A – ARDEN STREET REUNION
The talk of Alastair Clarkson returning “home” gathered momentum this week when the North Melbourne board held a meeting at their Arden Street base on Wednesday night. Clarkson started his VFL career with the Kangaroos in the 1980s before continuing at Melbourne in the mid-to-late 1990s. He has been on North’s radar for some time now, even well before David Noble’s sacking. The four-time premiership coach at Hawthorn is gettable at the right price. Can North afford not to pay him his asking price of more than $1 million a season?
B – BLACKOUT
That it was for those willing to take a set against Black Fantasy in last weekend’s $125,000 Belmont Classic (2200m). A fortnight after downing stablemate Outspoken Lad over 2000m, Black Fantasy proved too powerful in the concluding stages to hold out Flower In The Wind and earn back-to-back Listed victories. And because of a tweak to the calendar, we are now poised to see the son of Blackfriars in a 78+ 2100m event next weekend before he heads to the paddock.
C – COOPED UP
Young Australian swimmer Isaac Cooper will now have to watch the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham from his loungeroom after being sent home by Swimming Australia officials for disciplinary reasons, including the misuse of medication. The 18-year-old, who was with his teammates in camp in France prior to the banishment, was set to contest the 50m and 100m backstroke, 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle. The Games get underway next Thursday.
D – DON’T COME MONDAY
Heaven help the Saints if they sin at Optus Stadium on Sunday. St Kilda coach Brett Ratten let it be known yesterday that he was running out of patience with several of his underperforming senior players and this weekend’s assignment against West Coast in Perth was simply non-negotiable. Zak Jones was dropped last night and you’d dare say others are in the gun unless they rediscover their best form and contribute to a much-needed victory.
E – EARNING THEIR KEEP
Everyone associated with Optus Stadium are in for a busy weekend. Leeds United and Crystal Palace hit the turf at the Burswood venue just after 6pm today before Manchester United and Aston Villa lock horns at 5.45pm tomorrow, hopefully after all of the heavy rain has come and gone. And once those four English clubs have done their business, it is about transforming the venue back into Australian Rules mode for the round 19 clash between West Coast and St Kilda on Sunday at 2.40pm.
F – FREO AND FRIDAY NIGHT (PART I)
Fremantle quite rightly had their early-season burn rewarded by AFL House when it came to the scheduling for the back end of the home-and-away season. They will lock horns with Richmond at Marvel Stadium tonight ahead of a monster meeting with Melbourne back home next Friday night. Before that though is this huge clash for both the Dockers and Tigers, with Fremantle still very much in the top-four conversation, albeit not yet guaranteed of a double chance. No Rory Lobb (shoulder) hurts, however the return of Alex Pearce from injury is critical.
G – GOLDEN MOMENT
Connections of Gold Trip are well within their rights to be brimming with excitement as tomorrow’s Winter Challenge (1500m) at Randwick nears. We know the story. Australian Bloodstock purchase import with designs on a Cox Plate start. Vets inspect Gold Trip on eve of the race and deem he is not suitable to take his place in the weight-for-age championships. Connections play the expensive waiting game until he makes his Australian debut. Fingers crossed for all concerned that he appreciates the wet track there at Randwick, runs well, emerges unscathed and co-trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace can plot a path back to Moonee Valley later in the year.
H – HOLY GRAIL
Rory McIlroy labelled winning the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews as the Holy Grail of golf. It’s hard to argue with that. Equally, it’s impossible to argue Cam Smith wasn’t a worthy winner of the title on the Old Course after a blistering final-round 64 to beat Cameron Young by one stroke and McIlroy by two shots. Smith went on a tear turning for home, chalking up five birdies in a line before also making a birdie three on 18 to seal the deal. The laid-back Queenslander joins some of the greatest names in the history of the sport to have won an Open championship at the home of golf.
I – INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT
That the AFL doesn’t lose sight of the little man when it comes to striking a new broadcast deal for seasons to come. Games of Australian Rules football at the elite level simply must remain on FREE TO AIR television. WA Premier Mark McGowan said it best when he declared “it would be a sad day for Australia if people lost the opportunity to watch the football for free.” Here here.
J – JACKED UP
Jack White ventured to the Summer League in Las Vegas hoping to impress. And impress he did, producing a string of quality performances in five outings for the Denver Nuggets. The 200cm Australian forward averaged 7.8 points and seven rebounds despite starting just once. It led the Nuggets to sign White to a two-way contract, meaning he will spend a chunk of the season with the club’s G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Gold, but can spend up to 45 days with the Nuggets while earning more than $700,000 for his efforts.
K – KING-SIZED ISSUE
If the rain stays away at Caulfield, that is what the rivals of King Of Sparta are facing in tomorrow’s Group 3 Bletchingly Stakes (1200m). The Peter and Paul Snowden-trained three-year-old relishes fast ground and while he is unlikely to get the good 4 track he loves, he has won previously on a soft surface. The son of I Am Invincible trialled well at Hawkesbury earlier this week and has the motor and turn of foot to ensure Monash Stakes winner Mileva and dual Group 1 victor Streets Of Avalon are kept extremely honest.
L – LIVING THE DREAM
What does the future of professional golf look like? The enormous wages being offered from LIV Golf are impossible for many to overlook, with European Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson the latest player to defect to the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway tour. And Cam Smith’s refusal to deny speculation he was also poised to leave the PGA Tour for a massive pay cheque, said to be a reported $130 million, surely sent a shudder down the spine of the establishment.
M – MAN CRUSH
AFL coaches are loathe to admit it publicly, but they have their favourites. They are human after all. After watching Sydney coach John Longmire congratulate his players as they made their way into the changeroom last Saturday night following the win over Fremantle, I think it’s fair to say he has a great deal of love for Chad Warner. The young West Australian, the last Swan to filter into the rooms, was greeted with a wide smile, congratulations and a hug from a delirious Longmire which was impossible to miss. It was great vision. Almost as good as Warner’s performance against the Dockers.
N – NORTHERN EXPOSURE
No Pat Cummins and no Travis Head, yet Australia were still able to give an insight into their thinking for the twin one-day international series against Zimbabwe and New Zealand in Townsville and Cairns. The Aussies’ 14-man squad will be captained by Aaron Finch, himself keen to get amongst the runs ahead of the World T20 later this year and next year’s ODI World Cup in India. The first of the three games against Zimbabwe is set down for August 28, while the opening salvo in the three-match Australia v New Zealand series takes place on September 6.
O – OVERS
Good luck to Kyler Murray for agreeing to terms with the Arizona Cardinals on a five-year deal worth $333 million, a staggering $231 million of it guaranteed. He is no doubt a talented young signal caller. Let’s consider the following though. Murray is 22-23-1 as a starter for the Cardinals and his only play-off appearance resulted in a comprehensive defeat. Seriously big spuds for a 24-year-old quarterback who has yet proven he can take his team to the summit.
P – PATTERSON’S PB
Eleanor Patterson has always been a prodigious talent. A Commonwealth Games gold medallist in the high jump as an 18-year-old, it was expected she would take the world by storm. There were a few hiccups along the way, a falling out of love with the sport before a reunion which led to her this week becoming just the 10th Australian to win a gold medal at a world athletics championships. Patterson leapt a personal-best 2.02m in Oregon to etch her name into the record books as the first Australian female to claim a high jump gold medal at the world titles.
Q – QUESTION
North Melbourne confirmed this week that they had indeed asked it. The Kangaroos were granted an audience with the AFL to allow them to officially ask about a priority draft selection later this year. The league will now take its time before deciding whether to hand North some assistance via the lottery. It is a divisive issue, with many believing it will help them become competitive sooner rather than later. Others, and you can understand their argument, claim the Kangaroos are in their current predicament because of poor list management.
