The US election: what you need to know

THE RACE TO 270
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The president is not elected by popular vote but by the Electoral College. The number of Electoral College votes per state is roughly proportional to the population of that state. There are 538 votes in total, so to secure the White House a candidate must win 269 votes plus one for a majority.

The Democrats began the election with an advantage because many of the most populous states are strongly Democrat. According to analysis by the Real Clear Politics website, Democrat President Barack Obama began the campaign with 201 likely votes, Republican challenger Mitt Romney with 191.

SWING STATES

By the measure above, this leaves 11 states as contestable; of these, the most valuable are those with the most electoral votes in which the contenders are closest. This year, Ohio, Florida and Virginia are the most crucial, along with North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Hampshire.

SPLIT VOTE

This also means it is possible to lose the popular vote and win the election. With Mr Obama leading in the Electoral College count so far, but tied in the national polls, many suspect this could happen this year.

CONGRESS

Americans are not just voting for their president today. About a third of the Senate is up for election, as is all of the House of Representatives. Early predictions suggest Democrats will maintain their control of the Senate, Republicans the House, prompting fears of further gridlock, whoever wins the White House.

TRANSFER OF POWER

If Mr Romney wins the 2012 presidential election, he will immediately become the president-elect, but will have no formal executive powers until he is inaugurated. He will be inaugurated and take the oath of office in Washington, DC at noon on January 20, 2013. Between the election of a new president and the inauguration, the president-elect will traditionally name a transition chief to manage the administrative tasks of the transition of power. A White House Chief of Staff will be named and cabinet secretaries will be nominated, though they must be approved by a majority vote in the US Senate, which cannot happen until the new year.

STATE BY STATE

Americans will also be voting on various referendums, as well as for state, county and even school board positions. For example, Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpio, famous for his enthusiastic targeting of suspected illegal immigrants and fondness for chain gangs, is up for election.

It is estimated it will take some people 45 minutes just to fill in their ballots.

LOCAL LAWS

Each state has its own election laws and regulations, some which make it quite difficult to cast a ballot. Lawyers are already circling in Florida and Ohio, where early voters have been waiting in lines for hours only to see doors closed ahead of them.

VOTER ID

New voter identification laws that critics claim benefit Republicans (because voters from minority groups, who are more likely not to have photo ID, are also more likely to vote Democratic) have also caused controversy.

Defending the laws became harder after the Pennsylvania state House Republican Leader Mike Turzai listed as one of his achievements: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

EARLY VOTING

In Iowa, where this election began with the Republican caucuses in the snows of January, the counting of early votes began in late September, followed days later by other swing states, such as Ohio. Iowa began counting absentee ballots on Monday, the day before the national election. Well over 600,000 Iowans have already voted, a new record for the state, with a plurality of those votes coming from registered Democrats.

POLL OPENING TIMES

Each state sets its own hours for when voting polls are open, but the earliest will begin at 6am in Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Virginia on the east coast. Polls typically close between 6pm and 8pm (Iowa closes voting at 10pm), though judges will order polling places to remain open for longer if there are delays in voting, such as very long lines or malfunctioning equipment.

ANNOUNCING RESULTS

The media will not announce the winner of a state until the polls in that state close and exit polls should not be treated as reliable – they have missed badly in the past. Considering how close many states are – and the embarrassment media organisations have suffered from calling a state early and then having to rescind that prediction – expect to not know who has won the election until late into the night.

Most likely, there will be no announcement until after 10pm Eastern US time, and it could be much later – perhaps into the next morning.

GAY MARRIAGE

Gay marriage is a hot issue in the US. Four states – Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington – will have that issue on the ballot tomorrow as state referendums. Gay marriage is already legal in Maryland, but the referendum could overturn it. Maine is voting on whether to allow gay marriage for the second time in just a few years and Minnesota is voting on whether to adjust the state constitution to make marriage strictly between a man and a woman.

KEY CONTESTS

Key Senate races to watch are in Indiana, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Missouri. In Indiana, right-wing tea party favourite Richard Mourdock ousted moderate conservative Richard Lugar, a Republican icon, in a bitter party primary months ago. Had Lugar won the GOP nomination he would have held this seat for the Republicans easily, but Mourdock is considered too extreme by many, even in this conservative state.

In Connecticut, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon is a conservative Republican trying to win the seat of the retiring Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate in 2000. Democrat Chris Murphy is trying to hold the seat for the Democrats and is now favoured slightly.

In Maine, the Republican and the Democrat are both trailing Angus King, an independent candidate and former governor. Although King has no formal ties to either party, he is generally considered more liberal than conservative and the Democratic candidate, Cynthia Dill, running a very distant third place because so many Democrats are voting for King.

