May or may not: Swans facing acid test month

IT WILL be May Day tomorrow, but for the Swans it is also D-day – the day everyone gets a better idea of just how serious a threat they will be this season.Sydney have stunned many by topping the ladder after five rounds, winning four games by healthy margins. But no one – critics, fans, nor even the players or coaching staff – is getting too carried away, realising their four victims are all likely to be inactive during September.That changes tomorrow, when the Swans host Brisbane, considered to be legitimate top-four contenders. Then come Geelong, the Bulldogs and Fremantle, and by the month’s end we will know how the Swans stand.”Our ladder position … as a player, I don’t really even look at it,” claimed co-captain Brett Kirk. ”It’s more about how as a team we are going, whether we are playing the right game plan and playing for four quarters.”Probably over the last few weeks, in patches, we’ve played some good footy, but we’ve been up and down, and to beat Brisbane it needs to be a big four-quarter effort.”Kirk agreed the next four weeks would be the acid test.”We play our next four teams who are all in the top five or six positions, and they are all playing really good footy at the moment, but we’re not really looking too far into the future, just this week against Brisbane, we’ll get a bit more of an idea from there.”You can only play as well as the opposition you’re playing against. I guess from outside the walls we’re not too worried how people are seeing us. Nobody really gave us too much of a hope early on, and people will obviously judge us come Saturday night.”Coach Paul Roos admitted he was a ”little bit” surprised but pleased to be 4-1. ”The kids look at it and everyone else gets excited about it, but when you’ve been in footy for so long, it’s [the ladder] more of a reference point than anything,” Roos said.”It means nothing other than you’ve won four games. If we were 4-1 and fifth, it makes no difference to being 4-1 and first at this time of year.”I think we are playing really well, our personnel is really good, our game style has been standing up at this stage of the season, the players we’ve got from other clubs have performed extremely well. I think we’re in really good form and I think we’ll get a better idea [of where they are] after Saturday night.”I’d rather be up there than down the bottom, but it’s 22 weeks, it’s a long year, and I guarantee something: four wins won’t get up into the eight.”Roos, meanwhile, made just one change to the team which beat West Coast, replacing the injured Craig Bolton with Ted Richards.There had been some speculation that Roos might not go with Richards, and instead give Bolton’s defensive role to Nick Smith, leaving him then able to bring a midfielder into the team, someone like the speedy rookie Gary Rohan (who was named as an emergency). The one downside with that move, though, would be if Lewis Roberts-Thomson or Heath Grundy were injured during the game, and Sydney would be short one tall defender.”It was pretty much a straight swap for a defender,” Roos said.Brisbane have lost defender Daniel Merrett, out with a hamstring injury but have some handy inclusions in Justin Sherman, Luke Power, and Amon Buchanan.
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It’s sink or swim as front-rowers face exposure

INVERCARGILL: Waratahs forward coach Michael Foley has conceded that a lack of depth in NSW’s front row stocks could be exposed against the Highlanders tonight. But Foley also said the encounter would be an opportunity for the new faces in NSW’s engine room – starting prop Dan Palmer and reserve Jeremy Tilse – to prove otherwise.The Waratahs are without Wallabies props Benn Robinson (arm injury) and Sekope Kepu (calf). Palmer takes the loose-head No.1 spot alongside hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and tight-head Al Baxter.While Palmer has only 10 Super caps, Tilse has earned just two in five years with NSW.But Foley backed the pair: ”I have confidence in these guys, and I don’t say that lightly. There will be challenges. This weekend is going to be a massive challenge.”Palmer, 21, had all the makings of a world class prop, said Foley. He said that by being tested in the unaccustomed role of loose-head against Highlanders tight-head Clint Newland, who weighs 130 kilograms, Palmer’s development will take a huge leap forward.”He has served a good apprenticeship. He has worked really hard at being a two-sided prop,” Foley said of Palmer.Tilse, 24, who has been on NSW’s books since 2006 and is their fifth prop, has had his progress delayed by his background and the fact that three of the four props ahead of him are Wallabies. ”Tilsey is a guy who converted from second row at school,” Foley said. ”You can convert someone who has a short leverage quickly, but someone with long levers takes a bit of time.”That late conversion – four or five years now – if you said to somebody: ‘I am going to give you four years of opportunity to play at front row and you are going to have to go out there and prove it at a provincial level …’ That is a big ask.”Tilsey is on the verge. But he has also had quite a few decent props in front of him. He has three Wallabies, and up to now there have even been four, with Matt Dunning [now at the Force], Al Baxter, Sekope Kepu and Benn Robinson.”
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Shattered but not broken, Lee vows to play on

