Aug 14

EDITORIAL: NSW government leaves regional councils alone

IN deciding not to proceed with council amalgamations in regional NSW, new Premier Gladys Berejiklian has washed her hands of a policy that was one of Barry O’Farrell’s big-ticket items when he brought the Coalition to power in 2011.

As Mr O’Farrell’s successor, Mike Baird, found to his cost, having a bookshelf full of reports written by experts in favour of the policy was not enough to win it widespread support. Now, with an apparent party room mandate to clear the decks as best she can of any unpopular O’Farrell and Baird-era projects, Ms Berejiklian has decided that council amalgamations can proceed in metropolitan Sydney, but not in the rest of the state. Given that the basis of law and policy in has historically –and legally –been to treat all people equally, the idea that the council mergers imbroglio should be decided by moving one way in Sydney and another way in the bush has all the hallmarks of a ticking time bomb.

Yes, Ms Berejiklian’s announcement has taken the tension out of things in the short term. But by shoving regional council amalgamations into the too-hard basket, the Premier has effectively quashed any chance of substantial local government reform for a generation to come.

Given its timing, the councils announcement may have helped draw the public’s attention away from theother major state political issue on Tuesday, a march on Parliament House by some 700 or so public servants protesting against the privatisation of the state’s disability services. As the federal Coalitionis finding out, the NDIS is becoming a very expensive policy, financially, and while Canberra says it’s still committed to the project, lock, stock and barrel, it was a Labor initiative, and so may yet find itself trimmed in the name of the national budget.

The NSW government’s finances, by comparison, are robust indeed thanks to the booming property market, and the millions of dollars the Coalition has wasted in pursuing unrealised council amalgamations is unlikely to make a huge difference, economically. But what the backflip has done, however, is to hand a big win to Newcastle’s Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, and to her Port Stephens counterpart Bruce MacKenzie, who will now go down as the council leaders who stared down a government.

It is now up to them to convince their respective ratepayers that the decision to retain the status quo was the right one.

ISSUE: 38,467

   Aug 14

Canadian culture: 10 things you need to know about Canadians

In 2017, there’s another good reason to visit Canada: this year marks the country’s 150th birthday, and celebrations are planned for the entire 12 months. Events such as Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27), and Canada’s national day (July 1) will provide something extra for visitors.

But here are 10 things you need to know about Canadians before you visit.

They’re not American

Although  their country boasts some truly beautiful scenery, most Canadians’ favourite geographical feature is the border that separates them from the US. Canadians are different to Americans, and they don’t enjoy being mistaken for their southern neighbours.

They’re extremely friendly

Stand around looking confused in any Canadian city for a few seconds and someone will offer to help you. You’ll see strangers striking up conversations on public transport. You’ll find you walk into a bar and immediately have friends. Canadians are like that.

They love hockey

“Hockey” in Canada means ice-hockey, and it’s a national passion that eclipses any other facet of life. Yes, it’s confusing that such polite, peaceful people are obsessed with one of the most brutal sports on the planet, but ice-hockey is the game of choice.

They’re multicultural

Though you might assume most Canadians are of either British or French origin, the fact is the majority now descends from other parts of the world. In Toronto, more than 140 languages are spoken, and almost 50 per cent of the population was born outside of Canada.

They’re progressive

When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his cabinet in 2015, it was a first for the country: an equal number of women and men. There were also two aboriginal members, and three from the Sikh community.

They’re outdoorsy

You’ll find most Canadians seem to have at least one passion that allows them to enjoy the great outdoors, from skiing and snowboarding to hiking, mountain-biking, rock-climbing, camping, canoeing and snow-shoeing.

They’re prone to frequent apologies

One of the cliches you’ll hear about Canadians is that they’re forever apologising – and it has some basis in truth. There’s something very charming about having someone tell you they’re sorry, even though it was clearly your fault.

Their coffee is terrible

There’s an increasing focus on good, locally sourced food in Canada via the “100-Mile Diet”; however, their coffee is uniformly terrible. Canada’s most popular coffee shop is Tim Horton’s, a chain founded by a former ice-hockey star that dishes up a very average brew.

