Injury curse strikes Cummins again

PATRICK Cummins admitted his immediate playing future was ”up in the air” after he was sent to have scans on a possible back injury that again threatens to sideline the talented teenager during Australia’s Test summer.
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Cummins, 19, had scans on Wednesday after reporting soreness upon his return from South Africa, where he played a key part in the Sydney Sixers’ Champions League Twenty20 triumph.

He was not chosen in Australia’s squad of 12 for the first Test against the Proteas in Brisbane next week, but with selectors looking at including him for the third Test in Perth, the last thing they want is for the speedster to break down again.

”The scans aren’t too conclusive at the moment,” Cummins said. ”We’ll know more in the next couple of days … at this stage it is still up in the air … I’ll go and see the physio but I think we’ll know more by Friday.

”I had a pretty clear goal for the season this morning but right now it’s kind of changed and I’m not sure now, but I want to play some red-ball cricket. I haven’t done that for a while and I’m really keen for it. Right now [in terms of goals] I want to play as many games as possible and just enjoy playing.”

Cummins was an absentee throughout Australia’s campaigns against New Zealand and India at home last season after injuring his heel during his remarkable debut Test in Johannesburg. The injury at first seemed innocuous but turned out to be serious.

He has not played a first-class game since and had been keen to make a long-awaited return for NSW next Monday as a substitute in the Sheffield Shield encounter against Queensland in Brisbane. The Blues’ four Test players are due to miss the fourth day to link up with the national team and NSW will replace them with reinforcements if the match goes that long. Almost certainly, Cummins will now not be one of them.

Cummins has been beset by injury in the past year just as his international career has taken off. He was flown home from Australia’s one-day tour of England in June after sustaining a side strain in the first match at Lord’s.

He returned to feature in the limited-overs series against Pakistan and then the World Twenty20 tournament in Sri Lanka before helping bowl the Sixers to victory in Johannesburg this week.

Australia’s crew of international fast bowlers – Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc – are otherwise fit and healthy but it would be a blow to lose Cummins.

”It’s a shame really,” said fast-bowling great Glenn McGrath, who was on Wednesday night inducted as a Bradman Foundation honoree, as was retired Indian batting maestro Rahul Dravid.

”He started off his Test career so well and I was watching him in the Twenty20 World Cup – he looked so impressive. He was thinking on his feet, he had good slower balls, good pace, he was hitting good areas. If there are issues with his back again it’s going to be disappointing.”

But McGrath agreed that Cummins would take time to grow into his body and had time on his side. ”When I was 19 I was living in Narromine and playing country cricket on Saturday afternoons and training once a week,” he said. ”He’s well and truly ahead of me.”

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Hussey shapes up for Proteas

MIKE Hussey says his 2009-10 career renaissance against England will hold him in good stead against the team that is now his biggest nemesis, South Africa.
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In Hussey’s debut Test season, in 2005-06, the then 30-year-old faced the Proteas in series in Australia and South Africa, and came away with a hefty batting average of 59.56.

But since then the left-hander has not passed 50 in 16 innings across three series against South Africa: the loss at home in 2008-09, the win away immediately afterwards, and last year’s 1-1 draw.

Over that period, Hussey’s average against South Africa is a meagre 18.47.

While he has fallen in single figures in half of those knocks, he has made at least 20 in seven others, indicating he has been able to get a start against the Proteas’ pace-dominated attack but never survived long enough to match his overall conversion rate of a 50-plus score every three innings.

”There’s no point in worrying or stressing about anything in the past because there’s enough things to worry and stress about when you’re out in the middle in a Test match anyway,” Hussey said on Wednesday as he prepared to lead Western Australia in its Sheffield Shield match against Victoria at the MCG.

In the 2009 Ashes loss, Hussey averaged a mediocre 34.50, although almost half of his runs for the five-match series came in the last Test.

Hussey started the next Ashes series 15 months later under severe pressure to hold his spot and responded by averaging 63.33 in a team that lost heavily. Based on that outcome, he said he would take the same approach at the start of this home season.

”I have tried doing that before. Against England I’d had a mediocre season and I was getting all worried about it and then ended up performing a lot better against them next time,” he said.

