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Darling, Selwood set to miss Round 1

Written By malwan milad on Sabtu, 24 Januari 2015 | 23.51

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WEST Coast coach Adam Simpson has all but conceded forward Jack Darling and on-baller Scott Selwood will miss Round 1 of the AFL season.

Darling, 22, was given approval to increase his training levels this week as he recovers from a stress fracture in his right foot, but the Eagles boss is cautious of any possible return to playing for the athletic big man.

Selwood, 24, made a brief appearance with light running at training early this week but also appears unlikely to play any summer NAB Challenge games.

NIC NAT: I'VE GOT A POINT TO PROVE

"I'm not sure about Round 1, but they've all had good news this week," Simpson said.

"So we've got a progression that we were hoping for but it's very early days.

Simpson played down likelihood of losing two key stars with almost a full list of Eagles training this week.

Jack Darling is recovering from a right foot stress fracture. Picture: Calum Robertson Source: News Corp Australia

He denied any crisis surrounding Darling and Selwood's return.

Darling has missed just five games over his four AFL seasons while Selwood was sidelined for 10 matches last season with his ankle problem

"No, we should have around 40 training next week out of 46, which I think is a pretty healthy list," he said.

"What we've had is some players on different programs and getting everyone back onto the same page is the phase we're going through at the moment."

Gritty midfield all-rounder Mark Hutchings is another Eagle headed for a late start to the home-and-away season.

Hutchings, 23, is recovering from groin surgery.

Mark Hutchings is recovering from groin surgery. Picture: Sarah Reed Source: News Corp Australia

"Take out those three guys and we're pretty clean, it's just that those three guys are pretty important."

"It's too hard to tell and the injuries that all three of them have are all unique and everyone is different in how they recover," Simpson said.

"It's fair to say that all of them are progressing toward starting to run.

"They've just been walking for the past three months and now they can proceed to a next phase in recovery with our medical guys."

Simpson doesn't shy away from expectations that West Coast can play finals this year.

"It's tough, there's probably about eight teams in our position where there's a strong chance you'll play finals," he said.

"The difference between sixth and 10th last year wasn't much."


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Simpson’s way or highway for Eagles

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ADAM Simpson played in premiership teams under a ruthless Denis Pagan and has worked alongside triple Hawthorn flag architect Alastair Clarkson.

But heading into his second season at West Coast he wants to be his own man.

"From what I have learned over the first 12 months, you've just got to be yourself," a typically humble Simpson told The Sunday Times this week.

NIC NAT: I'VE GOT A POINT TO PROVE

"I can't be anyone else. It would be a big issue if you left the game and you tried to be someone that you're not.

"I had Dean Laidley for seven years and he was a special kind of coach as well in terms of his footy brain.

"As much as I admire the coaches I worked under or with, I've got to do it my own way."

Adam Simpson worked with and under high-profile coaches like Denis Pagan and Alastair Clarkson. Source: News Corp Australia

The Eagles coach predicts a more stable starting combination in 2104. He expects the performances of Nic Naitanui, Scott Lycett, Chris Masten, Luke Shuey, Andrew Gaff, Jeremy McGovern and eventually injured duo Scott Selwood and Jack Darling to be the club's barometer this season.

"They're the next era that must form the frontline of performances at our club," Simpson said.

The Eagles boss confidently tipped vast improvement from the heavily-criticised midfield and declared Beau Waters the "unknown" in West Coast's premiership hopes.

Simpson expects to bridge the gap between best and worst last season when West Coast failed to beat a top eight outfit in an 11-11 first up return to finish ninth — the fifth time the Eagles have missed September in their past seven seasons.

The Eagles suffered seven losses by 19 points and fewer, including four defeats in single point tallies.

"I don't think we fell away necessarily," Simpson said.

Adam Simpson's West Coast Eagles fell short of making the finals in 2014. Picture: Calum Robertson Source: News Corp Australia

"I don't think our losing margins were blowouts, it's that when we got challenged against good opposition we didn't meet the challenges.

"The next phase for us is to continue to perform well when we expect to and then to meet the challenge of serious teams.

"I won't get into the aspect of flat-track bullies and all that sort of stuff.

"It's beating teams that are above us and that's or next step and to continue to do what we do against where expectations are we will perform well against."

Simpson flagged prospects that playing three ruckmen as well as key forward Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling would be repeated.

And an emotional early playing return from inspirational defender Waters is on the cards.

If West Coast played this week, the injury-ravaged 2006 premiership back liner would be in the starting 18, said Simpson.

Waters, 28, is making a final fling after another reconstruction in his battle weary shoulder.

Beau Waters is a strong chance to return from injury in the NAB Challenge. Source: News Limited

He is a standout performer over this summer and has been conspicuous with trademark run and dash from backward of centre alongside new captain Shannon Hurn since returning from Christmas holidays.

Waters started his rehabilitation last June and resumed training when the first to fifth year contract list members started back on November 5.