Their capital city is Ottawa

In a similar way to the fact most people don’t seem to have ever heard of Canberra, many are taken by surprise when they discover Canada’s capital: Ottawa. It’s not exactly a tourism hub, but it will be popular during Canada’s 150th birthday.

They’re just like us

One of the most important things you notice about Canadians is that, essentially, they’re just like ns: similar values, similar traditions, similar history, similar ideals. It makes Canada a very easy place to visit.

See also: How Canada can now trump America as a tourist destination

See also: Why this Canadian city is the new New YorkListen: Flight of Fancy – the Traveller成都夜总会招聘.au podcast with Ben Groundwater

The best places to visit in 2017

To subscribe to the Traveller成都夜总会招聘.au podcast Flight of Fancy on iTunes, click here.

   Aug 14

The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build China’s biggest coal mine

Abbot Point in Queensland, a proposed terminal for coal produced at Adani’s Carmichael mine. The n Conservation Foundation, the n Youth Climate Coalition and 350成都模特佳丽招聘 rally in Melbourne against the coal mine. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Abbot Point is surrounded by wetlands and coral reefs.

It’s the fight that has become a proxy war between forces for and against the coal industry in and it’s entering its fiercest round.

Indian conglomerate Adani’s plans to build ‘s biggest coal mine have been heralded by the federal and Queensland governments as a boon for local jobs and the economy.

But environmentalists are adamant the mine is a ticking time bomb that may imperil the Galilee Basin and Great Barrier Reef, as well as serving as an up-yours to the Paris climate change accord.

The battle will escalate this week when its opponents launch a campaign targeting 13 marginal federal Coalition seats and at least three Queensland state seats.

This comes as new details emerge about Adani’s chequered history in India, where the conglomerate and its subsidiaries have come under fire from environmental courts. The mine

The $22 billion mega mine Adani plans to build in Carmichael, Queensland will have six open-cut pits and several underground mines.

Coal will be extracted from the mine site west of Rockhampton and transported 400 kilometres by rail to the Abbot Point Terminal, south of Townsville.

It will be processed offshore, before being shipped to energy-hungry India. The federal government is considering granting Adani a $1 billion concessional loan to help build the railway line to the Abbot Point Terminal but the mine’s opponents consider the loan a key battleground in the war against the coal project. Killing the mine 

The anti-mine campaign is no empty threat. It has a $1 million war chest, nine full-time staff including polling and social media experts, hundreds of volunteers and is being run by left-leaning activist group GetUp.

While the anti-Adani movement wants to ensure the firm isn’t granted the $1 billion loan, its end game is to kill off the project.

“We will win,” says businessman turned environmental crusader Geoff Cousins.

This week, the n Conservation Foundation, a host of NGOs and GetUp will launch a campaign targeting 13 marginal coalition seats in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

The campaign will employ cutting-edge and traditional tactics. Voters will be contacted by telephone, advertising and a social media blitz. GetUp’s campaigning is said to have contributed to the loss of several coalition seats during the 2016 election and the group is hoping to force Resources Minister Matt Canavan to ditch the proposed $1 billion concessional loan.

“We’re aiming to make 50,000 calls into these seats over the next three months, and have conversations with at least the number of people that is equal to that MP’s margin in votes. For example it would take just 532 votes to change the outcome of the seat of Forde in Queensland,” says GetUp’s Miriam Lyons.

The mine opponents will also lobby Westpac bank to join a host of other financial institutions in ruling out funding the $22 billion project, while continuing to use the courts to frustrate the government and Adani’s ambitions.

Adani believes it has become a proxy for the nation’s coal industry in a campaign that has seen calls from one environmental group to get activists to infiltrate the firm by posing as job seekers.

“This is the most regulated project in the history of and we are yet to push a shovel in the ground and get one ounce of coal. If they kill us, they will move on to other companies,” an Adani insider says. The political pay-off

In cities such as Townsville, heaving with n soldiers, and the sweltering, sprawling country town of Rockhampton, the mine is mostly seen as a godsend.

“I have come under fire from those opposed to coal for my vocal support of this project, but I won’t take a backward step,” Rockhampton Mayor Margaret Strelow recently said.