”The Test matches we’ve played against South Africa in South Africa have been extremely difficult for batting. I’m expecting the pitches in Australia to be very good, very true, and if you get in and get through that initial period there’s no reason why a few of the guys can’t go on and get big scores.”

While Australia has four specialist pacemen in its first Test squad, South Africa has brought the same number for the entire three-Test series: the big three of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, with Rory Kleinveldt in reserve.

Hussey knows little of the uncapped Kleinveldt. ”From the footage, he’s a big guy and looks like a very good bowler,” he said, but played down the importance of his selection, because the Proteas’ first-choice pace battery was undisputed.

”They’ve got a proven attack that’s done the business over quite a period of time. They’re seasoned, hardened Test-match cricketers,” he said.

”They know their recovery, they know their preparation very well. I’m sure they’ve got a lot of confidence in those guys staying fit for the whole series.”

The shield match starting on Thursday will be Hussey’s first red-ball match since the April Test tour of the West Indies. His only recent practice experience was net sessions with Test teammate Ben Hilfenhaus while they represented Chennai.

While his Champions League stint with the Super Kings seemed pointless, as he played only one match because of the depth of the squad, Hussey pointed out there would have been little alternative for him in Australia as Western Australia was on a shield sabbatical caused by Perth’s Champions League participation.

■Dale Steyn will extend his tour in Australia by one week to bolster the Brisbane Heat for its Big Bash League season-opener.

Steyn will renew acquaintances with Darren Lehmann by making a one-off Twenty20 appearance for the Heat in its December 9 clash against the Hobart Hurricanes at the Gabba.

With contracted West Indian firebrand Kemar Roach not available for the first match, the Proteas’ paceman will take one of Brisbane’s four international spots.

Brisbane coach Lehmann only this week asked if the top-ranked Test bowler was interested in an extra game after the three-Test series with Australia. ”I was pleasantly surprised when he said he was,” Lehmann said.

”In fact, I was over the moon.”

With aap

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Hilfenhaus in three-way fight for the first Test

BEN Hilfenhaus, Australia’s outstanding bowler against India last summer, on Thursday begins a three-way tussle with Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon for two places in the attack for next week’s first Test against South Africa in Brisbane.
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The robust Tasmanian will bowl his first red ball in a match since April in the Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, starting in Hobart on Thursday, having puffed away some cobwebs while returning modest figures of 1-73 from 13 overs in Tuesday’s one-dayer against the Redbacks.

Australia’s bowling coach Ali de Winter is confident Hilfenhaus can overcome a disjointed preparation, caused by Champions League commitments with Chennai, to be somewhere near his best by the time the selectors choose the first-Test attack to face the Proteas.

De Winter, who helped restore Hilfenhaus’ pace and swing before his renaissance last summer, said Peter Siddle and James Pattinson enjoyed a considerable advantage in their Test preparations from stringing shield games together, while Hilfenhaus and Starc bowled in short bursts at the Champions League.

The latter two have subsisted on the short formats since August, although Starc has done more competitive bowling than Hilfenhaus in that time.

”It’s difficult to know how close he [Hilfenhaus] is going to be to his best. We all know how good his best is, but what we’ve known for a long time is that his preparation, as well as Starc and a few others, would be interrupted by short-form cricket, so we’ve put in place the best-possible measures that we think will get them ready for selection,” de Winter said.

”The selectors have picked their 12 and we are pretty confident that Ben, along with Starc and the others, are going to be in a position where they can be as near to their best as possible without having the ideal preparation.

”More than one shield game would have been great, and we’ve seen with Siddle and Pattinson the benefit they have had from extra games. In Ben’s case and a few others, that’s not the case, but we have known that for a long time and we have dealt with it as best we can.

”We hope Ben bowls well and gets some wickets in Hobart, as we do Nathan Lyon, and we hope Starc gets through his shield game [for New South Wales against Queensland] with some good form as well, so the final XI for the selectors will be a difficult choice. We’re pretty happy we’ve got guys who are fit and selectable.”

