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Soward must step up after riding wave of demotion

Dropped: Jamie Soward will start from the bench for the Dragons against the Knights on Saturday night. Photo: John VeageJamie Soward is expected to front at St George Illawarra training on Wednesday morning, ending his short-lived exile from the club. But he does not return as a first-grade player after being dumped to NSW Cup on Tuesday.
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Just two years ago Soward was preparing to make his NSW debut. Now he will take the field for the Illawarra Cutters after coach Steve Price named Chase Stanley to partner Nathan Fien in the halves when the Dragons play Newcastle on Saturday night.

The axing came just a day after Soward was granted a leave of absence from the club. He had arrived at the joint-venture club’s Wollongong base to take part in the team’s usual video session on Monday morning but was given time off after Price consulted Soward and senior players in the aftermath of St George Illawarra’s dramatic 16-14 loss to the Bulldogs last Friday night. Price excused Soward from training for a couple of days ”to clear his head”. The squad had Tuesday off.

St George Illawarra skipper Ben Creagh insisted Soward had the full support of the squad’s senior players despite the premiership-winning five-eighth being dumped to reserve grade for the second time in the space of 12 months.

Speaking only hours before the Dragons confirmed Soward was again NSW Cup-bound, Creagh said: ”He does – 100 per cent. Pricey has given him a couple of days off to clear his head. I’m sure he’ll be at training [on Wednesday] and we’ll get on with it.”

Soward, who will turn out for the Cutters in an NRL curtain raiser against Newcastle on Saturday, has already inked a four-year deal with Penrith from 2014.

His manager Sam Ayoub said Soward had not asked for a mid-season release and would play out the year in Wollongong. Price resisted naming young halfback Josh Drinkwater in first grade or shifting Josh Dugan from fullback. Drinkwater and Soward will pair up in the halves for the Cutters.

Stanley will play five-eighth for the first time in the top grade, with Nathan Green promoted to the centres. Price stressed the entire squad needed to take responsibility for the Dragons’ run of outs.

”We’re all accountable – myself included, and every player that takes the football field,” Price said. ”We’ve got roles to play and it’s important that each individual plays those roles.”

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Meninga to fire up the Maroons machine

It has been suggested Mal Meninga is to rugby league coaching what John Buchanan was to Australian cricket, although with much more substantial thighs.
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In Meninga’s possession is that rarest commodity in sport; not only a group of outright champions but a champion side. Honestly, how hard can it be?

Buchanan was famous for delving into the philosophical and encouraging his players to read extracts from The Art of War. But on the field, the get-out play didn’t require a PhD in psychology: ”Warnie, you bowl at that end, McGrath, you bowl from the other.”

Similarly for Meninga, the virtuosity of his squad has meant his contribution has steadily diminished, or even been criticised by some NSW observers as token. Surely coaching isn’t that difficult when you can just throw it to Greg Inglis, or Billy Slater, or Darren Lockyer, or Johnathan Thurston.

Ask Queensland’s players and the truth couldn’t be further from the perception. Far from a rent-a-legend who bellows a rousing pre-game call to arms, Meninga has become a master motivator and manipulator capable of extracting the last molecule of competitive edge from his playing staff.

With Origin now played by increasingly elite athletes and almost nothing between the sides, it matters. His players say it has been a huge part of their domination of the interstate series, which could stretch to eight in a row should they triumph on Wednesday night and beyond.

”He was a player,” Queensland lock Ash Harrison said. ”He knows what made him tick and what makes us tick. He’s very good at doing those things and he thinks it’s very important for us to know the history of this jersey.

”He never ceases to amaze me with what he comes up with. He seems to push the right buttons every time. It’s one of the things he’s very, very good at.” At the Queensland team announcement, now a gala dinner instead of a media-only event in a dingy hotel space, Meninga was at his best. He assembled members of the 1959 Queensland side, the last to win before the Origin concept in 1980.

Players such as Noel Kelly and Frank Drake stood alongside their present-day counterparts as the 2013 side was called onstage. It was a gesture Meninga had been cooking up since last November.

Meninga has been a picture of relaxation and calm this time around. Zen master Buchanan would be impressed. But as in previous years, behind the scenes, Meninga will have rabbits in his hat.

In series past, when he’s said publicly that NSW taunts meant nothing, his players were then shown DVD of the offending quotes to fuel the fires. He’s had articles pasted on walls and footage of some of the best Origin biffo on rotation.

