HOW astoundingly brilliant is the new Chris Lilley series? The comedian has physically transformed himself to play a group of diverse characters who all bear the Lilley trademark of exaggerated personalities and punishing self-delusion. There’s the bow-tie-wearing ballet dancer from the Sunshine Coast, Jake (classic Lilley catchphrase: ”Calm the farm”); incredibly uptight Adelaide yuppie Lisa; and Indian-born Sydney princess Biswa. Ja’mie and S.mouse have been made redundant.
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OK. My Kitchen Rules isn’t the new Chris Lilley series, although if it were it would certainly make amends for Angry Boys. But Channel Seven’s hit reality cooking series – actually, hit is probably an understatement at this point – does unexpectedly share a viewpoint with the comedian’s work. Lilley is fascinated by his characters’ extremes, and in casting the latest series of My Kitchen Rules, its producers have put together a fascinating cross-section of contestants who are equally pushing the limits.

All reality shows, including the previous three series of My Kitchen Rules, look for extremes in the casting process, fitting them under easy labels such as ”the villain” or ”the top bloke”. This time, however, their characters also speak to the growing breadth of Australian society. The notion of Australian egalitarianism is dissipating under the weight of financial inequality, self-important billionaires and political divisiveness, and as a country we’re slowly starting to accept that we’re a broad, increasingly strange coalition of people.

Last week on My Kitchen Rules, Jake and his sister Elle hosted the other pairs they were competing with at their family’s expansive Queensland residence. For their main course, Jake chose to serve T-bone steak, which didn’t fit his profile at all. Another contestant, Tasmanian abalone diver and father Mick, astutely noted that Jake had probably rarely eaten a T-bone, having been raised on scotch and eye fillet. Jake thought a T-bone was exotic; Mick knew it was everyday fare.

Those contrasts are some of the fascinating elements that fuel audience fascination with the series. As a reality show, My Kitchen Rules is sharply made, but the hook of hosting a dinner party at your home that is judged doesn’t just resonate on a personal level, it provides a view inside lives that aren’t entirely familiar to us any more. Even with the artificial constraints of mainly capital-city residents, the cross-section of competitors is far more eclectic than most of our fictional dramas or comedies allow for. Solve that mystery, Dr Blake.

My Kitchen Rules is very much Australia’s show, both in terms of content and ratings.

When the show launched in 2010, it was written off as a MasterChef clone but, as the runt of the reality litter, it survived and then prospered. Last week, several 7.30pm episodes drew blockbuster-level audiences of more than 2 million people in the mainland capital cities, exceeding 3 million nationally. Many of us are watching creme brulee nightmares and the matching comedy of social manners and awkward status.

Whether it’s culturally harder to cast a renovation show or not, the contrast with Channel Nine’s monochromatic The Block is readily apparent. Despite starting half an hour earlier at 7pm, the much-promoted spinoff, The Block All Stars, is being pummelled by My Kitchen Rules. The only thing Scott Cam’s show has more of is blatant product placement. It’s struggling to make 1 million viewers in capital cities – a ratings pass mark, basically – while MasterChef: The Professionals, which is going head-to-head with My Kitchen Rules on Mondays and Tuesdays, is doing even worse, despite being good viewing.

My Kitchen Rules has a formidable format, although it’s apparent the show has aired long enough for contestants to be familiar with its working and game the show’s structure and rules to their own benefit. Biswa and her companion, Jessie, who were portrayed as entertainingly horrendous people, judged rivals on their threat to them, not their food, and a show can sour with viewers if a flaw such as that becomes prominent.

There are few other worries, even if eliminations and a move into a central kitchen for contests take away the social insight. Judges Manu Feildel and Pete Evans are performing well, with the former revealing a sly sense of humour. No one has had the nerve to serve activated almonds to Evans yet but, if they do, I fully expect a shocked silence before Lilley pulls off his latex mask and takes a bow.

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In his show’s fifth season, the ‘Bondi vet’ takes his devotion to animal welfare overseas.HOW in the world do you operate on a goldfish?
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”Everyone says, ‘Why do you bother?’ but, at the same time, ‘How do you do it?’ ” says Chris Brown with a laugh as he discusses one of the more bizarre surgeries featured in the fifth season of Bondi Vet.

”You don’t do it in the water; you get the fish out of the tank. It’s amazing how you can keep a goldfish alive out of the water, while also under anaesthetic.”

Brown enjoys challenging himself. The 34-year-old negotiates one of television’s most hectic schedules, bustling between three separate Channel Ten shows and a number of writing gigs, all alongside working at the titular clinic. Rest is rarely an option; the man has been home about 10 days in the past two months.

