How to turn an app into a business

Come up with an idea for an app, develop it, put it on the App Store at 99c a pop – and wait for the millions to roll in.


If turning an idea for an app into a successful business were this easy we’d all be doing it.

“A lot of the time the problem isn’t actually making the app, it’s actually building a sustainable business model and something that can scale,” says Mark McDonald, one of the founders of app developer and investor Appster. “A lot of people think that building an app is just this thing you do and suddenly it makes money on the app store.”

Along with his business partner Josiah Humphrey, McDonald has developed more than 80 apps, including one for radio personalities Hamish & Andy and one called BlueDot that allows motorists to pay tolls with their mobile phones instead of using an e-tag.

“It’s really about building a company as opposed to just making an app,” McDonald says.

“The apps that are successful are those that are run like a start-up – they actually have people working full-time driving them, they have a marketing plan, they have a business development plan and they’re constantly seeking investment.”

With over a million apps available around the work, the sector is very competitive, so new apps need a professional approach if they’re going to get traction and build a user base.

For those who get it right the rewards can be significant, as it is one of Australia’s most profitable industries. Business forecaster IBISWorld says 45 per cent of the revenue earned by app makers translates directly to profit.

App development in Australia has grown from almost nothing five years ago to an industry forecast to earn $176 million in profit from revenues of a little under $400 million, IBISWorld says.

It expects strong growth to continue over the next five years, driven by increased smartphone take-up and more online shopping.

Australia has traditionally lagged countries such as the US in terms of the “ecosystem” for developing apps and web businesses, in entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness of investors to put money into new and unproven ideas.

But Benjamin Chong, a founder of Right Click Capital, which invests in early-stage internet businesses, says Australia is catching up. “There are more people who I’ve come into contact with who are interested in at least exploring the possibility of joining a start-up and there are more programs around that can help support founders and I’m also seeing people who are prepared to invest in this,” he says.

Chong says that when investors consider apps, they want to see a business that has the potential to be global, not one that’s tied to a particular geography.

Matthew Macfarlane, investment director at the $40 million Yuuwa Capital venture capital firm, says investors want to see an app that will generate ongoing revenue, not just make one-off 99c sales.

“Unless there’s in-app purchases or some kind of subscription component in the app, it’s very challenging to excite investors like venture capital firms,” he says. “As long as you’ve game play or some kind of value proposition that continues to makes customer continue to engage and pay then it’s all fine.”

Macfarlane says almost all apps already have competitors when they launch, so app makers need to test the market before launch to ensure their product is sufficiently differentiated. “It doesn’t have to be a unique idea, but it has to be extremely well executed,” he says.

App businesses need to build an “addictive” app that will keep customers spending, and Appster’s Mark McDonald says this is more science than art. Half of apps are actually abandoned after the first use, denying the owner of any chance of future revenue, says McDonald.

Part of this is trying to build a “habit pattern” into the product, using scientifically tested psychological ploys like needs, hooks, triggers and rewards.

“For instance, Facebook targets people who want social interaction, so they have a hook, but they also have a trigger action – something with which they can grab attention – like a notification or a photo’s been commented on,” says McDonald. “Then they have some sort of reward. In the case of Facebook it’s a social reward – the validation that someone’s liked your post.”

Another key to success is to ensure that the app has a feature so that users can tell others about the application and invite them to use it, so that the users themselves effectively take on much of the marketing effort, says McDonald.

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Mike Baird to wrongdoers: ‘I’m your worst nightmare’

NSW Premier Mike Baird. Photo: Kate GeraghtyMike Baird has delivered a stern warning to anyone found guilty of wrongdoing during recent investigations by the state’s corruption watchdog: “I’m your worst nightmare.”


The Premier was due to meet newly appointed NSW Liberal party state director Tony Nutt on Wednesday afternoon to discuss evidence aired during hearings of the Independent Commission Against Corruption into allegations of illegal political donations.

The ICAC has heard claims that some of the party’s most senior officials, including finance director Simon McInnes, were complicit in seeking to disguise payments from prohibited donors to bankroll the NSW Liberal 2011 election campaign.

