SBW puts Dogs walkout behind him

Let the game begin: For Sonny Bill Williams, Friday’s match against former club, the Bulldogs, is ‘‘just another game’’. Photo: James Brickwood SBW
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 As he prepares to face the Bulldogs for the first time since walking out on the club five years ago, Sonny Bill Williams insists he wouldn’t change the past but the Roosters superstar wishes he was starting his NRL career again.

Amid all the hype for the most anticipated clash of the season, Williams said it “just feels like another game” to him and he was bemused by suggestions extra security was needed at Allianz Stadium for his protection from hostile Canterbury supporters.

“I understand that some [Bulldogs] fans might be upset, but I have always had a good relationship with most of the fans and for some people to say that I need security, I find a bit of a joke,” Williams said.

The 27-year-old dual international said his decision to quit Canterbury had nothing to do with the club’s fans or his teammates at the time – of whom none remain.

“I have said all along that I never had a problem with any players; it was just some of the people who were in power at the time,” he said.

However, Williams has previously spoken about the drinking culture and peer pressure that existed at the Bulldogs when he was playing, and he said that had now changed across the game.

“One of the things that I have noticed since being back is that from the young boys to the old fellows everyone is a lot more professional,” he said. “I don’t know if it is because the young guys are coming through the under-20s but everyone is clued up on what to eat, what to do recovery-wise and all of that kind of stuff.

“Another thing I have noticed, which is good for the game, is that the drinking culture, which was about playing hard and drinking harder off the field, has pretty much been washed out.

“I wish it was like that when I was coming through because I never drank until I actually made first grade.

“I wouldn’t change anything I have done because it has made me who I am, but in that sense I wish I was 18 now and starting my first-grade career because it is not frowned upon if you are your own person – if you like to be a lot more professional and things like that.”

Speak to anyone at the Roosters – from the management to the coaching staff to the players – and they will tell you Williams is the ultimate professional.

When assistant coach Jason Taylor addressed the squad at a meeting before the start of the season, Williams kept notes of what he said – something the former Parramatta and South Sydney coach had not seen any NRL player do.

“I got that from rugby because there are so many different aspects of the game that you have to know and I reckon that is why I got to understand it,” Williams said.

“I find that if I write down a heap of things when we are talking at meetings I can go back and take out the things I need.

“But league is not an overly complicated game to be honest and I am a bit embarrassed to take my pen and notepad into the meetings.

“So I just try to be really attentive and take out the few key things that they say in video and I go back and write it down when I get home.”

Williams, who said he had a set routine about what he eats is also one of the last out of the Roosters dressing room after training or a match due to a strict stretching routine.

Having only signed for one season at a time since paying the Bulldogs $750,000 in 2008 to release him from the remaining four years of his contract, Williams needs to take care of his body.

“I guess that keeps you on your toes having to do that because it can get a bit repetitive having to stretch at night, have cold showers in the morning, do the ice baths, go for swims,” he said.

“Also being injured a lot in my younger days has helped as well. In 2005, I was injured for pretty much the whole year and in 2006 I played but I didn’t really give myself a fair chance. I just kind of got by on my natural ability.

“In 2007, I really wanted to concentrate on my body, eat well, stretch and get a lot more professional, and I just started playing really, really well that year.”

Before the end of the following season, Williams was gone and he has since had stints playing rugby union in France, New Zealand and Japan – winning a World Cup and a Super Rugby title.

He also holds the New Zealand and WBA international heavyweight boxing titles.

In comparison to some of those experiences, Williams said playing against his former club for the first time was nothing out of the ordinary, although he knows time hasn’t healed the wounds for everyone at the Bulldogs.

“To me, it just feels like another game,” he said. “I have never played with any of these guys, none of them were at the Dogs when I was there.

“Yeah, we used to sit there and watch Ben Barba score three tries for the under-20s, and I think Josh Reynolds was running around with the young fellows back then.