In a way, he’s his own worst enemy. The immense international popularity of Bondi Vet has led him to field numerous overseas requests in the latest season.

”We’re keeping it fresh by travelling; being as much the vet in Bondi as the vet from Bondi,” Brown says. He ventures to the US, Fiji, Thailand, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands, among other places.

Brown was conscious of the need for reinvention in the show’s fifth year and it promises to be an eye-opening experience, with stark international differences in veterinary care visible from the outset.

”The degree to which a country has developed economically is highly related to their attitudes towards animals,” Brown says. ”Places that are developing are often lacking in pretty basic care for animals, [so] you can make a really significant difference in a very short period of time.”

Despite the location shift, the core of the show – the bond between owner and pet – remains constant. It’s a universal thing, according to Brown. ”That passion, that care and wanting to really show that animals mean something – that was the element that needed to remain the same.”

Brown never wished this life upon himself, nor did he seek it out after a chance encounter with a talent scout in a Mosman pub. Fast forward nearly 10 years, though, and the boy from Newcastle is now a commentator, overseas reporter and travel correspondent, alongside his vocational calling.

”It was nothing I ever planned on doing, and I think that’s why there’s an innocence and relaxed outlook to it that comes through,” he says. ”I’ve never really been chasing it – it’s something that organically just happened.”

His other returning gig, sitting on the couch of The Living Room, means he is in the prime-time flagships on both Friday and Saturday nights for Ten, coverage that hasn’t harmed the chiselled veterinarian’s heart-throb status.

Even Living Room co-host Amanda Keller has professed repeatedly to having a crush on him, to which Brown laughs and replies, ”we sit on opposite sides of the couch”.

His poster-boy status is not something he feels entirely comfortable with – he continues to cop flak from colleagues at vet conferences – though by embracing it he hopes to, show by show, educate audiences and promote the profession.

”Hopefully, through the show, people get to see that it’s not just a 9-5 job. It’s all hours; it is demanding,” he says. ”If it can increase the awareness of what vets do, and if it can increase information about what to do with your pets … that’s what I’m proud of.”

Bondi Vet is on Saturday at 7.30pm on Channel Ten.

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Why the sad faces? All will be revealed when these spouses bare their relationships on the ABC.ALBERT Einstein was a man who believed in the limits of science. ”Gravitation,” he once professed, ”is not responsible for people falling in love.”
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He might have been curious, then, about a coming show pitting positive psychology, the so-termed ”science of happiness”, against love lives in crisis.

The ABC explored the emergence of the science with its 2010 show Making Australia Happy, whereby eight individuals, with identifiably low happiness ”scores”, were equipped with techniques from clinical experts to improve their overall contentment.

The reincarnation, Making Couples Happy, doubles the stakes, literally. Public call-outs were extended for couples seeking to improve their relationships, with video diaries sent in to the show.

Not surprisingly, for a show in which people have to unglamorously bare all about their love life to a national audience, the response was not overwhelming.

However, after interviews with the hosts, four were selected, each with their own problems and each of whom returned statistical scores of unhappiness when tested.

Some harbour too much explosive communication, others too little. Intimacy issues are a constant: ”We’re like passing ships in the night,” Alison remarks matter-of-factly of her 29-year marriage to Paul.

During eight weeks, the couples are forced to confront their issues, aided by specialists in the field, and every fortnight their happiness is measured to test the methods.

Married with children in Sydney, Laney had to persuade her understandably apprehensive other half, Darren, to take a punt on the show. They had seen relationship counsellors in the past to no avail and were struggling with balancing a family business, children and a marriage.

”[For us], the downside, which is a little bit of an embarrassment, was worth the upside of a happy marriage,” Laney says.

Each of the couple’s situations deliberately differed from the next, something that struck a chord with Darren. ”Coming from my experience, believing you should keep a lot of your relationship just between the two of you, I think what everyone will notice is the reality of all the couples on the show,” he says. ”Everyone has their issues.”

In this way, the show is as much about the four couples onscreen as every couple at home. Working with real-life case studies and not invented scenarios inevitably draws the public closer in a therapeutic sense.

For host and clinical psychologist John Aiken in particular, it was about taking scientific strategies and reworking them for television. After all, no one wants to watch an hour of talking heads, he says.

The show is intended to deliver tips to couples everywhere, a lofty prospect that excites Aiken. ”For me it’s kind of a dream job, because it gives you a national platform to make relationships accessible,” he says. ”It demystifies them and it empowers couples.”

Making Couples Happy is on Thursday at 8.30pm on ABC1.