The Queensland Labor government faces an election in 2018 and, short on major infrastructure projects, hopes the mine and resulting jobs will see it returned to office.

Adani and the Queensland government say the project will deliver an employment bonanza, creating thousands of jobs during the construction phase. This will level off to 1500 or so employees when the mine is fully operational.

Pauline Hanson has backed the mine, subject to assurances around water management and the use of foreign labour, while local LNP member George Christensen supports both the mine and the subsidy.

The Minerals Council of ‘s CEO Brendan Pearson says the anti-mine campaign amounts to “futile grandstanding” that will only delay job and business opportunities for thousands of ns.

“It is patently clear that the Adani mine will proceed and that is a good thing for regional communities in Central and Northern Queensland,” he said.

Federal LNP members are also barracking for the mine.

One senior federal minister told Fairfax Media that regardless of opposition by “zealots”, the Carmichael coal project is likely to receive the $1 billion concessional loan from the government.

But the minister also privately acknowledges that subsidising a firm controlled by a controversial Indian billionaire is not without its problems. A grubby past

The Adani Group is a diversified conglomerate headed by billionaire Gautam Adani, one of India’s wealthiest magnates and a man who has cultivated powerful friends, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr Adani recently met Malcolm Turnbull, whose renewed support for coal (Treasurer Scott Morrison brandished a lump of coal in federal parliament last week) is at the heart of the Coalition’s claim that Labor’s renewable energy policy will lead to a surge in power prices and imperil energy security.

The power and reach of the Adani Group is legendary in India. But the group’s subsidiaries have also faced allegations of involvement in fraud and corruption, environmental destruction and labour exploitation.

A recent ABC investigation into the conglomerate focused on ongoing investigations by Indian authorities, widely reported by the local media, into alleged money laundering and tax fraud by Adani subsidiaries.

The federal resources minister described the ABC report as ‘fake news’ and said the allegations were untested.

But official Indian tribunals and watchdogs have landed punches on a number of Adani firms, including:

an August 2016 finding previously unreported in by the Indian National Green Tribunal- an environmental court- which found Adani partly responsible for failing to clean up after an oil and coal spill caused by an unseaworthy ship that ran aground off the coast of Mumbai in 2011. The ship had been chartered by Adani and was carrying the firm’s coal and fuel; and 

in January 2016, the same tribunal fined an Adani subsidiary $4.8 million after finding it had caused environmental destruction while undertaking works at a fishing village in the Indian port city of Surat.

A report released by lawyers from Environmental Justice documents these and other alleged Adani misdeeds in India, including an illegal iron ore mining and export operation and an environmental disaster at the Mundra port.

Mr Canavan believes Adani has “been exposed to unfair scrutiny” and criticisms of the firm carry “xenophobic undertones.”

“There have been some high-profile incidents by n mining and resources companies recently, some instances that are quite dire. But it seems to be, because they [Adani] are Indian or because they want to develop a new coal basin, they are exposed to a different standard.”

Mr Canavan insists has the regulatory checks and balances to keep Adani in line. For example, there are dozens of criteria for Adani to meet in order to meet and maintain its government approval.

And for all the doomsday warnings about Adani coal ships navigating the Great Barrier Reef, a company insider says such predictions overlook the fact that other vessels carrying the quarry of other big miners have for years been making a similar journey to little, if any, protest.

Queensland has exported more than 200 million tonnes of coal per year in recent times (more than triple the volume Adani plans to export) and the majority of that goes through the reef.

But a businessman who knows how corporate operates, former Optus CEO, Geoff Cousins, is dismissive of the protections proffered by the federal government and Adani. Mr Cousins, a former adviser to prime minister John Howard and current n Conservation Foundation chairman, notes that “major projects get a wide variety of conditions attached to them and state and federal  governments hide behind those conditions. But when you go to see if anyone checked on those conditions or whether they were met, the record is generally appalling.” Where will the coal go

The coal Adani wants to mine is bound for India’s power plants, including those the company owns. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is championing renewable energy in line with the aims of last year’s Paris Agreement (looking increasingly shaky in the wake of Donald Tump’s election. At the same time, India is also seeking to ramp up its own coal production in line with its ambitious aim to become self sufficient in its production of coal.

