Tabcorp shares slump despite profit result

TABCORP shares slumped yesterday despite a solid full-year result as the market took issue with the company’s earnings outlook.
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Tabcorp reported a net profit of $340 million in the year to June 30, down from $534.8 million in 2010-11, but the prior year included earnings from the casino business, which was demerged in June last year.

Based on continuing operations the net profit was 12.7 per cent higher than the $301.6 million reported last year driven by strong earnings growth and lower interest expenses following the demerger.

But Tabcorp shares slumped as much as 5 per cent during trading yesterday after the company flagged higher costs and lower-than-expected earnings from Victorian wagering business.

The termination of Tabcorp’s poker machine licence in Victoria next week will leave it with $17 million of corporate and IT costs to be allocated across the continuing business and higher racefield product fees. Tabcorp also warned that the terms of its new wagering licence in Victoria are ”significantly different” to the current licence, which expires next week.

If the new licence had applied to the Victorian wagering business this year its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) would have been $150.2 million not the $229 million reported. ”The company has guided to pro forma wagering earnings of $150 million, which compares to our FY14 forecast of $190 million,” said Deutsche Bank analyst Mark Wilson.

The company was also keeping quiet on its plans to recover the $687 million it is owed in compensation as a result of its poker machine licence being cancelled next week.

Tabcorp chief executive David Attenborough said the company is ”looking at all options” but has not made a decision ahead of August 23 when the payment is due.

Tabcorp will lose its biggest profit engine with the loss of its pokie duopoly in Victoria but is looking to offset the loss with its new Keno licence in Victoria and the poker machine services business TGS.

The latter is on track to record underlying earnings of $55 million per annum based on the 8500 poker machines it has signed up.

In 2011-12, Tabcorp’s online wagering operations generated $2.16 billion in turnover, growing by 14.5 per cent compared to the prior year.

Fixed odds revenues were the highlight, growing by 41.5 per cent to $321.4 million. Totalisator revenues continued to decline as the market shifted to fixed odds betting where the profit margins are lower and Tabcorp faces strong competition from new entrants.

The company declared a final dividend of 11¢ a share full franked and said it targeted a dividend payout ratio of 80 per cent of net profit excluding the expected $47 million write-off of Victorian gaming goodwill in the current half year. Tabcorp shares closed 3.3 per cent lower, down 11¢, at $3.20.

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Not upwardly mobile, Telstra holds the line

THERE are not too many analysts with a buy recommendation on Telstra. Of late, there have been plenty downgrading it to hold or even sell. At the $4 level at which the company has been trading, this is no surprise.
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Telstra needed to pull a rabbit out of a hat yesterday to justify a ”buy” tag. It didn’t.

It produced earnings that were a bit shy of analysts’ expectations given the second half was a bit weaker than the first. The share price dipped 8¢ to $3.89 in response.

It’s not that Telstra has done anything wrong. It is still performing well, churning out cash, and sucking up handouts from the government to compensate it for the building of NBN infrastructure.

But the strong growth in mobiles it has experienced over the past couple of years will start to taper off in 2013. Telstra still expects to increase its subscriber numbers but not at the same rate.

It will look to offset this by increasing prices, but has to manage this process carefully to avoid the previous mistakes of overpricing and losing market share.

The game is not up in mobiles, but having now reached 60 per cent market share there is a limit to the pace of growth.

There are some brighter spots in the pipeline in other Telstra businesses areas, such as Network Application Services, which provides communications solutions to large organisations.

The Hong Kong-based CSL put in a good performance, as did the global connectivity business. But in absolute terms they are small, relative to mobiles.

And then there are the troublesome businesses.

Sensis – better known as the Yellow Pages directories business – continued to go backwards, with print revenue falling 22 per cent and margins slipping by 9 percentage points.

The headwinds from the decline in revenue from the fixed copper network continue.

The latest numbers (although not provided by Telstra) say 14 per cent of households no longer have fixed line connections. The trend will continue and more likely than not it will accelerate.

As is always the case with Telstra, the emerging technologies are required to offset those in decline. In 2012, the company managed to post a modest rise in revenue of 1.1 per cent, and an equally modest improvement in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of 0.8 per cent – both of which were inside guidance.

The company’s outlook statement paints a fairly similar outcome for 2013 – low single-digit income and EBITDA growth.

One of the reasons these forecasts can be relied on is the stellar job Telstra is doing in managing its cost base, and we should expect to see more of this in 2013.

While these results are not the sort to generally excite the market, there are a series of other factors weighing in to Telstra’s share price performance, which this year alone has risen 16 per cent – more than 2½ times the rest of the market.

Its a combination of a flight to yield and reliability.

And this is scarce commodity at the moment.

There will be other companies reporting bigger improvements in 2012 earnings, but none have quantified a near-guaranteed dividend.

Given the rise in Telstra’s share price, the yield isn’t as attractive as it was a year ago but it certainly not bad at just over 7 per cent.

The other solid bit of information is that the government will drip-feed billions into Telstra’s coffers in upcoming years – $420 million was received in 2012.

While analysts now take the view that on financial fundamentals Telstra is fully priced, the trouble for investors is that there are few solid options out there in the market.

Punters can make a bet and buy plenty of what appear to be cheap stocks trading on low price earnings multiples, but they run the risk that earnings won’t improve or may even slide and dividends will fall.

With commodity prices falling, investors have been bailing out of the big stocks such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

There are myriad cyclical stocks, but most have risks associated with the broader economic environment.

Telstra is far less sensitive to the vagaries of consumer sentiment, although mobile revenue from the small business segment did suffer in 2012.