Labor has called on Mr Baird to shut down the party’s main fundraising body, the Millennium Forum, which the ICAC has heard was used to launder banned donations, along with another entity called the Free Enterprise Foundation.

Asked if that was a reasonable demand, Mr Baird said that “what’s reasonable is we need to clean up the culture of politics in NSW”.

“We’ll be taking appropriate responses and we’ll be doing it in a way that restores trust and confidence, not only to the party but to the entire government process,” he said.

Mr Baird’s predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, resigned as premier during a previous inquiry into infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings after giving false evidence in relation to the gift of a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage from a Liberal party fundraiser, Nick Di Girolamo.

The hearings focused fresh scrutiny on to the culture of political lobbying in NSW.

Mr Baird said that it was “important that we stamp out the practices that we have seen … I am shocked and appalled by the revelations I’ve seen, not just this week but over the past few weeks”.

Mr Baird said he would not provide a running commentary on the ICAC. ”But I’ll say this: I am determined to clean up events that we’re seeing to make sure they do not happen again,” Mr Baird said.

“I don’t care what political badge you have. If you have done wrong and if ICAC has shown you have done wrong then I’m your worst nightmare.

“I’m going to do everything to restore confidence in the government. I’m going to do everything to restore confidence in the great party I’m part of.

“The actions that we take will be strong, they’ll be swift and the community will see that we’re determined to fix and ensure that events that have been unravelling for many weeks down at ICAC do not happen again.”

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China: Party expels ‘corrupt and degenerate’ top official

Beijing: China’s ruling Communist Party has expelled one of its senior officials, Li Chuncheng, and authorised a criminal investigation into his corrupt behaviour, the latest major move in an anti-graft drive encircling the country’s former domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang.


It comes nearly 18 months after Mr Li, then deputy party secretary of Sichuan province, became the first senior official detained in what has developed into China’s biggest anti-corruption probe and a flagship of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to strengthen his grip on the leadership.

Chinese authorities have to date said nothing regarding their investigation into Mr Zhou, one of China’s most formidable politicians in recent decades, which has broadened into the detention of his immediate relatives.

While dozens of his known associates have been arrested, internal party pressure has meant Mr Xi’s ultimate intentions over  Mr Zhou – who would be the highest-ranking party official to ever be charged with corruption – remain unclear.

But the formal expulsion of Mr Li is seen as a significant step, given he was the first official Mr Xi put under investigation, soon after taking power in November 2012. Mr Li, who rose quickly through the ranks while Mr Zhou was Sichuan’s top official between 1999 and 2002, was removed from office within weeks of Mr Zhou’s official retirement in late 2012.

In a statement released late on Tuesday, China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said Mr Li, as well as his wife and daughter accepted “huge bribes”, that he was “corrupt and degenerate” and abused his power to indulge in “feudalistic superstitious activities” that created “massive losses to state finances”, without providing further detail.

Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine, reported this month that Mr Li spent tens of millions of yuan to hire a fengshui master to conduct rituals when moving his family’s ancestral tomb.

Mr Li also reportedly arranged a Taoist priest to “drive out demons” when an associate’s company was going through a difficult period.

Mr Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has focused on Sichuan province, where in addition to senior provincial leaders, leading business figures like Hanlong Group’s Liu Han have also been detained. It has also targeted another stronghold of Mr Zhou – China’s powerful state-owned oil sector.

Mr Zhou’s son Zhou Bin, his sister-in-law Zhou Lingying and his son’s mother-in-law, Zhan Minli, have company assets in their names worth at least $US160 million ($172.8 million), much of it based on ventures with a state-owned oil company that Mr Zhou once headed, The New York Times reported this month. Mr Zhou’s son and sister-in-law are among those understood to be under the party’s custody.