Hilfenhaus has experience, physical resilience and a fine domestic record at the Gabba on his side. The selectors regard him, and fellow workhorse Siddle, as the constants in Australia’s pace attack, but Starc offers an appealing left-arm option. The selectors could yet opt for all four fast men, if the pitch is tinged with green.

Hilfenhaus, who took 27 wickets at 17.22 against India after he was recalled for last summer’s Boxing Day Test, would presumably be a strong candidate to take the new ball, but needs to find his red-ball groove in the shield game.

De Winter, who was at the Champions League to monitor Australia’s quicks, is confident Hilfenhaus and Starc have done enough full-throttle net bowling with red balls, and believes the Tasmanian’s pace and action are in good order.

”The games he played for Chennai, having not played much competitive cricket, he came straight in and performed well for them up front with the new ball, with his pace up around the 140-mark, which we know is his best sort of pace. He swung the ball, challenged the defence of the batters and got wickets for them early,” de Winter said. ”Everything we have seen so far suggests he is in pretty good form. I did watch him bowl on the television [against the Redbacks] last night, and he started quite well. We also have to remember he is only two or three days off a plane. He is a pretty robust and resilient kind of guy, so we don’t have any concerns about him, or any of the others.”

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Trying times with team that wasn’t good

I SPENT 2009 embedded with Melbourne Football Club. The idea started with chief executive Cameron Schwab. He liked a book I’d written, Southern Sky, Western Oval, on the 1993 season which I spent with the Dogs. He invited me to do the same with Melbourne, but experience had taught me that writing books about losing teams is a difficult task as the tempo of the narrative keeps dropping. I said, instead, I’d write a series of articles.
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The previous year, I had attended a football meeting in a Darwin pool, summoned late one night by that great football eccentric Kevin Sheedy. Once in the water, we gathered around him like players gather around coaches. ”Tanking’s bullshit,” he declared. ”I tanked in 1993 and won a premiership.”

In 1993, Sheedy dropped a series of Essendon players entitled to believe they had a rightful place in the team and gave their spots to untried youngsters. That is, in the short term, his priority was not winning. He looked to the future and the team he might build. That could be described as tanking, but who could say Sheedy was wrong? I don’t see how any AFL club can be told it is not entitled to adopt that policy whenever it chooses.

Before the 2009 season began, Schwab and I had a conversation. I said I believed the club had the right to make the selections it wished and put the players where it chose but if I ever thought the players weren’t trying – or doing what was known in the old days as ”playing dead” – our arrangement would end. I didn’t see a Melbourne game in 2009 where it seemed that the Demons weren’t trying. They just weren’t very good.

The stories I wrote were mostly to do with the club’s heritage and characters. The two biggest Melbourne stories of the year were president Jim Stynes being diagnosed with cancer and the spectacular arrival of Liam Jurrah. I enjoyed the year and getting inside one of the nation’s most historic sporting clubs. The most frustrating aspect was, paradoxically, watching the team play. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou described them as a ”poor team”, and they were. There was something – a doggedness or perhaps an inspiration – that collectively they lacked and which the appointment of Mark Neeld in 2011 was intended to redress.

The West Coast game in round 14, 2009, followed the news that Stynes was seriously ill. On my way to that match I had a horrible thought. Stynes had done so much to revive the club – if the players didn’t fire up and make a stand on his account, then it seemed that the Melbourne Football Club literally amounted to nothing. A club official I spoke to admitted approaching the game with the same dread. As it happened, the Dees showed plenty and won.

They finished the season with four wins, losing the now famous match against Richmond. That was the game when they swapped forwards and backs. As someone who had watched the Dees wend their uninspired way through the season, I was glad when Bailey did it, seeing it as a coaching application of John Kennedy’s dictum, ”Don’t think – just do! Just do something!!” He did something. What is more, Melbourne played no worse for the changes. Indeed, there is no guarantee Melbourne would have won any more games in 2009 regardless of what they did.

Another instance of tanking being cited against the club is that, against St Kilda, full-back James Frawley was moved off Nick Riewoldt after holding him goalless in the first half. Again, it seemed to me that a case could be made for the move. Frawley was one of their best two or three young players. Melbourne was not going to improve – and is not going to improve in 2013 – until one of its talented young players takes a quantum step forward and becomes a major figure in the game.

