its two showcase races on the same day for the second year.

The club’s aims are bigger crowds, more prizemoney and greater revenue.

It’s working so far, with 10,000 people expected and strong fields in the two premier races.

”Anywhere they have prizemoney, they attract people,” Hawkes said on Wednesday.

”If you can have the better prizemoney on offer, then people will always come around. I think it’s better to spread the prizemoney around.

”It’s [Canberra’s] biggest day of the year … we’re looking forward to it and it’s an attractive race for people to go to, and for Niwot with the Sydney Cup coming up.”

The Hawkes stable has already withdrawn 2010 Melbourne Cup runner-up Maluckyday, who will instead run in the group2 Blamey Stakes (1600 metres) at Flemington on Saturday.

Hawkes said Maluckyday was racing in Melbourne to avoid a clash between the two stayers.

Niwot, an eight-year-old, has eight wins from just 34 starts and has made a remarkable comeback to racing after shattering the back of his knee while spelling in the winter of 2009 and being out of action for almost two years.

Three vets said Niwot would never race again.

Since his return to the track, Niwot has won four races, including the Sydney Cup and the Lexus Stakes at Flemington on Derby Day in 2011. He went on to run eighth behind Dunaden in the Melbourne Cup.

”He’s going good and generally, as horses get older, they don’t get better,” Hawkes said. ”In this case, he’s only very, very lightly raced and hopefully we’re on target for another Sydney Cup.

”This race [in Canberra] fits in perfectly.

”The day Niwot stops is the day we think he’s had enough … the older horses with us don’t get punished early, we always take our time, and that’s why Niwot is winning races as he gets older.”

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White calls on army general to rally Brumbies troops for Tahs

ACT Brumbies coach Jake White wants his players to ignore the ”war” build-up against the NSW Waratahs and focus on their perfect start to the Super Rugby season.
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Although White is playing down the rivalry between the teams, the coach has invited the chief of the Australian Defence Force to provide pre-match inspiration on Friday.

General David Hurley will present the Brumbies with their jerseys at the team’s last training session before it takes on the Waratahs at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.

White has created a tradition of calling on former Brumbies or high-profile people to speak to his team at the captain’s run before games.

Club legend Brett Robinson had the duties for round one. Author Bryce Courtenay stepped into the change rooms last year. But White doesn’t want a Churchillian speech from Hurley.

”General Hurley has seen things and had to experience things, making tough calls as a leader,” White said. ”The message I want him to pass on is making decisions and being true to what you believe in. He’s the head of the Defence Force, he knows what brings the best out of that group because he does it every day of his life. It’s not about talking about being in the trenches … it’s about someone who deserves to hand the jerseys out, and General Hurley is a leader.”

White will name his team on Thursday for the round-four clash, with Brumbies legend George Smith to make a comeback on the bench. Fijian flyer Henry Speight has also proved his fitness and will be pushing for a spot in the starting XV after missing round two with a rib injury.

White could put Speight back into the starting side to join Clyde Rathbone, and move Joseph Tomane onto the bench.

Tomane, Speight and Rathbone have been fighting for the two wing spots in the pre-season. Speight and Rathbone started the season together. However, Speight left the field in pain in the opening game and was given an extra week to overcome a rib problem.

The Brumbies will take 26 players to South Africa for their games against the Durban Sharks and Cape Town Stormers.

Barring injuries, that squad will likely be made up of the 22 that take on the Waratahs. Three other players will also be included as well as Pat McCabe, if he gets through unscathed in his comeback for the ACT XV on Thursday night.

White is likely to make minimal changes to his squad to ensure the Brumbies have continuity as they chase three straight wins to start a season for the first time since 2005.

He also hopes the return of 110-Test Wallaby Smith and the rivalry with the Waratahs attracts more than 20,000 fans to Canberra Stadium.

It also is a chance for Brumbies on the cusp of Wallabies selection to show Test coach Robbie Deans they can match it with the Waratahs’ stars.

”Every time you play a derby game, it’s important for you to stake your claim,” White said. ”Players all say, what do I do to become a Wallaby, what more must I do? It’s simple: you’ve got to play well against the people who are the incumbents.

”It doesn’t matter if I downplay it or not talk about it … if it’s South Africa or Australian derby games, they’re the benchmark.”

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Furner may roll the dice on Dugan, Croker

SPORT – Josh Dugan during training at Raiders HQ, Bruce, Canberra. 6th March 2013. Photo by, Colleen Petch of The Canberra Times. Photo: Colleen Petch COPRaiders coach David Furner will decide on Thursday whether to gamble on back-line stars Josh Dugan and Jarrod Croker in Sunday’s NRL season opener, with key back-up Reece Robinson now in doubt for the Penrith match, too.
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Dugan and Croker were put through searching fitness tests on Wednesday afternoon and Furner rated both players better than a 50-50 chance of playing against the Panthers.

Their late inclusion would be a massive bonus for the Raiders, especially after Robinson sat out training on Wednesday because of back spasms.

Robinson had been named at fullback in place of Dugan and was also in line to take over the goal-kicking duties from Croker.

But the Indigenous All Stars representative winger had acupuncture treatment on Wednesday after straining his back in a weights session.

The Raiders were taking a conservative approach with Dugan and Croker but both have surprised coaching staff with speedy recoveries.

Croker was put through a tough tackling session at the end of Wednesday’s training to test his injured right knee. But the NRL’s leading point-scorer of last year did not take part in a session with goal-kicking guru Daryl Halligan.

Having been hospitalised for three days with a serious lip infection last week, Dugan ran strongly. If Dugan, Croker and Robinson were unavailable, Blake Ferguson is next in line to kick goals.

Furner said he would make a call on positions on Thursday, giving combinations time to gel before Sunday’s kick-off.

”There’s no excuses,” Furner said. ”I’ve got players there that have been training in the top squad all pre-season. If I have to make changes, I make changes.

”[Dugan and Croker] have upped the ante from 50-50, both of them. But these games I need them fully fit. I need to see how they pull up.”

Former Kangaroos prop Brett White is almost certain to drop off the Raiders bench and could play NSW Cup with Mounties. The Raiders are keen to increase his game time as White continues his comeback from a knee reconstruction.

Hooker Glen Buttriss is expected to be given another week off to recover from an ankle injury, while Terry Campese isn’t likely to be fit for selection until at least round three.

Furner is anticipating Penrith to take the Raiders on through the forwards. ”They’ve bought a couple of strike back-rowers in Lewis Brown and Sika Manu … they’re big and powerful, we’ve got to be aggressive.”

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