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Newcastle port sale adds to Libs’ election war chest

The NSW government will tip more than $1 billion into its infrastructure fund Restart NSW from the privatisation of the Port of Newcastle, leaving it with a potential $2 billion war chest before next year’s election. Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Andrew Constance announced the 98-year lease of the port on Wednesday to Port of Newcastle Investments, a joint venture between Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants. The gross proceeds of the sale are $1.75 billion, of which $340 million will be spent on revitalisation of the Newcastle CBD, including a new light rail project. This is in addition to $120 million already set aside for the project from previous privatisations including the sale of Port Kembla, Port Botany, electricity generators and the desalination plant. After transaction costs and debt are repaid, about $1.2 billion will go into Restart NSW. Mr Baird said the government was “surprised by the final result” having initially estimated sale proceeds of about $700 million in last year’s budget. The sale price was 27 times earnings, which Mr Baird said exceeded the result for Port Botany and was “an amazing result”. The sale brings the total amount of funds in Restart NSW to more than $6 billion, however much of this has been allocated to projects. They include $1.8 billion towards the WestConnex motorway, $403 million for the Pacific Highway, $170 million for the Princes Highway, $135 million for Bridges for the Bush and $130 million for Resources for Regions and $100 million for the Illawarra infrastructure fund. A spokesman for Mr Constance said the Port of Newcastle sale meant there was more than $2 billion in unallocated funds in Restart NSW. He noted that under the legislation governing Restart NSW, projects may only be funded by the Treasurer on the recommendation of Infrastructure NSW. Mr Baird would not nominate specific projects the remainder of the money would fund, but indicated it would allow the government to “bring forward” some of its priority projects. These are likely to include a second Sydney harbour rail crossing. Nor would he be drawn on whether announcements would be made in the June 17 state budget. “There’s obviously more announcements to come, but the firepower of NSW just got stronger,” he said. Mr Constance said the sale was “an enormous vote of confidence on the part of business in what we’re doing as a government”. He said the Port of Newcastle is the world’s largest coal port, handling about 40 per cent of Australia’s coal exports. The NSW government will retain regulatory oversight of the Port of Newcastle and responsibility for maritime and safety and security functions. But opposition leader John Robertson said the announcement was an “insult” to the Hunter region, given just 20 per cent of the proceeds would be directed there. Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley accused Mr Baird of deliberately talking down the potential proceeds “to make himself look like a genius when it turned out to be worth more”.    
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Cadel Evans is still our greatest, says Simon Gerrans

Cadel Evans remains the greatest cyclist Australia has ever produced, says Simon Gerrans whose historic victory in the hilly Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in Belgium on Sunday has boosted his growing reputation as one of the very best riders in the world.
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Gerrans’ win in the 100th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege – which is one of cycling’s five one-day ”monuments” – was the first by an Australian in the race and, with his increasing list of successes, enhanced his place as one of the best riders in Australian cycling history.

There are some who believe Gerrans, 33 and a rider on the Australian Orica-GreenEDGE team, has it in him to become Australia’s greatest ever rider in a country rich with champions.

Gerrans’ career is an illustrious one. It includes wins in the 2012 Milan-San Remo, stages of the 2013 Tour de France (when he also wore the yellow jersey for two days), 2009 Giro d’Italia and 2009 Vuelta a Espana (making him the first Australian to win stages in all three grand tours), the 2012 and 2014 national road title, the 2006, 2012 and 2014 Tour Down Under, and the 2005 and 2006 Herald Sun Tour.

But Gerrans says the standalone best Australian rider is still Evans, 37.  In 2011 Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. On Friday week he will start in the Giro d’Italia off an impressive overall victory and stage win in the Giro del Trentino last week.

Evans’ other top results include wins in the 2009 world road title, the 2010 Fleche Wallonne classic, the 2006 and 2009 Tour de Romandie, the 2011 Tirreno-Adriatico and 1998 mountain bike World Cup series; and second place finishes in the 2008 and 2007 Tour, and thirds in the 2013 Giro d’Italia and 2009 Vuelta a Espana (making him the first Australian to podium overall in all three grand tours).

And judging by how well Evans won the Giro del Trentino last week, the BMC rider is intent on adding more gloss to that already polished record before his nearing retirement – starting at the Giro d’Italia, which no Australian has won.

”I’ve had some fantastic achievements over the past few seasons, mixing it with the very best in the world in the biggest races,” Gerrans  said after returning from Liege to his European home in Monaco.

”I’m obviously very proud of those results, but where that puts me in a ranking is very hard to say in relation to the other Australian cyclists.

