Muscat’s Victory men defeat Mariners

Kevin Muscat’s men take breather
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Sometimes coaches talk about the performance being far more important than the result.

This was a game, for both Melbourne Victory and the Central Coast Mariners, where the result was all that mattered.

Going into this round 22 fixture the two teams were part of a cluster on 30 points, chasing league leaders Brisbane and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Both were looking nervously over their shoulders at Sydney, Wellington and Melbourne Heart, all of whom are close enough to push them out of the finals race if they win matches and the Mariners and Victory don’t.

When the dust settled it was Victory who took all three points by a rather flattering 3-1 scoreline in a game that had fewer high spots than the winning margin might suggest.

Still Victory boss Kevin Muscat was relieved just to have picked up three points with his team gaining some breathing space on the league table after that 4-0 shellacking against local rivals Melbourne Heart six days earlier.

The opening goal, when it came just on the half hour mark, was against the run of play.

The Mariners should have been in front themselves just moments earlier after a slick build up freed Mitchell Duke on the left. He made space for a cross which gave Nick Fitzgerald a free header, but the Mariners midfielder screwed his effort wide when he should have done better.

From the restart Victory went up the other end and scored almost straight away, when Conor Pain fed Gui Finkler, whose pass found Jimmy Jeggo.

Jeggo doesn’t get many starting opportunities in the navy blue, and he doesn’t score that often either.

But he seized his chance to improve his record on both counts in style, taking a touch to move the ball into space before driving past Liam Reddy.

The Mariners looked purposeful, structured and well organised.

Berni Ibini gave them a big, mobile target, cutting in from the wings, while Duke, a player who was held in such high regard by the former Socceroo boss Holger Osieck, made his presence felt too as the champions took the game to a Victory side that looked nervous and disjointed for much of the opening period.

Kevin Muscat’s men have had a hard road to travel in the past few weeks, with an Asian Champions League trip to China and a derby disaster against Melbourne Heart top of mind.

How they needed three points and, preferably a clean sheet if only to restore some morale after those two losses to Guangzhou and Heart when they shipped four goals in each game.

But they struggled to find any rhythm, and while the fact that they were missing five first choice players is some mitigation, it doesn’t excuse the way they coughed up posession too often.

The Mariners looked more likely for much of that first period, when big central defender Zach Anderson came close when his header from a corner struck the post, Duke unable to capitalise on the rebound.

The game became more adventurous in the second half as the visitors went in search of the leveller they would have felt they deserved, and they got it in the 63rd minute.

After a scramble on the right of the Victory goal referee Ben Williams awarded a free kick, which was slung over by Kim Seung-yong.

Lawrence Thomas, retained by Muscat in goal despite conceding four on his first appearance of the season last weekend, came but could not take the cross, the ball falling to Anderson, who showed dexterity to control it and slam home into an unguarded net.

A draw was not ideal for either side in the circumstances, but a defeat was something neither could contemplate either.

In the end it was a penalty which was to put Victory into the driving seat and give it the chance to consolidate its position in the group chasing a finals berth.

Archie Thompson, made his most telling intervention with a cross which struck Anderson on the arm.

With regular penalty taker Mark Milligan returning from international duty it was James Troisi who stepped up and his powerful spot kick smashed past Liam Reddy after striking the underside of the crossbar.

Substitute Kosta Barbarouses made sure of the win when he tucked home a Thompson cross in stoppage time to make it 3-1, a score that the Mariners will certainly feel they didn’t deserve.

Barba key in gutsy Broncos win

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Ben Barba’s successful return to ANZ Stadium against his former club highlighted the size of the hole he’s left at Canterbury rather than the one he’s filled at Brisbane.

The one-time poster boy of Canterbury was always coming to come back and bite the club that granted him a release, but coach Des Hasler will be more concerned about what his side dished up without him in the 18-12 loss on Friday night.

While the ever-reliable Sam Perrett didn’t disgrace himself, there’s no doubt Hasler will be scratching his head wondering where he is going to find the spark at the back his team so desperately requires.

His halfback Trent Hodkinson is an organiser, while Josh Reynolds is a renowned runner of the football.

It’s not that Barba is irreplaceable, but the role he played for Canterbury is vital to the team’s success.

They need a player who can create something from nothing – capable of handling the responsibility as the team’s third playmaker.

Without it the Bulldogs look disjointed and threw very few questions at the Broncos’ defence despite ample opportunities close to the try line.