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FRANK Rigby will give his wife of 64 years a flower on Thursdaymorning, but it won’t have anything to do with Valentine’s Day.
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‘‘He gives me a flower every morning,’’ says Beryl Edith Rigby.

‘‘We could be in the middle of the desert and he’ll find me a flower.

‘‘It’s not always a rose but I always get a flower – every morning.’’

So is the romantic Mr Rigby content with making every day feel like Valentine’s Day? Not a chance.

Today, as he has for six decades, the former Newcastle councillor has published a love poem to his wife in the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘She thinks I’m crazy,’’ says the lifelong Stockton resident.

‘‘And I think she’s right.’’

Mr Rigby met his wife, who he affectionately calls ‘‘Beb’’, in 1944 and the pair married five years later.

Mr Rigby said he started writing poetry as a way to share the wild tales he heard while working on the waterfront.

‘‘You’d hear some funny stories down there but you couldn’t tell them anywhere else,’’ he said.

‘‘I just tried to turn them around so you could tell them in mixed company and I’d put them to rhyme.’’

Eventually, he started penning poems for his wife and submitted one to the Herald for the first time in the early 1960s.

As the tradition continued, he soon found his audience growing to beyond his beloved.

‘‘It seemed like half of Newcastle was reading my poems – the paper should’ve been paying me to write them,’’ he said.

Mr Rigby said his wife cuts out the poems each year and adds them to her jewellery box. And she is looking forward to many more poems and years together.

He chalks up the success of their relationship to their special bond.

The couple founded the John Hunter Children’s Hospital charity, The Kids Club, which has since raised more than $3million.

‘‘We have done everything together – everything I did with the council and John Hunter Hospital foundation wasn’t just me, it was the two of us,’’ Mr Rigby said.

Though Mrs Rigby knows what to expect today, she says she always looks forward to his latest work.

But she can’t nominate a favourite poem.

‘‘They’re all beautiful,’’ she said.

LOVING: Frank still gives his beloved a flower every morning. Picture: Simone De Peak

BLISS: Frank and Beryl Rigby on their wedding day 64 years ago.

MOST club captains believe action is needed to improve the standard of Newcastle district cricket, but opinion is divided on how to achieve that.
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The Newcastle District Cricket Association is expected to reveal more details of its proposed eight-team premier league to the 12 clubs in the next two days, after an initial meeting with the presidents on February 4.

While support for the radical change to the competition appears weak among presidents and other powerbrokers, the captains are more open to the possibility.

Merewether have dominated the competition in the past year, winning two-day, 50-over, Twenty20 and SCG Country Cup titles, and vice-captain Troy Goodwin said the premier league was needed.

“It needs to go to eight teams for the good of Newcastle,” Goodwin said.

“If we want to compete in the Twenty20 comp in Sydney next year, cricket in Newcastle has got to strengthen.”

Stockton-Raymond Terrace skipper Nick Foster and University counterpart Josh Emerton are also supporters.

“They really do need to look at the premier league or cutting a couple of teams back, which will in turn make those players go to other first-grade clubs and make them stronger, which is obviously good for the entire comp,” Emerton said.

Almost three years ago, the NDCA proposed cutting the competition to 10 sides before five of the six clubs threatened to form a voting bloc to defeat the plan.

Veteran Charlestown skipper Steve Mace and first-season Wallsend captain Brett Jackson, whose clubs are struggling, both believe standards will rise only through mergers or cutting sides.

Neither supports a premier league.

“I think the competition has to bite the bullet and actually reduce the number of clubs, whether it be us merge with someone, or someone else,” Jackson said.

“I just think there’s definitely too many clubs and obviously not enough quality players in the top grade.

“With this premier league, who’s going to want to play in the second division?”

Jackson, one of the competition’s leading batsmen, said he would likely leave Wallsend if they were relegated, as he aspired to play the best standard of cricket possible.

Mark Littlewood (Belmont), Ben Woolmer (Wests) and Steve Christie (Waratah-Mayfield) are open to change to improve the competition but are unsure about the premier league until more details are released.

Hamwicks captain Kirk Mullard and Toronto skipper Joe Price believe the competition does not need big changes.

“You can’t have some clubs with the best players in the comp playing in the lower leagues, like for instance the rep captain [Littlewood],” Mullard said.

Hamwicks have won the past three minor premierships and lead the competition.

“It’s just evolution; it goes around in a roundabout,” Mullard said.

Mullard said that when he joined in the mid-90s Hamwicks ran eighth or ninth.

“We’ve been very successful, but we’re under no illusion that at some stage the run will come to an end.”