The question with Frawley is whether the Dees can get better value from him up the ground.

Tanking was part of the football conversation in 2009, a grey hum that hung over the game and involved clubs other than Melbourne. The resting of star West Coast ruckman Dean Cox for the last part of the season was called tanking. What changed everything for Melbourne was former player Brock McLean’s comments on a television talk show.

The view of a player is a whole lot more serious than the view of any commentator but, even so, a case could still be made in defence of the club. I recall a game at Etihad Stadium where McLean was marooned in the forward pocket, but the Dees midfield was regarded as too slow and McLean was seen as part of the problem. However, this week’s report that there was a tacit agreement among the coaching staff not to win games takes the matter to a new level. If proven, a grey issue turns into one that’s black and white.

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How casino dodged tender trap

STRICT guidelines for determining when private proposals to the NSW government can bypass a competitive tender process were watered down shortly before James Packer put forward his plan for a $1 billion hotel and casino at Barangaroo.
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It can be revealed that a requirement for ”independent evaluations” of a project to justify not going to tender were removed two weeks before the proposal by Mr Packer’s Crown Ltd was formally lodged with the state government on September 6.

The change was made on August 17, a week after the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, met Mr Packer to discuss his proposal.

The revelation will place more pressure on Mr O’Farrell to justify not putting to tender a possible second Sydney casino licence being pursued by Mr Packer, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to NSW.

Mr O’Farrell announced last week that Mr Packer’s six-star hotel and casino project for Barangaroo had received cabinet approval to proceed to stage two of a three-stage ”unsolicited proposals” assessment process.

Mr Packer wants to include VIP-only gambling rooms in his proposed six-star hotel to make the project profitable and needs the government to issue a second Sydney casino licence when the monopoly licence held by the Star casino expires in 2019.

Mr O’Farrell defended the decision to deal directly with Mr Packer and not put the casino licence to tender by arguing that Crown was uniquely placed to deliver the project. ”If this proceeds, the second gaming facility will be here through Crown at Barangaroo,” he said.

But documents show that in August the government altered its policy to remove the requirement for independent evaluation as to whether a project should be allowed to avoid a tender process.

The NSW government’s Working With Government guidelines, in place since 2006, state any requests to bypass a competitive tender process must be approved by the budget committee of cabinet.

They say when a direct negotiation is being proposed, ”the reasons for, and net benefits of, not undertaking a competitive tender process” must be fully demonstrated. ”Approval will only be granted where the proponent can show that there would be no viable competition for the delivery of the proposal’s essential outcomes.”

This would always involve ”independent evaluations” by the responsible government agency confirming that better value for money would be achieved by circumventing a tender process. The guidelines have been an integral part of the government’s unsolicited proposals policy in place since January. But in August they were replaced with the government’s Public Private Partnerships Guidelines which do not include these requirements.

Mr O’Farrell said last week that during a meeting with Mr Packer on August 10 he had ”pointed him to the unsolicited proposals policy which had been at that stage in place for more than eight months”.

A spokesman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which oversees the policy, said the new guidelines were introduced on August 17. Mr Packer formally submitted his proposal on September 6.

The spokesman said the proposal was assessed by the department and Treasury, and the new guidelines ”maintain the need for cabinet approval to enter direct negotiations with a proponent (ie proceed to Stage 2)”.

A spokesman for Mr O’Farrell said the changes were made by the department and were ”minor administrative changes and clarifications to keep the document up to date and relevant”.

A Crown spokesman said the company ”has – and is – following the process set out on the NSW government website. Crown is unaware of any change to the process”.

Mr O’Farrell has played down the potential cost of a licence to Mr Packer because ”this VIP gaming facility is not a full-blown casino”.

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Louden finds home among Wanderers

FRESH from leading Sydney University to the Shute Shield, and only months after being in contention for the top job at the NSW Waratahs and Western Force, Todd Louden has been appointed coach of Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union club Wanderers.
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Louden, 42, takes over the reins from Kiwi Ellis Meachen, who was let go after a poor season in which the powerhouse club failed to make the finals for the first time in more than a decade.

After years of dragging his family around the world, Louden has taken a step back from professional rugby and settled in Nelson Bay.