In Missouri, Republican Todd Akin, a darling of the tea party and an ardent opponent of abortion, was favoured to take this seat away from the incumbent, moderate Democrat Claire McCaskill. However, Akin turned the race upside down when he defended outlawing abortion even in cases of rape, declaring that the female reproductive system has ways of preventing a pregnancy in case of rape. This is a conservative state that will go for Mitt Romney, but McCaskill is now favoured to keep the seat for the Democrats.

In Massachusetts, moderate Republican Scott Brown won a special election in 2010 to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy, younger brother of the former president and an icon of American liberals. In this deeply blue state, even a moderate Republican like Brown was always going to have trouble and he’s found it in Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and sharp critic of Wall Street shenanigans. Brown led in most polls throughout the summer, but Warren has now pulled ahead in most surveys and is favoured to win a narrow victory, returning this seat to the Democrats.

SITES TO WATCH FOR NEWS

You will be able to read constant updates from this website’s live election coverage starting at 5am. Alternative sources in the US for specialist coverage include:

Good websites to use to follow the U.S. election are Real Clear Politics, Politico, Associated Press, and CNN.

POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

What are the major policy differences between the candidates?

Taxes and budget

Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes 20 per cent across the board and pay for the measure by closing unspecified tax loopholes. Barack Obama wants tax rates for wealthy Americans to rise, returning to the levels they were at during the Clinton administration, but keep the tax rates for everyone else stable. Mr Romney wants to cut the budget deficit through massive cuts in government spending, though he has not said what he will cut. Mr Obama wants “shared sacrifice”, which means a mixture of budget cuts and tax increases for the wealthy to reduce the deficit.

Defence

Mr Romney wants to increase defence spending – about the only part of government that he thinks is under-funded, while Mr Obama wants a gradual reduction in defence spending as he continues his plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Mr Romney opposes Mr Obama’s plan to end the war in Afghanistan, just as he opposed Mr Obama ending the war in Iraq.

Social issues

Mr Romney opposes abortion rights and gay marriage and promises to use the power of the federal government to limit or end them. Mr Obama has come out in support of gay marriage and promises to protect abortion rights and contraception. Since the president appoints Supreme Court justices – and those justices decide on the constitutionality of laws covering abortion, gay marriage and many other issues – a president has the ability to shape national policy in those areas for many years after he leaves office.

Health care

Mitt Romney opposes the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency and one that will guarantee health care access to almost all Americans. Obamacare is modelled very closely on a similar law in Massachusetts signed into law by Mr Romney when he was governor of that state, but Mr Romney says what was suitable for his state is not suitable for the nation as a whole. He will make it his first priority to undo the law.

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No change in interest rates

The Reserve Bank has left interest rates on hold following a robust inflation reading in September, marking the first Melbourne Cup day in six years that rates will remain unchanged.Home loan guide: What it means for youChronology of interest rate moves since 1990
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The cash rate was held steady at 3.25 per cent today, the level it moved to when rates were cut by 25 basis points in October.

The decision to delay further interest rate relief will surprise the majority of economists who anticipated a cut, and disappoint borrowers who were hoping for a rate reduction.

The Australian dollar rose on the decision, moving from $US1.0368 in the moments before the announcement to about $US1.043.

Inflation flagged

The RBA flagged said a rise in inflation during the September quarter, in part due to the introduction of the carbon tax, was one of the factors in today’s decision.

“With prices data slightly higher than expected and recent information on the world economy slightly more positive, the board judged that the stance of monetary policy was appropriate for the time being,’’ said RBA governor Glenn Stevens in the accompanying statement.

“The introduction of the carbon price affected consumer prices in the September quarter, and there could be some further small effects over the next couple of quarters.”

Rochford Capital managing director Thomas Averill said the Reserve Bank was playing “wait-and-see” game by delaying a decision to cut.

“The RBA want to keep some bullets in the gun,” he said.

“If they cut too aggressively and things start to deteriorate, then you have same situation as you have (overseas) where central banks have cut rates so much that monetary policy has become a blunt instrument.”

 

He said the next decision in December would be another 50-50 call.

Surprise decision

National Australia Bank group chief economist Alan Oster said he was surprised by the RBA’s decision.

‘‘They seem to be saying the world is a bit better, inflation is a bit higher and growth is around trend,’’ he said.

‘‘My initial reaction is that the RBA is going to sit and wait for a little while. I still think they have one more cut to come,” said Mr Oster.

ANZ head of economic research Ivan Colhoun agreed that the Reserve Bank was factoring in previous rate cuts into its decision.

“They are looking at how their past decisions are flowing into the data, which suggests they will be somewhat gradual (with their decision-making),” he said.

He said the bank hinted at the need for other sectors of the economy to pick up in order to offset the decline in resources.

“Reading between the lines, it looks like, if they don’t  get signs that they are picking up, then they would be prepared to ease some more,” he said. “But that would probably be later next year.”

RBA: Benefits to come

The RBA also stressed that the full effect of the 150 basis points in cuts its made since November 2011 had not been be felt by consumers and businesses.

“Further effects of actions already taken to ease monetary policy can be expected over time,’’ said Mr Stevens.