“But none of the guys I played with or the coaching staff are still there so it is just feels like another game. I can understand that there are some diehard supporters who will never let it go but what can I do?

“I have already said in numerous interviews it was never about the fans and it was never about the players. I can sit here and say I would have done things different if I had my time over but what is done is done, and I don’t have to answer to anyone in this world but Allah or God.”

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Eels take a life lesson from Stuart and his fight

”For fathers, new to this, give support and love.” – Ricky Stuart, page 200, The Australian Autism Handbook
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A week after his team was humiliated 50-0 by the Sydney Roosters, Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart fronted the media following his team’s shock victory against Cronulla and detailed a game won with heart and toughness.

Stuart turned his focus to the club’s captain, Tim Mannah, who lead the assault to win the Johnny Mannah Cup, a trophy dedicated to the memory of his late brother, and paid a heart-warming tribute. ”Because of the person he is, I think a lot of that is what the players delivered for him,” Stuart said of the team’s effort. ”For what we have here … Timmy is Parramatta.”

Stuart was just as heart-on-the-sleeve on Thursday night, although the media glare was not as intense, when he launched The Australian Autism Handbook in Leichhardt, a book in which he has detailed his family’s experiences.

As he talked about the trials, the tribulations and the occasional triumphs of raising an autistic daughter, his eyes beamed with that same passion as after the Eels’ victory a few days earlier.

”My two boys will be better people for what they’ve grown up with,” he said of Emma’s impact on her two brothers.

Stuart and his wife Kaylie revealed their story about 14-year-old Emma last year because there was little available to help people understand or cope with a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

He also did it so people who looked at his daughter with judgment when she ”snapped” realised it was not a tantrum by a spoilt teenager. ”Because Emma looks normal, people look at you as though you’re not raising your child properly,” he wrote.

His revelation about Emma struck a chord with parents who have an autistic child, and he said it wasn’t uncommon for strangers, like the woman who sat with him as he and Kaylie ate dinner in a Melbourne restaurant to talk about her twin daughters.

”When I’m out in the street a lot of the time people come to talk to me about rugby league, but there’s times when people come up to me and they feel comfortable to talk to me about autism and sharing their story … I feel comfortable talking to them,” he said

The former NSW Origin coach started the Ricky Stuart Foundation to raise funds to help fight the good fight. However, he rejects the suggestion that, as a public figure, he’s seen as someone who is especially good because of his parental load. ”I just think no one looks up to anyone in this regard,” he said of being sought out to talk about autism. ”I think it’s a case of people thinking you’re part of that family … that group of people.”

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Sin Bin: Benji’s injury saves Kiwi selectors

Walk of fame: Cronulla captain Paul Gallen comes good on a bet and walks through Cronulla ”nude”. Photo: John Veage Benji Marshall’s toe injury may have saved the New Zealand selectors from another tough decision about the Wests Tigers star. With Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran and Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson in arguably better form in the opening five rounds, Sin Bin believes the Kiwis’ selectors would have discussed the possibility of leaving Marshall out of the team to face Australia in next Friday night’s Test. While it is hard to imagine Marshall would have been dropped, New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney has shown he isn’t afraid to make the hard calls before this year’s World Cup when he axed him as captain. With the injury ruling Marshall out for up to a month, it is a call he doesn’t have to worry about but there will be plenty of interest in how Foran and Johnson perform in the halves. New Zealand are expected to opt for an experienced side at Canberra Stadium, with skipper Simon Mannering or fellow back-rower Alex Glenn tipped to be chosen at left centre ahead of Konrad Hurrell.Chase is on
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Ian Millward’s departure from Castleford has coincided with renewed speculation England halfback Rangi Chase may return to St George Illawarra. Negotiations between Chase and the Dragons collapsed during the off-season but Sin Bin understands the 2011 Super League player of the year is again on a list of potential targets. Castleford, who have gone through three chief executives in the past 12 months, play at a dilapidated stadium and have the lowest salary cap spend in Super League. As a result, it is believed the Tigers are willing to release Chase but would want a transfer fee and compensation that may deter St George Illawarra.Blues eye Fifita