”Cadel always has that top spot, purely from winning the Tour de France. It’s the pinnacle of the sport and the one race everybody around the entire world knows.

”The fact he has won [the Tour], that gives him a special place in Australian cycling history.”

Meanwhile, Gerrans is enjoying a break before his return to racing in the Bayern Rundfahrt stage race in Germany from May 28 to June 1.

For Gerrans, the German event will signal the start to his build-up for the Tour which this year begins in Leeds, on July 5.

But Gerrans admits it will be a tall order for Orica-GreenEDGE to repeat their success of last year, when he won stage three, the team took out the stage four team time trial and then he and South African Daryl Impey wore the yellow jersey for a total of four days.

”We haven’t worked out too specifically what the plan will be, but I think the real goal will be to win a stage again,” Gerrans said.

”Obviously, it will be very, very difficult to match what we achieved last year. That was above and beyond everybody’s wildest dreams.”

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Bulldogs defend handling of Andrew Fifita fiasco

Ultimate League: It’s not too late to sign up for our Fantasy NRL game 
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Canterbury chief executive Raelene Castle has defended her handling of the Andrew Fifita contract saga, revealing the NRL has cleared the club of any wrongdoing.

Fifita has signed a lucrative four-year contract with Cronulla but the fallout from the deal which fell over with the Bulldogs continues to make headlines.

Details of the memorandum of understanding – which would have made him the highest-paid Bulldog in history – and sections of the contract he signed with the Bulldogs have been leaked.

While the MOU outlined a deal worth $800,000 a year and $3.2 million in total, the Nine Network aired parts of that and the contract proper, which stipulated he would earn $375,000 next year, $425,000 in 2016, $650,000 in 2017 and $675,000 in the final year. That amounts to more than $1 million less than the agreed amount.

Castle, whose signature was on the contract, is comfortable with how the matter has been handled at her end.

“The NRL are comfortable with the documentation we have provided and will not be taking any further investigations,” Castle said.

“We won’t play out our commercial discussions in the media. We always work to handle everything professionally at every level.

“I continue to point to the joint press release in which they were comfortable with the situation, it was approved by them and included a quote from them when it was sent.”

Castle’s last remark refers to a joint statement issued late last month which revealed the transfer wouldn’t happen, despite both parties previously trumpeting the ”signing” news.

In that statement, Castle said: “After signing a memorandum of understanding with Andrew we’ve not been able to agree on the final terms of his NRL playing contract and have ceased negotiations with his management.

“We wish Andrew all the best for the future. Andrew’s now free to go and look at rugby union if that’s what he wants to do.’’

Fifita’s management group, Athlete management, added: “Andrew is disappointed that we could not finalise terms with the Bulldogs but we still have several options to explore.”

Since then, it’s been suggested Fifita’s legal team would sue the Bulldogs for lost earnings.

“They are not suing us, we have not received any formal legal advice from Fifita’s management,” Castle said.

High-level playing contracts such as the one offered to Fifita usually include three elements – the portion paid under the salary cap, the marquee player allowance and the third-party agreements. Under salary cap rules the latter cannot be guaranteed by clubs. However, it’s understood all Bulldogs players promised TPAs have received those entitlements over the past five years and the club was confident Fifita would receive all monies promised in the MOU.

The club will now channel its energies on other recruitment and retention priorities, including skipper Michael Ennis and promising prop Lloyd Perrett, who are both off contract at the end of the year. The latter will be representing Queensland in the NYC State of Origin clash on Saturday despite the fact his brother, Bulldogs fullback Sam, represents New Zealand.

“I put a bit of pressure on myself, I knew what people would think of me if I chose Australia when my brother plays for New Zealand,” Perrett said.

“At the end of the day, my mentors at the Bulldogs and my dad said the only person I need to answer for myself is me. I’m happy with the decision I made so I can represent where I grew up.”

Asked about the prospect of one day opposing Sam in a Test match, Perrett said: “That would be crazy. It would be pretty cool, I’m not sure if it’s ever been done before. That would be an awesome experience.”