But where is the next growth driver?

There is no real suggestion from management that Telstra will spend up big on acquisitions.

Rather, it appears to be placing its bets (and $500 million of capital expenditure this year) on its new 4G mobile network. Right now this reaches only 40 per cent of the market.

But increasing capex is not always as popular with shareholders as it is with management.

While investors were not really expecting any capital management announcements yesterday, nor an increase in dividends, either one would have offset any earnings disappointments and resulted in Telstra’s share price ticking up even further.

The author owns Telstra shares.

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Changes from the waste up hit stumbling block

IT IS shaping up as this year’s most toxic board scrap over the remnants of a listed hazardous waste company.
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Dolomatrix wasted no time yesterday announcing that its 19.9 per cent shareholder of only two weeks, Roger Collison, had been appointed as its new managing director – and announcing plans to transform itself from a toxic waste concern into listed investment company.

Logical, one would think, given the state of financial markets. Dolomatrix cited Collison’s ”skills and experience as a funds manager”. But not all Dolomatrix shareholders appear to agree. The head of Brisbane fund manager Trojan Equity, Troy Harry, has lobbed a requisition of meeting seeking the removal of Collison and his appointment to the board with former Dolomatrix director Greg Soghomonian and Wilson Asset Management director James Chirnside.

Harry, like Collison, snapped up his 13 per cent stake after Dolomatrix paid a 35¢-a-share capital return to its shareholders after offloading its waste management business. Wilson has a 10 per cent stake, and the Soghomonian-chaired Weston Aluminium a 13.5 per cent stake.Banking ranking

RESERVE Bank assistant governor Guy Debelle provided some comfort yesterday to patriotic sports fans unhappy about Australia’s ranking on the Olympic gold medal tally, especially when compared with Team Great Britain. ”Australian banks are also benefiting from the fact that they look good compared with other banks in the world,” Debelle assured a Senate inquiry into the banking sector in Sydney yesterday. ”The risk premium on Australian banks is nowhere near as high as the risk premium on some Spanish banks.” He went further: ”We’ll get some back for the Olympics here … it’s true for UK banks too. The UK banks’ risk premiums are much higher at the moment than Australian banks.”Soft touch?

ASCIANO managing director John Mullen seems to be a softer touch when its comes to negotiating the pay rates of other chief executives, as opposed to the stevedore workers on his company’s docks.

Four months after Asciano ended its 20-month standoff with the maritime union by signing a new enterprise bargaining agreement, Telstra disclosed yesterday that its remuneration committee had approved an 8.7 per cent lift in the annual fixed pay of its chief executive, David Thodey, to $2.65 million from October.

This is on top of the 6 per cent fixed-pay rise Thodey received last October. Telstra, whose remuneration committee is chaired by Mullen, said Thodey’s fixed-pay increase would take him to the ”ASX 20 CEO market median”. Telstra said it would also seek shareholder approval for a lift in its non-executive fee pool from $3 million to $3.5 million. It disclosed that Thodey’s total pay increased from $5.1 million to $7.7 million in the year to

June 30. Telstra also disclosed that its former chief financial officer, John Stanhope, was paid a $745,000 termination benefit and secured a $600,000 12-month consulting deal ”to ensure a seamless transition on NBN-related matters”.Gray area

SIRTEX Medical has joined the list of ”first-strikers” to try to placate its shareholders before this annual meeting season, averting having a ”second strike” recorded against its remuneration report.

This would have forced its directors to automatically stand for re-election.

But the cancer treatment company’s issuing of a ”remuneration update” yesterday might struggle to avert another 25 per cent or above vote against its pay report, given the current board’s toxic relations with Sirtex’s former chairman and 17 per cent shareholder, Bruce Gray.

Sirtex provided a lengthy five-page explanation on how it had increased the ”difficulty of achieving the vesting conditions” of the performance rights granted to executives and so on. Sirtex’s remuneration committee chairman, John Eady, argued that his board had ”improved the company’s remuneration structure while enforcing its values and culture”.

But it remains doubtful Sirtex will win over one key shareholder, despite its shares hitting a 30-month high this week and tripling since Gray was dumped as chairman in August 2006.

Gray, at last year’s annual meeting, voted against all the resolutions put before shareholders.

After being dumped as chairman in 2006, Gray failed in his bid to have Eady, Grant Boyce and Sirtex chairman Richard Hill dumped from the board.

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Cummings’s filly to come up roses

Pretty baby … three-year-old She’s A Fox with Anthony Cummings at his Kensington stables this week. The Fastnet Rock filly is in tomorrow’s Rosebud at Warwick Farm.ANTHONY CUMMINGS had seen enough of Foxwedge to know buying the first-season sire’s sister was the right way to go. Cummings pipped Foxwedge’s trainer John O’Shea when he forked out $600,000 for the filly at last year’s William Inglis Easter yearling sale.
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”I had a big opinion of Foxwedge at the time,” Cummings said this week. ”I’d seen him at the track throughout his Golden Slipper preparation and his level of performance was high.

”I had the view he would reach group 1 level and he did that.”

Foxwedge claimed his belated group 1 in March when beating Black Caviar’s punching bag Hay List to claim the William Reid Stakes at Moonee Valley.

The filly Cummings bought was named She’s A Fox and it was all falling into place for the horseman who prepares thoroughbreds alongside O’Shea at Randwick. ”I had some people interested in her at the time she went through the [sale] ring,” Cummings said. ”A few others wanted to get involved a few months later, so it has worked out well.”

The underbidder on She’s A Fox was O’Shea, whose Foxwedge was plucked out of the Inglis ring for $925,000 and earlier this year was syndicated for $10 million to stand at Newgate Farm stud.