“The Board will continue to monitor those effects, together with information about the various other factors affecting the outlook for growth and inflation.”

With Georgia Wilkins

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House prices struggling

House prices inched higher last quarter and annual growth was barely positive, a sign past rate cuts are having only a tepid impact and an open door to more easing ahead of the Reserve Bank’s rates decision today.
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The Australian house price index rose by just 0.3 per cent in the third quarter, following a 0.5 per cent rise in the second quarter, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Over the year to September, they grew 0.3 per cent following a 2.1 per cent drop.

Economists polled by Bloomberg expected a 1 per cent rise in the quarter, amid firmer auction clearance rates and lower interest rates. In the year to September, analysts forecast a 0.8 per cent rise.

The housing market has sent mixed signals in recent months, with auction clearance rates in Sydney and Melbourne rising, but demand for home loans remains at a 35 year low and new home sales have fallen.

Meanwhile, capital city homes prices fell 1 per cent in October, following a 1.4 per cent increase in September, according to RP Data. In October, home prices fell 0.9 per cent in Sydney and 1.1 per cent in Brisbane.

Commonwealth Bank chief economist Michael Blythe said the market was starting to reflect rate cuts from the middle of the year, but that things were still very patchy.

“There are lags in these sorts of things, so the September quarter data will reflect decisions made mid-year, when latest round of rate cuts began,” he said.

“Then we can expect that improvement in affordability to flow through more clearly.

But he warned that the property outlook was unclear.

“It’s still a very uncertain environment. You still have a range of fears out there about, for example, job security, and global issues are still in the background,” he said.

“Sentiment is still pretty fragile overall. And as we have seen, things can change pretty quickly.”

Macquarie economist Brian Redican said weaker housing growth showed that rate cuts were not having as much of an impact as in the past.

“The Reserve Bank cutting interest rates has removed some of the downward pressure from the housing market,” he said.

“But without investors coming back and looking to re-gear, and indeed with banks reluctant to lend, I don’t think you’re going to get the very strong increases you’d typically have when the Reserve Bank cuts interest rates significantly.”Comment at BusinessDay

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Past captains believe Watson is key to wresting back urn from old foe

Past and present: Steve Waugh, Brad Haddin, Michael Clarke and Mark Taylor. Photo: Dallas KilponenTo many, Shane Watson was the face of Australia’s failure in India but the last two men to lead the country to Ashes glory in England – Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh – believe he is the key to wresting back the urn this winter.
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Taylor all but endorsed Watson as the best opener in the country, saying he should return to the top of the order, while Waugh said the 31-year-old had the skill and ability to score 600 runs in the Ashes battle. The pair’s support will be a fillip for Watson. Not only did they lead Australia during one of the country’s most successful eras, they were key figures in the compilation of the Argus review, written after the 2010-11 Ashes debacle to help the team return to the top.

The critics were circling Watson even before his tour of India and he will head to England with his Test career very much in the balance. ”This will be the most important tour of his career,” Waugh said.

”He could really make his mark on the trip. He’s good enough in five Tests to score 600 runs but he’s just got to get his mind right. He’s got to be confident and positive. If he plays with a clear head he can be the difference between Australia and England this series.

”If he can back up Michael Clarke and the top order scores runs, Watson is the missing piece of the ingredient right now. I’m not so concerned about his wickets … if he bowls a few overs that’s a bonus. I don’t think we should rely on him bowling in the team, I think when his mind is switched on he’s one of our best batsmen.”

Watson, who has been picked as a batting all-rounder for the Ashes, chose not to bowl against India to protect his battered body but resumed bowling duties earlier this week, albeit in Twenty20 competition at the Indian Premier League. He could come under pressure from fellow all-rounder James Faulkner, though the Tasmanian left-armer is considered more as a bowler who can contribute in the lower order.

It has been a long time since Watson has been at the top of his game with the bat in the five-day arena. He is without a century in his past 39 Test innings and has not averaged above 40 in a series since the last Ashes campaign.

His reduced output has coincided with a period of injury. In the nine Tests he has played since losing the opener’s role to David Warner and Ed Cowan in late 2011, Watson has averaged 26 and passed 50 on three out of 17 occasions.

It is for this reason Taylor wants to see Watson given another opportunity to open the batting – a role which he performed with distinction when he won back-to-back Allan Border medals in 2010-11.

But the chances of Watson returning to that position in England are slim, particularly after selectors named five openers in their 16-man touring party.

”We’ve had Shane Watson batting at four and I’ve seen today, they’ve said he’s probably going to bat in that middle to lower order of the top six,” Taylor said. ”I’m not sure that’s the best spot for Shane Watson. He seems to play his best cricket opening the batting. The fact he’s not vice-captain would free him up to just worry about that. I think that’s where you’d probably get the best out of [him].”