Simpson compares the courageous defender to his revered North Melbourne teammate Glenn Archer.

"Beau's our unknown," Simpson said.

"He's training at a level that is really high in terms of time on the track and his GPS and we're just now going into some more competitive drills and he's doing them pretty easily. But we haven't thrown him in the deep end and I don't want him to until as late as we can.

"He reminds me of Arch and he played 300 games."

Simpson predicted Waters to return during the NAB Challenge.

Anticipated returns from Sharrod Wellingham and Elliot Yeo adds pace and depth to a midfield division that Simpson expects to be more stable than last season.

Wellingham, 26, made just 13 appearances last year after just 10 games in 2013 after crossing from Collingwood.

West Coast coach Adam Simpson believes his midfield will improve in 2015. Source: News Corp Australia

"I've heard a few people talk about our trade period and what we were attempting to get, but we feel we can evolve what we've got and develop some youth as well," Simpson said.

"We drafted in that direction and the kids will take time.

"I think playing under the same coaches for another year we will see some benefit in some output.

"To be honest we didn't get a good run at getting them all together.

"We lost Yeo when we just had moved him into the midfield last year and we lost him with his broken wrist.

"It's an area we need to work on, no doubt. We feel like we're seeing some progression.

Simpson confessed the best is yet to come from Wellingham, who is injury-free and in full training, as well as Naitanui.

The polarising big man is completing his finest and only first pre-season program since being drafted in 2008.

"I certainly haven't seen the best of Wellingham and I think he'd be the first to admit that as well." Simpson said.

West Coast's Nic Naitanui is expected to significantly increase his productivity on last season. Picture: Stewart Allen Source: News Corp Australia

"He has got the profile to play midfield and developing him into the midfielder that I want to see is what we're working on and the modern day game."

Simpson expects Naitanui to significantly increase his productivity on last season when he averaged 12 disposals, 22 hit-outs and nine contested possessions in 20 games.

"He hasn't done everything and he never will, but Nic's given himself every opportunity to perform better and to perform at a level that we all hope he performs at," Simpson said.

"He rides the wave of expectation more than anyone, but at least now he's had a really look at a pre-season and continuity with training and connection with our other forwards and midfielders.

"So I'm hoping that we can see a consistency at another level."

Simpson gave clear indication he is unlikely to persist with a strategy of playing three ruckmen in his starting 22 with Naitanui, Lycett and Callum Sinclair all secure on the list following the retirement of champion big man Dean Cox.

It was at cumbersome last season as Simpson and his support coaches experimenting with three burly big men in his outfit as well as Kennedy and Darling up forward.

"I think you'll see a more settled team, still flexible.

"They know their roles better now and how to execute their role better than last year."


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REPLAY: Djokovic flies by Fernando

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NOVAK Djokovic has showed rivals he is nearing his best with a clinical straight-sets win over Fernando Verdasco on Rod Laver Arena..

After a marathon first set lasting an hour, Djokovic took control of the match and eventually won 7-6 (10-8) 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 21 minutes.

The four-time champ was buoyant after his win, even getting the crowd to join him in singing Happy Birthday to his mother.

UPSET: KEYS STUNS KVITOVA

His win capped a largely successful day for the tournament's big names.

However there was one major upset in the women's draw, with American teenager Madison Keys stunning Petra Kvitova in the final match of the night.

Keys, who earlier this week eliminated Aussie Casey Dellacqua, won 6-4 7-5 in an impressive display of power hitting, in the process giving fans a glimpse at the next generation of women's tennis.

RECAP THE DAY 6 ACTION IN OUR BLOG BELOW

David Ferrer survived an epic contest against Frenchman Gilles Simon to win in four sets in a cracking match on Margaret Court Arena.

The Spanish No.9 seed won 6-2 7-5 5-7 7-6 in a match lasting more than three-and-a-half hours.

No.5 seed Kei Nishikori had less trouble disposing of Steve Johnson. Not even the presence of the man who shares Johnson's name — star Geelong footballer Steve Johnson — in his courtside box could inspire the American who found the emerging Nishikori too consistent.

Meanwhile, former champion Victoria Azarenka moved into the fourth round with a comfortable straight sets victory today.

Azarenka, unseeded in 2015 after a disappointing end to last season, needed just the two sets to dispatch Czech 25th seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-4 6-4.

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Azarenka will face off against last year's finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the round of 16.

Another former champion, Stan Wawrinka, is into the fourth round after a comfortable straight-sets win over Finn Jarkko Nieminen.

Wawrinka won 6-4 6-2 6-4 in 1 hour 49 minutes to continue his superb form at Melbourne Park. He will now play Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who beat Canadian Vasek Pospisil.

Also in the men's draw, Canadian Milos Raonic made light work of Benjamin Becker on Hisense Arena winning 6-4 6-3 6-3.