ST LUCIA: Brett Lee is determined to play on after his latest setback, but Australia’s team doctor has foreshadowed a difficult road back for the speedster, who flew home from the World Twenty20 campaign in the Caribbean with an arm injury.A shattered Lee departed St Lucia on Wednesday but wants to force his way back into the Australian one-day side for the July tour against Pakistan in England. Lee’s manager, Neil Maxwell, said the 33-year-old paceman was not considering international retirement following the latest setback – his fifth notable injury in the past 16 months.”I don’t think that he is at that mindset at the moment,” Maxwell told the Herald soon after speaking with Lee yesterday. ”There is no doubt this is the home straight [of his career] but he knows that last October- November he was playing the best cricket of his career.”Maxwell added Lee had returned from his elbow surgery too soon in order to play in the IPL, where he suffered a broken thumb.The new elbow injury – unrelated to the previous one – will sideline Lee for up to three weeks, forcing Australia to call Ryan Harris into their World Twenty20 squad. Lee’s plan to fight his way back into the ODI side and retire after next year’s World Cup will depend entirely on the selectors’ willingness to risk him again.Team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris, who has devoted much of his time over the years to helping Lee recover from injuries, conceded the fast bowler’s body was suffering from a decade of strain in the international arena and predicted an arduous psychological battle ahead.”It would be very, very hard, I would imagine,” Kountouris said. ”In the last 12 months he has hardly played and he has had four different injuries [not including the broken thumb]. He had ankle surgery early last year, he had that side strain in England, and then he got that elbow injury after that. One is sort of a consequence of another. The common factor is he has got to come back and he has got to do something that is very difficult to do at the best of times, and he’s trying to do it with a body that is being rehabilitated. You have to try to manage it as best as possible. But that’s what happens when you push your body to the limit. Sometimes things don’t work for you.”The road ahead might be difficult, but Kountouris and Lee’s Australian teammates believe the paceman can resurrect his international career. ”If he wants to come back from this, he can,” Kountouris said. ”If he wants to rehab it, he’ll be fine. In 12 months from now, he’s not going to have an issue. It’s whether he wants to keep doing it, and so far he has. He has been motivated.”Teammate Nathan Hauritz said: ”Knowing Brett the way I do, he’ll work hard because he still wants to play a lot of cricket. He’ll have to do a lot of work.”Lee strained a muscle in his right forearm during his fourth over of the match against Zimbabwe on Tuesday.
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GWS in $3m swoop for Folau

THE AFL is reported to be funding half of a $3 million contract offer to Brisbane rugby league star Israel Folau to persuade him to spearhead its expansion into western Sydney.The news comes as Essendon confirmed that AFL clubs would jump at the chance to snare Greg Inglis or Billy Slater in the wake of the Storm salary cap scandal.Folau, 21, who is today expected to confirm he will cut short his contract with the Broncos, was thought to be poised to sign a lucrative deal with the new Melbourne Rebels Super rugby franchise. But the AFL Footy Show last night reported Folau has an in-principle offer of $3 million over three years to join Team GWS instead, half of which would be funded by the AFL for marketing the game in the league stronghold.It was also reported the contract offer was triggered by an approach from Folau’s representatives, Titan Management Group, in the past two months because the former Melbourne Storm player was impressed about the luring of former Broncos teammate Karmichael Hunt from rugby league to AFL.Folau, who went to high school in Fairfield, was also said to have been tested for skills – such as kicking and marking – by AFL high performance coach Jason McCartney.Unlike Hunt, Folau has never played AFL before, although his 195-centimetre and 103-kilogram physique was said to have impressed AFL-GWS recruiters nonetheless. GWS coach Kevin Sheedy was also said to have spoken ”once or twice” to the potential recruit.Folau’s manager Isaac Moses could not be contacted last night to corroborate the offer, nor could AFL spokesman Patrick Keane. Calls to GWS chief executive Dale Holmes and Sheedy were not answered.Holmes did say earlier in the week: ”We just are not going to comment on any speculation – it’s not fair on the parties involved. We are just focused on the youth we need to bring into the club.”Broncos CEO Bruno Cullen was resigned to losing Folau. ”What I’m led to believe is there are two offers and they’re absolutely sensational,” Cullen said. ”If he stays we’ll be rejoicing, but that sort of money is tough to knock back.”While rugby union had been seen as the main threat to the Storm’s hopes of keeping Inglis, Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in the NRL, Essendon boss Ian Robson said many AFL clubs would also be interested in them.”If you are asking me the question as to whether I would be interested in Greg Inglis, then the answer is yes,” Robson said. ”But I reckon you would get the same answer from just about every club in every sport in Australia, including basketball.”Of course I would be interested in Greg Inglis if he became available but I think there’d be a pretty long queue. I am sure there would be plenty of interest in Billy Slater, too. Who wouldn’t be interested in a fantastic athlete of their age and ability?”Robson said that Sheedy had previously stated that Inglis was the NRL player he believed was most capable of making the switch to AFL. But Robson denied having made any inquires about Inglis should he leave the Storm.Inglis said: ”At this point of time I know that I am staying at the club and at this point of time I know I am not going anywhere. I just want to stay in Melbourne.”
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Portrait of city reveals rare talent … reading between the lines

PEOPLE stared at him in wonder during the three days it took to complete his detailed drawing of the Sydney skyline. But for the autistic British artist Stephen Wiltshire, it was a cinch.”Big drawings are very hard to do,” he said. The one of Sydney – about a metre squared – was much smaller. Mr Wiltshire drew a 10-metre-wide image of Tokyo in 2005. But for any size, ”I always concentrate doing drawings.”The artist – brought to Australia for Autism Month – attracted a stream of onlookers as he created the work at Customs House in Circular Quay from memory. He had prepared by taking in the view from Sydney Tower for about 40 minutes on Tuesday. He liked Sydney’s shapes, he said.The artist listened to music as he drew, smiling often.The 36-year-old MBE says little about his gift which has brought him world acclaim. But his sister, Annette, who travels with him, thought the way he looked at cities had to do with him absorbing ”lines and horizontal-vertical … The number of windows as well.”I think probably what’s more difficult for him is trying to remember the streets and the things that are not familiar to him … perhaps a sculpture or birds.”But she was still mystified by his ability. She knows, though, that the recognition he has received for his drawing ability has helped him develop. ”It’s worked very well for him – it’s helped him come out of himself more. He’s less withdrawn.”Autism Spectrum Australia, or Aspect, which arranged Wiltshire’s visit, says about 20 per cent of people on the autistic spectrum – about 130,000 Australians – are believed to have savant-like abilities but only about 100 in the world have a talent as advanced as Wiltshire’s.The artist will sign work and talk about it at Customs House today from 11am. The picture will be on show – with his other work – until May 16 when copies will be sold to raise funds for Aspect. Autism Hour is from 9am today.
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