The now annual trip to regional towns such as Emerald, Bundaberg and Roma has also given players an in-your-face reminder of what the game means to people in the regions. With many of his players growing up in bush towns, it’s not just the fans who benefit.

It all adds to the mix, said Sam Thaiday, but the main ingredient is the man himself. Imposing, deeply respected and an unabashed personification of every Queensland cliche NSW detests, Meninga’s influence over his players is profound.

”If you want to know how good he is as a motivator, you just have to listen to him speak,” Thaiday said. ”We’ve got quite a mix in the coaching staff. We’ve got Steve Walters, who’s a bit of a character, Alfie [Langer], who likes to sling a bit on everyone. But as soon as Mal talks, everyone goes quiet in the room. It doesn’t matter if he’s talking about footy or whatever, everyone shuts up and listens.”

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Origin: it’s back baby

1. State of Origin: A big night for Jarryd Hayne
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Origin is definitely a team game, but I will be particularly interested in the performance of Blues fullback Jarryd Hayne. In recent times, the Parramatta Eels star has developed a real passion for his goal-line defence and has saved several tries for his team with brilliant tackles just when it seemed certain the opposition would score. Winning games is as much about saving tries as scoring them, so I certainly hope Hayne brings this attitude to the big game on Wednesday night. I would also like to see him throw himself into the attacking game to the point of exhaustion. I would like to see Hayne have nothing left in the tank come full-time. If he totally immerses himself in the contest, instead of coasting around waiting for opportunities to present themselves, he can swing the result in his team’s favour.2. Origin: a few facts

The importance of winning game one can never be understated. As an Origin coach, I always placed tremendous emphasis on getting the series opener right. The team that’s won the first game has won 23 of 31 series decided. In series openers at ANZ Stadium, NSW have  won five of six matches. Queensland have won the past four series openers. Since their run of seven consecutive Origin series began in 2007, Queensland have  won the first match on five occasions (NSW won the first game in 2008 but lost that series 2-1). The Maroons have led at half-time in the past  nine matches. ANZ Stadium used to be a fortress for NSW. Not so in recent times though. This is the 20th Origin to be played at ANZ Stadium. NSW have won 13 (including a run of 10 wins and a draw before Queensland registered their first win in 2007. The Maroons have won five of the past  eight at ANZ.3. Origin: Some interesting comparisons

James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce become the 15th different halves combination used by the Blues since 2006. Wow! Look at the combinations NSW has used: Anasta-Finch  2  Gasnier- Gower 1Anasta-Mullen 1  Anasta-Kimmorley 1Bird-Kimmorley 1 Bird-Wallace 2Anasta-Pearce 1 Campese-Wallace  1Barrett-Wallace 1 Barrett-Kimmorley 1Lyon-Kimmorley  1Barrett-Pearce 2Soward-Pearce 3 Carney-Pearce 3

By comparison, Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk are Queensland’s fourth halves partnership in that period. Darren Lockyer and Thurston were together for 15 games; Thurston and Scott Prince for two, and Thurston and Karmichael Hunt for one. The most experienced Origin player on the field on Wednesday is Queensland captain Cameron Smith, playing his 28th match; the most experienced New South Welshmen is Jarryd Hayne (it’s his 17th game).

4. Origin: The bench is vital

When selecting State of Origin teams I always paid particular attention to the makeup of the bench. I think games can be won and lost by the contributions of the players numbered 14-17. Naturally you wanted to cover as many positions as possible with your bench players so injuries during the match to key positions did not pose massive disruptions to the functioning of the team. I also liked my bench players to be 80 minute competitors in their own right. If injury meant they were called upon to carve out 79 minutes in the middle, I needed to know they were capable. I also wanted personalities on the bench who believed they could make a difference. If the starting team was struggling, we needed players who could go out there and turn the tide. If the starting 13 had taken the ascendancy, you wanted your bench players to go out there and ram home the advantage. I hope our NSW bench players understand just how important their role is tonight.

5. Wonderful Warriors

When the Warriors are on song is there a more enjoyable side to watch?  The sublime skills of Feleti Mateo, Johnson and Locke; the raw power of Vatuvei and Hurrell; the four prop rotation of Matalino, Rapira, Packer and Lillyman, which is as good as any in the game, and finally the intestinal fortitude of Nathan Friend and Elijah Taylor in the middle of the ruck. On Monday night against the Broncos, they were firing on all cylinders and were so entertaining. Just three weeks ago though, they were beaten 62-6 by Penrith, which was their 16th loss from their previous 18 games. It’s hard to believe it is the same side.