Earlier, world No. 1 Serena Williams powered into the round of 16 despite dropping the first set against Elina Svitolina 4-6 6-2 6-0.

Williams wasted no time eliminating Svitolina, the 26th seed, after dropping the first set.

The five-time Australian Open champion said she drew inspiration from older sister Venus fighting back early to win in three sets.

Agnieszka Radwanska wins in straight sets. Picture: Tim Carrafa Source: News Corp Australia

Williams said she was "distraught" walking out on Rod Laver Arena with her sister down a set and a break against Camila Giorgi on Margaret Court Arena.

And it showed with Svitolina making the most of Williams's sluggish start to win the first set.

But Williams responded in style taking out the second and third sets comfortably.

Meanwhile, Agnieszka Radwanska moved through to the fourth round after her straight sets victory over Varvara Lepchenko 6-0 7-6.

The world No. 6 made her presence felt early, blanking Lepchenko 6-0 in the first set on Rod Laver Arena.

But the American refused to lay down, breaking back late in the second set to extend the match.

Not to be outdone, Radwanska broke her rival to book her spot in the round of 16.

Venus Williams also progressed from her three-set victory over Italian pocket dynamo Camila Giorgi.

Venus Williams powered through her third round match after dropping the first set. Picture: Getty Source: Getty Images


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Sale ‘close’ to new Cipriani deal

Danny Cipriani is in line to sign a new deal with Sale. Picture: Supplied Source: AFP

DANNY Cipriani is in line to sign a new deal with Sale, the English Premiership side said overnight.

England fly-half Cipriani has been linked with a potentially lucrative move to French and European champions Toulon.

But the decision of England coach Stuart Lancaster to revive the 27-year-old's stop-start Test career by including him in his initial Six Nations training squad earlier this week, and so boost Cipriani's chances of featuring at the World Cup later this year, has made a move to France's Top 14 less attractive.

Sale expect Danny Cipriani to extend his stay with them. Picture: Supplied Source: AFP

Cipriani is currently in the third and final season of his Sale contract but Steve Diamond, the northwest side's director of rugby, is confident he will stay put.

"It is not signed on the dotted line yet, but it will be over the next three to four days," Diamond told Britain's Daily Telegraph.

"We are very close to agreeing terms as we speak. We are just crossing the T's and dotting the I's over Danny's career at Sale," he added.

Sale, presently eighth in the 12-strong Premiership table, have been seen as an 'unfashionable' club but Diamond was optimistic Cipriani would not leave for one of their domestic rivals.

"I have confirmed to him that we are ambitious and want to be more than a top-six side over the next few years and he believes in that, believes in what we are doing and the crowds are building as we want them to," he said.

Cipriani will be a big fish in a small pond at Sale rather than a Harlem Globetrotter with Toulon according to Steve Diamond. Picture: Supplied Source: AFP

"There's a lot of conjecture about what other clubs spend, but what we spend is linked to what comes through the gate. If we can continue to get 8500 and 10,000 crowds then we can be ambitious as the rest and that's what Danny wanted to hear."

Cipriani joined Sale from the Melbourne Rebels and earned an England recall last for last year's tour of New Zealand, in which he made two appearances to take his caps haul to nine — a meagre return given he made his Test debut in 2008.

Speculation about a move to France intensified after he didn't play in any of England's November internationals.

Diamond said now was not the time for Cipriani to join Toulon, explaining he was better off being the fulcrum of Sale's attack rather than just another cog in the French side's star-studded wheel." To a certain extent it is good to be a big fish in a small pond rather than joining Toulon where you are a Harlem Globetrotter," Diamond explained.


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Buzz: Todd Carney direct from the UK

Todd Carney in his Catalans kit. Source: Supplied

RUGBY league fans can watch Todd Carney's first game in the English Super League live on Fox Sports. In a great new deal, the pay TV network will show three games live every week from the UK.

The comp starts on February 6 with Wigan against Widnes. The next day Carney's Catalans Dragons play Nathan Brown's old team, premiers St Helens, at 7am.

Several other ex-NRL stars are playing Super League, including Terry Campese, Willie Tonga, Matt Bowen and Ashton Sims.

GOULD'S BOY A SHARKIE

THE Phil Gould bloodlines live on in rugby league.

Gus' son, Jack Gould, has been selected in the Cronulla Sharks' Harold Matthews squad, made up of the best and most promising under-16 players in the shire.

Jack is a tall, strapping centre from Gymea Gorillas with the same reddish hair his old man had as a rookie player at the Panthers in the late 70s.

"He's very athletic and he's a determined kid," says Sharks coach Shane Flanagan.

Young Jack has a good pedigree. His dad was obviously a handy player and we hear mum was a talented netballer, too.

SEA BIRDS SETTLE ON THEIR SEASON LINE-UP

Manly cheer girls. Source: Supplied

Rugby league's oldest cheer squad, the Manly Seabirds, held auditions yesterday for their 21st season at Brookvale Oval. Monique Carroll, wife of former front-rower Mark Spud Carroll, had the difficult task of finding the best dancers among these stunning young ladies for the Sea Eagles' home games in 2015.

