Gunners blast seven

Arsenal mounted an incredible comeback from 4-0 down to win 7-5 after extra time at Reading in a truly extraordinary League Cup fourth-round tie at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday.
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Theo Walcott was the hero, claiming a 95th-minute equaliser to force extra time and then slamming home past Reading’s Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici in the last minute of the extra period to complete his hat-trick after 120 unforgettable minutes of football.

”There were so many turning points,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger said. ”You cannot play for Arsenal and give up. The players understood that at half-time. Give them credit, they responded very well.”

The win enabled the Gunners to take their place in the last eight for the 10th successive season, but Reading coach Brian McDermott – a former Arsenal player – was left to wonder how victory had eluded his side.

”It was suicide what went on in the second half and extra time,” he said. ” ”It was extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Reading tore into Arsenal from the off, with Sean Morrison heading against the post after two minutes. The onslaught did not let up, and the hosts were 3-0 up after 20 minutes.

Noel Hunt’s header made it 4-0, before Walcott dinked the ball over Federici to score his first in first-half injury time.


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‘I had a clear goal but right now it’s kind of changed’

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

Cummins was absent throughout Australia’s campaigns against New Zealand and India at home last season after acquiring a heel injury during his remarkable debut Test in Johannesburg.

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.

”Pat came back from Champions League T20 with some back soreness,” a Cricket Australia spokesperson said. ”He had preliminary scans today and is due to have further investigations over the next few days to establish a diagnosis.”

Cummins has been beset by injury in the past year just as his international career has taken off. The Penrith product 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. Cummins later returned to feature in the limited-overs series against Pakistan, and then the World T20 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 inducted as a Bradman Foundation honouree, as was retired Indian batting star Rahul Dravid, at a gala dinner in Sydney on Wednesday night.

”He started off his Test career so well and I was watching him in the T20 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. Fingers crossed it’s not too bad. He’s got huge potential, it would be a shame for him not to realise it.”

McGrath, however, agreed that Cummins would take time to grow into his body and, even in the event of another injury, had time on his side.

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Culture club: Mariners on right track

You can’t see it from the road, or the nearby train line, but tucked away in the scrubland of Tuggerah is the A-League’s best-kept secret.
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It’s a football-only oasis, a place where the round ball is king, and where the Central Coast Mariners are planning to build the best football club in Australia.

If you want to know why they’re competing for the title for the third straight year, look no further.

The Mariners’ Centre of Excellence was long thought of by the football fraternity as a questionable project: big on ambition, low on dollars. Supported by government, stymied by red tape. Perhaps more trouble than it was worth?

That it may have seemed at times, but with the end product in sight, there can be doubt no longer. It is a brilliant piece of infrastructure.

No wonder owner Peter Turnbull – even as he battled to free up funds to keep the club going – never really wanted to sell his stake to a group of interested Russians last year. This was his master plan, after all.

Central Coast coach Graham Arnold raves about it. ”It’s one of the main reasons I stayed here instead of going to Sydney FC.” It’s a rare public acknowledgement of investment. He is, after all, chiefly responsible for the perception that the Mariners – who play the cashed-up Sky Blues in Gosford on Saturday – exist on the smell of an oily rag.

The club built clean, modern facilities but then handed the keys to the players and coaches to let them drive what happened inside.

Wanting their own touch on the dressing room and medical facilities, the younger players went and bought the paint and brushes to deck it out in Mariners colours.

The club docks the players $20 a week to feed them breakfast and lunch. Everyone has to be present for both. ”That way we get to control two-thirds of their diet,” Arnold notes. ”They don’t even notice – and it makes them bond even more.”

They eat nearby in something of a bush hut that looks as though it should be on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Arnold makes the new players shake the hands of all visitors to the hut, even the press. ”Respect is everything around here,” he says. Everyone does their own dishes and volunteers are thanked for cooking the meals.

But there’s still some humour about. A Western Sydney Wanderers’ team poster hangs in the kitchen (the purpose left unstated) and Andrew Clarke – the club’s one-man medical, sports science and high-performance unit – turns a blind eye to the scoffing of Troy Hearfield’s birthday cake.

There’s very little bling in the parking lot. Showing off wouldn’t go down well with the senior players, who are the ones responsible for how the entire squad carries itself.

To steal a phrase from the Sydney Swans, it’s clear they have a ”no dickheads” policy. ”When I’m talking to the group, be it in a video session or a group session, I only highlight the positives,” Arnold says. ”If I have to make a criticism to a player, I’ll do it in private, and only with a view to making him better next time.”

It’s why the Mariners will contend again, with another lot of young, level-headed players leading the charge.

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Cowboys play the percentages with salary cap

Johnathan Thurston … out of contract at the end of next season.Kangaroos stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and James Tamou are to be offered a percentage of North Queensland’s salary cap in their next contracts due to the uncertainty about how high it will be.
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The trio are among 230 NRL players off contract at the end of next season. They are free to negotiate with rival clubs from November 1.

The NRL announced on Wednesday that all clubs would receive a $7 million funding package for next year, which allows for a $2 million increase in the annual grant, to $5.85 million.

A salary cap of $5 million has been set for next season but the NRL and the Rugby League Players’ Association are yet to agree on the terms of a collective bargain agreement, and will continue talks on Thursday.

When they do finalise a deal it is likely to be for next season only, leaving clubs and players to make an educated guess about how much the salary cap will be in 2014 and beyond when they negotiate new contracts.