The mine’s proponents say if India’s power stations are denied n coal, they will be forced to use a dirtier local alternative, with greater emissions. This claim addresses the argument that the burning of Carmichael coal will undermine efforts to combat climate change. As with most claims connected to the mine, this is fiercely contested, including by the progressive Institute, who argue the Galilee Basin’s coal is dirtier than that in other n mines. They also contest the mine’s trumpeted job figures.

Ultimately, the fight about Adani’s Carmichael project is about the wisdom of building a massive new coal mine as the world moves towards less polluting sources of energy. The issue of climate change is the ultimate political fault line on which environmentalists believe the fight against Adani must be waged.

Mr Canavan says it’s all about jobs and economic opportunity. And while the competing battlegrounds aren’t mutually exclusive, there will only be one victor.

   Aug 14

Malcolm Turnbull’s disability gambit backfires, drawing fire from Paralympian Kurt Fearnley

“It is political opportunism and it is just wrong:” n Paralympian Kurt Fearnley Photo: James Brickwood “Pitting battling ns against ns needing disability support services is dumb policy”: Senator Nick Xenophon Photo: Andrew Meares

Treasurer Scott Morrison with ministers Christian Porter and Simon Birmingham spruik their omnibus savings plan at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Turnbull government’s bid to link disability funding to welfare cuts has backfired spectacularly, angering the Senate crossbenchers it was meant to win over and drawing fire from advocates and even a Paralympic champion.

The government had hoped to win support for its so-called omnibus savings bill by promising to direct $3 billion towards the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Another $1.6 billion would fund the Coalition’s childcare changes.

But crossbench kingmaker Nick Xenophon officially torpedoed the plan on Tuesday, saying the trade-off was simply “too harsh”.

“As a negotiating tactic, this is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Pitting battling ns against ns needing disability support services is dumb policy and even dumber politics,” Senator Xenophon said.

The government – which needs all three of Senator Xenophon’s upper house votes to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens – would need to go “back to the drawing board”, he said.

Treasurer Scott Morrison and Social Services Minister Christian Porter are refusing to give up on the bill – which contains cuts to family tax benefits, paid parental leave and other payments – and are continuing to lobby the crossbench.

Government sources said it had “positive” signals from One Nation but without Senator Xenophon’s support, the bill appears doomed.

Paralympic wheelchair-racing legend Kurt Fearnley was furious about the government’s move, accusing it of using the NDIS as a “political football”.

“It is mischief. It is political opportunism and it is just wrong,” the passionate disability advocate and former NDIS advisory council member told ABC television.

“To sit there and draw a direct line between funding for people with disabilities and the cuts to other vulnerable members of our community — to those on welfare, to those on pensions — you could draw that line across a thousand different parts of the budget.

“I wish the government would fight for it with as much vigour as fighting for its $50 billion business tax cut because they believe both are benefits for our community.”

Mr Porter rejected suggestions the government was putting the NDIS in doubt.

“The NDIS is completely committed to, it will be completely funded,” he said.

“But we need to find more savings to ensure that we close that funding gap. The only alternatives other than that, are taxation or more borrowings and they are not in the best interests of all ns.”

n Council of Social Service head Cassandra Goldie strongly rejected the linking of social security cuts to disability funding.

“This measure is robbing Peter to pay Paul, pitting people on low incomes against each other in an unfair way. We need a properly funded NDIS, but that must not be at the expense of the poorest people in our country,” she said.

Disabled People’s Organisation chief executive Therese Sands said she was “shocked and troubled” by the government’s move. Labor said it should be condemned for its “shameful” tactics.

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   Aug 14

Fact Check redux: Unit reborn as RMIT-ABC joint venture eight months after axing

Russell Skelton will relocate from the ABC to RMIT to head up the joint venture Fact Check unit. Treasurer Scott Morrison invoked teh old ‘fake news’ line to defelct an unwelcome question on talkback radio last week. Photo: Daniel Munoz

Eight months after it was axed as a result of government funding cuts, the ABC’s Fact Check department is to be relaunched – as a joint venture with a university.

