Waterhouse reaches for fifth Slipper win

“This is the goal; anything else along the way is just a bonus. The Golden Slipper is what all the work is about”: Trainer Gai Waterhouse. Photo: Anthony JohnsonGai Waterhouse doesn’t use the calendar year, her year starts and finishes with the first Saturday in April and the Golden Slipper.

The year may end the way she would hope it did last year when Pierro beat Snitzerland in the Slipper. As Pierro hit the line, the cycle had already started again, with the selection of yearlings.

Saturday means Waterhouse’s toil and hard work comes to fruition as she has three Golden Slipper runners, including $2.10 favourite Overreach.

”This is the end of 12 months of work with the babies,” she said. ”This is the goal; anything else along the way is just a bonus. The Golden Slipper is what all the work is about.”

Add appearances by Pierro and More Joyous, and even Waterhouse admits it will be one of the biggest days of her career at Rosehill. ”It is just exciting to have horses like More Joyous and Pierro going around in their races [the Queen Of The Turf and George Ryder Stakes],” she said.

”I have had some big Golden Slipper days – of course, when I had five runners one year [in 2001] and had four run and had the trifecta, that was exciting.

”I don’t think I have had a team like this going to a big day before.”

While Pierro and More Joyous will start odds-on favourites, Driefontein will be at each-way odds in the Vinery Stud Stakes.

”Driefontein is a very underrated filly, and she will run a very good race,” Waterhouse said.

But Slipper day is about the two-year-olds, and Waterhouse will search for her fifth winner from either Overreach, Whittington or Sweet Idea.

”The Slipper is the reason why we sent Overreach to Melbourne in the spring. Sweet Idea went to the Magic Millions [where she was runner-up] but was always going to the Slipper,” Waterhouse said. ”They both worked very well on Saturday. Overreach had a bit of a look-around, being by herself, but she is still the one to beat.

”Whittington, well, he had a setback in December and missed the Magic Millions, and has a couple of runs to boost his confidence. I’ll put a tongue tie on him for the Slipper. Nash [Rawiller] just said he was playing with his tongue the other day, and in the Slipper you can’t afford to be playing with anything.”

New Zealander Ruud Awakening’s connections will pay the $150,000 late-entry fee, while a decision on whether Queenslander Whiskey Allround will pay the late fee will be made after he gallops on Monday. Anthony Cummings and the owners of Scandiva are leaning towards not paying the late entry, even though she is guaranteed a Slipper run after her win in the Magic Night Stakes.

Peter Snowden confirmed Guelph and Kuroshio would run, and is monitoring how Pago Pago winner Sidestep pulls up.

”We will have the two runners for sure, and make up our mind on Sidestep after he works on Tuesday,” Snowden said.

Kerrin McEvoy has indicated he will probably ride Sidestep in if he were to run, which would mean a jockey would be needed for Guelph, as Darley have booked Christian Reith for Kuroshio.

Gerald Ryan is looking for a rider for Dothraki.

Slipper field (In order of entry)Criterion  $12Overreach  $2.10Sweet Idea  $15Sidestep  $10I’m All The Talk $17Scandiva  $35Romantic Moon  $26Fast ’N’ Rocking  $17Villa Verde  $12Kuroshio  $51Guelph  $26Whiskey Allround  $26Whittington  $15Ruud Awakening (NZ)  $17Dothraki  $51Charlie Boy $17Va Pensiero  $101

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Top spot rams home reality of knockout for Wanderers

On the mend: Shinji Ono trains with the Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday. Photo: Anthony JohnsonIn his own mind, Tony Popovic knows his Western Sydney Wanderers have already won the league, regardless of what happens from here. But whether he, the Asian Football Confederation or a legion of traditionalists who prefer the first-past-the-post model like it or not, the honour of being Australian champions is only bestowed upon the grand final winner.

Popovic and his men must swallow the slightly gruesome reality of knowing that while his team are just two wins away from being crowned champions, they are also 90 minutes from elimination.

You read it right. Despite all their amazing deeds, a mistimed tackle, own goal, errant pass or sending off might be enough to end the Wanderers’ season.

Welcome to the new look finals series, where, in an attempt to spice up the playoffs, Football Federation Australia has made every game a knockout match.

It’s a complete reversal from the system of previous years, one skewed so heavily in favour of the top two teams, the remaining four were virtually no chance of claiming the title. Indeed, no team ever won from outside the top two, and only twice did a third-placed team make it to the decider (one time being when only four teams were in the finals). Teams from fourth, fifth and sixth never figured.