SAINT

THE extraordinary skill of Timmy Cahill with his two spectacular goals for the Socceroos in the Asian Cup quarter-final. He is a champion.

SINNER

DAVE Warner. I like the idea of cricket introducing a yellow card to keep loudmouth mugs under control.

SHOOSH

IT'S just as well one of the biggest stars of the Aussie sporting summer is on massive coin. The guy has lost a fortune punting on the horses, concerning his entourage to the point where they want him to get some counselling.

SHOOSH II

Eels coach Brad Arthur. Source: News Corp Australia

WHICH club has made discreet inquiries about Brad Arthur's future at the Parramatta Eels?

SPOTTED

SOCCER boss David Gallop and Aussie batsman Steve Smith enjoying a beer and chat at Justin Hemmes' flash new Coogee Pavilion.

SPOTTED II

MANLY'S off-contract halfback Daly Cherry- Evans having dinner with Titans coach Neil Henry at Leichhardt's Grappa restaurant. No prizes for guessing topic of conversation.

GAME OF NEW HALVES

MEANWHILE, Manly boss Joe Kelly made discreet inquiries about Souths halfback Adam Reynolds in case they lose either Kieran Foran or Cherry-Evans. It's probably too late because we're told Reynolds is on the verge of signing a new deal with the Rabbitohs.

SUTTON IMPACT

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SURELY there is more to the sacking of John Sutton as South Sydney captain than the Rabbitohs are prepared to tell us. No coach would sack a grand final-winning captain unless something had happened. We applaud Greg Inglis' promotion but surely he could have been made co-captain, as Sam Burgess was.

DEPUTY DO-LITTLE?

SHANE Richardson's appointment at the NRL is a good one, providing the head office with much-needed footy experience. Still, it leaves one question ... if Richo is in charge of setting up a rookie draft, expansion, the next TV deal and overseeing "the future blueprint of the game" can someone explain what Suzanne Young will do in her $600,000-a-year role as Dave Smith's new deputy.

SUPER BOWL BUZZ

WANT to find out if Jarryd Hayne can conquer the NFL? Want to know what position Hayne should play? Here is your chance to ask Australia's NFL legend Colin Scotts. Scotts, who played for Arizona Cardinals and Houston Oilers, will be guest speaker at the Royal Oak Hotel, Double Bay, on Monday week for the NFL Super Bowl. Your columnist is off to Super Bowl XLIX to write next Sunday's column from Phoenix Arizona courtesy of ESPN.

SOCCEROOS ARE THE SMASH HITS

Tim Cahill of Australia celebrates a goal. Source: News Corp Australia

TIMMY Cahill and the Socceroos have narrowly knocked off tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt in an enthralling head-to-head TV ratings battle.

On Thursday night, in an absolute smorgasbord for armchair fans, the Socceroos (ABC and Fox Sports) went up against the Australian Open (Channel 7) and a Big Bash thriller (Channel 10) in the most competitive sports ratings battle on one night for years.

Between 9.30pm, when the Socceroos started against China, and 10.15pm when Hewitt was bundled out at Rod Laver Arena, the round ball game had an average audience of 967,000, just 28,000 more than the tennis.

Over at Moore Park, where Brett Lee was playing his SCG farewell game, Channel 10 was rating 432,000.

Your columnist, and many others, spent the night channel surfing, trying to follow it all.

Interestingly, Channel 7's ratings dropped 300,000 when Sam Stosur replaced Hewitt on centre court. Around the same time, Channel 10 picked up an extra 100,000 viewers as the Sixers stormed home for a thrilling last-ball victory.

The ratings win was a huge result for Australian soccer officials looking for a major sponsor for the national team.

Amazingly, in China the audience peaked at 32 million viewers for the quarter-final on a cable network.

ANNA A TOUGH LOSS FOR NRL

THE NRL lost one of its finest assets over the Christmas break with the departure of Anna Wallin from the media department. This follows the loss of another talented media department worker, Tracie Edmondson, last year.

So much for women in league!

Wallin was as grassroots as you can get. She had no interest in the politics of the game, the scandal, the spin doctoring or negativity.

Like Edmondson, every day Wallin kept pumping out positive stories and was a tireless campaigner for the Women in League Round, the Jillaroos, the indigenous All-stars and bush football while some others around them were only concerned about protecting the image of chief executive Dave Smith.

WATSON AND PUP IN SCG ARGUMENT

Michael Clarke and Shane Watson talk. Source: Getty Images

THE big rumour doing the rounds at the SCG Test involved an apparent disagreement between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. The story goes that Watson was fuming about Clarke highlighting his footwork problems while commentating for Channel Nine at the Boxing Day Test. In fairness to Clarke, he was only doing what Channel Nine was paying him to do — providing a fair and honest insight and analysis into each day of the Test. Sometimes our cricketers can get precious.