The renamed RMIT ABC Fact Check will be housed at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology campus in the heart of the CBD, with a staff of three full-time researchers, an online editor and a chief fact checker working underneath Russell Skelton, who was head of the ABC’s Fact Check unit from its launch in August 2013 until its closure in July 2016.

Mr Skelton, a former senior journalist at The Age and partner of ABC broadcaster Virginia Trioli, will be employed by RMIT under the new three-year arrangement.

Gordon Farrer, an associate lecturer in journalism at RMIT who is writing a PhD on fact check units, will also work with the new unit part-time.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the ABC noted that the unit would also employ “interns drawn from RMIT journalism students and alumni”.

Mr Skelton insisted it would be completely “unfair” to interpret that as a sign the university would be staffing the unit with unpaid, inexperienced workers. “Why would they do that? We’ll have three experienced researchers.”

He said these positions, which are yet to be advertised, could be filled by “experienced journalists, mathematicians or corporate lawyers” among others. Any work done by students will not be for publication without further vetting by the paid fact checkers.

It is expected fact checking will become an integral part of the journalism program at RMIT, and ultimately students from other faculties may be able to take fact checking as a subject.

The unit will be housed in RMIT’s media precinct, part of the New Academic Street project currently under construction. The precinct is expected to be finished by mid-year.

ABC director of news Gaven Morris announced the imminent closure of the Fact Check unit in May 2016, following a reduction in tied funding to the ABC’s news division in the federal budget from $20 million a year to $13.5 million.

At that time, the unit had eight employees, including three fact checkers. At its peak, it had six fact checkers. It also employed interns.

The ABC initially held discussions with Melbourne University about the possibility of relocating the unit to its campus, but those discussions fell over around August last year. RMIT then stepped in with its offer in September.

The need for an independent (or, in this case, semi-independent) fact checker has arguably never been greater, with claims of “alternative facts” and “fake news” being bandied about whenever a public figure – and especially a politician – is confronted with information they don’t like.

Such disputed territory will be the main focus of the unit, says Mr Skelton. “The brief is anybody or any organisation – quite often politicians and ministers – who effect the direction or shape of public policy. We’re not about ‘gotcha’, trying to trip people up. We’re really going after the issues that we think matter to .

“I’ve always thought fact checking was tremendously important in terms of developing well-thought through public policy,” he says.

Despite its presence in the media and communications faculty at RMIT, the unit will not be focusing on the media per se.

“It would take a lot more resources if you wanted to go around every news site pinging fake news,” says Mr Skelton. “The ABC has Media Watch, so we’ve left the media to them. Otherwise you could spend all day doing shock jocks and never get to anything that really matters.”

Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin

   Jul 13

Hello Collingwood Magpies and welcome back to a Melbourne netball derby

Collingwood AFL captain Scott Pendlebury and Collingwood netball captain Madi Robinson on Tuesday. Photo: Vince CaligiuriCricket’s Big Bash League flogs them. In the A-League, they prove to be among the highlights of each season. And they were once a mainstay of the National Basketball League in Melbourne.

Derbies. Club versus club or team versus team in the same city. They are a dream for marketeers and, truth be told, a godsend for sports editors.

Excitement is circling around the relaunched national netball competition, known as the Super Netball league, a competition that also signals the return of a Melbourne netball derby for the first time since 2007.

This Saturday Collingwood’s new netball team – yep, that behemoth of the AFL competition that you either love or hate – takes on the Melbourne Vixens in one of three state derbies that feature on the opening weekend of the revamped -only competition.

Goodbye to the New Zealand franchises in the ANZ Championship and welcome back to something resembling the old Commonwealth Bank Trophy that started in the late 1990s. For netball fans, this new-look competition features something all sports administrators crave: free-to-air TV exposure.

It’s also an invigorating time for the netballers themselves.

“We’re really excited. I think it’s been the longest anticipation for a season we’ve ever had. It’s been about five or six months leading up to this round one game,” said Magpies captain Madi Robinson, who has crossed from the Vixens.

“As a team we’re all coming from different teams, so whether it’s me round one, or someone else round two, we’re all be feeling the pressure facing our old teams.”