”Foxwedge was as good a colt as you would see at a sale,” O’Shea said yesterday. ”She’s A Fox was a nice, neat filly.”

O’Shea has taken an interest in She’s A Fox and has monitored her development. ”She is going to be like him, get better every season,” O’Shea said. ”She is tough, sound and has a good turn of foot.”

Cummings thought ”she was better than he was for different reasons … I hope she proves that in time”.

He wasn’t about to divulge what those differences were.

”Foxwedge’s efforts on the track made this filly pretty cheap at the time,” Cummings said. ”In the greater scheme of things, paying the money we did wasn’t going to be ridiculous knowing where Foxwedge would end up. I couldn’t be happier.”

A week before Foxwedge won the William Reid, She’s A Fox went to the races for the first time and

scored in style under Hugh Bowman at Canterbury. Being a late bloomer, Cummings and his team thought a crack at the Golden Slipper was in order but She’s A Fox came up short because of problems in the lead-up and was off to the paddock.

Jockey Peter Robl was on board when She’s A Fox returned and routed rivals to win at Warwick Farm last month. Bowman, who was on holiday when She’s A Fox won first-up, goes back on board in tomorrow’s 1200-metre Rosebud at Warwick Farm.

”I had a lot to do with her early on and she always gave me a good feel,” Bowman said.

”I felt she was a genuine black-type filly. It all came a bit soon in the autumn but I trialled her before the first-up run and to me she is ready to take the next step.”

As Cummings said ”everything I expected has taken place … bar the one bad run when she pulled up injured. She had to go to the paddock. It did her the world of good. She is a really good athlete and has a beautiful nature. That really helps her find the best of her ability when she is asked.

”There has only been two times she has been asked that question and she has responded on those two days. The other time she had an issue.

”Hopefully she continues on in the same vein as she did first-up. She is a good filly.”

She’s A Fox will be opposed by just five other runners in the Rosebud, a lead-up to the $1 million Golden Rose.

While Cummings is setting She’s A Fox for feature races during the spring carnival, O’Shea has no grand plans for Gangster’s Choice, which returns in tomorrow’s The Bledisloe Cup at the Farm. ”He has had two good trials and as long as he gets a dry track he’ll be competitive, but he will improve with the run,” he said.

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ABC program throws little new light on crime lords

Jim Cassidy, an angel on horseback, has been known to pull the wrong rein at ground level, again emphasised by the ABC’s Inside Mail report on Four Corners on Monday.
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The program has been criticised by insiders, although the general viewer would deduce racing is the playground of drug runners and hit men. Still, little has changed. Oscar Wilde once said the racecourse was ”a sunny place for shady people”.

At times Cassidy, one of the saddle greats, has been known to associate with characters who ended up with form that placed them at Long Bay or Pentridge, not that he necessarily was aware of that at the time.

Most of what was reported on Monday was history but the Tony Mokbel connection kept the organised-crime aspect on the boil. ”I watched the program after the sensational billing with a mixture of anger and fragility that they could present 45 minutes of television which was just a rehash of scandals of the past,” said Peter McGauran, the former federal politician turned Australian Racing Board chief executive.

Perhaps it could be deduced McGauran would say that, but not Peter Mair. ”I am unrelenting in asking for the racing stewards across the nation to show some semblance of intelligent dedication to finding and penalising the misbehaviour routinely, day to day, bringing racing into disrepute across the nation,” Mair emailed. ”The Inside Mail program aired on ABC1 was contrived nonsense – it had nothing directly to do with the murder of Les Samba, it was mainly rehashed anecdotes about a likeable criminal, now in jail, predictably asking jockeys for advice about how to minimise the risk of his dirty socks being lost in the local laundering wash.

”Presumably, the police and AUSTRAC [Australia’s anti-money laundering unit] are now monitoring the casinos. Tonight’s Four Corners was all smoke and no fire – complete with cameo appearances from keystone members of the Victorian police force.”

Bad guys are drawn to the racing honeypot. Many preceded Mokbel and others will follow. Some like the punt, coupled with laundering. Most are looking for an edge, which obviously prompted the Inside Mail title.

Aussie Bob Trimbole and his racing connections got a mention. Trimbole was much appreciated by bookmakers. He lost heavily and paid, albeit with ill-gotten gains. Was he outlaying a cartload to get a handful of useable cash in return?

What is inside mail?

Being assured of the try and the strength of the tip helps, but few horses with a winning chance are sent out with the jockey asked to apply the brakes. In the good old days, much hinged on connections getting their price. If not, drastic action was taken.

Blood counts being right or bad and ”the horse doing well” are bandied around but a good thing livened up with a jigger (battery) in a lead-up track gallop has more traction.

Information like that once sent me into full gallop towards the nearest bookmaker, mostly to end up sizzled more than the poor horse. Horses get immune to it.

Being closest to the horse’s mouth, jockey information is eagerly sought. Great horsemen aren’t necessarily good judges …

”Jockeys especially will send you broke,” George Freeman, who had a certain notoriety, once exclaimed. ”They ring you up and say this will win and they haven’t even ridden it [in track] work.”

Perce Galea, also a big plunger of his era, would only bet for them if the jockey put his own money in. Thus if the jockey had $500 on the horse, Galea would bet him the odds to $500 plus his own outlay. Of course this is highly illegal and the jockey would serve serious time if caught.