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Gillon McLachlan promises a more female-friendly AFL

Gillon McLachlan, the AFL’s incoming chief executive, has promised to lead a more diverse, female-friendly organisation than his predecessors. He has also vowed that pioneering female coach, Peta Searle, is not lost to the game due to a lack of opportunity.
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Acknowledging the disproportionate number of men in senior positions at league headquarters, McLachlan pledged that women would be promoted to help rectify a glaring imbalance.

In VFL/AFL history, only one woman has sat on the league’s executive at any one time. While women have acted as general managers temporarily, the first was not appointed to a permanent role until human resources manager Christina Ogg joined the league in 2008.

After Ogg resigned in 2012, Dorothy Hisgrove won a new executive position, general manager of people, customer and community, in early 2013.

Two women sit on the AFL Commission – Sam Mostyn was the first appointed in 2005, and has for years championed the promotion of women in the game – but Hisgrove remains the sole woman executive at league headquarters.

“We need greater diversity in our industry generally,” McLachlan said on Wednesday. “I think to do that it has to start at the top, and I’m committed to a more diverse looking industry, and a more diverse looking AFL.”

Asked what had held the AFL back on that front, McLachlan said: “I don’t think it’s been anything specific. I think in the end you just have to make bold decisions and make stuff happen.”

When Andrew Demetriou announced his resignation from the AFL’s top job in March, he said it was a shortcoming of the code that more women had not been promoted to more posts of influence.

Richmond Football Club has since announced an affirmative action initiative, in conjunction with the AFL and Australian Institute of Sport, and will undertake a study to explore the real and perceived barriers to women in the industry and,  from next year, the employment of more women by Richmond.

But for that progress there is continued disappointment on other fronts. Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that Searle, the first woman appointed as an assistant coach in the VFL – no woman has progressed higher in coaching in football – had walked away from her job, citing disillusionment due to the lack of a clear career pathway.

Speaking specifically about Searle on Wednesday, McLachlan told ABC radio: “I think Peta Searle is one where we’ll do what we can to see she gets an opportunity, because someone who obviously is as qualified as her – and I’ve done enough research to know that she’s well regarded – I think to get the ball rolling sometimes you’ve just got to make opportunities and make things happen. And I think we’ll try to do that with Peta.”

Searle worked as an assistant coach to Gary Ayres at Port Melbourne for two seasons, and had a stint at Melbourne last year when she was invited to work with its coaches once a week.

But she has left the VFL and returned to teaching in order to better support her young family. A five-time premiership player and senior coach in the Victorian Women’s Football League, Searle’s aim has been to work permanently at an AFL club.

Among the three visions McLachlan outlined for the code was the aim of it being ‘‘truly representative’’.

‘‘If we do that, I believe we’ll fill every stadium and success will follow,” he said. “I have a clear vision of where I think the game needs to go and we’re going to get there. For me, that vision is about having an unassailable hold on the Australian community. In women, in children, as much as men. From the north to the south, in all communities.’’

McLachlan said there would be a different approach to the way the AFL did business. “The shape and structure of the team will change,” he said, adding it will evolve rather than happen as soon as he takes control on June 5.

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University of Newcastle graduations: Nikki Payne

STUDY: Nikki Payne studied through Open Foundation. NIKKI Payne never imagined undertaking university study, let alone a degree in medicine.
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After schooling at Vacy Primary School and Dungog High School, Nikki attained administration qualifications and worked in accounting and hospitality before starting her family.

‘‘I wanted to be something my children could be proud of, but I still didn’t know what. I started [at] Open Foundation on the recommendation of a friend.

‘‘I eventually decided I wanted to do nursing, but I was getting better marks than I expected and so someone suggested I aim for medicine instead. I did and I got in,’’ she said.

The university’s enabling program Open Foundation this year celebrates 40 years of providing people a pathway to university study.

Ms Payne said the enabling program prepared her well for what lay ahead in university study.

‘‘I loved Open Foundation. I found the staff extremely supportive and encouraging, including the learning development team,’’ she said.

The University of Newcastle is the largest provider of domestic enabling programs in Australia and the proportion of its students from a low socio-economic background is 26per cent, significantly higher than the sector average of 16per cent.

Ms Payne admitted she was apprehensive before starting Open Foundation as she had not studied previously and did not know how she would cope with the pressure.