“We have a family business up here and are going to start another one,” Louden said.

“It was time for me to put an emphasis on the family.

“My kids were both born overseas while I was coaching. Keira (6) in South Africa, and we had Tate (4) in Japan.

“In both cases we had never been to the hospital or met the doctor. My wife, Janine, has been pretty tolerant.

“I still have a rugby [coaching] consultancy business and will spend a week here and there overseas in the off-season.

“At first I was going to spend a year with the family and do the consultancy work.

“But coaching is in my blood, and once I met the committee at Wanderers and saw how passionate and family-driven they were, I said I want to get on board and help out where I can.”

A qualified PE teacher, Louden brings experience and expertise to No.2 Sportsground.

At club level he coached Randwick to the 2006 grand final, guided Sydney University to the premiership this year and spent three years as the Students’ director of coaching.

His overseas appointments include two stints in Japan.

He was an assistant coach in 2007 at the Bulls, who were the first South African club to win a Super Rugby title.

The next year he worked as the attack coach under Ewen McKenzie at the Waratahs, helping take them to a final berth against the Crusaders, before a second three-year stint in Japan at top-flight club Ricoh.

“The Bulls was an amazing experience,” he said.

“Playing at Loftus Versfeld in front of 60,000 screaming fanatics that riot when you don’t win. That was a rush.

“The Waratahs, the year I was there, we were written off, but we always knew we could do it and get to the final.

“It was a young backline at that stage. They were really developing and punched above their weight to get into the final.

“Working with guys like Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Dan Vickerman, Cliffy Palu . . . even those high-profile guys, they want to just keep learning.

“Given I am an ex-teacher, that is the rewarding thing. They learn off you and you learn off them.

“That happens at every level whether it is under 8s or Wanderers.”

He is a self-described “performance junkie”, but Louden said the coaching process was what he enjoyed most.

“At that level I like the performance rush you get and I like the pressure,” he said. “But what really makes me tick is seeing people do things they didn’t think they could do.”

Louden admitted he did not know a great deal about Newcastle rugby but was keen to get started.

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “I’m meeting with players on Sunday and we will start a pre-season program on Monday.

“I want to see the club back in the finals and winning, but I also want to help set them up for some long-term success.

“I enjoy the development side. Developing the locals is a priority. They are what make your club.”

Wanderers vice-president and 2005 premiership-winning captain Michael Noonan said the Two Blues were fortunate to attract a coach of Louden’s calibre.

“He has been very successful as a coach and we are confident that he can transfer that success to Wanderers, not only first grade but right across the club.

“Someone with his experience, we want to use that knowledge not only for the first XV but to everybody in our club.

“He will have a direct involvement from the juniors through to the seniors. Our initial aim is to improve our standing in club championships,” Noonan said.

“If we have teams competing in semis across the club, in time that will result in a first-grade premiership.”

FAMILY: Wanderers coach Todd Louden with wife Janine, son Tate and daughter Keira yesterday. Picture: Simone De Peak

Neville dialled in for return to Glory

NEIL Young normally rings Scott Neville at least twice a week.
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Young, the former Jets keeper, has known the promising defender since he was a “wee tacker” growing up in the Perth suburb of Sorrento.

When Neville signed with the Jets, Young was straight on the phone to friends he made during his two years in Newcastle to ensure the 23-year-old had a smooth transition into life on the eastern seaboard. This despite Young being on the books at Neville’s old club, Perth Glory.

“I told Scotty who to speak to and helped him get settled,” Young told the Herald yesterday.

“I felt like I had to. I have known Scotty since he was a wee tacker, 12 or even younger.

“His old man, Steve, was my coach here at Sorrento. We go back a long way and I have massive respect for him.”

Having recovered from a groin strain, Neville returns to Perth for the first time when the Glory host the Jets on Saturday night.

“He is the type of person who will enjoy playing against his old team, coming back to his home town where his mum and dad are, and where he has a lot of friends,” Young said.

“He will relish the opportunity and feel like he has a point to prove. Whoever he plays opposite he will be giving a hard time.

“I know he will be running up along the bench where Fergie [coach Ian Ferguson] is as well. He will be wanting to prove a point.”