However, the structure of racing has changed. Prizemoney and strike rates play a greater role than the punt. Not that deaduns are extinct. Having been reared on the doctrine of good losers die broke, I can usually sort out a couple, and fume in two-chance races when one, carrying mine, gets left at the start. Stewards’ inquiries, explanations and replays, though, can provide a reasonable doubt.

One aspect of Inside Mail that initiated a personal colic attack was stewards didn’t have the necessary interviewing technique to get the truth out of those questioned. I’d back John Schreck and Ray Murrihy for a better result with a jockey, trainer or licensed person because of their turf knowledge than any interrogator who didn’t have the assistance of waterboarding or electricity to a tender spot.

Schreck was responsible for the Fine Cotton finding and Jockey Tapes, the two beacons of racing investigation. Fortunately, he had the support of the Australian Jockey Club committee. Today’s system, more democratic, doesn’t give Murrihy the same back-up.

Murrihy once outed a jockey after a performance that entitled the hoop to get a ”would hold a burning hot stove” rating. During an interval at the appeal, I mentioned to him that he wasn’t going to win because turf lore went out and the law came in.

Racing doesn’t need more integrity bureaucrats or too much police assistance unless it’s a jockey tape (bugged) left in the steward’s letterbox. Good stewards are our best bet.

And Cassidy will be back on August 22 after a sabbatical, taken not to polish up his acting for a coming Underbelly episode, but to get the pump again working smoothly.

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Waller juggernaut on track for a relaxed but profitable Saturday at the office

No stopping him … Chris Waller has a small team entered at Warwick Farm.CHRIS WALLER’S thoroughbred stocks for a Saturday meeting in town normally reach double figures but the Kiwi has only six runners scheduled for Warwick Farm tomorrow.
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The two-time premiership-winning trainer’s team is headed by Kelinni, which is out to repay the faithful, having finished second as a $2.05 favourite last time around.

Kelinni will be joined by stablemate Shawnee Girl in the TAB Sportsbet, which is one of eight races that attracted a paltry total of 73 runners when acceptances were taken on Wednesday.

”A cross-over period,” Waller said shortly after winning another metropolitan-class race at Newcastle on Wednesday to go alongside the four he won on the opening day of the season at Canterbury last Saturday.

”A point where the winter horses are on the way out, or have been sent out, and the spring horses are on the way back. The spring horses may not be quite fit enough to run at this stage.

”Jade Marauder is a good example. She has had the one trial and is 90 per cent fit but she had 59 kilograms in the Rosebud at Warwick Farm and was up against the opposite sex.

”She will trial on Monday and head for the Princess series.”

Kelinni was beaten by stablemate Stout Hearted when resuming at Rosehill and then let favourite backers down when failing to beat Brave The Way, which has won subsequently.

”He is third-up and ready to run a strong 2200 metres,” Waller said.

”He may have been a little flat second-up but still finished second behind Brave The Way. He should be nearing his peak tomorrow.

”Shawnee Girl finished second to Brave The Way at Warwick Farm, so she won’t be far away.”

Waller has booked last season’s champion New Zealand apprentice Jason Collett for the ride on Thumbtacks in the Kari Aboriginal Resources. ”Thumbtacks is normally a Schofield horse, Glyn or Chad, but Chad had a ride for his boss, which didn’t accept, but we’d all ready booked Jason. It is Jason’s first ride back in Australia and punters should note he claims 1.5kg, not the 2kg published earlier in the week.”

Collett has already had a successful stint working under Waller and the trainer is confident the winning will continue. ”Jason is here to finish off his apprenticeship and establish his career,” Waller said.

”He is a good worker, very disciplined, and our team is going to help him out.”

What about Thumbtacks?

”The horse is in career-best form,” Waller replied while laughing. ”He improves five centimetres every time he goes to the races. He just keeps getting better and better, he is one of those types.”

In the opening event, Waller has ”the well-bred filly” Kristy Lee, another of the Ingham family’s horses.

”She ran really well first-up when fifth behind She’s A Fox, which is going to start favourite in the Rosebud,” Waller said. ”Kristy Lee hit the line, it was what we wanted to see and the step up to 1400m is perfect.”

Waller isn’t sure what to make of Ingham Magic in the Zoffany At Coolmore. The mare was a noticeable ring wobbler when resuming to beat two home at Rosehill on June 16. ”She needs to improve on Saturday,” Waller said. ”We’ve struggled to work her out, I’m not confident I’ve got her firing on all cylinders.”

Coup Ay Tee goes into The Bledisloe Cup Handicap having enjoyed a change of riding tactics when ridden back and running home to win at Rosehill on July 21.

”He did good job dropping back in distance last start,” Waller said.

”We’ve tried to keep everything the same to get a consistent pattern with his form. We intended to ride him in front of a couple last start but from the wide draw he got back to last. We’ll attempt to have a few behind us on Saturday from a good barrier draw.”

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Pride spoilt for speed as Title chases Missile

LOUISE NUTMAN has been there with Joe Pride since the beginning. The Hawkesbury vet owned the trainer’s first winner, Ireland, and his first city winner, Alanis, and has Title in Pride’s gun Warwick Farm stable.
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The six-year-old has already returned more than $500,000 in stakes and is part of Pride’s trio of sprinters, along with high-profile pair Rain Affair and Tiger Tees, which will target the spring.

”He is a very underestimated horse. He has won three black-type races, all at double-figure odds,” said Pride of Title, which resumes in the Missile Stakes on his home track tomorrow. ”I think he is one of those horses that has sneaked up on people because he didn’t race as a two- and three-year-old and he sort of ambushed them when he won his first black type.

”He doesn’t have the boom on him like a Rain Affair, but he is a very, very good galloper. There is him, Rain Affair and Tigers Tees for the spring for me. It is just a shame they are all sprinters because they will probably have to clash at some time.”