R – RED ARMY REJOICE
Luke Travers would have dearly loved to have earnt a spot with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the upcoming NBA season. Taken at pick 56 in the recent NBA Draft, Travers caught the eye during the Summer League, but has been released back to the Wildcats for the 2022-23 campaign. It provides new Cats coach John Rillie with a wonderful opportunity to help Travers develop a skillset, primarily his three-point shooting, that will help propel him to the best league on the planet.
S – STOKED
Cricket was the loser this week when Ben Stokes announced his retirement from the 50-over game. The one-day international format needs all the headline acts it can get to remain relevant, but has been left to pick up the pieces after the retirement of Stokes. England’s brutal schedule prompted the 31-year-old to call time on his ODI career and focus on his Test and T20 career. Jos Buttler will now captain England’s ODI outfit.
T – TREND IS YOUR FRIEND
The Brisbane Broncos of 2022 are so far removed from last year’s version, it is difficult to comprehend. Their emphatic 36-14 win over the Parramatta Eels to open the round last night was their 12th of the season and lifted them into fourth position on the table ahead of the Melbourne Storm. It would be a major shock if they didn’t play finals, a scenario that appeared beyond them entering the year after they finished last season in 14th position with a 7-17 win-loss record.
U – UP FOR GRABS
There are several horses engaged in tomorrow’s HG Bolton Sprint (1200m) with legitimate winning claims. The TABtouch market reflects that, with the proven wet tracker and back-to-back Beaufine Stakes champ Nerodio currently the $4.20 favourite ahead of The Spruiker ($5) and Hot Zed ($5.50). Nerodio has won four of his 10 races at this distance and will relish the heavy rain that is forecast, but Hot Zed is better suited over 1200m than he was than when fourth in the Beaufine. The Spruiker, a first-up sixth in a ratings race, is proven in this grade, the conditions and is lethal second-up. But the feature extends beyond them, with Resortman and Iseered Iseered also worthy of consideration on a track likely to be in the heavy range.
V – VINGEGAARD’S VICTORY
Barring something out of the ordinary, Jonas Vingegaard will be crowned this year’s Tour de France champion. The Dane, riding for the Jumbo-Visma team, resisted multiple attacks from defending champion Tadej Pogacar overnight to increase his lead to more than three minutes. Vingegaard only has to negotiate a 41km time trial tomorrow to be all but assured of claiming the greatest prize in cycling.
W – WINNING FOR FUN
In a season where numerous clubs have designs on winning the premiership because of the even nature of the competition, Geelong and Collingwood continue to defy the odds. The Cats and Magpies have been off their heads in the second half of the year, both winning eight matches in a line to seriously enhance their flag aspirations. It’s not as if they haven’t been challenged. Nor come up against some of the competition’s big boys. But they keep finding ways to salute, with the Cats’ impressive sequence of wins finally forcing bookmakers to install them as premiership favourites.
X – XMAS SPECIAL
It was only a matter of time before a sporting competition here in Australia took the leap of faith. Enter the NBL. The high-flying league announced this week that it would follow in the footsteps of the NBA and stage a game on Christmas Day. Traditional rivals Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings will play in the Harbour City at 7.30pm on December 25, allowing fans to spend time with family earlier in the day before catching some quality hoops action later on should they desire. The full NBL schedule is set to drop on Monday.
Y – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
If any AFL player, from Jack Ginnivan to Joel Selwood, thinks it is wise to go searching for a head-high free kick this weekend and into the future, they clearly are misguided. The AFL made it known once and for all this week that it would not be rewarding players who ducked, shrugged their heads or raised their arm in order to elicit a high tackle. It was the clarity many fans were wanting.
Z – ZURHAAR SIX PACK
Cam Zurhaar possesses a highlight reel many players in the AFL would be proud of. It had a new entry last weekend when the West Australian dined out on Richmond, booting six goals in an overdue North Melbourne victory. Zurhaar’s crumb and snap from the right forward pocket in the dying stages was the last major booted in the game and sparked wild celebrations on-field and soon after in the stands from Kangaroos fans when the siren sounded.