Robinson debuted in the national competition when Melbourne boasted two franchises.

“When I first started playing netball at the elite level, we had the two Melbourne teams,” she says.”So I think it’s great to be able to have two teams again, and obviously build that rivalry.

“I think the first five minutes, or even the first quarter will be full on. There will be a lot of physicality. I expect them to come and try and biff.”

The start of the Super Netball league comes hot on the heels of the launch of the AFL Women’s competition and coincides with almost unprecedented interest in women’s sport.

But Robinson, for one, is not worried about the threat of top netballers being swallowed up by another code, namely the AFLW.

“The cream of the crop, or the elite netballers, are very good at what they do, and I think they’ll remain in the sport,” she says.

“I think some of those [athletes] that are trying to push to get into the top teams, that’s where we might see a few go to football.

“I know some of them are trying to watch us in the gym and are going ‘would you like to come and have a kick?’

“We’ll leave that for a couple of years.

“I think netball is still at the forefront of everyone’s mind, which is great.”

   Jul 13

Anthony Faingaa returns to ACT Brumbies to start and finish career in Canberra

Anthony Faingaa (right) and his Brother Saia Faingaa (left). Photo: Harrison SaragossiAnthony Faingaa says the chance to finish his career where it started lured him back to Canberra, but the Super Rugby championship winner doesn’t want to be a passenger in his ACT Brumbies comeback.

Faingaa started training with the Brumbies less than a week ago after finishing a stint in Japan and hopes to press his claims for round-one selection.

A stream of videos looms as the 30-year-old’s secret weapon for chasing Brumbies selection, revealing he has watched every training session for the past four months to help his transition.

The Queanbeyan junior says he always had a desire to find a way back to where it all began and insists age will not be a barrier to his hopes of making an impact.

“This is my home. When I started here [in the Brumbies Academy] in 2004, I always wanted to start and finish my career here,” Faingaa said.

“I’ve been lucky to get an opportunity to come back. To be able to do it with Saia is a bonus. I jumped at the opportunity with two hands when [Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham] called.

“It was a big opportunity for me and I just want to make sure I can add to the team and put out good performances.”

Faingaa made his debut for the Brumbies in 2007 before joining the Queensland Reds for 90 games, including a Super Rugby title in 2011.

He left the Reds at the end of last season to join the Kintetsu Liners in Japan, but he had videos of Brumbies training sent to him so he could learn new plays and styles.

It could help fast-track Faingaa’s second coming at the Brumbies, where he will compete with Kyle Godwin for the inside centre job and Tevita Kuridrani for the No. 13 jersey.

“I already know most of the plays, the only thing left for me to do is to get out there and doing it,” Faingaa said.

“I need to just worry about playing football first before I starting going down that selection route.

“I only finished playing rugby two weeks ago, so it’s not like it’s been a long time since I laced up. I can’t wait to get out there and start playing again.

“For the moment I just want to worry about this year. Being in a young team helps you feel young.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham is still settling on his line-up for the first round of the Super Rugby season.

Wharenui Hawera appears to be the front-runner to take the chief playmaking reins as flyhalf while Lolo Fakaosilea and Rob Valetini are competing for the No. 8 spot.

Jarrad Butler is working his way back from injury but it is not known if he will be to play in the opening round against the Canterbury Crusaders.

Godwin is set to claim the inside centre job while props Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa didn’t play any trial matches as they nursed hamstring injuries.

James Dargaville hopes to force his way into contention for a spot on the wing after shoulder surgery kept him out of action for almost five months.

“I’ve just got to keep pushing my case at training. Hopefully I’ve done enough to put myself there, but if not I’ll keep working,” Dargaville said.

“The nature of rugby is that some players move on and others step up, new superstars of rugby are created and we’ve got some young guys that are pushing their claims. It’s a pretty exciting time to be a Brumby.”


February 25: Canterbury Crusaders v ACT Brumbies at Christchurch, 5.30pm.