Title is a little more advanced in his preparation than the other pair and comes from modest beginning. He was reared by Nutman ”in her backyard”. Pride’s initial view of him was far from positive.

”I saw him as a two-year-old and he was an ugly, skinny thing. I thought he had no chance,” Pride said. ”Louise is a realist and knew that, but he is like the ugly duckling and has developed into a real athlete.

”It has taken a bit of patience to get him there, but he made it.”

Pride gave credit to Nutman for her part in Title’s development.

”She is a real horseperson. These days you hear people say they bred this horse and all they really did is pick out the cross on paper,” he said. ”Louise bred Title. She took the mare up to the stallion and then bought her home and looked after her for 11 months.

”She pulled Title out of his mum and looked after him until he came to me. That is breeding a horse.”

It meant there was more responsibility for Pride to get it right once Title showed he was above average. He has been able to get nine wins from 24 starts with Title, which has also been placed six times. He got him to a group 1 last prep when, after winning the Maurice McCarten Stakes, he finished fourth in the Galaxy behind Temple Of Boom.

Pride has Title ready to fire first-up tomorrow. ”He has been set for this,” he said. ”I know his first-up record isn’t that good [one from five] but the key to him is the blinkers and he will have them on [in the Missile].

”The only other time he had them on first-up was the Lightning and he won that. His record with them on is very good … half of his wins have come with them on.”

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Adnocon put himself in feature dash, says Ryan

“He has freshened-up good, I wasn’t going to run him until the Show County in two weeks but he worked real good last Saturday and I started thinking about this race” … Gerald Ryan on his horse Adnocon.ROSEHILL horseman Gerald Ryan says prizemoney levels and conditions surrounding tomorrow’s Rosebud and other feature races need to be looked into. The $100,000 handicap attracted just six runners. ”You run in these races and you don’t get the BOBS bonus,” Ryan said. ”Australian Star was looking to win four in a row in town and I ran him in a benchmark race instead of the Winter Stakes. If he’d won the benchmark he would have picked up just over $68,000 with the BOBS, the Stakes he would have won $60,000. ”The Winter Stakes was also a listed race, if he’d run a place he would have got a weight penalty and he is only a restricted horse.” Ryan’s sprinter Adnocon will start in tomorrow’s Missile Stakes having returned from Queensland where the gelding picked up a win at Eagle Farm two runs ago. ”He has done well, looks well,” Ryan said. ”He has freshened-up good, I wasn’t going to run him until the Show County in two weeks but he worked real good last Saturday and I started thinking about this race. A small field but there still looks to be enough speed in it for him. He’ll get back and run home.”
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Home advantage

Local trainer Gary Portelli has last-start winners Mickelberg and Butt I’m Ready running at Warwick Farm tomorrow. Mickelberg is in the Zoffany At Coolmore, while Butt I’m Ready runs in the last. ”Butt I’m Ready has won his last two and I’m hoping he has got his confidence back,” Portelli said. ”He has been helped by the wet tracks, it might be his time of year but he has shown to me he is interested in racing again. Mickelberg has done well since she won. The small field and home track advantage are positives and she’ll appreciate a dry track as well.” Both will be ridden by Brenton Avdulla. ”He is riding well for us at the moment, we’re having a bit of luck.”

Going places

The Bart Cummings-trained Norzita steamed home to win at Rosehill three weeks ago and is out to go back-to-back in town. The filly runs in the opening event at Warwick Farm tomorrow. ”She is a really green filly who only has upside,” said James Cummings, who is Bart’s grandson and Randwick foreman for the master. ”If she doesn’t find herself in one of the better fillies’ races this preparation it will be the next.” The Cummings-trained Dragonzone made it back-to-back wins when outstaying rivals at Newcastle on Wednesday and Cummings jnr warns his best is yet to come.

Back in grade

Michael Hawkes says the stable’s leading spring cups contenders Maluckyday and Niwot are now housed at Flemington, but the Rosehill operation remains home to Black Caviar’s half-brother All Too Hard. ”He is due to run in the San Domenico next weekend and Dwayne Dunn will ride,” said Hawkes, who trains alongside father John and brother Wayne, who runs the Flemington yard. At Warwick Farm tomorrow, Team Hawkes has Embark entered for the Zoffany At Coolmore after a seventh in the listed Winter Stakes, which followed a win at Rosehill. ”Her form had been ultra-consistent and we decided to give her a crack at a stakes race,” Hawkes said. ”At this stage she was a little out of her depth, so we decided to freshen her up and bring her back to 1200 metres. The small field suits and she gets in well with the [1.5kg] claim.”

Bledisloe bash

Anyone rocking up to Warwick Farm tomorrow in a Wallabies or All Blacks jumper gets in free. And the ATC’s racebook competition winner will take home a signed Wallabies jersey and be able to take three friends to the Bledisloe Cup clash at ANZ Stadium on August 18.

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Keep an eye on Sutton and Lyon

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South Sydney are on a roll, and their five-eighth, John Sutton, is playing the best football of his career. Sutton is as talented as any player in the NRL. He is big, strong and extremely skilful. His greatest asset, however, is his ability to read the game. I have coached Sutton and, believe me, he knows the game of rugby league inside-out. He was born to play.

Manly, meanwhile, have surged back into form and premiership contention in recent weeks. The Sea Eagles have had a disrupted season due to injury with some of their best players sitting on the sidelines for extended periods. In these times, all clubs need strong leadership to get them through. Their skipper, Jamie Lyon, has been inspirational. Lyon is an unassuming captain who leads by example on the field. He is fast, agile and extremely skilful. Like Sutton, his greatest asset is his ability to read the game. I have played with Jamie Lyon and, like Sutton, he knows the game of rugby league inside-out. He, too, was born to play.