FAIRY'S MATES RALLY

FORMER Roosters glamour boy Russell Fairfax has been battling poor health. The wonderful Men of League is on to the case and hope to organise a fundraiser to assist with medical costs. Roosters supremo Nick Politis is helping out, too. Fairfax has a stack of old mates in rugby union, league and the media.

SPUDD'S TAH-RIFFIC

MARK Carroll is branching out into rugby union with his fitness business. Waratahs coach Michael Cheika sends his injured players to Carroll to keep them in shape. Carroll, once Russell Crowe's bodyguard, is celebrating 10 years as fitness instructor at Spudd's gymnasium in Woolloomooloo.


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AB world’s best in all three formats

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AB de Villiers' remarkable innings last Sunday only confirmed what I have thought for at least a year: He's the best cricketer in the world in all three forms of the game.

Sure, claims can be made for fellow keeper-batsman Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakarra, Indian talisman Virat Kohli and our own Michael Clarke but de Villiers stands behind only Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar as the best I have played with or against.

I rate Ponting the best batsman of the modern era, but with de Villiers only 30, there's time for that pecking order to change.

149 OFF 144: HOW AB REWROTE RECORD BOOK

WILLIS: DE VILLIERS 'BETTER THAN BRADMAN'

The SA skipper's record-breaking one-day international knock of 149 off 44 balls at Johannesburg's "Bull Ring" against a powerless West Indies attack proved just what a nightmare he is to captain against.

Wherever you put the fielders he will hit it where they aren't. You can plan to bowl wide yorkers and have fielders protecting the off side and he's good enough to manipulate the field. That takes a lot of talent and skill.

AB de Villiers smashed the fastest ever one-day century off just 31 balls. Source: Getty Images

Marry that talent with a great cricket brain — he assesses the game brilliantly — and you have the complete package. AB can play any role the team needs.

I recall the 2012 drawn Adelaide Test when he helped Faf du Plessis (110 not out) deny us what seemed a certain final day win. The pair batted for time and we couldn't get through their defences. De Villiers spent a touch over four hours at the crease in soaking up 220 deliveries for his boundary-less 33 runs.

Less than three years earlier at Cape Town I witnessed him become only the third batsman in Test crickets to hit four consecutive sixes (sorry Andrew McDonald) as the Proteas chased a declaration in an eventual innings victory over Australia.

When I first started playing against him our plan was try and get him out early bowled or LBW but as his mental strength has developed it's became a case of keeping it tight and hoping he makes a mistake.

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There's no question de Villiers' new record for the fastest ODI ton (31 balls) can be broken at this World Cup and the batsman most likely to do it is him, given the right conditions and situation.

Despite de Villiers blitzkrieg and Rohit Sharma's record-high ODI score of 264 in November, I still think the one-day game is a fair contest between bat and ball. Innings such as these are anomalies.

I agree the flatter pitches, fast outfields, fielding restrictions and bigger bats have aided batsman, while the introduction of Twenty20 has widened their range of strokes. The shots de Villiers was hitting off the Windies quicks into The Wanderers' stands last Sunday you would not have seen 10 years ago.

But the bowlers too have developed new skills, such as the slow bouncer and wide yorker.

Unfortunately if they just miss the batsmen are that good now they can smack them out of the park, as de Villiers showed last Sunday.


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Rosberg: Vettel will see tail lights

Nico Rosberg expects a title duel with Lewis Hamilton but not Sebastian Vettel. Picture: Harold Cunningham Source: Harold Cunningham / Getty Images

NICO Rosberg expects another Formula One title duel with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton but no challenge from fellow German and four-time former champion Sebastian Vettel, who is now at Ferrari.

Rosberg told Germain newspaper Bild that he is highly optimistic ahead of the season starting on March 15 in Melbourne, after three rounds of testing beginning February 1.

Rosberg doesn't believe that Ferrari can turn around their fortunes despite getting Vettel from Red Bull. Picture: Clive Mason/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

"I am fully optimistic and believe it will the duel Lewis against me again," Rosberg said.

Mercedes totally dominated the 2014 season in which Hamilton beat Rosberg for his second career world title. Mercedes also won the constructors' list, ahead of Red Bull, surprise team Williams and Ferrari.

Rosberg named Red Bull and Williams big rivals again but doesn't believe that Ferrari can turn around their fortunes despite getting Vettel from Red Bull.

Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP locks up approaching turn two next to Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP during the Russian Formula One Grand Prix 2014. Picture: Paul Gilham/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

Rosberg said changes can't be achieved overnight, as he knows from experience at Mercedes who struggled for several years before their breakthrough.

Ferrari have not won a race since 2013, their last constructors' title was 2008 and the last drivers' title (from Kimi Raikkonen) 2007.