   Jul 13

Will Skelton returns to NSW ‘a much better player’ after stint in UK with Saracens

Fit and firing: Will Skelton says he has come back a better player after a short stint abroad in the UK with Saracens. Photo: Ben HolgateThis time last year, Waratahs second-rower Will Skelton was unfit, over his usual playing weight and in his own words “not in a good place”.

Twelve months on, Skelton and Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson both agree a stint in the UK with Saracens was worthwhile and has provided him with a new philosophy for the upcoming season; quality over quantity.

The problems started at the World Cup in 2015 when Skelton suffered a pectoral injury and subsequently required surgery.

He returned to NSW underdone after months on the sidelines, which gave Gibson no option but to drop him to the Shute Shield in March.

Skelton worked his way back for the Waratahs but when he joined the Wallabies, Michael Cheika said, of a player with “unlimited potential”, that Skelton was not in the right condition.

The 24-year-old featured in four Tests last year before making the decision, supported by the Waratahs, to get more match fitness by playing with UK Premiership club Saracens.

Christmas and New Year was spent in chilly England but it was a move his coach says was crucial for Skelton to achieve his potential.

“He’s come back a much better player for that experience and also in much better shape,” Gibson said. “Will’s had an excellent time at Saracens. Part of allowing him to stay on after the spring tour is firstly to get that experience with Saracens, currently the best team in Europe.

“He got himself to 140 kilos during the Wallabies campaign, went to Saries [Saracens] and kept training at their intensity, so he hasn’t had much of a break. I expect him to pick up where he left off.”

Skelton shares the same view, saying he is in excellent shape now.

“I feel a lot better,” Skelton said. “The preparation I’ve had in the off-season has been a lot better than last year. I came off the back of an injury, tore my pec, so I was out for a while and I sort of got thrown [back] into it.

“Just coming off the back of the spring tour I played a few games there and then got the opportunity to play at the English club and it’s good to get game time. I skipped the pre-season here but I’m more match fit and I’m ready to go against the Highlanders [in a trial on Thursday night].

“I wasn’t in good form last year and I didn’t warrant a spot in the [Wallabies] team so for me I’ve got to work on myself.”

Those who coach Skelton discuss at length how best to use him. Some believe he needs to be fit enough to play 80 minutes, others think coming off the bench is a better use of his size and skill against a tiring opposition.

Skelton believes the best approach is to play 50 or 60 minutes of quality rugby rather than drift in and out of play across an entire match.

“Quality is the goal for me … if I can get through 60 or 50 [minutes] and go my hardest, empty the tank and really just build on that every game,” Skelton said. “Playing a full game I reserve my energy until the last 20 or the last 10 [minutes] and I don’t get the quality for my team, so that’s the focus. I’ve spoken to Daryl about it, to really improve this year.”

Known for his love of a big feed, Skelton cut back on the calories and improved his diet before the spring tour.

He says he gave himself a few “cheat” weeks in the UK but hoped he would reap the benefits when the Waratahs kick off their season against the Force before a two-week trip to South Africa to face the Lions and Sharks.

“I had Christmas and New Year’s there, I fell off the bandwagon a bit over there but it’s something that you’ve got to cherish as well, that time away from footy,” Skelton said. “We had fun there but now it’s back to work at the Tahs.

“Last year I was in and out of the Test squad and the Tahs so to keep that consistent place in the team, that’s my goal this year.”

   Jul 13

Michael Wells in line to wear Waratahs No.8 jersey following Jed Holloway injury

Michael Wells has emerged as the frontrunner to wear the Waratahs No.8 jersey in round one of Super Rugby after it was revealed Jed Holloway has a hamstring injury.

Holloway has had a solid pre-season, but Gibson told Fairfax Media his back-rower is almost certain to miss the season opener against the Western Force at Allianz Stadium next Saturday.

It has left a spot open for Wells, who Gibson says will more than likely start at No.8 alongside breakaways Michael Hooper and Jack Dempsey.

“Holloway is another one who is due around round two,” Gibson said. “He’s had hamstring issues over the last six weeks, so we’ve just figured them out.

“Wells performed very well against the Brumbies. He continues to impress in that position so I fully expect him to take the starting spot at the moment.

“I just like his attitude to the game. He’s a tough, abrasive character and he’s got an immense work rate. All those qualities and traits are something that we like and he’s been an excellent addition to the team.”