Tonga’s loss may be NSW’s gain after Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita officially reaffirmed Australia as the country he wants to represent at Test level. Blues coach Laurie Daley wants to pick a team Queensland will fear, and Fifita is believed to be a strong contender for Origin selection. He will be chosen for City when the year’s first representative teams are named on Sunday. The move is a further blow to Tonga, who will announce their side to play Samoa in the April 20 Test at Penrith, after Warriors back-rower Feleti Mateo opted to try for NSW selection, while Konrad Hurrell wants to represent New Zealand. However, the Mate Ma’a may still boast a strong team for the World Cup – players such as Tony Williams, Michael Jennings, Will Hopoate, Willie Mason, Brent Kite, Richie Fa’aoso, Jorge Taufua, Jacob Loko, Fuifui Moimoi and Israel Folau – if he returns to the NRL – have Tongan heritage.Not Sam Moa’n

Despite his name, Roosters prop Sam Moa is expected to partner Kite in the Tongan front row against Samoa next Saturday night. Samoa, coached by St George Illawarra’s Steve Price, will field a strong line-up expected to include Steve Matai, Roy Asotasi, Jeff Lima, Reni Maitua, Junior Sa’u, David Fa’alogo, Chase Stanley, Daniel Vidot, Ben Roberts, Tim Lafai and Masada Iosefa.Chiefs concern

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie’s plans to meet Sonny Bill Williams about a return to the Super Rugby franchise while he is in Sydney for next week’s match against the Waratahs are set to be foiled by the Roosters superstar’s selection for New Zealand. Rennie has been in contact with Williams to arrange a meeting but the 27-year-old will be in Canberra all week preparing for next Friday’s Test against Australia.Cheeky stunt

There hasn’t been much to laugh about for the Sharks this year, but skipper Paul Gallen’s strip for charity helped lighten the mood. Gallen honoured a bet on Thursday when he strolled down the streets of Cronulla wearing nothing but a pair of skimpy undies, the stunt earning the Men of League charity $10,000 courtesy of SportsBet. What started out as a joke between Gallen and Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart, turned into public embarrassment for a good cause after Cronulla lost 13-6 to the Eels last Saturday. Gallen’s teammates had plenty of fun; Ben Pomeroy ensuring his skipper’s buttocks were exposed while a car-load of Sharks with Chris Heighington at the wheel and Todd Carney in the passenger seat heckled from the road. ”If you didn’t play so shit I wouldn’t have to do this,” Gallen offered in return.Greats help

The money Gallen raised will allow Men of League to continue to help pay for accommodation and airfares for former Cowboys and Titans winger Brenton Bowen and his family for chemotherapy in Melbourne. Men of League also recently bought an electric lift chair for 92-year-old former Group 14 official Louisa Nowra, who has arthritis in her knees and hands, and contributed to the cost of prosthetic legs for former Northern Rivers player and official Jeffrey Jones after a double amputation.

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Morgan Evans tells how he nearly died 

DRIVE TIME: Country singer Morgan Evans takes the road safety message to Warners Bay High School yesterday. Picture: Ryan OslandMORGAN Evans can’t help thinking about it every time he gets into a car.
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His car on the wrong side of the road. The screeching brakes. The telegraph pole. The paddock. His girlfriend crying.

The terror of almost losing his life, and worse still, almost taking the life of another. The relief of surviving.

‘‘I was 21 and thought I was a superhero,’’ the Newcastle singer-songwriter said.

‘‘But I probably should be dead.’’

Evans, the CMC New Oz Artist of the Year, spoke yesterday about his close-call on the road to promote safe driving to year 10 students at his former school, Warners Bay High.