MEDICAL staff at Muswellbrook District Hospital say a plan to solve its emergency department woes by taking over nursing home beds is a ‘‘poor compromise’’.
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The hospital’s medical staff council chair Dr Mark Rikard-Bell tabled a signed letter at the February council meeting from 14 doctors at the hospital.

They totally disagreed with a plan to expand the emergency department into the on-site nursing home.

‘‘The emergency department is not as important as the care of the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘We have struggled to keep both for many years and resent being coerced into accepting a poor compromise.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported in September complaints that the hospital’s emergency department was grossly undersized.

Doctors say the emergency department needs an estimated $10million facelift but has only got $4million.

Hunter New England Health wants to remove the 18-bed aged-care unit from the hospital’s ground floor to make way for the new emergency department.

However, it has not found a private aged-care provider, and building a new nursing home would be years away.

In the meantime, it is not accepting new nursing-home residents and its interim plans are to use hospital acute-care beds for the elderly residents.

‘‘This will primarily affect the surgical and cataract lists, once again disadvantaging the elderly,’’ Dr Rikard-Bell said.

‘‘It’s probably the worst emergency department in the state and it’s only an extra $2or $3million to fix it properly.’’

Hunter New England chief executive Michael DiRienzo acknowledged it was a difficult situation but said with the growing Muswellbrook population, the new emergency department would be best on the ground floor.

He said they were in discussions with Little Company of Mary Health Care to take over their nursing home licence and would move residents to elsewhere in the hospital when work starts in October.

‘‘No residents will be forced to leave Muswellbrook,’’ he said.

Dr Rikard-Bell has written to Upper Hunter MP George Souris with his objections.

A screenshot from Far Cry 3.TRADITIONAL retail video game sales  slumped 23per cent in Australia last year  as consumers  shifted to game apps and digital downloads.
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But bricks-and-mortar retailers  say that comparing game apps to full-fledged console titles for the Xbox or PlayStation is like comparing a Happy Meal with a Big Mac.

New data from NPD Group Australia shows  the revenue retailers  made  from console hardware, games software and gaming peripherals was $1.161billion last year.

Ron Curry, the chief executive  of  the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, said the sector was still ‘‘buoyant’’ despite the 23per cent fall in traditional sales because the figures did not include sales from online retail, downloadable content, digital subscriptions, mobile games and in-game micro-transactions.

The technology analyst company Telsyte predicts Australians will spend more than $730million on digital games this year,  up from $620million last year.

A Telsyte analyst, Sam Yip, told Fairfax Media that with the move to game apps and online subscription games, bricks-and-mortar  games retailers  had to diversify.

“You’ve got online games that are 10 to 20 times cheaper than packaged games and give you the same sort of experience,” he said.

Mr Yip said the quality gap was closing between Xbox and PlayStation games bought on disc and those available online or on devices such as the iPad.

But  the merchandising director at EB Games, Shane Stockwell,  said there was no comparison between game apps and console blockbusters, still mainly sold on disc because of the large file sizes.

“I would consider app gaming more like a $2 Happy Meal at Maccas,” Mr Stockwell said.

“Some people want the  Happy Meal, some people want the Big Mac – they’re not the same  and they have a price difference. I’m playing Far Cry 3  from Ubisoft – there’s no way an app compares to that.”

Mr Stockwell said he had put 30-40 hours into  the game, “and an app doesn’t come close.  But my son, who’s nine, loves playing Minecraft  … so it’s horses for courses.”

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THE Greens have launched a new bid to force the nation’s biggest miners to pay up under the mining tax, raising the pressure on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to admit the deal signed off with the three biggest miners in 2010 was botched.
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The minor party, whose support is crucial to the Labor government’s survival, wants to fix the underperforming mining tax in order to fund schools, dental health and disability insurance.

Armed with fresh data from the new Parliamentary Budget Office, it will build on its existing motion to plug the royalties hole with a second amendment limiting the scope of the biggest miners, such as BHP Billiton, Xstrata and Rio Tinto, to deduct asset values from current earnings.

Along with other cross-benchers and the opposition, the Greens believe Ms Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan were outmanoeuvred by the big three when cutting the new deal following the leadership change from Kevin Rudd.

The Greens say closing the loophole that allows state governments to increase royalty charges, which must then be refunded by Canberra, would save more than $2.2 billion.

Its other change would close a loophole that allows the big miners to write-off the market value of existing assets over a number of years, rather than deducting the lower book value over just five years.

It says this would secure more than $4 billion in revenue by 2016-17 and an extra $1.8 billion a year.

”Labor is taking more money off single parents than it has collected from the mining tax,” deputy leader Adam Bandt told Fairfax Media.

Its move comes as the failure of the minerals resource rent tax, which raised just $126 million in its first six months, emerges as a potential flashpoint for the Labor leadership.