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Homework begins long before tour, says Clarke

 This time, the Australians will definitely do their homework.
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With the on-field terrors and extracurricular errors of India a dusty memory, captain Michael Clarke said his squad would spend the next month studying their opponents for soft spots to exploit.

”That’s part of the next four weeks for me, as captain – and the rest of the players as well – to have a good look at the England team and work out their strengths and weaknesses,” Clarke said.

Perhaps he didn’t want to reveal his knowledge of England’s kryptonite, but former captain Mark Taylor did.

”New Zealand showed in their series that [England] is like any other side,” Taylor said of the 0-0 Test-series draw in New Zealand. ”They’re a good team, England, don’t get me wrong … but they’re not unbeatable, by any means.”

Taylor said England would gain from the return of Graeme Swann. ”But, with all due respect, I don’t see Graeme Swann as a Shane Warne,” he said.

”He’s a very good spin bowler, who’s an excellent fielder and a good batter at about No.8. But I don’t think he’s Shane Warne with the ball.”

Swann missed the trip to New Zealand after surgery in early March to address a near-chronic elbow problem.

Then there’s Kevin Pietersen, whose dicky knee could spell trouble for England’s batting line-up which, going by their most recent innings, features Ashes virgins Nick Compton, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. And they are saying Australia is a team of nobodies.

Pietersen reckons he is on track for the Champions Trophy in June. But former England skipper Michael Vaughan, who knows plenty about dodgy knees, has said Pietersen must be managed carefully, whether or not he has surgery before the first Test, and may suffer a flare-up during the series.

Swing bowler Tim Bresnan, who took 11 wickets in two Tests against Australia in 2010-11, had elbow surgery and missed the New Zealand tour. He’s recovering well, but England would miss his control if his rehabilitation stumbles.

Australian selector John Inverarity said he ”wouldn’t go into trying to identify weaknesses. It’s cricket, 11 against 11”, but Steve Waugh, as you would expect, said it like it was.

”England have been up and down the last 12 to 18 months,” Waugh said. ”They come off a pretty average tour of New Zealand, lost 3-0 to Pakistan, so their form hasn’t been exemplary the last 12 months. I think if they lose someone like Swann or [James] Anderson out of their attack it’s a big hole for them to fill.”

Echoed by Peter Siddle, in the tradition of Glenn McGrath.

”Pietersen, Swann, Bresnan, three players that have played big roles in the last couple of series against us, are all out with reasonably long-term injuries that will take time to rehab,” Siddle said. ”There is a bit of a worry there. Compton’s a fresh player in, he’s only played a handful of games. There is a lot to think about.”

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Seeds is home

Laughing: Paul Seedsman can’t believe his luck, playing for his beloved Collingwood. Photo: Joe ArmaoPaul Seedsman refused to go out the night David Zaharakis pulled the rug from Collingwood’s Anzac Day. He was due to go to a party with friends, but rang them to say he was staying home. He couldn’t go out, he was too crushed. It was 2009, Seedsman was 17, a schoolboy and on no one’s radar as an AFL footballer.
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Travis Cloke still finds it funny the things Seedsman knows about his teammates. Not just now; it’s the stuff he knew when he walked in the door. Like what boots Cloke wore in his debut game – adidas F50 Spiders in case you were wondering. It is the sort of stuff that in another sphere of life might be considered stalking, but in football is just being a fan. Suffice to say Seedsman was at the more obsessive end of fandom – he took losses very badly; it was in his blood.

Any club could have drafted Seedsman but in a way there was only one club he could have played for. Seedsman’s great-grandfather, Jim Sharp, like his great-grandson, was a Collingwood half-back. He was also the club president for 12 years. In fact, he is the only president to have played for the club while president.

“I was mad Collingwood,” said Seedsman. ”One thing all the boys will tell you is when I got to the club I knew a lot about all of them, so they found that pretty funny.

”Growing up I had three real favourite players – Nathan Buckley, Chris Tarrant and Leon Davis – and in my first year ‘Taz’ got traded back [to the club], ‘Bucks’ was on as a coach and Leon was on what turned out to be his final year, so it was pretty surreal.

“My weekends used to be made or broken around whether Collingwood won or lost. If you ask mum, I used to be in a foul mood if we lost. I was a massive sook.”

Growing up in Rowville, he used to visit his grandmother’s house and immerse himself in Collingwood books, reading about his great-grandfather, and pretty much anything Collingwood. He was just old enough to recall games at Victoria Park, and wore out a copy of the video of the 1990 premiership. A close friend growing up was Dylan Orval, who is now on Adelaide’s rookie list. His dad, Mark, played for Collingwood and remains the player Peter Daicos regards as one of the best talents he had seen before injury ended his career.

Since arriving at Collingwood and being inside the tent, the loving research has not stopped. He harangues club servant Rohan Bownds for stories of the 1990 premiership team and stories of eras past with unquenchable enthusiasm.

“I was a Buckley’s Brigade member – and I suppose I still am now – and I went to all the family days and got autographs and stuff,” he said.