Much of the talk leading into the match surrounded the hostile reception Barba was poised to receive from the fans and former teammates alike.

While he was far from the man that set the competition alight two seasons ago, he left enemy territory with a smile from ear to ear after playing a part in his new side’s victorious start to the year in front of another disappointing crowd (18,040) to open the season.

Hasler would have ordered his troops not to give Barba any space, and for his first touch they did exactly that.

They swarmed in on him as Faf Du Plessis described the Australian cricket team – like a pack of dogs – smothering their former teammate in a rugby-like maul trying to push him back into the in-goal area.

His first touch wasn’t very productive, but his first run was a quick reminder of what he’s capable of producing, getting outside of Frank Pritchard to put Lachlan Maranta into space.

Then in a harsh reminder of what the Bulldogs are missing in his absence, the man handed his old No.1 jersey, Sam Perrett, spilled a bomb on his own line to gift Brisbane first crack at points.

On a ground where he’s scored 40 tries in his past 49 appearances, Barba turned provider to put Dale Copley in for the first try of the night.

It was Josh Morris’ decision to rush out of the line to put pressure on his former teammate which opened up the space for Barba to grubber behind the line for a charging Copley to score out wide after six minutes.

Daniel Vidot then doubled the Broncos lead when he crashed over debutant Corey Thompson, before Ben Hunt took the Broncos out to a 14-0 lead with a penalty goal from close range.

The Bulldogs couldn’t find a way through the Broncos defence, so Morris decided to go over it, leaping above the pack with a mark that was as good as anything you’ll see Buddy Franklin do for the Sydney Swans this year.

Trailing 14-6 at the break, the Bulldogs scored first courtesy of a barnstorming Tony Williams, who ran over the top of Josh Hoffman to reduce the deficit to just two points.

Lock Dale Finucane should have put the Bulldogs in front but he spilled the pill with the line wide open.

Lachlan Maranta then ended Canterbury’s hopes of a come-from-behind victory, scoring in the corner in the final stages of the contest.

The Broncos might have a bit to worry about when the match review committee look back at the game, with Martin Kennedy and Andrew McCullough put on report for high shots on James Graham and Mitch Brown.

Brown left the field with concussion, so too did Broncos substitute Todd Lowrie after rushing up on Pritchard and collecting his shoulder flush on the jaw.

Roos break the ice with narrow victory

NORTH MELBOURNE 2.1 7.5 9.8 11.10 (76)GEELONG 3.4 7.5 9.6 10.7 (67)
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Goals: North Melbourne: Wright 2, Petrie 2, McKenzie 2, Dal Santo, Thompson, Harvey, Mullett, Thomas. Geelong: Hawkins 3, Duncan, Horlin-Smith, McIntosh, Guthrie, Sheringham, Murdoch, Johnson.Best: North Melbourne: Cunnington, Dal Santo, Ziebell, McKenzie, Bastinac, Wood. Geelong: Stokes, Hawkins, McIntosh, Guthrie, Mackie, Duncan.Brad Scott confident in his Kangaroos

It was a small moment in a largely mundane practice match, but for a man whose last AFL game was almost two years ago it was a blessed relief. For his Geelong teammates, it was cause for a spate of hand raising worthy of a gospel session.

Late in the first quarter at Simonds Stadium, Steve Johnson gathered, feined, shimmied and crossed the 50-metre arc before dishing to a teammate at his left. Hamish McIntosh’s wobbly 35-metre shot on the run was hardly poetry in motion, but it bounced through, and by the time he reached the interchange bench his hand was stinging from a team’s worth of high fives.

The last gasps of the pre-season answered few questions, although they did produce a first win of 2014 for North Melbourne, who will enter a season deemed to be more pivotal than most with some much-needed confidence after hanging on for a nine-point win.

Geelong coach Chris Scott sought out North’s Brad at three-quarter time and the twins agreed to shorten proceedings, which might have irked the 4594 fans who are used to seeing their beloved Cats leave the ground winners, but ensured Lindsay Thomas’ goal midway through the last quarter was enough to get North home.

McIntosh impressed against his old team, moving and marking well, playing more than the flagged 60 minutes of game time and finishing with 15 hitouts. But Dawson Simpson (12 hitouts) also contributed; if the Cats decide only one can back up Mark Blicavs against Adelaide on March 20, the victor might have to be decided via an arm wrestle.