Sutton plays on Souths’ left side of the field, and Lyon on Manly’s right. Both teams have star players in numerous positions but the outcome of this left-edge versus right-edge battle will go a long way to determining the winner tonight in Gosford.

Stopping Sutton and his runners tonight will be a particularly difficult job for Lyon’s inside men, Daly Cherry-Evans and Glenn Stewart. When Sutton runs to the defensive line, he does so in a manner that puts the defenders under immediate pressure. Sutton knows exactly where to run.

Picture one is an example of a typical Sutton play. Sutton is running hard at the hole between defenders four and five, and has organised his support runner, Dave Taylor, to run at the hole between defenders three and four. In this situation, defender four, which is where Stewart will be defending tonight, has a tough decision to make. Because Sutton is such a big man, the logical thing for defender four to do is to hold his ground and tackle the five-eighth. However, defender four is aware that defender three will require help tackling the massive Taylor should Sutton pass the ball. The upshot here was that defender four drifted off Sutton to help defender three. Sutton reacted to this decision by holding the ball, and after palming off defender five, he scored a try himself. Manly halfback Cherry-Evans, will be in position three tonight and he’ll have plenty to worry about. One positive for Cherry-Evans, though, is that Taylor rarely runs off Sutton on Souths’ left edge. This role is predominantly filled by Rabbitohs back-rower Chris McQueen. McQueen doesn’t quite match Taylor’s physique but he is still big, strong and fast. For Manly to get this right, defender four, Glenn Stewart, must mark Sutton from the beginning of each play while defender three, Cherry-Evans, has to muscle-up on McQueen. It doesn’t end there for the Sea Eagles because once Sutton reads that he and McQueen are covered, he will pass the ball to his fullback, Nathan Merritt, sweeping around behind McQueen. This will create a whole new set of problems for defender two, Jamie Lyon, and his winger David Williams to handle. Good luck gents.

For the Sea Eagles, Lyon and Stewart have developed a great attacking combination. However, with Glenn Stewart out injured for much of this year, Lyon has often had to do it on his own. He has a great ability to find a way to score. It’s like a sixth sense. He knows when his team needs a try, and he leads from the front to make it happen.

When Manly played Newcastle four weeks ago, Lyon’s ability in this regard was never more evident. There was less than 20 minutes to go in the game, and Manly were down 22-0 as they received a drop-out from the Knights. To salvage an unlikely win Manly needed to score four tries in the remaining time. With this in mind, Lyon knew they had to score a try in the ensuing set, and he took it upon himself to ensure that happened.

Picture two is the lead-up to the try scored by Brent Kite that Lyon created. Manly fullback George Taufua carried the ball from the middle of the field across to the right side. Taufua then passed to Lyon, who headed back in-field along the line of the arrow. As Lyon got the ball he surveyed the Knights’ defensive line, and saw an opportunity near the goal posts. One of the Knights’ defenders had failed to move up with his teammates. Lyon accelerated back towards his own try line and across field about 20 metres to stay clear of the immediate defenders. He then straightened and powered through the hole on the inside of the lazy defender before flick-passing the ball to Kite, who scored.

Manly didn’t take Lyon’s lead in that game, and they went on to lose. But they sure have taken it since. Manly will go to Lyon when the pressure is on, and Souths will go to Sutton. There might not be much grass left on that side of the field come full-time.

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Reynolds ready for game of two halfbacks

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 01: Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds of the Rabbitohs celebrate golden point victory after Greg Inglis kicked a field goal during the round five NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Allianz Stadium on April 1, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)HAVEN’T we seen this before?
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A halfback, unknown to most six months ago, playing like a seasoned veteran on his way to rookie of the year and premiership honours?

South Sydney mini-maestro Adam Reynolds is creating the same headlines as the man he’ll go up against tonight, baby-faced Manly pivot Daly Cherry-Evans, did a year ago.

Off the field, the heavily tattooed father of two couldn’t be more different from his blond-haired rival from the Queensland beaches, but on it he is riding the same wave to glory.

Just as Cherry-Evans did last year, Reynolds is playing with the similar composure and class that belies his 20 NRL games experience.

Unlike his predecessor, Chris Sandow, Reynolds doesn’t have the flamboyance that made Sandow so popular with the Rabbitohs faithful.

What Reynolds lacks in style and charisma, he more than compensates in grit and class.

Not only does he possess an accurate kicking game, but his vision and awareness make his boot one of the most revered in the game. It wasn’t that long ago we were complaining about the lack of quality halves coming through the ranks, but the NRL has unearthed some exceptional talent over the past two years, which has eradicated the concern.

It was Cherry-Evans and Warriors whiz-kid Shaun Johnson, both in their first seasons in the NRL, who captured the imaginations of the rugby league world by guiding their teams to the grand final last year. Now Adam Reynolds and Josh Reynolds – no relation – are on the road to doing the same for their respective clubs, competition leaders South Sydney and Canterbury.

Souths coach Michael Maguire wouldn’t be drawn into comparing Reynolds with Cherry-Evans, but praised the NRL’s leading goal-kicker for his ability to overcome a serious knee injury that had him sidelined for all of last year. ”He had a real tough ride last year, having to sit out for a whole season,” Maguire said. ”That was very disappointing for him. To see him come back and do what he’s doing now – I keep talking about the fact that there’s a lot of upside in Adam’s game. He’s continually learning each day.”