“I couldn’t have asked for it to pan out any better. There were 75 other picks before I was picked, so I could have gone anywhere … but for Collingwood to pick me up was a dream come true.

”I remember sitting on the couch for an hour or two afterwards just feeling numb, thinking ‘did that really happen’? It didn’t hit me for a couple of weeks after that because the boys were in Arizona … But I got a few text messages from the boys. I remember it just felt surreal getting a text message from Travis Cloke saying ‘welcome to the club’.”

Days later, he was in the gym with Alan Didak, Davis and Andrew Krakouer, pinching himself that it was real. The main group returned from Arizona soon after and, with trepidation, Seedsman ran out on the ground for the first main training session.

“We were doing the warm-up and I was nervous and all of a sudden I heard my name called and I look over and Mick [Malthouse] has his hat on and his shades and he just points at me and calls me over. The whole time I am thinking, ‘Oh jeez, what have I done? What have I done? I have only run one lap’. He only wanted to know how much I weighed. I said 69 kilograms. He said, ‘get to 78 and I will consider you’. And that was about the extent of the conversation.”

Seedsman ran away smiling. The coach at least knew who he was. His time came the next year with a handful of games – including last year’s Anzac Day game. He has good pace and poise and is a nice kick, offering a versatility that has allowed the move of Harry O’Brien to a wing.

He has got off to a good start. Well he at least knew what to do when his moment came – he pulled on a pair of adidas F50 Spiders for his first game. Just like Trav.

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Randwick trainers defend turf

A changing of the guard has been in evidence at Randwick this autumn, with trainers based at headquarters winning only three of 18 races on home turf.
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Names such as Waterhouse, Cummings, O’Shea and Begg have not been in the winners’ column in the three meetings since Randwick reopened on April 1. It was left to Craig Carmody and the partnership of Neville and Chris Voigt for home-track success last weekend after Patinack’s John Thompson with Tremec in the Chairman’s Handicap on the opening day of the Randwick carnival. Premier trainer Chris Waller has had five winners on two carnival days.

”I’m sure that is going to change on Saturday,” Thompson said. ”[John] O’Shea has a couple of nice three-year-olds [Kingdoms and Sir Denzel] in the first and Gai [Waterhouse] has a very good team, and it is very hard not to see her winning a race or two. Randwick horses will be winning at Randwick on the weekend.”

The autumn has not been a wipe-out for Randwick trainers as they won a third of the races during the Rosehill carnival, five of which were group 1 winners. They dominated Golden Slipper day as Waterhouse had a group 1 double with Overreach in the feature and Pierro, the Anthony Cummings-trained Fiveandahalfstar won The BMW and Norzita gave Bart Cummings the Vinery Stud Stakes.

Pickings have been slimmer on their home ground.

Thompson hopes the group 1 winners will flow on home turf on Saturday, including Tremec in the Sydney Cup. The Zabeel four-year-old has won four of his past five and is a stayer peaking at the right time.

”This was the goal at the beginning of the preparation but it seemed a long way away,” Thompson said.

”He was always going to get better as the races got longer, and he is just suited where he is now.

”He has come on in leaps and bound, and being a Zabeel four-year-old is still learning and will only get better as he gets older.

”I’m pretty sure the trip [of 3200 metres] won’t be a problem, and he has come through the Chairman’s win so well.”

Another winning team from Randwick, the Voigts will back up Fernhill Handicap winner Riocetto in the Champagne Stakes.

”It is just exciting to have a group 1 runner,” Chris Voigt said. ”People are saying he is a wet tracker after last week but we have always had a very big opinion of him. We think he is really a stayer.

”Dad [Neville] won this race on Lady Eclipse [in 1983] as a jockey, and it would be great to win with him as trainer.”

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Melbourne doctor vows transparency

The doctor at the centre of the Melbourne supplements scandal has pledged to co-operate fully while being investigated by ASADA and the AFL.
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Dan Bates was interviewed by authorities at AFL headquarters last Friday after text messages between him and controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank were released.

Bates has been stood down by the Demons pending an investigation. The club had told league bosses in February it had not had any contact with Dank, aside from rejecting a job application from him over summer.

Bates has not spoken publicly but released a statement on Wednesday through his lawyers, Shiff and Company. ”I am treating the ASADA-AFL investigation with the utmost seriousness, given its obvious importance,” he said.

”I wish to point out that I will be open and transparent and I look forward to continuing to fully assist ASADA and the AFL in their investigations, as I have done to date.”

The statement said Bates ”looks forward to making a more detailed public statement once the investigation is formally concluded”.

The text messages between Dank and Bates mentioned several players and unofficial head of football, Neil Craig.

Demons president Don McLardy reacted by standing Bates down, admitting he had ”identified breakdown in reporting protocols”.

Bates has also worked at North Melbourne and Sydney.

