Tackle issues: Sam Burgess is caught on camera in a no-go zone. Photo: Courtesy Channel 9Sam Burgess will miss two NRL matches after the South Sydney star pleaded guilty to a contrary contact charge for a “squirrel grip” tackle.
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The England international today opted to take the early plea for the grade-one charge arising from an incident involving Melbourne centre Will Chambers in Friday’s loss to the Storm at AAMI Park.

In making a tackle, the imposing forward appeared to place his hands between the legs of Chambers, who remained prostrate on the ground afterwards.

Burgess’ loading from four prior offences means he will miss two blockbuster home games for the Rabbitohs, against third-placed Manly on Friday and fifth-placed Canterbury the following week. If Burgess fought the charge and lost, he still would have missed both fixtures.

The loss of the 24-year-old is a huge blow for the Rabbitohs, who have lost three of their last four matches to slip off the top of the ladder.

Burgess received the lowest grading contrary-conduct charge because camera angles obtained by the NRL match-review committee indicated he had merely “pinched” the testicles of Chambers rather than “grabbed a handful”.

The incident went largely unnoticed during the matchand Chambers did not complain at the time to match officials or afterwards to Storm officials.

However, the official responsible for reviewing the match had mentioned it for the panel to look into after Chambers lay writhing following a 68th-minute tackle by Burgess and another Rabbitoh.

A further five camera angles supplied by Channel Nine on Monday convinced the match-review committee to charge Burgess with grade-one contrary conduct.

There were no parallel cases that could be used as a precedent, as a similar allegation against Cronulla’s Paul Gallen in 2008, in which Gold Coast centre Josh Graham claimed “he grabbed my ‘wheels’ and gave them a bit of squeeze”, did not result in a judiciary charge.

The news caps off a difficult month for Souths, who are looking to win their first premiership in 43 years, after injuries hit star fullback Greg Inglis and five-eighth John Sutton.

Inglis is tipped to return for the Manly game at Bluetongue Stadium where the third-placed Sea Eagles will be able to close the gap to a single point on the ladder with a victory.

Manly are also facing the loss of key back-rower Anthony Watmough for the game.

Watmough hyperextended his knee in the win over the Warriors on Sunday and the club were still awaiting results of the scans on Monday to determine the extent of the damage sustained by the NSW and Test star.

AAP with Brad Walter

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Potential move: James O’Connor at training on Monday. Playing wing or fullback are his immediate opportunities. Photo: Ben RushtonJames O’Connor says he is happy to say goodbye to the Test No. 10 jersey and return to the positions that made him an indispensable part of the Wallabies for the past four years.
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The 37-Test utility, who endured a difficult three-Test experiment at five-eighth for the Wallabies against the British and Irish Lions last month, did not rule out playing No. 10 again but has been told by new coach Ewen McKenzie that his immediate future lies in reacquainting himself with the back three positions of wing and fullback.

O’Connor said he was looking forward to a less structured return to the Wallabies back line if he is named in the team to play the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.

”[We] spoke about where [McKenzie] thinks I can best benefit the team, coming into the line, injecting myself, just being able to roam around, not being stuck having to control the team,” he said.

There are no guarantees O’Connor will run out as part of the starting 15 at ANZ Stadium. ”You saw that with [prop] Benny Robinson, he’s been an automatic selection for as long as I’ve been a part of it, so there’s no expectation,” O’Connor said. ”No one is safe, that’s what everyone’s been talking about. At training, if you’re not ‘on’ one day that could count against you.”

McKenzie said he saw a medium term future for O’Connor at inside centre, where the versatile 23-year-old has some experience, and had by no means ruled out using him at five-eighth.

But with wing or fullback his most immediate opportunities, O’Connor faces stiff competition; Joe Tomane, Israel Folau and Nick Cummins are impressing on the wing and Jesse Mogg and Folau are in good form at fullback.

”Since I’ve been back in camp I’ve trained my guts out and shown what I can do,” O’Connor said of the uncertainty. ”It’s hard to put a [probability] on it because we haven’t really trained as a back line or starting team yet … But I think I’ve trained pretty well.”