MPs loyal to the Prime Minister are fuming at public criticism of the tax this week by Kevin Rudd, chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon and others.

Mr Rudd used a Sky News interview on Tuesday to remind colleagues that his original super profits mining tax had been stronger but was replaced with the watered down version by Ms Gillard and Mr Swan after the leadership coup. He said it was never right for governments to take a backward step when pursuing the national interest.

Amid the tension, an email from an ALP supporter to Mr Rudd on Wednesday was distributed widely among Labor MPs, reviving memories of the bitter personal campaign against the former prime minister’s character last year.

”Mr Rudd, your disloyalty to your leader and party is shameful,” wrote retired school teacher, Sue Martin, of Avalon Beach, New South Wales.

”It appears that childishly, you feel that if you can’t be PM then no other Labor politician should be.”

The 63 year-old said she had always supported Labor, and was tired of Mr Rudd’s approach, which she characterised as delighting in ”half smiles and non-committal responses”.

Ms Gillard has ruled out changes to the mining tax but wants to renegotiate terms with the states to cap royalty rises.

But that appears doomed, with the conservative-run resource states of Queensland, Western Australia and NSW all dismissing any suggestion of placing limits on their own revenue streams.

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Sydney victims had come forward over alleged abuse after publicity in Fairfax Media earlier this month.NSW POLICE are investigating complaints that Jewish children were abused in Sydney.
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Fairfax Media understands that complaints have been made against two perpetrators, both associated with the Yeshiva Centre at Bondi, one of whom has more than one alleged victim.

A police spokesman said the allegations dated back to the late 1970s and 1980s, and referred to abuse of children by adults associated with a Jewish school operating at that time.

The spokesman said eastern suburbs detectives began inquiries in February last year after getting information from Victoria Police, and had spoken to people interstate and overseas.

These are the first formal complaints about the Orthodox community in Sydney, but there have been several in Melbourne.

Rabbi Pinchas Feldman, the spiritual leader of Sydney’s Yeshiva Centre, said he was shocked to hear of the allegations, and the call from Fairfax was the first he had heard of it. ”I do not recall anyone ever coming to me with such a problem. I am shocked to hear that anything of this nature has taken place here,” he said, adding the centre would co-operate fully with any inquiry.

Victims advocate Manny Waks, himself abused at Melbourne’s Yeshiva Centre as a boy, said other Sydney victims had come forward after publicity by Fairfax Media about comments by senior Chabad rabbi Manis Friedman minimising the effects of child sex abuse.

Rabbi Friedman, based in the US, compared abuse with a case of diarrhoea – embarrassing but private – and said victims learnt a valuable lesson from abuse. He later apologised, saying his intention was to help empower victims to move forward.

Mr Waks, founder of the Tzedek advocacy group for Jewish abuse survivors, said there had long been credible reports of child sex abuse victims within the ultra-Orthodox community in Sydney, as well as reports of cover-ups.

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Rio Tinto has confirmed it will keep Gove up and running.THE underperforming Gove alumina refinery – and 1500 jobs at Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory – are saved, but a tussle remains over who will pay for it.
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Rio Tinto confirmed on Wednesday that it would keep Gove, operated by its Pacific Aluminium subsidiary, up and running after the NT government said gas would be supplied from Italian major Eni’s offshore fields in the Bonaparte Basin for the next 10 years, via a new 600-kilometre pipeline to Nhulunbuy. The gas will help the loss-making refinery move from expensive fuel oil to gas – an option apparently rejected by former operator Alcan in 2003.

It is understood Pacific Aluminium will buy gas directly from Eni on commercial terms without a direct government subsidy, at a price to be negotiated.

The deal is only possible because in 2005 NT signed a 25-year contract with Eni, at about half the market price, in the vicinity of $6 a gigajoule, and is prepared to make some of that gas available to Gove, by bringing forward production plans and shortening the territory’s period of gas price certainty. There will be no immediate increase in gas prices for territory consumers, however.

NT Chief Minister Terry Mills put the cost of the deal at $1.2 billion. Eni and the APA Group will spend $500 million on a new offshore well and new compression equipment.

Another $500 million will be needed to build a pipeline from Katherine to Nhulunbuy, perhaps owned by APA, and part-funded by the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.

The Commonwealth is being asked to underwrite the pipeline, but it is not clear whether this will be through guarantee or direct funding.

The total cost will be recovered from gas sales to Pacific Aluminium, which will spend $200 million to convert its generators to gas.