Kangaroos coach Brad Scott on Wednesday confirmed a report by Fairfax Media that his club had sought reassurances from Bates last week that he had not been in contact with Dank during his lone year with the club in 2011.

”We didn’t hide the fact that Dan Bates was our doctor for a year. Once the news broke about the link between Dr Dan Bates and and Stephen Dank we made contact with Dan and sought a written assurance that he’d had no contact with Stephen Dank in his time here as an employee,” Scott said.

”He’s since provided that in writing.”

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Dons well placed for Pie fright

David Zaharakis and his Essendon teammates celebrate his match-winning goal in 2009. Photo: Pat Scala Comparing Essendon’s pre-Anzac Day performances in 2012 and 2013.
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Few players have featured in as important a moment in just their fourth AFL game as did Essendon midfielder David Zaharakis back in 2009.

With just seconds left on the clock against Collingwood, the then 19-year-old marked a chip kick from Nathan Lovett-Murray, turned, and with virtually the last touch of the day, slammed home the unlikeliest of Anzac Day match-winners, a bit of footage replayed countless times since.

Zaharakis, now 23 and with 70 games under his belt, is understandably a far more rounded and important part of the Essendon line-up these days. But like his teammates, save former Saint Brendon Goddard, he hasn’t since experienced the pleasure of besting the black-and-white.

Collingwood has had it over the Bombers for four years, winning the past three Anzac Day clashes, albeit by only one point last season, and four return bouts later in the year, the average winning margin in those seven straight victories a resounding eight goals.

The Dons were awfully close to breaking the sequence on this day a year ago until Jarryd Blair’s goalsquare toe-poke denied them again, but it’s more than that close shave which gives James Hird’s side genuine belief it can go even better this time.

While both the 2012 and this season’s versions of the Bombers headed into Anzac Day 4-0, there’s already plenty of signs that Essendon’s 2013 model has a depth in all areas it couldn’t boast last year, even before injuries started to cut a swathe through its list.

Even then, the absence of three keys like Dustin Fletcher, Paddy Ryder and Michael Hurley might just about have meant curtains.

For Essendon last week against St Kilda though, they proved barely an inconvenience, Tayte Pears filling the backline breach, veteran David Hille effective in the ruck in tandem with Tom Bellchambers, and Scott Gumbleton playing arguably his best game in red-and-black as fellow key forward Michael Hurley went down with an ankle injury.

While Essendon’s win-loss record is exactly the same as last Anzac Day, the quality of its performances over that stretch has by any measure improved significantly.

Its four 2012 wins were against North Melbourne after a post-siren miss by Hamish McIntosh, a scratchy win at home over Port Adelaide, and a near-catastrophic loss on the Gold Coast before things clicked into gear against Carlton.

The 2013 ledger reads two highly-impressive wins on the road against Adelaide and Fremantle, a ruthless 148-point demolition of a hapless Melbourne, and an efficient win over the Saints.

Beyond merely the results, though, are a clutch of statistics which underline the continued progression of a playing group with not only more experience under its belt, but more guile.

Essendon’s capacity to win the contested ball was notable even early last year, but its ball use, an ongoing flaw in recent Bomber line-ups, has improved markedly, as has its defensive mettle, the Dons now far less likely to be sliced open on the rebound by opponents.

Essendon is currently ranked No. 1 in nine key departments. Its disposal efficiency has climbed from 11th this time last season to first, as has its ranking for uncontested possession as it more effectively finds time and space.

The Bombers are generating more scoring opportunities and using them more adeptly, their goals per inside 50 ranking having gone from 10th a year ago to first.

And the improved defensive pressure is apparent all over the ground, not only on the scoreboard, where the Dons have conceded fewer goals so far in 2013 than any rival. In both inside 50s conceded, and marks inside 50 conceded, Hird’s side has moved from a ranking of equal ninth to third.

That resolve will be tested more savagely in this game than in any previous game this season. Dane Swan is a serial performer against the Bombers, and Essendon does not have obvious match-ups for Collingwood’s small forwards and midfielders having a spell near goal. Kyle Hardingham’s inclusion for Pears is one step in that direction.

As impressive as Jake Carlisle has been in defence, his form is no more red-hot than his obvious opponent Travis Cloke, the Magpie key forward equal leading goalkicker with 16, ranking No.1 in the competition for scoreboard impact, and averaging more disposals, marks and goals than ever before.

But at least curb the damage there, square the midfield battle, and Zaharakis and co. might actually get to savour the spoils of Anzac Day once again.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Coutts positive in wake of attack

Short and sweet: Olympian Alicia Coutts has regained her spark for swimming. Photo: Steve ChristoAlicia Coutts says she would steer clear of the Australian teammate who was reprimanded for ”inappropriate behaviour” towards her earlier this year, if they both made the team for the world championships in Barcelona this year.
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Coutts has not publicly confirmed who allegedly launched a verbal attack on her at a swim meet in Perth in January, but it was reported last month that the swimmer was Matt Targett.

