A – ANGE’S ANGST
Ange Postecoglou has made a remarkable contribution to soccer. Everywhere he has been, he has had success and that isn’t confined only to Australia where he won the premiership with Brisbane Roar, oversaw a successful period at Melbourne Victory and also led the Socceroos to Asian Cup Glory in 2015. He created an impression in Japan and is now on the cusp of winning the Scottish Premier League with Celtic. Yet he still insists “haters” drive him. It would be nice if Postecoglou enjoyed the spoils rather than coach with a chip on the shoulder more often than not.
B – BACK TO BASICS
Don’t expect Ben Simmons to be running around like a gazelle any time soon. The polarising Australian basketball star has undergone back surgery to address a herniated disc. On a positive note, Simmons is expected to be ready to join the Brooklyn Nets well ahead of their pre-season training program. Simmons had the blowtorch applied to him by numerous critics after he didn’t suit up in game four of the Nets’ first-round play-off series again Boston. On face value, his absence was justified.
C – COTTON ON
Staying with the basketball theme, Bryce Cotton’s decision to commit to the Perth Wildcats for the next three seasons gave those local fans still struggling with the team’s play-off absence, something to smile about. Arguably the greatest import to have played in the NBL, Cotton will now be at the Wildcats until the end of the 2024-25 campaign, which will be his ninth season in the red singlet. Given the numbers he has amassed already, it is frightening to think what Cotton could achieve over the next three years.
D – DUST-IN TIME
Recent encounters between Richmond and Collingwood have contained more than their share of interest. And so it will be at the MCG tomorrow when two of the Victorian power clubs square off. The return of Richmond superstar Dustin Martin is enormously important for Damien Hardwick as he endeavours to orchestrate back-to-back wins for the first time in more than 11 months. Martin hasn’t played since round one and while he won’t be 100 per cent, an abbreviated version of him is better than 90% of the players operating at full tilt.
E – EMBIID WATCH
The entire city of Philadelphia is currently partaking in this after the 76ers slipped behind 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinal play-off series against Miami. Joel Embiid has not played since he suffered an orbital fracture in the game-six first-round win over the Toronto Raptors. The damaging centre is currently listed as “out” for game three at home against the Heat tomorrow morning, WA time, but there is speculation he could yet return. Without him, Philadelphia cannot progress.
F – FRIDAY ON MY MIND
They might have to share the Friday night stage, but the Optus Stadium clash between Fremantle and North Melbourne remains significant nonetheless. The Dockers are back in the marquee timeslot and if their current form is maintained, they are going to be an attractive proposition for broadcasters later in the season and from 2023 onwards. The Dockers well and truly deserve the Friday night lights.
G – GABBATOIR
When Brisbane were monstering opponents en route to a hat-trick of flags 20 years ago, the Gabba became one of the most feared venues in the AFL landscape. We aren’t quite back there yet, but a trip to the Lions’ home ground isn’t something to rejoice about. Spare a thought for the Eagles tomorrow night. Did someone mention lambs to a slaughter?
H – HIGH FIVE
The NFL, widely regarded as America’s Game, continues its global push. The league this week announced the 2022 schedule would see five matches played outside the USA, with three games to be staged in London, one in Mexico and another in Germany. The teams that will be involved in the international push are Minnesota, New Orleans, New York Giants, Green Bay, Denver, Jacksonville, Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco and Arizona.
I – INTERSTATE INTEREST
Location, location, location. The Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes (1200m) at Morphettville tomorrow is a critically important race for connections of the fillies and mares. But the purse of $500,000 and status of the race, not to mention Adelaide being a good float trip from Melbourne, works against the locals. Nine of the 15 horses slated to run come from the stables of interstate trainers, while Instant Celebrity’s trainer Phil Stokes has a base at Pakenham as well as Morphettville.
J – JACKED UP
In this column last week, we made mention of the Tasmania JackJumpers’ historic play-off appearance. Unfortunately for the NBL’s new boys, they had lost game one of their semifinal series to Melbourne United and needed to win on the Saturday evening down in Hobart to stay alive in the best-of-the-three stoush. They did exactly that and then upset the defending champs on Monday evening to advance to a five-match grand final series against the Sydney Kings, starting tonight. Irrespective of how they fare, it has been a seismic accomplishment for Scott Roth and his players.
