USA cowboy holiday: Bonanza, a sequel

Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater

Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater

Ride ’em cowboy: Wrangler Rich athis property. Photo: Ben Groundwater

For those with dreams of embracing the wild, wild west, this is how you do it, writes Ben Groundwater.

‘Being a cowboy is a hands-on experience,” says Wrangler Rich, pausing to adjust his big hat, tipping it back to face the Nevada sun. “It’s fitting saddles, brushing horses, shovelling poop … that’s what it’s all about.”

If that’s true, then right now I’m a cowboy. I might not have a hat to match Wrangler Rich’s, but I do have a big steel brush in hand, and I’ve been stationed next to my steed, Poncho, and ordered to brush him down. It’s partly getting to know the horse, and partly getting to know being a horseman.

Scrape, scrape. I brush down a fairly nonplussed Poncho for a good 10 minutes before Rich calls me over to the shed and points out a saddle. It’s a huge, heavy leather ensemble, and it’s all I can do to heft it back out to the stable and throw it over Poncho’s back.

I’m taught how to strap it on, cowboy style. I check the fit, then walk over to the fence to grab a bridle.

This is a hands-on experience in true cowboy country. The sky is big and blue here in Carson City, the Nevadan state capital set in a wide valley below the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Those snow-capped peaks tower above us today as we walk around the R&D Ranch on the outskirts of town.

This is the place Wrangler Rich now calls home. One of the area’s most famous cowboys, Rich was the last remaining employee on the Ponderosa Ranch, a nearby old theme park based on the Bonanza TV show. These days he’s semi-retired and runs horse-riding expeditions and quad-bike adventures from his Carson City domain.

It’s hands-on and it’s real, which presents a slight problem for me. While I’m feeling professional and calm brushing down my steed and fitting the saddle, when it comes to actually riding a horse I’m much more “coward” that “cowboy”.

Regardless, I’ve come this far, and it’s time to mount up and walk out onto that beautiful Nevadan plateau, a valley of sagebrush under a sky criss-crossed with jet-stream scars. As we hit the track, Wrangler Rich pulls his feet out of his stirrups and spins around in his saddle, sitting backwards to face me.

“Now, you don’t want to just do a nose-to-tail walk,” he says. “That’s boring! Today we’re gonna do it all. We’re gonna trot, we’re gonna canter, we’re gonna go through a river … It’s gonna be a great day.”

I’m still a little nervous, but underneath me Poncho strolls nonchalantly along. If I tilt the reins left, he walks left. Right, he turns right. Give them a little tug and he comes to a patient halt. Wrangler Rich just laughs. “Boy that horse is makin’ you look real good Ben!”

For those with dreams of embracing the wild, wild west, this is how you do it. In prime cowboy country, close to the rodeo town of Reno and the old gold-mining hub of Virginia City, Wrangler Rich offers a small slice of Western life.

True to his word, he soon has me encourage Poncho into a trot (uncomfortable), and then a canter (scary), before we approach a steep drop into the river that cuts the valley in two. It’s here that I get to appreciate just how finely trained my steed is, as Poncho allows me to slowly ease him, one short step at a time, down the ravine.

“Now you’re a proper cowboy,” Rich yelps.

But our riding experience today won’t be limited to horses. That afternoon the two of us pile into Rich’s truck and drive – to a soundtrack of Marty Robbins country and western songs – out to the mountain range behind Reno, an area home to herds of wild mustangs that we’re here to view from a couple of quad-bikes, or ATVs (All Terrian Vehicles).

Now this is a beast I know how to handle. Nevada residents love their toys, Rich says, which is why plenty of people come up here to ride ATVs or shoot their guns. The mountains are riven with rough tracks that allow us to explore for many miles in any direction.

And so off we go, the pair of us roaring through the barren, rocky hills on four-wheeled stallions, pausing every now and then as Rich spots herds of mustangs. “Get your camera out!” he yells at one point. “This is National Geographic stuff!”

Whether it’s the well-trained steeds on the ranch or the wild stallions of the Reno hills, the common thread here is Rich’s passion for horses. His eyes gleam as he talks about the mustangs, pointing out the alpha males, explaining the group behaviour, picking herds out from afar.

Rich is a cowboy to his core. And today, if only briefly, so am I.

The writer travelled as a guest of Travel Nevada.



Fiji Airways flies daily from Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles, via Nadi. Connections to Reno are available from LA. For bookings and information call 1800 230 150 or see fijiairways南京夜网.