 

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Australian rugby will rely on the excitement surrounding Ewen McKenzie’s inaugural Wallabies team to boost sluggish ticket sales before the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney on Saturday.
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The crowd for McKenzie’s first Test match as Wallabies coach is projected to be about 65,000, well clear of a sell-out Eden Park Test but well short of the 77,000 who turned up to watch the same fixture at ANZ Stadium last year.

It is believed a ”hangover” effect from the sold-out British and Irish Lions Test series will keep a lid on sales for, if not interest in, the only Bledisloe Cup match to be played in Australia this year.

There is hope anticipation of a strong first Wallabies performance under a new coach and about who will make McKenzie’s final cut could give ticket sales a boost running into the match.

The Wallabies have pushed back the team announcement to Thursday afternoon, giving McKenzie another training session before he makes his decision. And there is no indication anyone but McKenzie knows what the team will look like on Saturday.

Test regular James O’Connor said on Monday morning, before the squad’s first training session of the week, that the back line had not yet run together in training.

Even McKenzie said he was savouring the sweet few days he has to nail his colours to the mast, saying keeping players guessing was bringing out their best.

”The more competitive you can make the training environment, the best you’ll get out of the players. The more you keep mixing it up and keeping it fresh and making challenges and testing them out – they like that sort of training,” he said.

”In the end, [it’s] unfortunate you have to pick a team in some ways, because when you pick a team, you create disappointment. Once you pick a team you’ve got guys that are committed to the task. They’ve got to deliver and the other guys have to wait and see. But up until now it’s been really good. The guys have done a really good job.”

The All Blacks organised two trial matches, against Canterbury and Wellington, as part of their preparations for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener. The Wallabies have no trials organised, instead running an opposed session on Saturday to test out combinations.

McKenzie said he was content of the players’ fitness following the Super Rugby season, which included the Brumbies and Reds in the finals series. Several Waratahs players also had a match against the Argentinian Test team before flying back to Australia and joining the squad.

”I’m pretty pleased. We had a good session on Saturday afternoon, that was where we really started to get very specific about certain things we needed to do,” McKenzie said.

”You don’t want to over-complicate things. You need to have enough to be able to win but you can’t mind-numb them with lots of stuff. You have to find the things that are going to have the biggest impact on the day.”

The All Blacks arrive in Sydney on Thursday afternoon, with all eyes on the fitness of recently returned breakaway Richie McCaw.

McCaw managed only half a trial game at the weekend but was backed by New Zealand coach Steve Hansen to be ready for a full Test match this weekend.

McKenzie said the All Blacks appeared happy with where their champion No.7 was at.

”They’ve got some plans about what they’re doing in terms of preserving the welfare of their players, I’m not sure what the overall plan is but I’m assuming it involves the [2015] World Cup,” he said. ”He’s a very experienced player … They’re just managing his welfare and clearly they’re happy with what he’s done to be able to bring him back in.”

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Swift Swan: Gary Rohan has played four games in the reserves. Photo: Anthony JohnsonYoung gun Gary Rohan is considered a ”realistic chance” of making a senior return in time for Sydney’s daunting run to the finals.
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Coach John Longmire has indicated the speedster could be back as early as next week, against Geelong at Skilled Stadium, which would give him a chance to be Sydney’s joker in the pack heading into September.

Rohan, who has come back from 15 months on the sidelines with a serious broken leg, played his fourth consecutive game in the seconds on the weekend, kicking two goals.

”He’s a realistic chance before the end of the season, I’m not sure whether he’ll play this week but he’s a realistic chance,” Longmire said.

Rohan’s return would be a massive boost for the Swans. The club was extremely excited with his progress early last season and were confident he was on the verge of making giant strides before being struck down by injury.

His blistering pace would help cover the absences of Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta, who are racing the clock to be fit for the finals.’

It appears form, rather than fitness, is now the major obstacle in Rohan’s way to a recall.

”You come off 18 months it’s pretty hard to pick it up in three or four games,” Longmire said.

”It’s not about game time with Gary, it’s about coaching and making sure he’s playing the sort of footy we want him to play.