K – KING-SIZED ISSUE
Max King could be just 12 months away from being the most dominant key forward in the game. He could even be at that juncture by the end of this season. But he needs to straighten up. Not off the field, but on it. His return of 19.19 from seven matches in 2022 is not good enough. Yes, he has ripped apart games this year and is having multiple shots at goal. But the great ones, including Tony Lockett and Jason Dunstall, were straight-shooters. King has to get better if St Kilda are going to be winning big finals.
L – LIVING THE DREAM
Not much has transpired at Essendon this season that has put a smile on the face of Bombers supporters. But the Nic Martin story is a ripper. Overlooked in multiple drafts, he earnt a spot on the Essendon list over summer and performed strongly during the pre-season to be worthy of an opportunity in round one. Martin duly booted five goals from 27 touches against Geelong, was absent the next week because of COVID-19, but has not missed a beat since and was this week rewarded with a new deal that ties him to the club until 2024. Well deserved.
M – MOOR AND MORE
Daniel Moor surprised a few in Victorian racing circles when he headed to Hong Kong in early January. The experienced hoop had a wonderful spring, winning the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes aboard Sierra Sue and also taking out the Group 1 Moir Stakes on Wild Ruler and Group 1 Manikato Stakes with Jonker. Things didn’t work out in Asia due to the strict restrictions imposed on participants because of the COVID-19 situation, prompting him to return home. And Moor hasn’t taken long to pick up from where he left off, winning last Saturday’s Group 1 Australasian Oaks on Glint Of Hope. Very much a jockey in form.
N – NEXT STEP BELMONT
Congratulations to Dan Morton and all of his team for taking out last Sunday’s Group 3 Northam Stakes (1100m) with Elite Street. There is no better sprinter in this State than Elite Street and he rubberstamped his credentials with a fighting win over a gallant Red Can Man in blistering time. It was the first half of a two-run campaign that will be rounded out next Saturday in the weight-for-age Group 3 Roma Cup (1200m) at Belmont Park. There will be some fresh competition, but if Elite Street remains healthy, happy and incident-free, his rivals are going to have a devil of a time taking him down.
O – ODD COUPLE
What do the world’s best sprinter Nature Strip and Heberite have in common? On face value, the hulking sprinter in the care of Chris Waller and yesterday’s Grand Annual winner don’t appear to be linked all that closely. On closer inspection though, you find both are part-owned by Rod Lyons, who has now not only won The Everest with Nature Strip, but two of the past three Grand Annual Steeplechase events at Warrnambool thanks to Ablaze (2020) and Heberite.
P – PEARLY GATES
She’s A Pearl, the new Queen of Australian greyhound ranks, will be out to underline her greatness when she contests the lucrative Million Dollar Chase final at Wentworth Park tomorrow night. Already boasting more than 20 wins from 32 starts for $350,000 in stakes, She’s A Pearl is a lethal weapon at the track and distance and has her main rival, Good Odds Cash, drawn to her immediate outside in box five. It is no surprise she has been installed a prohibitive favourite with TABtouch.
Q – QUESTIONS
There are plenty of being asked about whether numerous coaches in the AFL remain the right men for their respective jobs. Stuart Dew is under increasing pressure after yet another underwhelming start by the Gold Coast Suns and it’s fair to say David Noble will need to oversee an upswing in on-field performances if he is to remain at the helm of North Melbourne beyond 2022. Leon Cameron’s plight at GWS has also been well discussed, while Adam Simpson (West Coast) and Ben Rutten (Essendon) would desperately love to see their sides win a second game for the year sooner rather than later.
R – RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW
At the end of last weekend’s game against Geelong down at GMHBA Stadium, a Jye Amiss debut with the Dockers was a long shot. Thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak at the club, claiming Rory Lobb among a group of six, the teenager will have his first taste of the big time in tonight’s match against North Melbourne at Optus Stadium. The eighth player selected in last year’s national draft, Amiss has booted nine goals in three league games with Peel and impressed with his accuracy and competitive instincts. Go get them young man.