‘‘I’m incredibly embarrassed to tell this story, but I’m obligated to tell it now that I’ve survived,’’ he said.

‘‘If I tell it, maybe someone else doesn’t have to live it.’’

Evans had just spent two days with friends at the Byron Bay Bluesfest when the group returned about midnight to their Lennox Head accommodation.

Most of the group had tickets for the following day’s festival and went to sleep, but Evans and his girlfriend at the time decided to start their drive back to Newcastle.

Evans said he had driven the route about 20 times and thought he had plenty of experience driving at night.

But despite taking regular rest breaks, he fell asleep at the wheel.

The car he was driving crossed to the other side of the road, missed a telegraph pole, went over an embankment, broke through a barbed wire fence and continued about 50 metres into a field.

Evans woke up in the car travelling on cruise control at 110kilometres an hour.

‘‘I slammed on the brakes, brought the car to a stop, looked at my girlfriend to see if she was all right – we didn’t know if we were all right, we were both in shock – she was crying and I didn’t know what to do,’’ he said.

‘‘The ambos, the cops, no one could actually believe we had survived.’’

‘‘I think about it every single time I get in the car.’’

Mr Evans also shared the story of his close school friend, who suffered a severe brain injury about three years ago and is still in a wheelchair and largely unable to communicate.

‘‘If you don’t die in one of these car crashes, this is the most likely outcome, you end up with a severe brain injury and who knows how that could manifest itself,’’ he told students.

Evans said 21per cent of all drivers and riders killed on the road were between 17 and 25 years of age, even though this age group held only 14 per cent of all licences.

He said this was despite most people knowing about the dangers of speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, fatigue, distractions and not wearing seatbelts.

Evans is an ambassador for bstreetsmart, an annual forum for year 10 to 12 students organised by the Westmead Hospital Trauma Service.

93% of Hunter kids immunised

THE Hunter has achieved some of the highest rates of childhood immunisation in the country, ranked fourth overall at 93 per cent, with Maitland on top nationally with a rate of 96 per cent.
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Those high rates were the result of a long-term commitment by the region’s primary health providers and Hunter New England Health, chief executive officer of Hunter Medicare Local, Mark Foster, said on Thursday.

‘‘We are also pretty pleased with the immunisation rate for children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children of 92 per cent,’’ he said.

‘‘We have been very active in supporting general practices across the region to get organised about immunising their children so instead of just waiting for children to turn up they keep an eye on all their children that should be immunised and if they haven’t been in to get their shot, they call them.

‘‘The other thing we have been doing is working very closely with the public health unit of Hunter New England Health so between the two of us we are either looking after all the children who are accessing general practices and for the ones that aren’t we are following them up and ensuring they are being picked up,’’ Dr Foster added.

But a rate of 93 per cent meant 600 children from the Hunter Medicare Local catchment area were not being reached, he said.

‘‘Some of those are people who do routinely get their vaccinations but had not done so when the statistics were compiled but there is a small proportion of people who don’t believe in it, and some others who have troubles accessing the service.’’

Immunisation rates in the Hunter are among the nation’s highest.

The authority has identified nine areas in NSW as being at risk of outbreaks of potentially serious diseases such as measles, polio, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) due to low vaccination areas and they include Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs in Manly and inner Sydney.

Authority chief executive Diane Watson said nationally there were 77,000 children who were not fully immunised at five years old, and rates were very low in some indigenous communities.

Anti lobby blamed for fall in rate

DOCTORS have called for sanctions against those peddling anti-immunisation information, after a new report found more than 76,000 Australian children had fallen behind with their vaccinations.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton lashed out at anti-vaccination groups, who he accused of influencing recent vaccination rates through the spread of misinformation.

Once vaccination rates dropped below 93 per cent for measles, there was a risk of an outbreak of the disease, he said.

Dr Hambleton said modern parents had been spared seeing the impact diseases such as measles had on children, which may be making them apathetic about immunisation. AAP