Deutsche Bank’s head of resources, Paul Young, said the Gove refinery had long been the ”problem child” of the Pacific Aluminium portfolio as it had never achieved its nameplate capacity, due to design flaws. But the deal on Gove – which supplies alumina to Rio’s smelters at Bell Bay, Tiwai, and Tomago – would improve Rio’s chances of selling Pacific Aluminium, which Deutsche valued at $US3.5 billion.

Mr Young said, however, that the decision to keep Gove operating was less than optimal and would cost shareholders half a billion dollars, even factoring in closure costs, compared with the option of exporting 100 per cent of the bauxite to China.

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Mobile … new Sydney signing Jarrod Kyle hopes his short spell could turn into something more permanent.HE’S big, he’s tall, and Sydney FC coach Frank Farina reckons 19-year-old Jarrod Kyle might be the secret weapon to unleash on unsuspecting rivals in the race to the finals.
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The burly striker has been on trial for the Sky Blues in recent weeks after being released by Sheffield Wednesday last month and impressed enough to win a deal for the rest of the season.

Born and raised on the Gold Coast, Kyle had an impressive time at the Owls academy – winning their player-of-the-year award last season – but asked to be released so he could chase a deal in the A-League.

The Sky Blues waited until the final hours of the transfer window on Monday before adding Kyle to their list. Jason Culina was released on the same day after falling out with Frank Farina but the coach insists he would have signed Kyle regardless.

”We had some information that he was coming back from England and we had a look at him and liked what I saw,” Farina said after training at Macquarie University on Wednesday. ”He’s a young kid, an Aussie, well over six foot. It’s worth having a look until the end of the season and we’ll go from there.”

However, Farina said Kyle wouldn’t be ready to face Adelaide United at Allianz Stadium on Saturday. ”He’s most probably a little bit underdone at this stage,” he said. ”That’s up to him [when he gets an opportunity], how he goes fitness-wise and in the games at training.”

Farina described his new acquisition as ”arguably an old-fashioned centre-forward”. ”He’s very strong, he’s quite mobile and you don’t often see strikers come along at that age of that size and pace,” the coach said.

Farina refused to be drawn on his split with former Socceroo Culina. ”That’s a closed chapter and everyone’s said what needs to be said,” Farina said. ”We’ve moved on and I’m sure Jason has as well.”

Kyle said he was hoping to impress when given a chance and that his short spell could turn into something more permanent. ”I’ve been overseas for 2½ years, so to have the opportunity to come back is brilliant,” he said.

”There was one or two [other A-League clubs interested] but this club appealed to me the most. They’ve won the A-League twice and they’re a massive club. I’m just so enthusiastic to start, so once I get on the pitch and get my opportunity to play, I’ll make it count.”

The forward believes his stint with the Championship side has made him all the more ready to impress at A-League level.

”The amount of experience I picked up while I was over there was invaluable,” Kyle said.

The visit of Adelaide gives Sydney a chance to avenge their two defeats at the hands of the Reds earlier in the season. With the Sky Blues in the top six for the first time since the opening month, confidence is high at Moore Park.

But with Alessandro Del Piero in blistering form, and competition for places heating up, the fans expect the team to keep improving. ”Every game for the club, at the moment, is huge,” Farina said. ”It’s like playing finals football 12 weeks early.”

Adelaide halted their slide last week with a barnstorming win over Melbourne Victory, galvanising the team behind new coach Michael Valkanis – even though he’ll be watching this game from the stands after being sent off.

”They were really up for that game and have been most probably inconsistent due to what’s happening around the club,” Farina said. ”But they’re worthy of being where they are. They’re mobile, have got some dangerous players up front and they’re a compact team. They’ve beaten us twice this year, so they’re a difficult opponent for us.”

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WORLD No.1 Yani Tseng endured a rocky relationship with her golf clubs last year but now they have kissed and made up.
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Before Thursday’s Australian Open at Royal Canberra, Tseng said she broke down in tears when told by her coach to take the unusual step of thanking her golf clubs.

Having won four majors during 2010 and 2011, finishing fourth on last year’s LPGA Tour is considered a lean year by fans who expect perfection from the 24-year-old.

But the Taiwanese superstar, named in Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in the world last year, says she is now better equipped to deal with the pressure.

”My coach told me I should be more appreciative of what I’m doing right now and he asked me a question – ‘have you said thank you to your golf club?’,” she said.

”I started crying because I feel like I never did that to my club. My club is my best friend. I do my job and my club does his job, so I know my club is helping me to win in a tournament, too.

”I know it’s so funny but I always thank my caddie, thank my team. I never think about my club and then I started feeling very appreciative about everything.”

Last year, Tseng won three of her first five tournaments but missed three cuts and failed to crack the top 50 in five mid-season events.