The historic Gold Hill Hotel is about a half-hour drive from R & D Ranch, in Virginia City, and has double rooms from $92. See


Wrangler Rich runs horse-riding and quad-bike adventures from his ranch in Carson City, Nevada. The two-hour “Cowboy 101” horse-riding tour costs $110 a person, while wild mustang tours on an ATV cost $163. See


Reno Rodeo A local favourite, this 10-night event is visited by about 140,000 people every June. Nevada’s finest horsemen come out, and it’s a great place to take in cowboy culture. National Finals Rodeo. The nation’s top 15 horsemen competing in a range of events in Las Vegas. National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Held annually in Elko, Nevada, this celebrates the cowboy trade through poetry, music and stories.



Drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco: Take the long route

Monterey Bay sea otters. Santa Cruz’s Giant Dipper.

Hearst Castle.

California’s scenic coastal route is worth the extra time, writes David Whitley.

Kalyra Winery feels as though it’s on the wrong side of the Pacific. A surfboard decorated with Aboriginal art is proudly mounted on the tasting room wall, which looks suspiciously like an Australian beach shack. Reg Mombassa prints cover the walls, and the pinot bianco made here goes down dangerously easily.

The connection lies with Kalyra’s owners, the Brown brothers, who received their education in South Australia’s Barossa Valley before upping sticks to the Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Santa Barbara region. Kalyra got a boost when Hollywood paid a visit, too, using the winery as a location when filming the box-office hit film Sideways. The movie instantly made the wine region hip.

As first stops go on a drive north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Santa Barbara is pretty agreeable. The city’s Old Mission church harks back to the Franciscan order that set up shop here in 1786, but the city itself is thoroughly modern and has its share of rollerbladers whizzing past yoga devotees and surfers on the beachfront promenade.

These are among the sights you’ll miss if you drive from LA on State Highway 5 for the six-hour run to San Francisco. California richly rewards those who take the long way, using the Pacific Coast Highway and US Highway 101/State Route 1 with overnight stops en route.

For much of the journey, nature provides the thrills. Birdlife teems on the Sahara-meets-sea Guadelupe Dunes. Pristine forest backs the wild surf along the Big Sur stretch of the coast.

One extraordinary sight, however, is man-made. On the hills above San Simeon lies Hearst Castle, an object lesson in how to build a dream home if you’ve got unlimited money to throw at it. It was the beloved baby of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who spent 28 years adding ever more lavish touches to this pile. On trips to Europe, Hearst saw antiquities he liked and bought them. In the grounds are ancient Egyptian statues, lion fountains from the days of Richard the Lionheart, and wooden choir stalls from mediaeval churches in the Pyrenees. Rubens tapestries hang in a room where Hearst played Monopoly with fellow billionaires. Roman marbles are dotted about, almost as afterthoughts.

David Niven, just one many of Hollywood celebrities invited to stay at the estate, described the vast, temple-like outdoor pool as “an elegant place to drown”.

On a tour of Hearst Castle, the elements that drove the man become apparent, and are as fascinating the property. Hearst expected guests to have his relentless energy, organising day-long programs of activities. He was a Democrat, served two terms on Congress, and ran for the US presidency in 1904. His policy of giving women the vote is widely thought to have been his downfall. Rarely does a tour make you so eager to rush out and buy a biography.

A few miles up the coast from Hearst Castle, near the Piedras Blancas lighthouse, is a beach that you’ll have trouble stretching out a towel on. It’s chock-full of elephant seals, once almost hunted to extinction for their blubber. Visitors use the viewing platform above the beach, watching the wildlife picking fights with one another or nurturing their young. There’s an awful lot of honking going on, too – both in terms of noise and smell.

More sea life is in evidence on the waters of Monterey Bay. It’s a major stop on the whale migration route, and the big beasts are usually fairly easy to spot. But Dorris Welch, on-board marine biologist for Sanctuary Cruises, understands their reticence.

“The whales are shy when orcas are around,” she says. “They feed on the whale calves.”

Orcas may be spotted, too, and may flit around your tour boat – until they spot a harbour seal. What happens next is both a privilege and a horror to watch. The orcas treat the seal like a plaything. They stalk it as a pod, corner it and slowly tear it to pieces. This is nature as directed by Scorsese rather than Disney.

On the way back in, however, there’s a merciful dose of cute to balance out the visceral scenes of aquatic savagery. Sea otters, gorgeous whiskery faces bobbing on the water, form an adorable honour guard for the returning sailors.

For the last leg of the journey to San Francisco, a decision needs to be made. Head inland, and you’re in John Steinbeck country. Many of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s novels, including Of Mice And Men, were set in the agricultural lands around his home town of Salinas. His house and the National Steinbeck Centre are in Salinas itself.