Cherry-Evans earned a spot on the Kangaroos Tour last year and was 18th man for the Maroons in game one of this year’s Origin series.

Reynolds hasn’t played in any representative games, but there are already calls for the 22-year-old to replace Mitchell Pearce as the NSW halfback.

A premiership would help his cause, but he and halves partner John Sutton will have to overcome a 34-year hoodoo to lead the Bunnies to their first title since 1971. Not since Manly’s Steve Martin and Alan Thompson in 1978 has a pair of halves with no previous representative experience guided a team to premiership success.

South Sydney and the Bulldogs are the only teams in the top eight without a representative play-making duo, but they are firming as grand final opponents.

While Maguire heaped credit on Reynolds, he highlighted the combination with five-eighth John Sutton as one of the reasons behind his halfback’s meteoric rise, as well as Reynolds’s study of his rival No.7s.

”He looks at everyone in the game,” Maguire said. ”He had a bit of time last year to sit back and study the [Johnathan] Thurstons and the [Cooper] Cronks, and all the other players in the game, but he’s building his own name now. He’s just a really mature kid. He pushes the team around with ‘Sutto’ – he and Sutto have got a great combination together.”

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NSW chief rings the changes on Blues

“I fully respect that the NSW Rugby League wants to make a decision and get on with this. So what I’m saying is, the answer’s no” … Phil Gould.NSW Rugby League boss Geoff Carr will personally phone every coach who has been linked with the vacant Blues position to gauge their interest in the job – including those contracted to NRL clubs.
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It is the clearest indication yet that officials are prepared to consider offering the job to a club coach and, for the first time, officially puts the Bulldogs’ Des Hasler in the frame.

It also came as the most successful NSW coach, Phil Gould, questioned the model which prevents NRL coaches from being put forward as candidates.

Gould said he held discussions yesterday with NSW board members David Trodden and Ray Dib, indicating he could not take the job. However, he has still left the door ajar, telling the Herald last night: ”If you want a decision today, the decision is no; I just haven’t got the time. But I don’t know what my life’s going to look like in 12 months time, around job opportunities and work in the media or at the Panthers or wherever.

”If you were to come back at Christmas time, my life might look very different. But I can’t make a commitment today, and I fully respect that the NSW Rugby League wants to make a decision and get on with this. So what I’m saying is, the answer’s no.”

Gould echoed those sentiments during talks with Trodden and Dib, which coincided with the ARL Commission’s meeting with officials from the four western Sydney clubs. Trodden and Dib are chairmen of Wests Tigers and the

Bulldogs respectively. ”I spoke to them [yesterday] about Origin,” Gould said. ”[Chairman] John Chalk had rung me on Monday, and he seemed to think they weren’t in any great hurry, but I think at the board meeting on Tuesday, it was suggested someone approach me.

”I let them know where it stood. They took it all on board. At the end of the day, they’ve got to get on with it and find a coach.”

Carr is leading that search. He said last night he would phone all the candidates whose names had been linked to the position, and create a shortlist based on who expressed an interest in the role – vacated by the new Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart. ”I’ll be ringing them all personally and reporting back to the board,” Carr said.

Asked if that included NRL coaches, he said: ”It includes everybody. Ricky would have been an NRL coach [and the NSW coach], and he had the job. I just want to win it. But that’s not to say that the board will decide to change the policy.”

A report commissioned by the NSWRL and compiled by former Roosters chief executive Brian Canavan had recommended the Blues employ a full-time coach in an attempt to halt Queensland’s dominance. On the back of that report, Stuart was hired, but now he has signed with Parramatta, and withdrawn from the NSW position, Blues officials are in a bind. Do they continue their stance and hire a relatively inexperienced coach, or do they perform something of a backflip – but one which might snare them a premiership winner?

Gould, who said he had found coaching the Blues easier while in charge of a club, believed the net needed to be cast over the best coaches, not just those with no club links. ”I’m not telling the NSW Rugby League who to pick, I’m just saying if the current model excludes coaches like Ricky Stuart, Des Hasler and John Cartwright, then I suggest the model needs to be looked at,” Gould said. ”The model was created to get Ricky into the job … they did a study and decided it had to be a non-club coach. [But] I don’t know if the model is right if those blokes can’t be considered.

”The other three or four candidates they’ve got – Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler, Trent Barrett, Jim Dymock – these are all non-NRL coaches. I’m just saying it’s a huge ask on those boys, to be thrown into that sort of arena. It’s a pretty daunting exercise.”

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Hasler gets his man – ref gig goes to Archer

The CD is out soon … Manly’s Joe Galuvao, right, will put his musical side on show when a song he has written is performed at this year’s NRL grand final. It is all part of a project involving young artists from south-west Sydney, the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and other NRL players. Here Galuvao is with Minto hiphopper Ivan Zainey.Tony Archer has been appointed to control a Canterbury match for the first time in more than two years on Sunday after Bulldogs coach Des Hasler alerted referees bosses Bill Harrigan and Stuart Raper to the anomaly. Canterbury supporters, who have so far raised $6500 towards the $10,000 fine imposed on Hasler for his criticism of referees last week, advised Sin Bin of the statistic and suggested the rant might have had the desired effect. But Harrigan said it had been decided to appoint Archer to Sunday’s game after Hasler contacted him three weeks ago to point out that one of the game’s top whistleblowers had not controlled a Bulldogs match since round 20, 2010. ”I was very surprised and when I told Tony Archer he was as surprised as I was,” Harrigan said. ”We have spreadsheets so that we make sure every referee goes to Townsville, every referee goes to Auckland and they usually to Skilled Stadium and all those places, but we missed that. After hearing that, he had to go and do a Bulldogs game because he could be refereeing the Bulldogs in the finals but he still had to go and referee a game in Auckland like all the other referees do, and then my plan was for him to do this game.”
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Dogs’ poor omens

Regardless of who referees Canterbury’s remaining four regular season games, Hasler’s men will have to defy history to win the premiership after finishing on the right side of the penalty count in just three matches this season. According to statistics unearthed by long-time Canterbury supporter and season ticket holder Ian Camlett, who began the campaign for fans to pledge $100 each towards Hasler’s fine, no team that has won fewer than eight penalty counts in a season has triumphed on grand final day since 1980. ”The more I look at these statistics the more I can see why Hasler is alarmed,” Camlett told Sin Bin.