Tseng will begin her Australian Open campaign in the same group as young guns Michelle Wie and Lydia Ko on Thursday morning.

”I know it’s been a tough year for me but, when I look back, I have three wins, I have 12 top 10s, so that’s still pretty good because all the people are putting high expectations on me, even myself,” Tseng said.

”Last year, I looked at lots of press and the news – it drove me crazy, people saying ‘Yani is struggling’ and ‘Yani can’t play golf any more’.

”I know winning is not easy and I feel very lucky right now.

”I just want to focus on enjoying this week, enjoying my travelling and just keep smiling.”

Leading Australian Karrie Webb couldn’t help but smile when asked about Tseng’s so-called ”rough patch” last year.

”Yeah, that was a terrible year she had last year – three wins, $1.5 million [prizemoney]. I would have hated to have had a year like that,” Webb said.

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“There’s been a lot of people who have been around the club for a long time as well, and they’ve all helped contribute to the success that we’ve had” … John Hutchinson.JOHN HUTCHINSON is on track to become the first player to complete a decade of service with the Central Coast Mariners after agreeing to a contract extension until 2015.
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The 33-year-old joined the Gosford club upon their entry into the A-League in 2005 after a decade in the National Soccer League, first with home-town club Morwell Falcons, then with Northern Spirit.

His time with the Mariners was broken only by a four-month loan spell in 2011. That was with their sister club, Chinese side Chengdu Blades, then under the guidance of inaugural Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna.

After looking as though his career might be wound up by the emergence of several brilliant youngsters at Central Coast, Hutchinson – who played his early career as an attacking left-winger – reinvented himself as a holding midfielder in the past two seasons, effectively filling the hole left by Rostyn Griffiths.

The club will commemorate his decade at Bluetongue Stadium with a testimonial match to be played before the next A-League season.

”It would be good if that happened and if it does I’d like a lot of people to come back and celebrate the day with me,” Hutchinson said. ”There’s been a lot of people who have been around the club for a long time as well, and they’ve all helped contribute to the success that we’ve had.”

Despite having played in three grand finals without tasting the ultimate success, Hutchinson is proud of topping the table twice with the Mariners. Coach Graham Arnold, widely credited with transforming and extending Hutchinson’s career, said the Maltese international was the kind of player you could build a club around. ”’Hutch’ … is one of the true servants of the club,” Arnold said.

■ Brisbane Roar captain Matt Smith will miss the rest of the season after hip surgery. He will be out for up to four months. “I am bitterly disappointed to be out for the rest of the season,” Smith said.

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ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA prop Dan Hunt has thrown his support behind coach Steve Price, saying the embattled mentor had the approval of the team.
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Following Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy’s decision to reject the Dragons, Hunt, who won a 2005 Jersey Flegg premiership under Price, said the coach should be the club’s long-term option.

”I’ve got a great relationship with him and he knows how to get the best out of me,” Hunt said.

”I’d love him to stay as our coach. I don’t think there is a decision to be made. Pricey is our coach for 2013 and we’ll deal with whatever comes in the future.”

The Dragons’ four-month pursuit of the premiership-winning coach ended when Bellamy committed to the Storm until at least the end of 2016 on Monday.

Although St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust said he would work through potential coaching options, Hunt insisted the innuendo had not been a distraction.

”We’ve got Pricey’s back all the way,” Hunt said.

”We weren’t too worried about the Bellamy stuff; we don’t really buy into that type of stuff.

”We’ve got our ranks pretty closed and we’re buying into what Pricey is coaching and we believe in him. I think it’s disrespectful to Pricey to talk about it; he is a really good coach.”

A slight calf strain has kept Hunt, 26, in Wollongong as most of his teammates prepare for their first hit-out of the season against North Queensland in Cairns on Saturday.

Hunt, fellow prop Michael Weyman (knee) and the overlooked centre Nathan Green are among the top players not travelling with the squad. He expects to play in next Friday’s annual Charity Shield clash against South Sydney.

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Grounding the ball … last year’s awarding of Billy Slater’s try against Manly would not be a try this year.REFEREE boss Daniel Anderson has appointed former players Luke Patten, Matt Rodwell and Justin Morgan as video referees for 2013.
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Anderson, who also intends to have two officials in the video referees’ box for all matches, announced the trio as part of a push from the former NRL coach to increase the number of former players among the refereeing ranks.

The trio will take part in a level-one referees course before the start of the season, with Patten to make his debut alongside Steve Clark in the Charity Shield match on Friday, February 22.

”They will be part of a two-man team to ensure no errors occur upstairs,” Anderson said.

The obstruction rule, which was the subject of great debate in an error-plagued season last year, was again discussed at Wednesday’s briefing.