Stay on the the coast road and you will reach Santa Cruz, as close to the archetype of seaside Californian charm as you could wish to find. At the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a faded hippie, surf-bum culture meets nostalgic family fun at the amusement park, where the Giant Dipper rollercoaster – a fixture since 1924 – takes visitors up high for million-dollar views before plunging.

Taking the time to go the long way between key cities in California has never seemed more right.

The writer travelled at his expense.



Qantas, Virgin Australia and United Airlines operate direct return flights from Sydney or Melbourne to Los Angeles. See qantas南京夜网; virginaustralia南京夜网;united南京夜网


Spanish Garden Inn, Santa Barbara. Rooms from $280, see spanishgardeninn南京夜网. El Colibri, Cambria. Rooms from $145, see elcolibri南京夜网. West Cliff Inn, Santa Cruz. Rooms from $200, see westcliffinn南京夜网


Most rental companies won’t charge one-way fees for pick-ups in Los Angeles and drop-offs in San Francisco (but do check before confirming the booking). San Francisco has excellent public transport, so plan to drop off the car as soon as you can.


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EDITORIAL: A time for calm and leadership as terrorism threats uncovered

JUST days after security officials raised the national terrorism alert, hundreds of police have swooped in Sydney and Queensland, arresting suspects accused of plotting violence.

It has been alleged that some people associated with Islamic extremist groups were urging others to commit violent acts, including – it is said – the beheading of innocent Australian civilians.

These chilling allegations will find ready enough acceptance, given the bloody recent record of the extremist movement worldwide.

It may take some time before it becomes clear how well-formed this alleged criminal intention was at the time of the arrests.

In the meantime, feelings on all sides have become even more inflamed than they already had been after Australia’s decision to join the coalition of nations involved in military strikes against Islamic extremist fighters in Iraq.

Some Muslim groups have begun organising demonstrations against the arrests, and police are warning that people who take their protests too far and who break the law will be severely dealt with.

Following on the heels of media reports of abuse and threats levelled at members of the Australian armed forces and at members of churches, all the ingredients are present for some nasty confrontations.

Nobody could criticise the police and security authorities for acting quickly and firmly to prevent violent crimes if they had good reason to believe such crimes were being planned.

Some will complain that innocent households may have been targeted along with the potentially guilty, that some innocent people may have been unfairly traumatised and that outrage at the police raids may create new activists and enemies to civil order.

If the case for the arrests was sound, however, limited collateral discomfort will be deemed acceptable, as always when preventing crime is the intention.

If tensions escalate, the heightened polarisation of the community will probably help steel national resolve to back Australia’s military action against extremists in the Middle East.

Sadly, some will regard that as a desirable propaganda goal in itself.

But the tighter the spiral of anger and distrust winds, the harder it is for moderate voices to be heard.

Indeed, such sparks as this event may sometimes start self-perpetuating conflicts like those that plague so many nations but which have been largely absent from Australian society.

This is a moment when good leadership – in government, mosque and church – can and should be called upon to calm fears and tempers on all sides.

It serves none but the narrowest and worst of interests to fan the flames of hatred and anger in times like these.

Newcastle’s Melbourne Cup bid for 2014: Protectionist, Terrubi

BACK FOR MORE: Jamie Lovett, left, and Luke Murrell at Broadmeadow yesterday. Picture: Ryan OslandTHREE years after running third with German stayer Lucas Cranach, Hunter thoroughbred syndicators Jamie Lovett and Luke Murrell are planning another European assault on the Melbourne Cup.

Lovett and Murrell, who are directors of Australian Bloodstock, are hoping to make a two-pronged attack on the $6.2 million, 3200-metre race with rising German star Protectionist and well credentialled French galloper Terrubi, but the latter is in serious doubt.

Australian Bloodstock have secured a major interest in Protectionist, and the horse’s owner, Christoph Berglar, has retained a stake.

Protectionist will remain with his German trainer, Andreas Wohler, for the Melbourne campaign before moving to the stables of premier Newcastle trainer Kris Lees.

Protectionist is a four-year-old entire by Monsun, which sired last year’s Melbourne Cup winner, Fiorente.

A winner of four races from eight starts, Protectionist has never missed a place and won the group 2 Prix Kergorlay over 3000m in Deauville, France, on August 24.

That followed group 2 success in the Hansa-Preis in Hamburg over 2400m in June.

The Prix Kergorlay has become a key form race for the Cup. Americain won the 2010 Kergorlay before going on that year to become the first French winner of the Cup.

Subsequent Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden and runner-up Red Cadeaux also came through the French race.

Terrubi, a four-year-old entire by Dalakhani, will be trained by David Payne.