‘‘My lecturers helped my transition go rather smoothly, as did the new friends I made,’’ she said.

Ms Payne will be awarded a John Lambert Friends of the University Scholarship, on the basis of academic merit and equity criteria, to support her study in the highly competitive University of Newcastle Bachelor of medicine (Joint Medical Program).

‘‘Studying medicine is a whole new ball game, she said.

‘‘Going from part-time to full-time study was a major change, as well as going from one day per week away from my children to five days per week. Medicine is definitely challenging and also very interesting,’’ she said.

Nikki said she was keeping an open mind about potential specialities.

‘‘At this stage I’m considering two pathways – either rural GP and/or obstetrics. I like the idea of the variety a rural GP encounters.’’

Approximately 35,000 people have enrolled in the Open Foundation since it started as a pilot in 1974 with only 80 commencing students.

SEVEN DAYS: April 24-30

HAIRY WEEK: Benji Marshall playing Super Rugby for the Blues.
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Thursday, April 24

BENJI Marshall arrives back at Sydney airport, having blown full-time on his brief dalliance with the game they allegedly play in heaven.

Personally, I smell a rat.

I simply can’t accept that Benji was not good enough to make the grade in the 15-man code.

Let’s face it, you hardly need to be an elite athlete to play rugby, as Matt Dunning proved during his 45 Tests for the Wallabies.

Take my Seven Days substitute of the past two weeks, James Gardiner, as a case in point. Jiggy bears an uncanny resemblance to Winnie the Pooh yet played his fair share of first grade in the Newcastle and Hunter competition, including featuring in a premiership-winning squad with his beloved Wanderers. I remember once asking one of his teammates what were Jig’s attributes, and he replied: ‘‘He’s a good scrummager.’’

Enough said.

Benji, presumably, is not much of a scrummager. But he certainly ticks every other box that should have made him a rah-rah superstar – he can kick penalty goals, field goals, boot it over the sideline on the full and looks good in a tweed jacket with chinos.

Yet here he is, back in Sydney, apparently ready to start filling out forms at Centrelink.

Somehow I can’t buy this speculation that he wants to join Cronulla. The Sharks are stoney motherless and ASADA haven’t even started rubbing blokes out yet. My suspicions are further raised when Sydney Swans loose cannon Buddy Franklin crashes his Jeep into four parked cars.

Strikes me as a blatant publicity stunt to sabotage the imminent announcement that Benji has signed for the GWS Giants.

Friday, April 25

ST George Illawarra are reduced to the role of cannon fodder in their annual Anzac Day battle with the Chooks, who come out all guns blazing in a 34-14 blitzkrieg.

In Brisbane, South Sydney’s Greg Inglis leaves seven Brisbane defenders in his wake in a devastating surge to the try line that starts deep in his own end of the field.

Commentators and fans are soon debating other memorable individual tries of modern times. A few stick in my mind – Brett Mullins racing the full length of the field against the Knights in 1994, a remarkable 65-metre effort from Danny Wicks against the Roosters in 2008, and an iconic Eric Grothe special in a 1983 semi-final.

I was sitting on the SCG hill, cheering for the Bulldogs, when the man they call ‘‘Guru’’ ploughed through six defenders to score.

It is listed on Youtube as ‘‘the greatest try ever scored’’ and for 31 years I have held a similar opinion. Now GI gives me cause to reconsider.


Saturday, April 26

I’M listening to Triple M’s commentary in the car and Joey Johns, Girds and company reveal that the word ‘‘Manu’’ is Tongan for ‘‘animal’’ or ‘‘beast’’.

Hence, Manu ‘‘the Beast’’ Vatuvei.

It also seems appropriate in their discussions about another fearsome figure, Penrith’s Sika Manu, and the new Parramatta forward, Manu Ma’u, who has an equally wild look in his eye.

On the subject of large, dangerous creatures, they call Tony Williams the ‘‘T-Rex’’ but too often he seems more like a brontosaurus, lumbering around and apparently intent on avoiding confrontation.

Williams is one of the most maligned players in the NRL, but one split second of Canterbury’s 16-12 win against the Knights at ANZ Stadium is a reminder of how much damage a T-Rex can wreak when in the mood.