6. The ‘‘cannonball’’ tackle must be stopped.

The media has termed it the ‘‘cannonball’’ tackle. I could write pages on this subject. Two defenders tackle a ball runner around the torso, securing the ball, before a third defender  tackles the legs of the  contained man to immobilise him and make it easy for the men up top to cradle him to the ground and slow down the play.  The first time I saw it used as a deliberate defensive tactic, I implored the then referee boss Bill Harrigan to ban it. I could see where this was headed. The referees said  ‘‘technically’’ it was not illegal. I contended it was dangerous and not in the spirit of the game.  I hate this tactic.

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Charge over CBD bashing

On his bed inside Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital Simon Cramp has woken to good news.
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The man who allegedly king hit him in an unprovoked attack on George Street early on Sunday that left him in a coma has been charged with assault.

”Really? Great,” the 26-year-old telecommunications worker said groggily before drifting back to sleep.

For his family, who have been at his bedside for the past three days fearing the worst, the developments in the past 24 hours have been everything they hoped for.

Mr Cramp is out of his coma, has been moved out of the intensive care unit, is talking, joking and showing signs of his old self.

And his alleged attacker has handed himself in to police, been charged and will spend the night in custody before facing court on Wednesday.

”We’ve been on a rollercoaster,” Simon’s mother, Angela Cramp, said. ”We thought we were having the last day with our son on Sunday. Now he’s been released from intensive care. He’s on the road to recovery, not some horrible future that is not predictable.”

Mr Cramp was standing with two friends outside McDonald’s on the corner of George and Bridge streets just after 3am when he was king hit and fell to the ground.

On Tuesday Mr Cramp was moved from intensive care to a general ward where he will continue his recovery.

The breakthrough in the investigation came after detectives made public on Monday night security footage of three men they wanted to talk to about the assault. On Tuesday morning two of the men, aged 20 and 21, went to The Rocks police station for questioning but were later released pending further investigation.

The third man, 24, from Haymarket, turned himself in two hours later and after spending about 90 minutes with detectives was charged with causing grievous bodily harm and affray. He will appear in Central Local Court on Wednesday. The man’s solicitor said his client would fight the charges.

Acting Superintendent Anthony Bell said he expected others to be charged over the incident and that investigations were continuing.

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Patients are being shifted like pawns: doctors

Waste of resources?: This operating room at Royal North Shore Hospital is being used as a storeroom. Photo: SuppliedOperating theatres at one of Sydney’s top hospitals are being used as storage rooms while patients are being shifted around ”like pawns” to meet surgery targets, doctors say.
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Senior doctors from Royal North Shore Hospital say the decision could put patients at risk, and is a waste of time and money that has been imposed by bureaucrats in the Ministry of Health – directly undermining Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s promise to give local control to local doctors.

Fairfax Media has revealed huge waiting lists for hospital clinics, and the cancellation of life-saving cancer surgeries by a Sydney hospital trying to meet its end-of-year budget. The surgeries were reinstated after public outcry.

Professor Tony Joseph, the acting chairman of the medical staff council and director of trauma at Royal North Shore, said a $1.1 billion redevelopment of the hospital had left it with empty operating rooms and not enough beds.

”It’s a bit of a mess,” he said.

The hospital was operating with fewer beds available than before Premier Barry O’Farrell and Mrs Skinner opened the new building in December, with only 14 of 18 operating theatres funded.

This meant when high numbers of emergency patients showed up, surgeries needed to be cancelled.

”They haven’t funded our surgical capacity to its full potential,” Professor Joseph said.

NSW director of the Australian Orthopaedic Association Andrew Ellis said many of the orthopaedic, as well as ear, nose and throat surgery patients who were being moved had other conditions, such as heart or kidney problems, being treated at Royal North Shore. They could have poorer outcomes without continuity of care, and early assessments might have to be repeated by the new doctors, he said.

The head of orthopaedic surgery at the hospital, David Sonnabend, said it was not clear why they were being moved, as the first patient to be approached had only been waiting for surgery for six weeks. ”We feel that patients are being used as pawns in a political game,” he said.

Labor health spokesman Andrew McDonald said the $3 billion in health cuts and efficiency savings announced by the government were affecting patient care.

”What’s happening is, when staff leave they are not being replaced, and that reduces the capacity of the system, so when you need to ramp up the system to meet demand, you can’t do it because the staff is not there,” he said.