Terrubi was last in the group 1 Grosser Preis Von Baden in Germany onSeptember 7, his first unplaced run in 10 starts, including three wins.

That failure followed a group2 victory over 2800m in the Prix Nieuil at Longchamp. Second in that race was Brown Panther, which won the Irish St Leger (2800) at its next start and ran eighth in last year’s Melbourne Cup.

Lovett said Terrubi was found to have a back strain after his latest run but is with Protectionist in the Newmarket quarantine and due to leave for Australia on September 27.

‘‘When they jumped he threw his head up, and when they got him back the next day they couldn’t even run their hand along his back,’’ Lovett said ‘‘They will shockwave him and he might be right in two days, or it might take two weeks, and they can’t miss two weeks’ work this time of year.

‘‘Protectionist is spot on and we hope to have two in the race, but Terrubi, we’ll have to see how he travels.

‘‘We haven’t totally discounted him. He’s such a nice horse and we’re not going to risk him if he’s not right.

‘‘We’re just going to have a look at him when he gets to Australia, see how he travels, and if he’s still sore, we’ll pull the pin.’’

The Melbourne Cup setback is nothing new for Lovett and Murrell, who have had two previous runners in the race that stops a nation.

The pair syndicated British stayer Illustrious Blue, which finished ninth in 2010, and Lucas Cranach, which was third behind Dunaden in 2011.

They had high hopes for Lucas Cranach, but an injury on race eve left them wondering what could have been.

‘‘He got a foot abscess and just wasn’t right,’’ Lovett said. ‘‘He was spiked when he twisted a plate in quarantine on the Saturday before the race, and he was never quite right after that, but that’s racing. He was a really good horse.’’

Lovett said the 2014 buys were ‘‘as good a horses as we’ve had since Lucas’’.

AAP reports: Melbourne Cup favourite The Offer will be out to make a spring statement in the Underwood Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday.

The Offer delighted connections when he hit the line strongly for fifth in the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes first-up, confirming his position at the top of Melbourne and Caulfield Cup markets.

Roger Elliott, trainer Gai Waterhouse’s Melbourne representative, exuded some of the confidence his boss is renowned for by declaring he would not be surprised to see the imported stayer triumph in Saturday’s 1800m group 1 race.

‘‘On his work and the way he has been, I think he is a winning chance, for sure,’’ Elliott said.

The Underwood is short of The Offer’s preferred distance as he has not won over less than 2200m.

It will be an important spring marker as he meets star New Zealand mare Silent Achiever and weight-for-age performers Happy Trails and Foreteller.

Catholic Church names Bishop Anthony Fisher as Cardinal George Pell’s successor

Bishop Anthony Fisher at El Phonecian Restaurant in Parramatta in 2011. Photo: Steven SiewertThe Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher, has been appointed the ninth Archbishop of Sydney, replacing the controversial Cardinal George Pell.

The Vatican announcement comes several months after Cardinal Pell was appointed to a newly created Secretariat for the Economy in Rome, charged with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances.

Bishop Anthony immediately committed the church to “doing better” in its response to victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests and brothers.

“Victims of abuse and all young people must come first – no excuses, no cover-ups. The Church must do better in this area and I am committed to playing a leading role in regaining the confidence of the community and of our own members,” he said.

The comments come after Cardinal Pell was widely criticised for his appearance last month at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, where he likened the Catholic Church’s responsibility for child abuse to that of a “trucking company”. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, “I don’t think it appropriate for the leadership of that company be held responsible.”

Bishop Anthony, while praising the “strong foundations” laid by Cardinal Pell, took a more conciliatory tone.

“The Catholic Church in Australia is going through a period of public scrutiny and self-examination. I hope it will emerge from this purified, humbler, more compassionate and spiritually regenerated,” he said.

The Archbishop-elect was born in Crows Nest and attended Catholic schools at Lakemba, Lane Cove, Ryde and Riverview. He studied history and law at the University of Sydney and practised in a city law firm before entering the Dominican Order.

He was ordained a priest in 1991 and completed a doctorate in bioethics at Oxford, before teaching at the Australian Catholic University.

“Growing up in the south-west and then the north of Sydney, working as a bishop in the east and then the west, I feel a deep affinity for every part of this wonderful city and a deep concern for its people,” he said.

Toovey set to dropTaufua after high-ballblunders

Manly Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey is likely to drop Jorge Taufua after the winger’s horrendous opening finals game.

The normally reliable Taufua has been having an unhappy September.

On Friday he struggled under the high ball as South Sydney followed North Queensland’s game plan of targeting him on the flank. Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds continued to pepper him, resulting in veteran Lote Tuqiri successfully leaping for a try.