With scores locked 4-all, Williams receives the ball, looks up, and for once does not pass it, instead making a beeline for the smallest defender in front of him, Jarrod Mullen.

It is hardly a fair fight. T-Rex, with a 30-kilo weight advantage, powers straight through Mullo’s attempted tackle.

He then kindly donates a ‘‘meat pie’’ to the only beast in the NRL jungle bigger than a dinosaur, Sam ‘‘Dogzilla’’ Kasiano.

Sunday, April 27

I READ with interest in the news pages of a Sunday paper about a bloke who has paid $8000 to have a ‘‘facial hair transplant’’ because he believes his beard is ‘‘too patchy’’.

This gets me to thinking about the return of whiskers as a rugby league fashion statement.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the game was blessed with some outstanding beards.

Crusher Cleal, Graeme O’Grady, Ray Price, George Peponis, Geoff Robinson and Kerry Hemsley, for starters.

Sadly, during the ’90s and early 2000s it seemed the razor gang ruled supreme. A bloke like Kirk Reynoldson was considered a crazy character simply because he adopted the bushranger look.

Then a few years back Manly’s David Williams became a household name simply by transforming into the ‘‘Wolfman’’.

Nowadays it seems there are more players in the NRL sporting facial fuzz than ever. If you don’t have a beard and a sleeve tattoo, you need to play a different game.

Monday, April 28

ARL chairman John Grant wears a beard but that is apparently his lone connection to the game he once played.

That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn after a news bulletin highlights Grant’s performance in announcing the Aussie team for the trans-Tasman Test.

He declares Paul Gallen plays for the ‘‘Cronulla-Sutherland Hawks’’ and Daly Cherry Evans for the ‘‘Manly-Warringah Seagulls’’.

One of your best, John.

The foot-in-mouth faux pas draws unflattering comparisons with last year’s blooper from NRL chief executive Dave Smith, who didn’t know a Benji Barba from a Ben Marshall at the season launch.

But at least Smithy is just a Welsh banker (that’s not rhyming slang, by the way) who had never been to a footy game in his life before he replaced David Gallop, not a former Test player.

Tuesday, April 29

CHAIRMAN Grant sheepishly admits he has ‘‘no idea’’ how the Hawks and Seagulls popped into his head to make a goose of him.

“It’s ridiculous,’’ he says. ‘‘There’s no explanation other than to acknowledge a total error.

“I feel very uncomfortable about it in terms of Manly and Cronulla. It’s just an error that I’m sorry I made. It’s not where I want to be as a person.”

Meanwhile, on the subject of ‘‘total errors’’, the Knights stand down young prop Zane Tetevano indefinitely after police charge him with allegedly punching a taxi’s windscreen.

Knights officials announce in a statement that ‘‘the club will review Tetevano’s position internally’’.

Sounds painful.

Wednesday, April 30

SEVEN Days has received a truckload of abusive, hand-written letters over the years from a reader I call the ‘‘Maitland Maniac’’, but today’s takes the cake.

Apparently livid that yours truly (unsuccessfully) tipped the Knights to beat the Bulldogs last weekend, the Maniac mails me a redbelly with the instructions: ‘‘Here’s $20 those f—ing [expletives] the Newcastle Knights DON’T make the finals this year.’’

He proceeds to refer to your columnist with a barrage of adjectives that do not bear repeating in the pages of a family newspaper.

There are a few fundamental problems with The Maniac’s $20 wager.

First, I’m not expecting the Knights to make the finals this year. And even if I was, I’d have to say the Maniac’s odds are a tad stingy.

The bookies are offering $3.25 for Newcastle to make the top eight, and $1.30 for them to miss out. The Maniac seems to reckon an even-money bet is fair and square.

So without wanting to disappoint my old mate, I’ll be giving Maniac TAB a wide berth.

I’d put the $20 in an envelope and return it but, as usual, the letter is unsigned and includes no address.

I guess that means I’ll have to donate it to a worthy cause – such as Dan Murphy’s, for instance – and just hope that ICAC don’t find out.