Rosberg: "Sebastian will see my tail lights on many occasions." Picture: Paul Gilham/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

"I don't wont to appear arrogant but if I go by the 2014 results I can risk it all and say no to a Ferrari challenge although one should never fully write them off," Rosberg said.

"Sebastian will see my tail lights on many occasions."


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Did selections cost Socceroos top spot?

Written By malwan milad on Sabtu, 17 Januari 2015 | 23.51

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IN the Socceroos' eyes, they created enough chances to win a hatful of games. Indeed, Australia's 23 shots on target at the Asian Cup compares to 28 from the rest of Group A combined.

But the tale of the tape shows Ange Postecoglou's side succumb 1-0 to a very well organised, stubborn South Korean outfit and the path to continental glory will now likely see paths cross with Japan one round earlier than many green and gold fans will have hoped, should the hosts prevail past China in the quarter-final in Brisbane on Thursday.

Had one of those many chances gone in, no one would be discussing the selections. But the inevitability is that the decision to start the first choice front three on the bench, while running the yellow card gauntlet with Mathew Spiranovic, now becomes a focal point of the Socceroos' analysis.

Have your say in the comments field at the foot of the page.

The intensity went up a gear on the previous two group matches but Uli Stielike's game plan, plus a lack of killer punch despite the 63 per cent possession, 13 shots on target and 451 passes completed (compared to 160 from South Korea), saw the hosts come up short.

VIDEO: THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED IN SOCCEROOS LOSS

PLAYER RATINGS: CAST YOUR VOTE IN OUR INTERACTIVE GRADES

AS-IT-HAPPENED: RELIVE THE ACTION FROM SUNCORP STADIUM

ANALYSIS: SOCCEROOS' WAKE-UP CALL

ANGE SLAMS PITCH, BACKS SELECTION

"(It was a) nail biting second-half. I thought we completely controlled it," Mark Bosnich said on the Fox Sports post game show.

"We were very unlucky not to get a point. We had all the possession but in certain instances in the last third the quality wasn't quite there like it was in (the other two games)."

There's little cause for alarm; the heat and standard of the pitch made life difficult, but after the glow of the first two games, the loss is a disappointing chink in the Socceroos' journey.

John Aloisi said: "They came up with a game plan to frustrate the Australians and they did that.

"When we moved the ball slowly … we struggled to break them down until Kruse came on.

"We did hurt them a few times in transition, but we were unlucky not to get a draw out of that game. Even though the Koreans defended well, we deserved more because their goalkeeper was outstanding."

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We run the rule over the Socceroos 1-0 loss:

GOALKEEPER

The centre of attention after being linked to Liverpool during the week, Mat Ryan's distribution remains impeccable and he made a superb one-on-one in the dying stages.

While he couldn't be faulted for the goal, former Socceroos goalkeeper Bosnich noted that since he hedged forward and tried to cut out the cross from the left, but didn't, he may have been better off staying on his line to try make a reflex save.

GRADE: B

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DEFENCE

On a physical, busy night for the defence, it was the toughest test of the tournament yet.

There was some excellent scrambling and Spiranovic and Sainsbury won plenty in the air but the group failed miserably at the key moment in the 32nd minute, when South Korea tore the right side of the defence apart.

Former Socceroos defender Sasa Ognenovski said on Fox Sports: "(There was a) lack of communication (for the goal).

How the Socceroos were caught out of shape for the goal. Source: FoxSports

"All of them take a man each and the problem is solved."

Bosnich added: "The three Australian players were just watching the ball, no one keeping their eye on the man."

Aziz Behich and Ivan Franjic got through a mountain of work and tried desperately to create an offensive outlet out wide for the side when creativity was lacking through a crowded middle. Their service was a mixed bag, but they certainly worked their socks off.

GRADE: B-

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MIDFIELD

Australia's tempo and energy against Oman and Kuwait was noticeable, but South Korea made it extremely difficult for the Socceroos to reach full fluency with a brilliant game plan.

Sung-Yueng Ki and Joo-Ho Park made sure it was difficult for Australia's defence to link forward to Mark Milligan and Matt McKay, and it took enormous vision for Mass Luongo or James Troisi to squeeze themselves into pockets between the lines.

South Korea made it hard for Australia to play out. Source: FoxSports

While Australia tried to harass and force turnovers, with more success late in the game, to try and attack South Korea when they weren't set, the final touch wasn't there to seal the deal.

Massimo Luongo was again the catalyst with a couple of surging runs, although without the same impact as against Oman and Kuwait.

"When we won the ball back and played it forward quickly in transition (we looked dangerous)," Aloisi said.

"When they (South Korea) got into position, we found it a lot harder to break them down."

Skipper Mile Jedinak will be a welcome addition to the side against China.

GRADE: C+

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ATTACK

It was a big opportunity for Nathan Burns, Tomi Juric and James Troisi. Plenty was created, but the finished product wasn't there.