The Rabbitohs had watched Taufua struggle against the Cowboys in the final game of the regular season.

Either Cheyse Blair or Clint Gutherson will come into the side for Taufua, who was on the verge of NSW selection earlier this year.

Toovey will make a final call on Taufua’s inclusion and finalise other selections before the captain’s run on Friday.

Hookers Matt Ballin (broken leg) and Jayden Hodges (neck) will have fitness tests on Friday.

Ballin is unlikely to be cleared to play. Hodges is expected to play dummy half against the Bulldogs, who are expected to be unchanged, at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

Manly prop Jason King is one loss away from retiring.

“I can’t be thinking along those lines,” King said of retirement. “I don’t want to be side-tracked about my last game.

“We had some points scored against us on the weekend. We’ll have to be strong in the middle. [South Sydney] grabbed that momentum. It’s hard to put a stop to it.

“A lot of areas we’ve looked at [to improve them]. Our kick defence was one, the other was our kick chase – and a lot of things about our defence. This week the focus has been our defence.”

King will need to lead an inexperienced Manly forward pack. He has told his young teammates not to get caught up in last week’s big loss to South Sydney.

“I’m a leader at the club,” King said. “I do every thing I can do be a leader, not just of the forward pack but of the team in general.

“It’ll be along the lines of encouragement and focusing on the positives and not dwelling on our past performance and doing everything you can in your preparation to play the best you possibly can.”

Meanwhile, at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, the Roosters will welcome back No.9 Jake Friend from a chest injury and Aidan Guerra from suspension. Boyd Cordner (knee) will also play against the Cowboys.

North Queensland have named veteran Glenn Hall to replace the suspended Tariq Sims in the back row.

Waratahs face tough battle defending their Super Rugby title in 2015

No one said it would be easy but a gruelling 10 straight games and two defining clashes on South Africa’s highveld say going back to back will be a challenge for the Waratahs next year.

After byes in round three and eight, well before the season reaches its halfway point next year, and no awkward break for the June Test series, the Waratahs face a long road to a potential second consecutive finals campaign.

The reigning Super Rugby champions will finish their season with a two-week tour to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to play the Lions and Cheetahs at altitude before heading home for a final-round home clash with the Reds.

There was also good news in the 2015 Super Rugby draw, which has been rejigged to accommodate next year’s World Cup.

All three conferences start in the same week in mid-February, and the Waratahs kick off their season with a Sunday afternoon home clash against the Western Force on February 15.

It will be one of two home games held in the popular 4pm timeslot. In a coup for NSW administrators, who struggled to capitalise on the benefits of afternoon football without commercially attractive opposition teams, the Waratahs will host the Brumbies in the second game on March 22.

But fans face a long wait between home games early on. After hosting the Force, the Waratahs will not play in Sydney for a month until their Brumbies homecoming at the end of March.

There will be a grand final rematch – the Crusaders fly across the ditch to play their newly minted bogy team on May 23 – but then Michael Cheika and his team hit the road to tour South Africa in round 16.

The Waratahs will not play the Bulls or two-time champions the Chiefs next year but play every other New Zealand and South African team once and every Australian team home and away.

McCabe realised the worst

Pat McCabe has opened up about the moment he knew his rugby career was over in a television interview this week.

The 24-Test centre retired last month after suffering his third neck injury in two years in the Wallabies’ 51-20 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Wearing a heavy neck brace on Rugby HQ on Thursday night, McCabe said he had a “fair idea” he had played his last Test.

“Having done it twice before, I knew exactly what that pain felt like,” he said. “I probably stayed on there a little bit longer in that passage of play, which in hindsight maybe I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t really want to submit to knowing that that was probably the last time I’d walk off [a rugby pitch].

“As I was sitting on the bench watching it was a pretty dark time knowing I was heading to the hospital again to have scans. There was a decent chance they weren’t going to be too good.”

Now seeing out his contract in the corporate arm of the ACT Brumbies while he finishes off a dual commerce-law degree, McCabe also headed off speculation he had put his long-term health at risk by returning from the previous two injuries.

“Each of the times, if anyone said I was taking a ridiculous risk in terms of potential paralysis or anything like that, then I wouldn’t have come back,” he said.

“But I still had a really strong, burning desire to come back. I felt like I hadn’t achieved the things that I wanted to, and while I’m sitting here in this [neck brace] I’m still very glad that I did come back each of those times.”

Robinson dressed to thrill

Waratahs fans would have been delighted to hear of Benn Robinson’s return to the Wallabies squad for the Test team’s two-week tour of South Africa and Argentina.