Wells moved to the Waratahs this year from the Brumbies, where he started in a handful of games before coming off the bench in their quarter-final loss to the Highlanders in Canberra.

The 23-year-old said he would grab every opportunity he could in what is already shaping up to be a solid NSW back row.

“I’m coming in under no illusions, Jed had a great year and if it wasn’t for injury, he well could have ended up on a grand slam tour,” Wells said. “I was happy enough with my trial last week against the Brumbies. I’ll take whatever I can get.”

Hooper said he had been impressed with Wells at training.

“He’s been very consistent around the role he does,” Hooper said. “He’s got good ball-carrying skills. He had a really good game of defence against the Brumbies, so I’m looking for him to give us a lot this year.”

Gibson will announce his team on Wednesday to face the Highlanders in the Waratahs’ final pre-season trial.

A string of Wallabies players are expected to return and even though Bernard Foley sat out NSW training at Moore Park on Tuesday afternoon, officials are confident the incumbent five-eighth will be good to go.

It is unclear how similar Gibson’s starting XV on Thursday will be to the team that suits up against the Force, but there is one positional change that looks to be on the cards.

Gibson confirmed prop Tom Robertson, who was a revelation for the Waratahs last year, will swap to loosehead in the scrum to accommodate the return of Sekope Kepu.

Robertson represented seven times last year off the bench and swapped between loosehead and tighthead prop.

However, it is in the Waratahs’ best interest to have both he and Kepu, the Wallabies’ current tighthead, on the field at the same time.

Gibson believed Robertson had the potential to be a “world-class” loosehead prop.

“The expectation is his ability to play both sides,” Gibson said. “That’s going to be critical with Angus [Ta’avao] still working his way back from a broken leg, he’s due back round nine. We’re going to need that flexibility in our prop stocks.

“We know Sekope can play across but Tom, at the moment, looks like the person who can really have the ability to play both and play both well.

“We’ve got full faith in him that he’s got the ability to be able to do that and pull it off.”

The hooker spot is hotly contested between Tolu Latu, Hugh Roach and Damien Fitzpatrick, while the other main position up for grabs is that of inside-centre given Kurtley Beale has left, with David Horwitz, Irae Simone and Rob Horne all in the mix ahead of round one.

   Jul 13

Mickle knee injury cruels two sports, two careers

Hard call: Javelin star Kim Mickle’s AFLW career is in jeopardy following a serious knee injury.One knee injury. Two sporting careers left hanging in the balance.

Kim Mickle’s debut for Fremantle at the weekend realised a dream to play in the AFLW for the world javelin silver medallist and Olympian. But a knee injury requiring a reconstruction has left her careers in both of her sporting loves in the balance.

Mickle had not intended to try to compete at the world championships in London this year but had planned to make her comeback to athletics on the Gold Coast at the Commonwealth Games next year. That is now in doubt.

Mickle won silver at the worlds in Moscow in 2013, then injured her shoulder at the next worlds in Beijing in 2015 and, after shoulder surgery, raced to be fit for the Rio Olympics last year. She dislocated her shoulder with her third throw in the qualifying rounds in Rio and had to have a reconstruction when she returned home.

She had not thrown competitively since the reconstruction and had put athletics on hold while she pursued a rookie contract to be part of Fremantle’s team in the new AFL Women’s competition.

She injured her knee in the second quarter of her debut match against Brisbane at the weekend.

“I didn’t expect this to be a major injury at all, but you win some and you lose some, and now I just want to look ahead to what my options are and determine a course of action for my recovery,” said Mickle.

The 32-year-old must now be in doubt to return from injury for the Commonwealth Games, having not tested her shoulder in competition and now needing to recover from the knee.

Such is her nature she is understood to have been pragmatic about the injury, accepting that it was a reality and risk of sport and she’d now work through each stage of her recovery before forecasting what the injury would mean for her future.

“The results of the scans were quite a shock,” Mickle said.

Mickle is keen to remain involved with the Dockers’ AFLW side for the remainder of the campaign.

“We’ll work out what that looks like with the club over the next week or so.”