Swimming Australia also will not name the swimmer or the reason for the punishment, but Fairfax Media understands Targett was reprimanded.

Coutts, Australia’s best performer in the pool in London, where she won five medals, faced the media on Wednesday in the lead-up to the national titles, which begin in Adelaide on Friday, and when asked about the incident she said: ”I haven’t really been thinking about it, I’m just trying to put it behind me.”

But her body language appeared to suggest otherwise, and when asked if she could cope with being on the same team in Barcelona as Targett, she said: ”I think I can. I’ll just do my own thing.”

Coutts said she would not allow the episode to distract her from the task of following up her Olympic success. ”I didn’t want to let it upset me or anything like that, so I’m just focusing on what I need to do here,” she said.

”Some people might find it difficult, but I’m pretty good at that, so I’m just going to forget about it. I think generally everyone played true to the rules in Perth, with the [one] exception, so I think collectively the team is trying to work better to be a group.”

Coutts revealed she had considered quitting the sport last year. She said she struggled to get back to a normal routine after the high of the Olympics, but after talking with family and friends, and changing some aspects of her training regime and introducing the one-lap dash events to her program, she ”snapped out of it”, but was committed only to short-term goals.

”I went through a little bit of a patch where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to swim any more’, and I think mixing it up and doing those things has sort of made it a little bit more enjoyable, and getting out and doing some different events has made it more fun and not so serious.

”I’m not committing myself. I’m not saying I’m going to 2016 [Olympics]. I’m just taking it as it comes and as long as I do keep enjoying it and keep swimming, well then, I’ll keep swimming.”

Meanwhile, London Paralympic star Maddison Elliott has set herself a tough challenge at the multi-class national titles in Adelaide.

Elliott, who became Australia’s youngest Paralympic gold medallist when, at 13, she was a member of the 4×100 freestyle relay team, will swim in 10 events, although her main focus will be on the 50 and 100 freestyle as she eyes a berth in the team for the world titles, which will be held in Montreal.

Elliott broke the 50 freestyle (S-8) world record at the age titles earlier this month and is confident she can repeat the effort.

”I was hoping I wouldn’t get it at the Australian age [championships] and save it for here, but now I know that I can do it here,” she said. ”If I can do it once, I can do it again, so I’m hoping I can do it.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Hughes backs selectors on Haddin, Rogers

Brad Haddin’s recall as Test wicketkeeper and installation as vice-captain for the Ashes has earned Australia’s selectors praise from former captain Kim Hughes.
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Hughes commended the John Inverarity-led selection panel for changing its tack on two key areas of the team: Haddin’s replacement of Matthew Wade behind the stumps and the belated recognition of Chris Rogers’ consistency in making runs in Australia and England. ”The more I’ve thought about it, I think it’s a good move,” Hughes said after the announcement of the 16-man squad.

”What it does highlight is … we just lack people in the side who’ve played a lot of games of cricket. Haddin will have the players’ respect. He’s captained NSW for many years, he’s comfortable with his game and he’s a natural wicketkeeper. I thought it was a very, very good choice.

”Hopefully Haddin can get through the next 10 Test matches, Ashes away and at home, and play well, and by then hopefully one of the batsmen might have really consolidated their position [to be a legitimate successor as vice-captain].”

Hughes reckoned Wade’s modest performances on the tour of India had heightened the prospect of Haddin’s return, but stressed the 25-year-old should be optimistic about his long-term selection prospects. ”Wade was average in India but it’s never easy in India,” he said. ”Also, lots of wicketkeepers before him have started off with moderate skills with the gloves and developed into some fantastic wicketkeepers.”

Wade said he understood selectors’ rationale for recalling Haddin at his expense, partly because of the veteran’s experience, yet added that ”doesn’t make it any easier”.

”I performed well sometimes and other times not so well. I understand I have to polish up my game and hopefully I can show the selectors with some hard work that I’m ready to go,” the Victorian said. ”I’ve got to be a bit more consistent with bat and with gloves.”

Hughes said the selection of Rogers, a 35-year-old whose sole Test was almost five years ago, was ”a reward for consistency … and it shows you the cupboard is pretty bare for young players”. He predicted the left-hander could play Tests for up to three years.

Hughes also strongly endorsed the inclusions of James Faulkner and Ryan Harris, as well as Jackson Bird and Usman Khawaja.

He said it was essential Michael Clarke was not left to shoulder the bulk of Australia’s run-scoring responsibilities against England.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Storm the best: Fairfax

Seventies rugby league star Russell Fairfax says Melbourne Storm deserves to beat the record of 19 consecutive wins set by his Eastern Suburbs Roosters team – and will get a step closer to making history by outclassing the Warriors on Thursday night.
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In a delicious piece of sporting serendipity, if the Storm continues on its unbeaten run, it will have to beat the Roosters on May 25 to equal the run of 19 victories by that club’s 1975 side.