Now there’s great hope for any team that has the good fortune to make it to April. The difference between Perth and Western Sydney being champions from here? Perhaps no more than a penalty shootout.

However, the benefit for the Wanderers and Mariners for finishing in the top two – an extra week’s break – shouldn’t be underestimated, especially considering their respective fitness issues.

Instead of taking risks with their players this coming weekend, the premiers can now nurse Aaron Mooy, Jerome Polenz, Adam D’Apuzzo and skipper Michael Beauchamp – who managed to push through Friday’s 3-0 win over Newcastle – back to full health.

But the man who really needs the break is Shinji Ono. The 33-year-old has been cleared of any deeper damage to his groin but an extra fortnight of rest will do him the world of good.

Such has been his impact this season that neutrals across the country will have their fingers crossed he comes good in time. It would be a real shame to have him miss the finals.

The Central Coast Mariners just need a break, full stop. They’ve won their final three games of the regular season but they’re an exhausted batch – just ask Graham Arnold. If only they could use the whole fortnight to rest, but that’s not the case. They have to front up on Wednesday night at home to Chinese side Guizhou Renhe in the third game of their ACL campaign. With one point from two matches, a win is a must to keep their continental hopes alive.

To rub it in, they have to back up six days later for the return leg in Guiyang. Their A-League semi-final is five days later. At least the FFA had the good sense to schedule the game on a Sunday, but the coach will feel the planets have aligned against him once more.

Yet while some may accuse Whitlam Square of creating a finals series too cutthroat for its own good, nobody can accuse it of being boring. We’ve seen the marathon, now we’re about to get the sprint. It’s going to be one wild dash to the finish.

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It’s a honey-bunny win for English

Jason English wins the men’s 30-34 category. Photo: Katherine Griffiths Cyclists on the home stretch after 24 hours of riding. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Hot cross buns with honey were the secret weapon that helped power Jason English to his sixth consecutive Australian solo 24-hour championship at Stromlo Forest Park on Sunday.

The Port Macquarie teacher is hoping to find a baker willing to make some of the traditional Easter buns in October when he’ll return to Canberra for the world 24-hour championships.

He’ll be going for a remarkable fourth consecutive world title in the endurance event.

”Hot cross buns with honey is amazing,” English told The Canberra Times after the race.

”I haven’t really tried it before, I don’t know how many I had.

”I’ll have to get a bread shop to sponsor me so they can make hot cross buns in October, it’ll definitely be handy.”

While English has established himself as the benchmark in the men’s event, Wollongong’s Liz Smith was starting to do the same for herself in the women’s.

She won her second consecutive national title, to go with her 2012 Scott 24-hour title, by more than one lap of the 12-kilometre course.

Smith is yet to win a world title, but gets her chance to change that later this year.

While she’ll celebrate her 33rd birthday on Friday, Smith said she felt closer to 50 after her 24-hour ordeal, although she looked as if she’d just been on a Sunday afternoon ride.

”I’d like to think I could [emulate English], but there’s a lot of good girls out there and a lot of strong competition,” Smith said.

”I’ll give it everything I’ve got and see what happens.

”I think there’s going to be lots of competition [at the world titles], not just from the internationals, but from the other Australians that weren’t here today.

”Hopefully I’d like to [finish] top five.”

Smith completed 25 laps in 24 hours and 25 seconds.

Libby Adamson finished second and Francesca Sanders third, both with 24 laps.

While her win was comfortable, English was made to fight for his until the very last lap.

The OnTheGo Racing team member was just 10 minutes ahead of Canberra’s Ed McDonald going into the 33rd-and-final lap.

It had been as low as 90 seconds on Sunday morning before English ground it out to nearly 26 minutes by the end of race.

The 32-year-old felt it pointed to a close race at the world titles, albeit one dominated by Aussies.

”You definitely can’t be confident [going into world titles], a race that close, it could’ve gone either way,” English said.

”That just comes down to a flat tyre.”

The world titles will be held at Stromlo on October 12.

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Dual World Cups a lure for SBW

Work in progress: SBW wants to be selected on form. Photo: Jenny EvansSonny Bill Williams will return to Test football for New Zealand in two weeks in a move that may lead to the Sydney Roosters superstar becoming the first player to win World Cups in rugby league and union.