But Mrs Skinner said more frontline doctors and nurses were added when the new building opened, and the district had its budget increased by $33.7 million this year.

”The opening has resulted in a higher level of activity than expected and this has impacted on the hospital’s capacity to do surgery on time,” she said. ”The state priority is that patients receive their care within clinically appropriate times and public hospitals form a clinical network to help that happen.”

Royal North Shore general manager Sue Shilbury said the operating theatres had been built to accommodate demand in future, and there was no shortage of staff.

”As the population increases additional theatres will come online,” she said.

She said since June the hospital had changed operating theatre use so it was not affected by unexpected increases in trauma cases.

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New melanoma drug treatment a ‘game-changer’

Cancer sufferer George Schuszter has already benefited from one of the melanoma drugs. Photo: Angela WylieAustralian cancer patients will soon be able to test a potentially ”game-changing” melanoma treatment that could extend their lives for years.
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A large trial combining two drugs for people with advanced melanoma is due to begin at several Australian hospitals in coming months after a small American study of 52 people found the treatment shrank most participants’ tumours. The clinical trial by the Ludwig Centre at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre found that while nine out of 10 patients responded to the treatment, 16 or one-third of the patients’ tumours regressed more than 80 per cent and five of these patients’ tumours regressed completely.

The director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and Cancer Services at the Austin Hospital, Professor Jonathan Cebon, said the results showed ”unprecedented benefits” for patients with advanced melanoma, a common cancer that has been notoriously difficult to treat.

He said the results, announced this week in the US, showed more than 80 per cent of the patients were alive after one year of treatment, including some who had lived beyond two years.

”This is a disease which would normally be fatal and on average it is fatal within about six or seven months. With this clinical trial, the majority of patients responded and many of them appear to be alive and well many months later without evidence of relapsing, so it’s a real game changer,” he said.

While half of the patients experienced adverse events related to the treatment, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering said the drugs did not cause any deaths and the side effects ”were, in most cases, relatively easily managed and reversed”.

Professor Cebon said Australian patients would soon be invited to participate in a larger trial of the treatment, which includes two drugs – ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab.

Both drugs are being used by some Australian patients, however the recent US study was the first to combine the two for patients with advanced melanoma.

The international trial, which is aiming to enrol 915 people, will include the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in Melbourne among other hospitals yet to be announced.

The research is being funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The treatment is part of a new class of immune system-boosting drugs that are showing promising results for several cancers. Some cancer specialists believe they could even become a cure.

Professor Cebon said he was excited about the upcoming trial because treatments for advanced melanoma that has spread beyond the skin were limited. He said the only drug that had controlled advanced melanoma for more than two years was Yervoy, and even then it was only that effective for about one in five patients. Furthermore, access to Yervoy is limited to those who can afford to pay about $120,000 for it because it is not yet on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

George Schuszter, 79, of Lilydale, said he believed Yervoy had kept his advanced melanoma at bay since he received it free through a trial under the care of Professor Cebon. He said although the drug had caused shooting pain down one of his legs, he would tolerate it to continue living with his loving wife of 58 years, Maria-Magdalen.

”I’m thrilled with it,” said the father of one, whose cancer has spread to his liver. ”I want to live.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world with more than 10,000 Australians treated for melanoma each year. It is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 44 and about 1500 people died from it in 2011.

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CSIRO says no deception in sale to Novartis

The CSIRO has denied it duped the pharmaceutical giant Novartis into buying a compromised anti-counterfeit device to protect millions of medicine vials.
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A Fairfax Media investigation in April revealed that DataTrace DNA, a joint venture between CSIRO and another company, Datadot Technology, misled the Swiss multinational by passing off cheap Chinese chemicals as its own “trade secret” formula.

But the deputy chief of the government’s peak scientific organisation, Mike Whelan, told a Senate Estimates committee that CSIRO’s internal investigation had found no evidence that it had deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis over the supply of materials.

“Secondly we have identified no evidence that CSIRO officers deceived or wilfully misled DataTrace or Novartis with respect to the security level of the solution offered by DataTrace to Novartis,” he said.

Mr Whelan said the organisation was continuing its investigation into the allegations, but defended the sale of its 50 per cent share in DataTrace three months after signing the deal with Novartis.

“The allegation that CSIRO seeked [sic] to capitalise on the alleged deception of Novartis through the sale of CSIRO’s interest in DataTrace is also false,” he said.