S – SEVENTH HEAVEN
We keep hearing that Melbourne aren’t yet at the level they were producing regularly in the back half of 2021. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing for their opposition. It might provide hope to the 17 other clubs in the competition, but it’s also scary considering they have marched to 7-0, with their most recent performance against Hawthorn last weekend ensuring they continue to have a vice-like grip on premiership favouritism. Adem Yze stepped in for the COVID-19 impacted senior coach Simon Goodwin and didn’t miss a beat. Just like the players.
T – TIME OUT
Australian basketball was the loser when the Illawarra Hawks were this week knocked out of the NBL play-offs by the Sydney Kings. Brian Goorjian resigned after two years at the helm of the Hawks, opting to take on an advisory role at the Wollongong franchise. His decision wasn’t unexpected, but it is still a blow to the game here Down Under given the American-born Boomers coach has made it known that he would consider international offers if they were tabled. The NBL is a better product with Goorjian prowling the sidelines and barking instructions like only he can.
U – UNBELIEVABLE
Manchester City had one foot in the Champions League final. Heck, they virtually had their whole body in the Champions League final. Leading Real Madrid 1-0 in the second leg of their semifinal, constituting a 5-3 buffer on aggregate entering the 90th minute, City conceded two goals to see the contest go to extra time. A Karim Benzema penalty then sealed Pep Guardiola’s team’s fate, leaving them to lament just how things turned so ugly so quickly. Guardiola has now come up empty in six attempts in the Champions League since taking over the reins at City.
V – VETTEL’S STATEMENT
Sebastian Vettel is an elite F1 driver. He is also a well-read, economically aware individual … something that was proven this week ahead of the Miami Grand Prix. Vettel fronted a media opportunity wearing a tee shirt with the words “Miami 2060. 1st Grand Prix under water. Act now or swim later.” It was accompanied by an image of a driver with a helmet on but also sporting a snorkel. It was Vettel’s way of saying the time had come to act on climate change, with the coastal city perhaps vulnerable to rising sea levels.
W – WINNING FOR FUN
From humble beginnings, Amasenus has become an equine ATM. The Simon Miller-prepared mare has won nine of her past 12 starts, including last Saturday’s Listed Sheila Gwynne Classic (1400m) at Belmont, to improver her overall record to 10 wins and four placings from only 20 starts for more than $450,000 in prizemoney. Amasenus will now head to the Group 3 Roma Cup (1200m) at Belmont. It will be her stiffest test to date, but you wouldn’t put it past her to run out of her skin against the State’s premier sprinters.
X – X-FACTOR
The curtain comes down tomorrow afternoon on another successful Ascot season. A 72+ 1100m event normally doesn’t create huge interest, but race five tomorrow at summer headquarters contains a good little field that is headlined by an odds-on favourite. It’sarayday is dripping in red figures for his return after a smart trial behind Indian Pacific. The son of Winning Rupert created an impression in the spring and has enormous upside. It could be the start of a campaign that propels him into the big sprints at Ascot later this year.
Y – YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE
Get used to hearing this Liverpool anthem a few more times before the end of the current football season. Liverpool advanced to the Champions League final midweek with their 3-2 win over Villareal, keeping alive their hopes of winning all four titles. Already boasting the League Cup, the Reds are seeking further glory in the Champions League decider against Real Madrid, clash with Chelsea in the FA Cup final next Saturday and remain very much in contention in the Premier League. It has been some sort of season by Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Z – ZAAKI’S DEFENCE
Zaaki took the Brisbane winter carnival by storm 12 months ago and trainer Annabel Neasham and connections will be hoping history repeats when they launch the 2022 assault in tomorrow’s Hollindale Stakes (1800m) on the Gold Coast. The import won last year’s Group 2 feature by more than two lengths before taking out the Group 1 Doomben Cup (2000m) at his next start in devastating fashion. The presence of Ayrton will keep Zaaki honest, but the market believes it is his race to lose.