Gal the choir boy

Cronulla captain Paul Gallen’s reputation as one of the most penalised NRL players is no longer warranted, with the NSW and Australian star earning the wrath of referees just twice this season. The Sharks are statistically the most disciplined team in the NRL after conceding the least penalties (88) and losing just two penalty counts all season.

Stuart’s tough spot

Ricky Stuart has been placed in an awkward position after standing down as Blues coach, with NSWRL officials seeking his opinion to help decide who should replace him next season. Stuart has a good relationship with all of the main contenders – Trent Barrett, Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler and Jim Dymock – and has worked closely with each of them during the past two Origin campaigns so he would be reluctant to choose. Another candidate, Steve Folkes, who applied this week, shares the same manager as Stuart, John Fordham. It is no suprise, therefore, that he suggested Phil Gould, but the Panthers supremo doesn’t have the time to be a full-time NSW coach. With two of next season’s three matches to be played at Suncorp Stadium, whoever is given the task of stopping Queensland from winning an eighth consecutive series faces a baptism of fire.

England calling

Penrith prop Mitch Achurch has his sights set on playing for England in next year’s World Cup after signing a four-year deal with Leeds Rhinos. Achurch, who turned down offers from the Panthers and Manly, qualifies to play for England through his London-born mother. ”It was obviously a big decision for me but my mum still has a lot of family in England and this feels like the right decision for me,” the 24-year-old said. “My first focus is … doing my best for Leeds Rhinos but obviously with my heritage that would make me available for England and the World Cup next year.”

Regular service

Channel Nine’s decision to move last Friday night’s Roosters-Dragons clash to its digital channel Gem due to the Olympics had a significant impact on ratings for the NRL, with the match watched by just 291,000 viewers, 177,000 of them in Sydney. Tonight’s Souths-Manly game will be back on the main channel.

Magpies’ big night

Wests Magpies will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the club’s move to Campbelltown by naming a best team of the era at their annual Hall of Fame dinner on August 25. Besides inducting three new players into the hall, the evening will also be a tribute to the late Keith Holman. Tickets are $95 or $900 for a table of 10 and can be bought at Wests Leagues Club Campbelltown, online at www.proticket南京夜网.au or by phoning 1300 12 10 12.

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Broadcast rights might not be sealed before old deal runs dry

NOW the ARL Commission is approaching what is being termed the ”struggle” stage of the broadcast rights negotiations, chairman John Grant has raised the prospect of no new deal being signed by the time money from this contract dries up.
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In the pursuit of the ”right outcome”, Grant said all possibilities had been explored. And while it is expected the administration will have a new deal by November 1, he said the game was sustainable even if the windfall from the new deal were delayed.

”It’s something that we’re not going to drive any faster than we need to to get the right outcome,” Grant said yesterday. ”We’re pursuing it as quickly as we can. It would be nice to have all i’s dotted, all t’s crossed and money flying by the first of November, which is the end of the current broadcast rights, but if that doesn’t happen, we can sustain ourselves for some considerable time after that. We’ve got to get the right outcome.”

If there are delays, there are implications for the clubs. They have been told to expect a salary cap of $5 million next season, but there is still uncertainty about the level of the player payment ceiling beyond that. Some players might hold off signing long-term with their clubs, as they wait for a concrete idea of the money on offer. Grant, though, stressed that, ”We’ve given the clubs pretty clear guidelines on what we believe they should be basing their planning around, and we’re all moving from the same process.”

He is also prepared to be patient about the search for a new chief executive, despite the public thirst for a quick appointment. He also raised the prospect of a short-term boss – although he did not clarify what sort of timeframe he meant. ”We’ve gone to the second stage of that process, which is identifying a shortlist of candidates. We’re in the process of interviewing that shortlist,” Grant said. ”We’re not under pressure to make a hasty decision.”

The commission met officials from the four western Sydney clubs in Parramatta yesterday, with Grant saying the administration was intent on a less ”fragmented” approach in the region. ”The economy of western Sydney is growing at an amazing rate, and rugby league needs to be a part of that growth,” Grant said.

The commission decided next year’s City-Country match would be played at Coffs Harbour, while plans for a Nines tournament in New Zealand in 2014 would continue to be reviewed. The commissioners have also ended any prospect of North Queensland halfback Robert Lui playing again this season, prompting an angry response from the Cowboys.

Lui had been banned from playing in April after pleading guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm to his partner Taleah Backo. The Cowboys had attempted to convince the ARLC he should be able to play again this year, due to favourable reports from a psychologist, but that plea was rejected. ”We are very disappointed with the decision,” Cowboys chief executive Peter Jourdain said in a statement. ”The psychologist who has been working with Robert for many months is of the very firm view that Robert is now at the point where playing football is a very important part of his rehabilitation.”

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