Let’s hope they give him the full kit this time.

When the veteran prop was called up to join the squad on the Gold Coast last week, all he was handed was one set of training gear.

“I was there hand-washing my gear after every session in the sink. I was scrubbing away … I wanted to make sure the front-rowers knew I wasn’t too smelly,” he told Fairfax Media.

Asked on Thursday, after his tour call-up, if he expected the full monty this time, he said, laughing: “I shouldn’t have said that … I hope so. We’ll be in camp three or four days. Hopefully I’ll get kitted up.”

Making the grade

If the National Rugby Championship is struggling, in its first four weeks of operation, to put bums on seats at stadiums around the country, it cannot be questioned from a talent development perspective.

North Harbour Rays back-rower Michael Wells became the latest player to be snapped up from the third tier competition, earning a full-time contract with the men’s sevens squad after coming to the attention of new coach Geraint John.

Wells, Northern Suburbs captain and former 2012 Australian under-20s representative, is set to be followed into the professional sphere by the likes of Andrew Kellaway(NSW Country) and Jack Dempsey (Rays), who look to have been picked up by the Waratahs next year.

Busy year in the job

Happy anniversary to Tim Walsh, coach of Australian rugby’s top-ranked team, the women’s sevens squad.

Walsh marks a year in the job on Friday and has been a busy man, lifting Australia from mid-table in the world series rankings to No.2 behind New Zealand and helping produce Australia’s very own IRB women’s sevens player of the year, Emilee Cherry.

Not at all bad. Now there’s just the small matters of qualifying for the Olympics and winning a gold medal. No bother!

Buddy as Lockett once was: Sheedy

Headline act: Lance Franklin. Photo: Nic WalkerKevin Sheedy says Lance Franklin is a worthy recipient of the baton once carried by Tony Lockett and will follow in the footsteps of the goal-kicking great by becoming one of the AFL’s most important figures in Sydney.

As Franklin prepares to spearhead the Swans’ charge to the grand final in his debut season in the red and white, Sheedy said the superstar forward would prove as significant to the game in Sydney as the late Tom Hafey, Ron Barassi and Lockett were before him.

The Swans, who play North Melbourne on Friday night, are one win away from booking their fourth grand-final appearance in 10 years and though they were successful in 2005 and 2012, interest in the club has spiked this season after landing Franklin in a stunning recruiting coup nearly a year ago.

The club has posted record membership numbers this year, breaking the 40,000 mark for the first time, and their home crowds are up 15 per cent on last year and at their highest since 2007 when the Swans were coming off back-to-back grand finals.

“We all need superstars playing in the teams because that’s what attracts people, people like to watch superstars,” said Sheedy, who won four premierships in a 27-year coaching reign at Essendon before becoming Greater Western Sydney’s inaugural coach and now a club director.

“You have your tough, ruthless types like [Glenn] Archer, people love watching those people play, but at the other end of the ground you have your dynamic goalkickers – players that turn the lights on and make people energise, players like Buddy, Barry Hall and Tony Lockett.”

One of the game’s greatest ambassadors, Sheedy said Franklin deserved to be mentioned alongside former key Swans Hafey, Barassi and Lockett for their impact in Sydney.

Hafey helped put the Swans on the map in the city after their move from South Melbourne in 1982, leading the team to consecutive finals series in 1986-87, while Barassi’s move in 1993 lifted the club from rock bottom.

But the arrival of Lockett, the game’s greatest goalkicker, turned the Swans into one of the glamour sides of the competition.

Sheedy said a grand-final appearance for the Swans this year with Franklin on board could even trump the Lockett era.

“You can look at it that way, ‘Plugger’ [Lockett] was so important for the game up in Sydney at that stage,” Sheedy said.

“Hafey, Barassi and Lockett were the most important steps, one after each other and keeping the flame alight.”

Sheedy also wanted the contributions of Mike Willesee, Basil Sellers and Peter Weinert, who were key financial backers during the club’s dark days of the late 80s and early 90s, acknowledged by the AFL with life membership.

“Those guys are like the disciples of the game in Sydney,” Sheedy said.

Although ensconced in the Giants camp, Sheedy said he wanted to see the Swans win this year’s flag because of the benefits it would bring the game in NSW.

“If Buddy ended up running out there in the grand final, the Swans win the premiership and he kicks four, gives away three, that’d be the perfect ‘fairy time’ story for Swans fans,” Sheedy said.

“I’ll be barracking for the Swans, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. We just need the game really going well in NSW, in Sydney and getting kids like [Craig] Bird, Kieren Jack as captain, Jarrad McVeigh – this is exactly what we want.”