Burns was particularly dangerous when he was able to get into trademark positions to weave into the box and Troisi had a glorious first-half chance to level proceedings on the back of a Luongo pass.

Juric found himself in the right areas to nab the equaliser, but couldn't produce his deftest touch or finish when called the key moments came. He did, however, provide a fabulous link for the best chance of the game, a one-two that saw Kruse burst clear on goal.

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When Postecoglou turned to his heavyweights off the bench, the Socceroos pounded South Korea's goal. But chasing the game, with white shirts camped in retreat in a claustrophobic attacking third, it was not enough to carve open their resolute rear-guard.

"(There wasn't much wrong) until we got until the final third," Ognenovski assessed.

"The delivery played into the Koreans' hands – they had numbers in the box. Maybe (we could) look to get to the byline and cut the ball back to the edge of the 18 (yard-box).

"I don't think we had that creativity tonight.

"Mass Luongo looked a bit flat from the outset. Probably a Bresh (Mark Bresciano) coming on and playing that No.10 role (would have provided a spark)."

GRADE: C+


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Hewitt optimistic after Open draw

Lleyton Hewitt is optimistic about this year's Australian Open. Source: Wayne Ludbey / News Corp Australia

AUSTRALIAN Open dreamer Lleyton Hewitt has admitted to some relief at finally ending his horror run of seeded first-round opponents.

Hewitt suffered first-round defeats at the hands of seeded players like Janko Tipsarevic and David Nalbandian in four of his past six Opens, but will face Chinese wildcard Zhang Ze on Tuesday.

"It's nice not to play one of the real top guys," Hewitt said on Saturday.

"But you've got to be prepared to play anyone. I try not to worry about it leading into the draw obviously.

"He's a dangerous player. He swings from the hip on a lot of shots. He's got a good serve, nice forehand, backhand and likes changing direction off both sides."

Hewitt still dreams of winning his home Open, but the veteran isn't making any bold predictions on the eve of this grand slam tilt.

Lleyton Hewitt will take it a match at a time. Source: News Corp Australia

Turning 34 next month, the former world No. 1 is long odds to achieve that goal, but is determined to enter his campaign for a third grand slam title with a positive mindset.

"When you start the tournament, that dream's still there for everyone, the 128 of us that are in the draw," Hewitt said.

"Nothing changes in that aspect. Over the years I think I pride myself on not looking too far ahead anyway.

"Even when I was No. 1 in the world, I always played every match on its merits, gave the utmost respect to my opponents, who I had to play.

"I've said it so many times — it's a matter of trying to get through the first week of a grand slam."

Despite his advanced years, Hewitt isn't entering his 19th straight Open thinking it will be his last.

"I think once those thoughts sort of enter your mind it can probably distract you and be a little bit of a negative influence when you're trying to perform at your best out there," he said.

"I'm that big a competitor. I think once I hit the match court out there my focus will basically be on the one-on-one aspect and to try to get the best out of myself."


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Phil Gould set to quit Panthers

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PHIL Gould is close to walking away from his role as Penrith general manager.

When Gould took the job in 2011, the Panthers were close to rock bottom.

In the four years since, he has helped rebuild the club as a genuine premiership contender while overhauling the off-field operations.

Now, he says his job is nearing completion — and once that day arrives he will walk away from the club he captained as a 20-year-old in 1978 and coached to its first premiership in 1991.

Gould is contracted to the club until the end of 2017, but he hasn't ruled out leaving earlier if all goes to plan.

Phil Gould has overhauled the Panthers. Source: News Corp Australia

"My aim is to get to a point where my job becomes redundant and the club moves on, and we're getting close to that," Gould told The Sunday Telegraph.

"But, at the moment, there is still a little way to go and I'll just keep working along and building the club that we want it to be.

"I'd been in the game for 35 years when I arrived back here at Penrith and it's been tremendous for me.

"A lot of that experience, relationships I've built and contacts I've had have been very beneficial for us in the journey and the job we've done so far."

In a wide-ranging interview, Gould also opens up on the pain of letting locally-bred Origin stars ­Michael Jennings and Luke Lewis leave, his relationship with coach Ivan Cleary and the depths of the problems when he first arrived.

Phil Gould was behind the signing of Jamie Soward. Picture Gregg Porteous Source: News Corp Australia

THE FUTURE 

ON the day Gould took over in May 2011, he said it would take five years to rebuild the club.

Based on the Panthers' surge to last year's preliminary final and the emergence of a number of young stars, they are on track to achieve the goal within the ambitious time frame.

Gould's aim is for Penrith to become one of the most prominent sporting organisations in Australia to go with one of the nation's biggest and best sporting precincts.

"It will happen," said Gould, who plans to have a $10 million training and education facility funded by Crown Casino completed by 2017.

"It's not a matter of if, it's when, and we're always working towards that. I'm very comfortable with where we are at the moment with our development processes and where the salary cap is.