He said there was nothing unusual about CSIRO “selling down its shareholding” in a company.

In 2010, DataTrace DNA Pty Ltd signed a five-year deal with Novartis to supply a custom-designed high-security forensic “tracer” that would protect its vials of injectible Voltaren from being copied, filled with a placebo and sold by crime syndicates.

But despite a deal to supply a unique tracer code, DataTrace issued Novartis cheap tracer it had bought in bulk from a Chinese distributor.

The sale of counterfeit medicines has become a booming black market and a significant global health problem. Interpol seized 3.75 million units of fake drugs in 2012.

The invention sold to Novartis – a microscopic chemical powder painted on the neck of its Voltaren ampoules – was supposed to protect against such counterfeit attacks.

Instead Novartis was given a widely available tracer material that was only suitable for low-risk applications with no security concerns.

Damning internal documents seen by Fairfax Media showed DataTrace and some of the most senior officials at the CSIRO knew that Novartis was being misled in a deal believed to be worth $2.5 million.

As a result of the Fairfax Media revelations DataDot was placed into a trading halt and the company launched an internal investigation. Federal Science Minister Don Farrell also called for CSIRO to investigate the allegations.

When questioned by Senator Richard Colebeck at Monday’s estimates committee about why he did not launch an independent investigation, Senator Farrell said an internal review was appropriate because other third parties were also conducting investigations.

“We believe that’s the way to best protect the reputation of CSIRO,” he said.

The shadow minister for science, Sophie Mirabella, criticised the government for failing to conduct an independent enquiry.

“Months after the government was embarrassed into launching an investigation into these very serious allegations of corruption at CSIRO, we hear today that the investigation is being conducted by none other than CSIRO itself,” said Mrs Mirabella.

“CSIRO should have nothing to fear from a genuinely independent investigation into allegations of serious misconduct,” she said.

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Hockey mother-in-law victim of bank adviser

Patricia Babbage: she says much of her wealth was wiped out. Photo: Wolter Peeters Speaking out: Joe Hockey. Photo: Mal Fairclough
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Patricia Babbage still gets emotional when she thinks about her horrific experience at the hands of a financial planner employed by the Commonwealth Bank.

The 77-year-old mother-in-law of shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says planner Chris Baker put her life savings into high-risk products and wiped out much of her wealth.

”I thought I had been placed into conservative investments but, when I saw my money falling from $200,000 to $184,000 in a week and then kept falling, I would call him and he would say ‘it’s the GFC, don’t change anything, it will come back’,” she said.

By June 2009, Mrs Babbage’s retirement savings had fallen to $92,000 and she was in a panic. She said her husband, Terry, had died in 2004 and in 2005 she had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and had chemotherapy.

”I was sorting out my finances and spoke to the Commonwealth Bank and they suggested I speak to their financial planners,” she said. ”I then met Chris Baker.”

She said she was told that since she had turned 70, she needed to pull her money together and roll it over into products that Mr Baker suggested.

In April last year, Mr Baker was banned for five years by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission after an investigation into the advice of seven planners in the bank’s Commonwealth Financial Planning division.

Mr Baker wasn’t the only planner who was banned. An investigation by Fairfax Media at the weekend revealed that six others, including Don Nguyen, were banned and the bank initially tried to cover up Mr Nguyen’s misconduct. A group of whistleblowers tipped off ASIC in October 2008 and in March 2010 the regulator finally acted.

Soon after Mr Nguyen was banned, an investigation was conducted into other planners, including Mr Baker. ASIC put an enforceable undertaking on the bank’s financial planning arm in October 2011, which expires in four months.

The investigation into Mr Baker found that between March 1, 2005, and February 27, 2007, he committed breaches including failing to ”determine the relevant personal circumstances and failing to make reasonable inquiries in relation to the personal circumstances of clients before implementing advice”.

The investigation found many of his clients were profiled with aggressive risk profiles and that he failed to provide a statement of advice to clients when required.

On May 15, 2009, the bank wrote to Mrs Babbage, saying she had been given a new planner. In another letter she was told ASIC had accepted an ”enforceable undertaking from Chris Baker which precludes him providing financial services for a minimum period of five years”.

In August, she was offered $43,286 in compensation, which included $8213 in interest, an offer that was valid for 60 days. She refused. In November last year, the bank increased the offer to $67,092, which included $5131 in interest. Mrs Babbage took the offer.