He even acknowledged the Swans had succeeded with Franklin in doing what the Giants had hoped to achieve with code-hopper Israel Folau.

“[We were] trying to get a place in the market in Sydney and Buddy’s done it,” Sheedy said.

“If Sydney lose a grand final and Buddy plays terribly then that will be a different example because you have to perform on the big day. They’ve still got to there yet but you have to perform on the big day, simple as that.”

How Pearce became the NRL’s No.1 halfback

Mitchell Pearce readily admits the nightclub incident that cost the Roosters star his place in this year’s NSW team was a catalyst for him becoming the No.1 halfback in the NRL on recent form.

Pearce, who was stood down for the round 10 thrashing in North Queensland after being arrested outside a Kings Cross nightclub, heads into Friday’s semi-final with the Cowboys at Allianz Stadium as the best-performing halfback of the past five weeks.

According to a detailed analysis provided by Sportsdata, Pearce is in career-best form. At present Pearce ranks as the top halfback in the game, ahead of South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds, North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston and Penrith’s Jamie Soward.

It is a massive turnaround from earlier in the season, when Fairfax Media revealed on the eve of Origin selection that the 25-year-old  was ranked 15th among halfbacks, based on Sportsdata’s contributor value rating system.


Pearce was subsequently dumped from the NSW team of which he had been a regular member since 2010. There is little doubt he would be recalled if a team was chosen now, as his recent performances have been far superior to Canterbury’s Trent Hodkinson, who ranks as the ninth-best halfback in the NRL for both the season and the past five weeks.

The 2013 premiership-winning halfback said the fallout from the off-field incident in May had been a turning point for him this season. “After that incident it was definitely a big focus for me,” Pearce said. “I knuckled down and ended up working real hard, as the whole team has. The reason you play well is because you work hard, so that is what we have all done as a team. And that is why we are in a finals position now.”

Undoubtedly a key reason the Roosters are still in contention to become the first team in more than 20 years to win back-to-back grand finals is Pearce. In his past five games, against Wests Tigers, the Warriors, Melbourne, South Sydney and Penrith, he has committed two errors, while scoring three tries, being responsible for six try assists and making 20 tackle breaks, five line breaks and eight offloads.

He has also made 112 tackles, including a try-saving effort when he chased down Greg Inglis in the 26-22 win over the Rabbitohs that secured the minor premiership for the Roosters, and missed just 12 tackles.

Such statistics show great composure, given the amount of times that Pearce touches the ball in a match as first receiver for the Roosters. Pearce said his relationship with Alan Bell, who worked with Warren Ryan at Newtown and Allan McMahon at Newcastle as a mentor to playmakers such as Andrew and and Matthew Johns, had helped him to become better at decision-making.

“He has been around the game a long time and he is really smart,” Pearce said. “He is one of the smartest guys I have spoken to about footy and my individual game. A lot of stuff with the mind and preparation has been really helpful for me and I feel like I have been playing a bit better footy, so it has been great, and I am really grateful for the time he has given me.”

Legendary boxing trainer Johnny Lewis, who worked with the Jets in the early 1980s, introduced Pearce to 71-year-old Bell about three months ago.

“I have been talking to him on the phone a fair bit. It started off we just had a bit of a brief chat and he has been really passionate, helping me out and giving me advice here and there,” Pearce said.

“As a halfback, if you can keep getting pointers from guys who have a smart analytical brain, you would be silly not to open your ears and listen.”

Pearce has also been working closely with Roosters assistant coach Jason Taylor, a former leading halfback with Western Suburbs, North Sydney, the Northern Eagles and Parramatta, and club insiders say his recent upturn in form had coincided with him becoming more decisive about when to run, pass or kick.

Fairfax Media was told whereas Cooper Cronk was a structured halfback who played within a system devised by the Storm coaching staff, Pearce plays more off-the-cuff. But his decision-making can be confused as he considers the best option.

However, in recent weeks Pearce has been sticking with his initial decision.  When he has chosen to run the ball, he has caused havoc with opposition defences – as evidenced by the try he set up for Daniel Tupou against Souths and the one he scored last Saturday night to put the Roosters ahead 14-8 against Penrith.

While Pearce ranks eighth overall among halfbacks this year, his season can be broken down into three parts: before Origin, until round 22, and the past five weeks, including the 15-14 qualifying final loss to Panthers at Allianz Stadium.

His CVR per match for the season is 322.42. Thurston, who will play opposite him on Friday night, ranks as No.1 overall with a CVR of 420.26. But until round 23, Pearce’s average CVR was a mere 260.1. He scored as low as 61.3 in round one, 66.4 in round seven and 124.3 in round eight. Before round 14, he had only recorded a CVR above 300 – considered a good score for a halfback – on one occasion, but since then he has had just three matches below that figure.