"This year we are about to start work on our new rugby league academy and we'll have facilities better than any other.

"We know where we want to be in five years' time and 10 years, so we've got all sorts of plans.

"I've always said the challenge of running a football club is to get short-term results with a long-term plan. Sometimes those short-term plans don't occur for you, but you've got to be on track with your long-term plan.

"That's where we are and my head is still three, four and five years down the track and that never changes, and I never get to an end point.

"My job is to shape what the club will look like in three or four years and that's with the assistance of a lot of people."

There is a new expectation of professionalism at the Panthers. Source: News Corp Australia

CONTRACTS 

THE Panthers have 17 players coming off contract at the end of the season, but Gould said the club had the situation under control.

"I don't think we'll have any trouble retaining the players we want to retain," he said. "Certainly our indications are that all players are keen to remain here.

"We've got a number of off-contract players at the end of this year and again at the end of 2016. But what we are creating here is a club that no one wants to leave and that they are all happy playing here.

"I think the players can sense they are building towards a successful environment that can be very productive for them over a number of years."

Ivan Cleary is doing a stunning job as Penrith coach. Source: News Limited

IVAN CLEARY 

GOULD has always rated Ivan Cleary highly as a coach.

It's why he lured him from the Warriors and it's why Gould believes the former fullback has a job for life at Penrith.

"I can see Ivan being the long-term coach of this club and I don't see an end point to his time here at all," Gould said.

"I think he is very much a part of what we are building and he is also the coach that once it is built, he'll take advantage of it.

"Ivan has been terrific and I said at the time that he was the perfect person for what our club was about to go through.

"I needed a coach who could put up with a couple of tough years and come out the other side.

"I also wanted someone who could buy into a long-term plan and had a reputation and demeanour for handling the short-term results, which I said to him at the time won't be great for a while.

"It was great to see both the coaching staff and the players get rewards for their effort."

Phil Gould let key juniors leave the club. Source: News Corp Australia

LOST STARS 

WHEN Penrith lost Lewis and Jennings it ripped at the heart of every Penrith supporter.

Gould said it was a necessary evil at the time due to significant salary cap and financial pressures, but he has vowed it will not happen again.

"I don't think anyone truly understands what the situation was here at Penrith," said Gould, who had to convince good mate and billionaire James Packer to give the Panthers Group a loan — just days within liquidation of debts amounting to $90 million.

"Anything that we've done at the club in the past was always done in the best long-term interests of the club and so we wouldn't ever have to go through that pain again.

"We never want to have to go through the pain of allowing a Luke Lewis, Michael Jennings, Lachlan Coote and Tim Grant to have to leave the club. But that's been a necessity and decisions that have been made in the best long-term interests of the club, so we can establish within the club so it never has to happen ever again."

ROAD GAMES

A COMBINATION of poor crowd figures, scheduling and a tough financial climate have forced Penrith to move home games away from Sydney, but Gould ­insists Sportingbet Stadium will always be the Panthers' home.

"In our current facility, it's hard to grow this business any bigger than it is," he reasoned. "That's why we've looked at taking a game away to Bathurst for the next five years and we are looking at other opportunities. But you'll never take the Panthers out of Penrith and this is where we are to remain.

"And when we have a stadium where we can make ends meet from the business, then this is where we will be.

"I thought our crowds (last year) were pretty good given the scheduling and the weather.

"I think as our performances improve we'll start to get greater attention from broadcasters and perhaps our draw will become better.

"But we've got to work hard towards that and we'll do what we can.

"There's a financial reality to our business and we've got to make ends meet, and we've got to be financially responsible."

Phil Gould after coaching Penrith to their first grand final Source: News Corp Australia

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN

>> Phil Gould's Panthers career

1976 First-grade debut

1978 Youngest ever Penrith captain at 20

1990 Takes over as coach of the club

1991 Leads Panthers to first premiership

2011 Takes over as club's general manager

THE REBUILDING BLOCKS

2011

Matt Elliott is sacked in April and Steve Georgallis takes over

Georgallis is told he will not be coach in 2012

Petero Civoniceva is allowed to leave

2012

Ivan Cleary signs as coach

Origin stars and local juniors Luke Lewis and Michael Jennings are allowed to leave

Recruitment drive begins with Dean Whare, Sika Manu, Lewis Brown and James Segeyaro among the signings

2013

Club win grand final of the National Youth Competition. Bryce Cartwright and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak graduate to first grade

Penrith Panthers named the most valuable sporting brand in the country, valued at $46.2 million by Brand Finance and Landor Associates

2014

Jamal Idris is signed from the Gold Coast as part of a swap deal with Brad Tighe

Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace and Elijah Taylor join club

Gould signs as GM for four more years

Memberships jump from 6500 to 16,400

Panthers reach preliminary final, losing to the Bulldogs

RISING PRICE OF GOULD

2011 12th

2012 15th

2013 10th

2014 4th


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