The Warriors have the best recent record of any team against Craig Bellamy’s men, who have managed to beat the Kiwi side just five times in their last 11 meetings.

“I think the Storm will have a bit too much for the Warriors and they’ll keep whizzing towards our record,” Fairfax said on Wednesday.

“You don’t want to lose the record, but records are there to be broken, and if any team deserves to beat us for most consecutive wins, it’s this Melbourne Storm side.

“They’ve been the form side for a number of years now and are a really impressive team.”

The Storm’s next six opponents are the Warriors (home), Canberra (home), Penrith (away), Manly (home), Sydney Roosters (away) and then Cronulla (home).

The ’75 Roosters won 19 consecutive games in the one season, whereas the Storm’s mark has carried over from 2012.

Featuring the likes of Fairfax, Ian Schubert, Ron Coote, John Brass, John Peard and Arthur Beetson, the Roosters beat St George 38-0 in the grand final.

The Storm will join five other teams in premiership history to have won 15 games on the trot if it is successful on Thursday night.

“I think Manly will provide a big hurdle for them,” said Fairfax. “If they win that, it’s going to be a great occasion when they play the Roosters to equal their record.”

Storm football manager Frank Ponissi said Slade Griffin, Maurice Blair and Justin O’Neill would be the men omitted from a seven-man bench.

Warriors captain Simon Mannering was able to run on Wednesday after a calf injury kept him out of the Anzac Test last Friday, but did not train with the team. If he is out, Sam Rapira will be captain.

Centre Jerome Ropati, named on an extended bench after making his return from injury over several weeks in the NSW Cup, will play, the Warriors said.

Only 1000 tickets remained available to the general public late on Wednesday for what has become a traditional clash to complement the St George Illawarra-Sydney Roosters game in Sydney.

“To play on Anzac Day is definitely a privilege,” said Melbourne prop Jason Ryles.

“I’ve been lucky to do it for both the Dragons and Roosters and now the Storm. Certainly, the atmosphere is a lot different to a normal game and the intensity of the game seems to follow that as well.”

Former Stormer Todd Lowrie returns to AAMI Park for the first time. Asked about the Warriors’ good record against Melbourne, he said on the club website: “I think it’s just the way the boys have turned up to play over the years.

“I don’t think it’s anything Melbourne have done wrong during those games. It’s just that the Warriors have tended to … bring their A-game and play really well in Melbourne.

“I don’t know what it is but I hope I find out!”

MELBOURNE STORMBilly Slater; Sisa Waqa, Will Chambers, Junior Sau, Mahe Fonua; Gareth Widdop, Cooper Cronk; Tohu Harris, RyanHoffman, Kevin Proctor, Bryan Norrie, Cameron Smith (c), Jesse Bromwich.Res: Jason Ryles, Lagi Setu, Kenny Bromwich, Junior Moors

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORSKevin Locke; Bill Tupou, Ngani Naumape, Konrad Hurrell, Glen Fisiahi; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Todd Lowrie, Ben Henry, Feleti Mateo, Russell Packer, Nathan Friend, Sam Rapira (c).Res: Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Peta Godinet, Jerome Ropati.

REFEREESMatt Cecchin/Henry Perenara.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A day for the titans

Anzac Day has special significance for football fans. Not only does it provide the opportunity for reflection, as we remember those who gave their lives to defend this incredible nation we call home, but every year two footballing titans go to war.
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In what is the biggest AFL stage outside the grand final, Collingwood and Essendon duke it out for more than just premiership points.

Dane Swan lifted on Anzac Day in 2012, putting in one of his best performances for the year and claiming his first Anzac Medal.

He gathered 42 possessions on his way to 173 fantasy points – a brilliant game even by his lofty standards. Scott Pendlebury is another modern-day great who rises to the occasion, averaging 127 fantasy points in his last three Anzac clashes.

On the other side of the coin we have the Bombers, who have been flawless in their start to 2013. Fantasy superstars Jobe Watson and Brent Stanton have been joined in the upper echelon this year by half-backs Dyson Heppell and Brendon Goddard. Surprisingly, Stanton struggled on this stage last year, but he is flying so far this year and will want to be right in the mix. Goddard is a big-game player, evidenced by his performances in the 2010 grand finals.

For fantasy coaches, Anzac Day brings a first as we are treated to not one, but two great fixtures. For the first time a match will be played outside Australia for premiership points, as the Swans and Saints face off in Wellington, New Zealand. The chance to get an early march on your fantasy opponent is on offer, with the likes of Kieren Jack, Dan Hannebery and Josh Kennedy all stars of Ultimate Footy.

The reigning premier matches up against ageing warriors Lenny Hayes, Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna. All rarely experience the opportunity to play in such a game, and will relish the chance to break new ground.

Up-and-coming fantasy options in Jack Steven and David Armitage are the next generation Saints, and have rewarded their fantasy coaches so far this season.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.