In the past five weeks Pearce has had a CVR above 600 – 704.5 against the Tigers in round 23, 601.2 against Souths in round 26 and 646.8 against the Panthers last weekend, while in the other two matches he had a CVR of 401.8 against the Warriors in round 24 and 442.7 against the Storm in round 25.

In comparison, Hodkinson – who ousted Pearce for the NSW No.7 jersey in this season’s historic Origin series win – has a CVR of just 263 per match in the past five weeks, which has been boosted by a score of 403 in last Sunday’s surprising 28-4 elimination of Melbourne – his highest score since round eight. Soward’s average for the past five weeks of 323.1 is well below Pearce.

Given a free hand, David Gallop tackles his FFA role with zest

David Gallop says football’s ticket to the big-time depends on grassroots

There was something presidential about FFA chief executive David Gallop’s “State of the Game” address in Sydney on Thursday, a US-style declaration of national goals achieved and those still to be kicked.

It was also a City Hall tub thump aimed at his rivals in the middle of their finals, an “up yours” to the NRL, the game that sacked him, and the AFL, the code he seeks to overtake as No.1 in the country.

The gaunt Gallop’s speech was not quite Abraham Lincoln; more akin to the slim former US Senator Trent Lott who once said that uniting all his fellow Republican Senators in a vote was “like trying to load bullfrogs into a wheelbarrow”.

Gallop has done what Lott could not – unite soccer’s once-warring factions.

Significantly, it was he who made the speech, not Frank Lowy, the FFA chair.

When Gallop left the NRL two years ago, it was primarily because he suspected he would be merely a chief of staff for an ego-driven ARL chairman, John Grant.

The irony that Gallop’s predecessors at FFA, Ben Buckley and John O’Neill, complained they were not CEO’s but chief of operations for a billionaire autocrat, was presumably assuaged by Gallop swapping his $300,000-a -ear job for a $1 million one.

Yet none of the above transpired. Grant has withdrawn, allowing the limelight to shine on his chief executive, Dave Smith, while Lowy has stepped aside for Gallop to deliver Wednesday’s “National Plan for Whole of Football”.

Lowy, after all, has only a year left before mandatory retirement age and unless the shopping-centre czar anoints son Stephen, Gallop is in a position to fulfil his dream of eclipsing the AFL and NRL.

(Gallop, who once worked for Rupert  Murdoch, would be aware of the tricky intersection between big business and family politics. As North Korea’s Kim Jongs and the Clintons have also demonstrated, succession planning can be an all-in-the-family affair).

But Gallop had his eyes on his code rivals on Thursday, saying soccer’s opportunities “can only happen in a game based primarily on skill, not those based on collisions”.

Ten years ago, his code was No.4 in the pecking order of the national football, described by Gallop on Thursday as a “sport [then] on its knees”.

The Australian Sports Commission initiated reform via the Crawford Report, which recommended stripping away state and ethnic loyalties.

Gallop acknowledged this, indicating more has to be done. He said, “It’s fair to say that the game’s governance structures have been a work in progress since the reform process of the Crawford Report in 2003, and the inauguration of the FFA under the leadership of Frank Lowy in 2004.

“Frank Lowy and his board have done so much – starting new national competitions, qualifying for World Cups and joining Asia.

“Our chairman’s energy and commitment is a source of inspiration to so many people and I want to personally acknowledge his guidance and wisdom.

“FFA could not have done this in a decade without the support of so many companies, broadcasters and governments. There are too many to name individually, so you’ll see our acknowledgement on the video screens.”

Not recorded in actual words was crediting the ASC which, in consultation with then prime minister John Howard and federal sports minister Senator Rod Kemp, handed over $25 million for the reform process.

The Crawford Report did not address the governance problems of the grassroots and its alignment with the professional game – a whole-of-game approach that will be announced at the conclusion of summer’s AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

Gallop told Thursday’s audience, “The first phase of the national plan is to listen to the game’s key stakeholders – clubs at all levels and their members, our state and territory member federations, sponsors, broadcast partners, governments and stadium managers.”

But how much money will Gallop extract from government for this purpose?

As deputy chair of the ASC, Gallop must know his code has had more than its share of the public purse, as, indeed, has AFL.

He began his speech by stating: “Everywhere you look at the moment, you can see that Australian football [or the ‘beautiful game’ as he also called it] is enjoying a golden period.”

Your sport has joined the big boys now David. Time to dig your own gold.