Anderson admitted there would still be some grey area around the rule this year but believed he had minimised the uncertainty with new interpretations.

He had instructed referees to penalise a blocker if he made any contact with the defensive line, encouraging players to stop before the line or run through it without impeding a defender.

The message had been relayed to all 16 coaches, who had worked overtime in the off season to ensure players were aware of it.

”You can’t run at defenders and initiate contact and the defensive line cannot be disadvantaged,” Anderson said.

Regardless of whether the impeded defender had any chance of making a tackle, the referees would penalise the offender, even if the infringement was made at the ruck and the try was scored out wide.

It’s an interpretation that Australian coach Tim Sheens believed could provide more obstacles than answers. Sheens was concerned coaches and players would try to exploit the rule.

But Anderson defended the decision to penalise all contact made by decoy runners, regardless of its impact on the play, and insisted there couldn’t be exceptions to the rule based on how far the play had gone after the impact.

Under the new interpretations, the attacking team would not be penalised if the defender initiated the contact on the blocker.

He also gave a detailed explanation of how the video review system would work under the new rules.

If the on-field referees wanted to double check a ruling, they would have to make a ”live decision” – try or no try – before sending it up to the video referee for review.

The decision could only be overturned if there was sufficient evidence to suggest the on-field referee’s live decision was incorrect.

”There was too much going upstairs last year,” Anderson said. ”Referees have an instinct and are usually in the best position to make a call and we want them to have the confidence to do that.”

There was also some clarification on the banned shoulder charge. A player would escape penalty if he attempted to wrap his arms around the ball-runner.Explained: The NRL’s rule adjustments

LIVE DECISION, TRY: If the referee thinks it’s a try but wants to review the play, he will signal after calling time off and initiating the review. His original decision can only be overturned if evidence suggests otherwise.

LIVE DECISION, NO TRY: The onus is on the referee to make a live decision before asking the video referee to review his initial decision. If he thinks it’s not a try, he will signal after calling time off and initiating the review. His original decision can only be overturned if evidence suggests otherwise.

GROUNDING THE BALL: Billy Slater’s try, pictured, when he grounded the ball with his arm but has lost control. It was called a try last year but would not be a try this year.

BLOCKING: Referees will penalise players who don’t attempt to catch the ball but impede the path of the chaser.

OBSTRUCTION: If a defender initiates the contact with the block runner, it is not deemed to be an obstruction.

SHOULDER CHARGE: If a defender makes no attempt to use his arms on the attacking player in the tackle, he will be penalised for a shoulder charge. The defender doesn’t have to wrap his arms around the ball carrier but must at least attempt to.

OBSTRUCTION: If the block runner initiates contact with a defender, the attacking team will be penalised, even if the impeded player has no chance of making a tackle. The block runner must stop or run through the line.

OBSTRUCTION: The ball-runner is not permitted to run behind an active block runner, regardless of the depth, if he disadvantages the defender. A try was awarded last year but wouldn’t be this year.

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A BRITISH couple accused of killing their six children in a house fire started the blaze themselves as part of a ”plan that went horribly wrong”, a court has heard.
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Prosecutors claim that Mick Philpott, 56, and his 31-year-old wife Mairead set fire to their house in Derby, in the English Midlands, last May in a bid to frame his ex-girlfriend and claim custody of the four children they had together.

The Philpotts, along with a third defendant Paul Mosley, 46, each denied six counts of manslaughter at Nottingham Crown Court on Tuesday.

As their trial opened, Philpott sobbed and tried to leave the dock as the jury listened to the frantic telephone call the couple made to emergency services when the fire took hold in the early hours of May 11, 2012.

Mairead Philpott was heard screaming on the tape, while her husband choked back sobs and told the operator: ”I can’t get in.”

The jury heard that neighbours tried to rescue the children, aged five to 13, but were overwhelmed by smoke and flames. When police carried the children’s bodies from the house, their father had to be restrained.

”It must have been quite clear the plan had gone horribly wrong,” prosecutor Richard Latham told the court.

Philpott was overheard at the hospital saying: ”It wasn’t meant to end like this.”

Police later made secret recordings of conversations between the couple. In one extract, Philpott told his wife: ”Make sure you stick to your story.”

The jury was told the fire broke out early on the morning Philpott was due to attend court with his ex-mistress, Lisa Willis, to discuss where their children should live.

The court heard that a fortnight before the tragedy, Philpott told friends he had a plan that would help him win his children back.

”[Ms Willis] was being set up as the culprit,” Mr Latham said.

Mosley is accused of having planned with the Philpotts to rescue the children from the fire. AFP

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