Williams confirmed his decision to make himself available for the Kiwis on the eve of Monday night’s match against Parramatta – his fourth since returning to the NRL after five years in union – and will be selected in the Kiwis’ side for the April 19 Test against Australia at Canberra Stadium.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney met with Williams in the week leading up to his Roosters debut on March 7 and asked about his availability, but the dual international wanted to ensure he was selected on form.

The 2011 Rugby World Cup winner was maintaining the same line on Sunday when asked about playing in the upcoming Test, but given how quickly he has readjusted to the game, Kearney will have no hesitation in choosing him.

”I’d love to say yes and I will definitely be putting my hand up if my form warrants it,” Williams told reporters during his first media session in Australia since starting training with the Roosters in February.

”We will have to see how I go but at this stage it’s about keeping my place at the Roosters and playing good consistent footy.”

After a solid but unspectacular start from the bench in his first match against South Sydney, Williams played 80 minutes in each of the Roosters’ other matches and was widely considered man of the match in last weekend’s 8-0 shutout of the Broncos.

While Williams was regarded as potentially one of the game’s greats when he walked out on the Bulldogs in 2008, Kearney said the way he has eased himself back into the game showed how much he has matured.

”The thing that I think everyone has been impressed with is the way he has improved since his first game. It is a real credit to him,” Kearney said.

”It would have been easy for him to come back and try to play the way he left it, but he has been very measured in the way he has gone about it and hasn’t tried to force things.

”We all know what he was capable of before he left the game, but the way he has come back is probably a sign he is a lot more mature and he has played that way.”

Kearney is yet to ask Williams about the World Cup at the end of the season but the fact he has made himself available for the one-off Test in Canberra suggests there is a strong possibility of him playing in the tournament.

Williams’ inclusion in the Kiwis squad would be a massive boost for the World Cup holders and also for tournament organisers in England, where ticket sales for the semi-final at Wembley and final at Old Trafford are already very strong.

After missing New Zealand’s triumph over Australia in the 2008 final to play rugby for Toulon in France, Williams would have the opportunity to become the first player to win World Cups in both codes.

Wendell Sailor and Mat Rogers came closest after winning the 2000 World Cup with the Kangaroos and being members of the Wallabies side that lost the final of the rugby union equivalent in 2003 to England.

Williams said the game was much more structured since he last played but after his stint in rugby union he was used to that.

”I’ve come back to league as a union player and I’m facing new situations,” he said. ”Sometimes they’re big hurdles but good players can overcome them.”

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Obstruction rule baffles Bennett

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has branded the policing of the obstruction rule  a “minefield’’ and  called for the NRL to address it before it costs a team a semi-final.

The Raiders were on the wrong end of two contentious calls during Newcastle’s 28-12 win at Hunter Stadium on Sunday night.

In the first half, referees Gerard Sutton and Brett Suttor disallowed a try to Raiders centre Blake Ferguson after they ruled Josh McCrone had run behind decoy runner Brett White.

Sutton and Suttor penalised the Raiders without sending the call up to the video referees.

Also in the first half, video referess Shayne Hayne and Luke Patten awarded Newcastle winger Anthony Quinn a four-pointer, despite a Knights player making contact with McCrone in the defensive line.

Referees boss Daniel Anderson told all clubs before the season if an attacking player initiated contact with a defender, it would result in an automatic penalty.

But there is the belief defenders are using the interpretation to their advantage by deliberately making contact with an attacking player.

Coaches are becoming increasingly frustrated that defenders are being rewarded for poor reads.

Bennett is the most decorated and respected coach in the game and when he talks, officials generally listen.

“They’ve got a minefield for themselves and they’re going to have to fix it up,’’ Bennett said bluntly after the match.

“[Before this year’s interpretations] it was much simpler and the game has got to that complex stage.

“It’s going to create more controversy as the season goes on, and the games become more vital.’’

Told of Bennett’s comments, Canberra coach David Furner grinned and said simply “I would agree’’.

A case could be made in both instances last night for a try to be allowed or disallowed.

Therein lies the problem, with clubs desperate for that ‘grey area’ to be addressed.

It is particularly hurting the Raiders, whose attack is centred heavily around decoy runners and second-man plays.

The obstruction rule came under heavy fire when Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk was disallowed a try in last week’s win over the Bulldogs.

Officials deemed a Bulldog defender had been unfairly taken out by a Storm decoy runner, but most agree he was unlikely have played in part in attempting to stop the try.

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