”We’re getting slowly through that hump as far as game time and getting through the game well – he’s been able to do that better and better each week.

”We’re now making sure we’re working on his game and what we want him to do in games.

”He was better on the weekend but we’ve still got Jed Lamb and a few others in the wings we can pick if we want to.”

The Swans are still well placed to gain the double chance despite Saturday night’s loss but may have to win all three of their remaining home-and-away games to finish in the top two, which would guarantee a first-up final at home.

They will start unbackable favourites against St Kilda but are likely to be the underdogs for the matches with Geelong and Hawthorn, who both beat them late last year before the finals.

The Swans also lost to Collingwood last year at a similar stage of the season but optimistic fans wanting to draw correlations with 12 months ago will be sobered by Longmire’s assessment of their team’s performance.

”Last year I was consistent, even though we lost three of the last four, in saying that we actually played some reasonable footy in that time,” Longmire said.

”We were a fair way off it on Saturday night, but we’ve been at that level on a consistent basis for a number of weeks. We dropped it on Saturday night, we need to make sure we pick it up this week against the Saints.”

Longmire said the Swans had few good players against Collingwood outside of Jarrad McVeigh and Kurt Tippett. Tippett was the only Swan to poll a vote from either coach in the AFL Coaches Association champion player award.

”It wasn’t a widespread contribution that we normally get, we normally play better than that,” Longmire said. ”We’ve had a real consistent run of form, we think, but there’s a few on the weekend that were a bit disappointed in their games.

”I’m being a little bit flippant there, there were a few players that played pretty well apart from those two but we didn’t get the weight of numbers we normally get.”

Longmire was pleased with Rhyce Shaw’s performance in his second senior game since round two. ”The more footy he plays the better he’ll get,” Longmire said.

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MORE mock and bore than shock and awe, Sunday’s debate was a crushingly dull affair where risk avoidance was the chief aim of both sides.
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The much-hyped clash of our political titans did nothing to enliven politics nor inspire voters, succeeding rather in reminding us why we’re more animated by The X-Factor or by arguing the implications for season 2013 from Essendon’s creative fitness regimes.

But what was it in particular that made the Rudd/Abbott face-off such an obvious turn-off?

Was it the rigid format, which allowed for little spontaneity and even less scrutiny? Was it that neither side tried to win the debate so much as avoid decisively losing it?

Or perhaps it was the sheer predictability of it all with its preponderance of boring white males, so transparently exaggerating their own achievements and their opponents’ faults.

With the exception of one female correspondent who wound up with two or three questions, this was an all-male talkfest – itself a clear misrepresentation of the society these leaders claim to represent.

But legitimate criticism goes to substance as well as presentation.

The first debate was an exercise in Mogadon politics – the diminishing returns that inevitably come from focus-group policy formulation, which by definition avoids excitement and ensures nothing is put to voters that they don’t already think.

Our main parties seem to have crunched the whole political spectrum down to such narrow differences that they have nothing left but to impugn the motives of the other, and make enormous rhetorical mountains out of tiny policy molehills.

Consider the main issues. Both agree on education funding – as of last week when the Coalition’s market testing showed it was being towelled up in the suburbs by Labor on Gonski.

Both agree on the surplus or bust philosophy – even if each says the other is hopelessly profligate. On the historical philosophical divide of industrial relations, there is now a substantive difference only in rhetoric.

Even on refugees, these two are as one, with asylum seekers faced with a universal stop the boats response.

And nobody’s got the courage or integrity to discuss the looming structural revenue shortfall as the population ages, nor are they talking about scrapping or capping Medicare (once an article of conservative faith) or slowing the creation of a new disability care scheme.

Nope, Australians instead are left with a pair of be-suited windbags, who in Rudd’s case will simply not own up to past mistakes, and in Abbott’s case cannot even do the voting public the basic courtesy of levelling with them on his budget plans, on national television, during the formal campaign.

Abbott started the debate saying it wasn’t about him and Rudd but about “you” the citizens of Australia.

Yet when asked for details of his policies and how they’ll be afforded, he revealed the real truth for both sides – that the debate was all about his interests and his tactics.

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