Neville was 19 when he made his debut for the Glory. He went on to play 63 games and was considered a future leader of the club.

Young was surprised when he left but believes it could be the making of him.

“He had a good thing going here,” Young said.

“But maybe it was good for him to go and get out of his comfort zone, live away from home and stand on his own two feet.

“Newcastle is one of the better places for him to go. It is not a big city and all he has to concentrate on is football.”

Young’s path has taken a different direction since returning to the west.

The 33-year-old had returned to fitness, after a brave comeback following life-threatening complications from an operation to repair a broken nose while playing for the Jets, but he has since broken down.

On the long-term injury list and unlikely to play again, he helps out coaching the keepers in an unofficial capacity.

“With the training I just couldn’t back up every day,” Young said.

“I was fatigued all the time. I would do the training session and as soon as I got home go to sleep.

“That was not the sort of life I wanted to live.”

The Jets leave for Perth today.

Ben Kantarovski (knee) and Dominik Ritter (quad) have been named in a 19-man squad but are in doubt for the trip after suffering injuries at training on Tuesday.

“Dom had a scan yesterday which cleared any strain, so that’s good news, and maybe it has settled overnight,” Jets coach Gary van Egmond said at a press conference yesterday. “Ben gave himself a bit of a shock with the knee, but it was all fine. There was nothing structurally wrong with it.”

GETTING READY: Scott Neville, right, with Dominik Ritter at Jets training this week. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Scientist wins $300,000 prize for looking at nothing

Professor Ken Freeman at the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory.DESPITE it being invisible, dark matter has been placed  on the galactic map by astronomer Ken Freeman — in the process placing him among international astronomy’s brightest stars.
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Professor Freeman’s work established there is substantially more to galaxies than can be seen by the human eye. In fact, the stars, gasses and dust are just a fraction of what is out there. The bulk is invisible, dark matter.

First outlined in a paper in 1970, Professor Freeman’s research was not without its critics. “I don’t think any of the papers of that period were received with total enthusiasm but that’s kind of how it should be,” he said.

“It was overturning the existing paradigm and it really took most of that decade for it to happen.”

Already regarded internationally as Australia’s most renowned astronomer, Perth-born Professor Freeman, from the Australian National University’s Mount Stromlo Observatory, was awarded the $300,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science on Wednesday for introducing the concept of dark matter, a finding that changed the course of astronomy.

Dark matter accounts for the vast majority of the universe, but scarcely anything is known about it. Yet dark matter really does matter: it plays a crucial role in holding the universe together, given its almost magnetic powers.

“The reason we should know about dark matter is because it was so important in the formation of the universe as we know it now,” Professor Freeman, 72, said. “If it wasn’t for dark matter, we may well not have galaxies at all because things may not have condensed to form the Milky Way, for example.”

Professor Freeman’s award, presented in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra, also recognises his contribution as co-founder of one of the hottest fields in astronomy: galactic archaeology.

It’s a field he and colleague Joss Bland-Hawthorn had been pondering since 1988, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the pair published a paper on the subject, which looks at how galaxies are constructed by analysing their chemical composition.

Other winners on Wednesday included Mark Shackleton from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, who received the life scientist of the year award for his work on breast cancer and melanoma.

The University of Western Australia’s Eric May received the physical scientist of the year award for his work on making liquid natural gas a cleaner resource.

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Driver allegedly drinks vodka and blows 0.316 after accident

A man, 31, was allegedly drinking a bottle of vodka behind the wheel of a water tanker truck when he crashed through four front yards at Elermore Vale tonight.
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Newcastle City police caught up with the man on the Newcastle Links Road about 6.30pm after he had allegedly narrowly missed bystanders and children trick or treating in Jubilee Road.

A police spokesman said the man, from Elermore Vale, had allegedly driven through a fence, reversed through another before driving through two more fences.

Newcastle City police will allege the man was so intoxicated he fell out of the cabin when police stopped his truck.

He was taken to Waratah police station where he allegedly returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.316.

The man was being interviewed by police last night and was expected to be charged with high-range drink driving and several other driving offences.

Police said he would be granted conditional bail.