”It was too hard to keep fighting,” she said.

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White not thinking about Wallabies

Nic White scores a try against the Hurricanes last Friday. Photo: Jeffrey ChanScrum-half Nic White says he remains focused on leading the ACT Brumbies to the Super Rugby finals and is refusing to get caught in a Wallabies dream.
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White got a taste of Wallabies camp on Tuesday when he made a brief visit to Sydney to join the squad’s preparation for the British and Irish Lions series.

He will return to Canberra on Wednesday to rejoin the Brumbies and their pursuit of a drought-breaking finals appearance.

There are still six spots up for grabs in the Wallabies squad for the three Test series against the Lions and White is a leading candidate.

But with no guarantees, the Brumbies’ No. 9 is making team success his priority.

White is one of the leading candidates to be interim captain after five senior Brumbies joined the Wallabies.

The Brumbies can all but secure their place in the finals for the first time since 2004 if they beat the Melbourne Rebels with a four-try bonus point on Friday night. White will go head-to-head against former Brumbies scrum-half Luke Burgess, who will make his return to Super Rugby after two years in France.

Before joining French rugby, Burgess played 37 Tests for the Wallabies and 56 Super Rugby games, but this is the first time he will square off with White.

White and Burgess are both vying for Wallabies selection, but White is not buying into the one-on-one battle. ”I’m excited about it, he was a guy I looked up to at school but I’m thinking about a win more than any personal battle,” he said.

The Queensland Reds are the only Australian team capable of knocking the Brumbies out of finals contention, but that would require the Brumbies losing their way in the final two games against the Rebels and Western Force.

But after last year’s meltdown while on the verge of the playoffs, the Brumbies are not getting ahead of themselves.

White will play a major role in stabilising the finals bid and his form has prompted Wallabies legend George Gregan to back him for the Lions series.

Brumbies coach Jake White will name his new captain on Wednesday with regular skipper Ben Mowen being unavailable on Wallabies duties.

The coach has plenty of options, with Pat McCabe, Peter Kimlin, Scott Fardy, Matt Toomua and Dan Palmer all able to step up.

”There are a number of guys who will step up as leaders this week and we’ll do it as a group, the onus is on the whole group and everyone has a role to play,” White said.

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Harrower tips Hurst for glory

Natalie Hurst during Opals training. Photo: Jay CronanAustralian Opals great Kristi Harrower has backed Nat Hurst to become an international star and is so impressed by the point guard that she tried to lure her to WNBL champion the Bendigo Spirit.
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Hurst and Harrower are in camp with the Opals at the AIS as new coach Brendan Joyce takes the reins for the first time since taking over from Carrie Graf.

Hurst – a six-time championship winner with the Canberra Capitals – will return to the WNBL for the 2013-14 season and is launching her bid to be the Opals’ general at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The 30-year-old is staking her claim to be 38-year-old Harrower’s successor as the four-time Olympian weighs up her future while battling an Achilles problem and contemplates starting a family.

And before the Capitals secured Hurst on a one-year deal, Harrower tried to convince her understudy to join Bendigo.

”Natty is a competitor, to be honest we tried to get her to the Spirit and then Canberra went ‘bang,”’ Harrower said. ”We think a lot of her, she’s got a bit of me in her and she’s a smart point guard. I don’t know what I’m doing [with my playing future] and she’s got so much experience. I think she can step up now. Nat is a pro.”

Joyce invited an extended squad to his first camp to test the depth and talent in Australian basketball.

Lauren Jackson was absent and is recovering from a virus which led to her losing five kilograms recently. Liz Cambage, Suzy Batkovic and Abby Bishop were also absent, and Harrower didn’t train as she weighs up her future.

Hurst has been in Opals squads before, but her playing and big-game opportunities have been limited behind Harrower and Erin Phillips.

”Nat … I like what I see,” Joyce said. ”I can see she knows how to play, she’s very impressive out there. I judge people on their merits and Natalie is getting things done that I like.”

In a major boost to Hurst and the Capitals’ championship hopes, the club announced on Tuesday it had snared the prized signature of young gun Carley Mijovic.

The 18-year-old Australian junior representative was the WNBL rookie of the year in 2011-12. At 196 centimetres, she bolsters the Capitals’ big-player stocks. Meanwhile, former Canberra star Marianna Tolo confirmed on Tuesday she would not be returning to the competition next season. Tolo will continue playing in France and has signed with Bourges.

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