More decisive was the further evidence that Tom Hawkins is entering 2014 in far better fettle than the creaking key forward who was hampered by back problems last year. His movement in kicking three goals on Friday night screamed of a footballer who is again in rude health.

In an open contest missing the intensity that will return like an echo in round one, the Kangaroos finally began to click at the tail end of an underwhelming pre-season. Former Saint Nick Dal Santo stood out with 24 touches; Ben Cunnington had 26 times, Brent Harvey made the sort of impact from limited game time he will be seeking, and Brad McKenzie’s left boot loomed as a growing threat.

Captain Andrew Swallow missed, as did Luke McDonald, the much-touted father-son who is expected to be out there when the serious stuff starts against Essendon on March 21.

Jimmy Bartel and Joel Selwood sat out for Geelong, but Mathew Stokes (31 possessions), Mitch Duncan and Cameron Guthrie rounded out the sort of pre-season campaigns they’d wish you could earn Brownlow Medal votes for.

Sewer network to cost residents

A GROUP of Hickson Street, Merewether Heights residents will be forced to pay $70,000 from their own pockets if they want to be connected to the sewerage network.
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The 14 residents on the southern side of the street had argued they should be allowed to access funding from the state government’s priority sewerage program to pay for the works.

The program was introduced in 1997 following concerns about the impact of villages without sewers on public health and the environment.

Hunter Water said that it would not seek funding from the program because it would not provide a benefit to the wider community.

‘‘The NSW government does not fund the cost of connecting properties to Hunter Water’s sewer network as the [residents’] lawyer appears to suggest,’’ a Hunter Water spokesman said.

‘‘Rather that cost is paid by Hunter Water’s customers via a special environmental levy.’’ The standoff began last month when Newcastle City Council set a February 21 deadline for the residents to indicate when and how they planned to transition to the sewerage network. The council is concerned the existing septic tanks are not environmentally sustainable.

The alternative is to convert to a pump-out arrangement, which could cost hundreds of dollars per week to each resident, indefinitely.

Hunter Water is happy to connect the residents to the sewerage network but wants them to foot the $1million bill. This equates to about $75,000 per property.

The residents say they are each happy to pay an estimated $25,000 for the connection, but are refusing to pay for its construction.

A council spokeswoman said on March 4 that the council had been working to resolve the issue since 2008.

‘‘Our job is to ensure the systems operate in a safe and healthy manner and to ensure health and environmental concerns are being addressed,’’ she said.

Rugby Union: Sevens captain mulls switch for World Cup

Australian Sevens captain and former Canberra mechanic, Sharni Williams. Photo: Katherine GriffithsAustralian sevens captain Sharni Williams is considering a temporary switch back to 15-a-side rugby to play at the World Cup this year.
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Williams will make a decision after the sevens national titles in Canberra this weekend.

The former Royals star has led the Australian team to wins in two of the three World Women’s Sevens series and they’re firming as gold medal contender for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Williams hopes to guide the ACT side to back-to-back national titles at the Australian Institute of Sport.

But after the tournament Williams will likely commit herself to an appearance at the women’s 15-a-side World Cup in France in August.

”No one has said, ‘no you can’t go’ to the World Cup, it’s up to me,” said Williams, who played at the 2010 World Cup in England.

”I’d really like to go to another World Cup. I’d love to do it, but we’ve got a big year in 2015 of Olympic qualifiers with the sevens team. At this stage I want to go. It’s tough because the 15-a-side girls have been working really hard and we haven’t been there because we’ve been with the sevens.

”I’ve made a long list of pros and cons so we’ll make a decision this weekend.”

Williams has relocated to Sydney to train full-time with the Australian sevens team.

The 26-year-old was part of Australia’s massive world series victory in Brazil two weeks ago and is setting her sights on an Olympic Games berth in two years.

The ACT side won the Australian sevens title last year and Williams said the players were desperate to go back to back.

”We’re really keen to hold on to that title. It’s going to be quick and you’ve got to show your magic,” Williams said.

AUSTRALIAN SEVENS TITLES

Saturday and Sunday: At the Australian Institute of Sport. Games from 9am. Final at 2.26pm on Sunday.

ACT team: Nikki Stanley, Georgia O’Neill, Fee Knights, Grace Griffin, Alicia Quirk, Sharni Williams, Anthea Clarke, Tayla Stanford, Michelle Perry, Carly Hill, Kelly Goodwin, Sammie Wood