Some of the biggest names in the game are affected, including Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne, NSW hooker Robbie Farah and halves Mitchell Pearce and Todd Carney, Dragons second-rower Ben Creagh, Bulldogs five-eighth Josh Reynolds and Manly skipper Jamie Lyon.

The Cowboys are the club most affected, with 21 players off contract next season. They are headed by Thurston, who is expected to attract interest from St George Illawarra, Parramatta, Penrith, Canterbury and Gold Coast.

Scott and Tamou, the Australian front-rowers, will also be in high demand. Other North Queensland players unsigned beyond next season include Brent Tate, Robert Lui, Ashley Graham, Kane Linnett, Dallas Johnson, Glenn Hall and Matt Bowen.

The club had hoped until details of the cap were confirmed before stepping up negotiations but its chief executive, Peter Jordain, said this was no longer an option and it had to become creative in its offers.

”Clearly, that would have been better but we can only deal with the situation we have got,” Jordain said. ”There has been discussions with the players, and there is discussion with the managers happening, too, this week. We are … going to do it based on a percentage of the salary cap.”

Another club heavily affected is Canterbury, which has Reynolds, Frank Pritchard, Greg Eastwood, Aiden Tolman and Brent Hodkinson among 12 players coming off contract next season. Newcastle’s Akuila Uate is another big name unsigned in 2014.

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Post-footy, 3AW keeps scoring

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MELBOURNE talk radio giant 3AW has landed another emphatic victory in the latest radio ratings survey.

The station, owned by Fairfax Media, scored a 15.9 per cent market share overall, which was down slightly from last month’s 16.2 per cent.

Meanwhile, arch rival 774 ABC Melbourne was able to gain some of the ground it lost in the last survey, inching up to 11.4 per cent from 10.8 per cent.

The giant-killing breakfast team at 3AW, Ross Stevenson and John Burns, came down slightly from the extraordinary heights of its last result when the duo enjoyed a colossal 21.6 per cent market share, to come in at 20.5 per cent.

Their closest competition was Red Symons on ABC 774, who was able to make some gain on his market share, moving from 13 per cent to 14.6 per cent.

Shane Healy, the station boss at 3AW, says SEN and Triple M tend to ”die off a bit” after the AFL.

It has been a very strong year for the veteran broadcaster Neil Mitchell and he was able to remain steady again in the battle for the mornings slot against his chief adversary at the ABC, Jon Faine. Mitchell earned an 18.6 per cent share. For his part, Faine was up slightly – from 13.1 per cent to 13.3 per cent.

Healy says that Mitchell, who began the year in second place, has had the best ratings year of his career.

3AW was also strong in the afternoon, winning the noon-4pm slot with a 12.8 per cent market share, up from 11.9 per cent.

However, the ultra-competitive drive slot was a slight blemish for the AM station. It had a 13.6 per cent share, which was actually up from last month’s 12.8 per cent. Yet with 14.2 per cent, Fox FM’s combination of Fifi and Jules (Monday to Thursday) and Hamish and Andy (Fridays) proved too big a lure for listeners.

The next best in the slot was 774’s Rafael Epstein, who had a 9 per cent share.

”It’s still a great result for Derryn [Hinch],” Healy says. ”Although there was all the hoo-ha about him leaving, Derryn has been a consummate professional and he is going to finish up on a good high.” Hinch will finish his time at 3AW on November 30 and Tom Elliott will begin January 14. Nick McCallum will be in the chair over summer.

On the FM dial, pop station NovaFM had a mixed survey, with an average market share of 7 per cent that was down from last month’s 7.9 per cent. Hughesy and Kate’s breakfast show was also down, moving to 7.2 per cent from 7.7 per cent.

”There was not a huge amount of movement in the market,” Helen Davies, general manager of DMG Radio, says. ”Nova was very steady for us again – 18-39 is the focus for us there. Nova is also number one [in the] 25-39 [age group] overall.”

At Triple M, ratings were steady again at Eddie McGuire’s Hot Breakfast. It sits at 6.8 per cent for the third consecutive survey. However, the station’s overall share was in the red slightly, going from 6.5 per cent to 6.3 per cent.

Guy Dobson, chief content officer for Southern Cross Austereo, says Triple M will adjust its playlist slightly by playing more music now that the football season has concluded.

As for Fox FM, Dobson says that in his opinion the station continues to punch above its weight.

”Fox is probably the most consistent brand for [our company] right around the country,” he says. He was, of course, particularly chuffed with the network’s drive slot win. However, another drop for the Matt and Jo breakfast show (from 9.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent) means it’s another survey with less than 10 per cent for the top-rating duo, which is rare.

Gold 104.3’s Brig and Lehmo show gained marginally, for a share of 6.2 per cent (up from 6.1 per cent). The station was a solid 7.9 per cent overall – the same figure it achieved last month. At sister station Mix 101.1, Chrissie Swan and Jane Hall’s breakfast show was also able to get a minor bump in ratings, going from 5.6 per cent to 5.7 per cent.

Elsewhere, Triple J lost a tiny bit of ground, its share dropping from 5.1 per cent to 4.9 per cent. The station’s drive and evening shows were bright spots, both increasing their audiences.

At SEN, the end of the football season does not bode well, with the audience share shifting from 4.5 per cent to 4.2 per cent.

Meantime, oldies station Magic, the sister station of 3AW, had a very solid result. It was up from 5.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent. This was despite some huge cash giveaways from its rivals. Smoothfm was also solid, remaining steady at 4.4 per cent share.

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