Lower grades fly flag for Knights

Mick CrawleyTHE Knights are stuck at the wrong end of the NRL ladder with two wins from eight games but the club’s two lower-grade teams are flying high at the top of the table.
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Unbeaten after eight rounds with seven wins and a draw, Newcastle’s under 20s (15 points) are three clear of their nearest National Youth Cup rivals Parramatta and St George Illawarra (both 12), and already defeated 2013 runners-up Canberra twice and premiers Penrith once.

Sports betting agency TAB南京夜网.au installed the Knights as $4.50 favourites to win the NYC premiership, ahead of the Eels ($7), Dragons and Roosters (both $8) and Panthers ($9).

In his third season at the club, coach Mick Crawley has a star-studded line-up to work with and three of his players – fullback Jake Mamo, centre Sione Mata’utia and halfback Jaelen Feeney – will show their skills in the interstate under 20s game at Penrith on Saturday.

Mamo, who filled in for injured winger Akuila Uate in Newcastle’s past two NRL games, and Mata’utia were named in the NSW backline, while Feeney will steer the Queensland ship.

Knights halves coach Kevin Walters will be in charge of the young Maroons.

A South Newcastle junior, and the youngest of four brothers who still play (Pat and Chanel) or used to play (Peter) for the Knights, 17-year-old Mata’utia is chasing a winning hat-trick in NSW colours.

He was a member of the NSW under 16s side who defeated Queensland before the State of Origin series-opener at Etihad Stadium in 2012 then scored two tries in the Blues’ 56-6 mauling of the Maroons in the under 18s curtain-raiser before Origin II at Suncorp last year.

The Knights signed 19-year-old Feeney from the Bulldogs at the end of last season.

Coach Rick Stone’s NSW Cup team surged to the top of the table on points difference with a 44-12 rout of the Dogs at Belmore on Saturday.

Newcastle are in a three-way tie with Wentworthville Magpies and Wests Tigers on 12 points but have a superior for-and-against points differential of plus 69.

The Knights have lost just twice this season, to Canberra’s feeder team Mounties and will try to consolidate their share of the lead when they take on Wentworthville in a top-of-the-table tussle at Ringrose Park at 3pm on Sunday.

Paying $6, the Knights are third pick for the NSW Cup title with TAB南京夜网.au, behind equal favourites Cronulla and Penrith (both $4.50).

It will be a busy weekend for Stone, who will coach Fiji in the Pacific Test against Samoa at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday before backing up with the Knights on Sunday.

■ Knights forwards Korbin Sims (Fiji) and David Fa’alogo (Samoa) will get the chance to bang heads in the Pacific Test at Penrith.

Coming off the bench and playing 33 minutes each, Sims (17 runs for 146 metres) and Fa’alogo (16 runs for 150m), were two of Newcastle’s more effective forwards in their 16-12 loss to Canterbury at ANZ Stadium last Saturday.

Speaking before the Bulldogs match, Sims said he would have liked to have appeared in more than the 12 games he played in his debut season last year, but with hindsight appreciated the way coach Wayne Bennett used him sparingly.

‘‘It made me more hungry coming into this season,’’ Sims said. ‘‘I think I’m starting to show that with my impact off the bench.’’

Friends and former Knights teammates Kevin Naiqama (Fiji) and Peter Mata’utia (Samoa) will also square off in the Pacific Test, which will determine which team join Australia, New Zealand and England in the Four Nations at the end of the season.

■ Harold Matthews (under 16s) minor premiers Newcastle will play Canterbury at St Marys at 2.30pm on Saturday for the right to play either Souths or Penrith in the grand final.

The Knights had a week off after they beat Canberra 38-24 in a qualifying final and the Dogs qualified when they beat Balmain 20-16 at St Marys on Saturday.

Newcastle bowed out of the SG Ball (under 18s) finals when beaten 36-28 by Penrith in an elimination semi-final at St Marys last Saturday.

■ The Carlson Club fund-raiser for Alex McKinnon, scheduled for Newcastle Jockey Club tomorrow week, was pushed back until late next month. Some of the club’s major sponsors could not attend the original date.

REAL NRL: Coalfields rivals unite to honour lost miners

GOOD CAUSE: Cessnock’s Al Lantry and Kurri’s Justin Peterkin hold up the fundraising jersey. THE Kurri Kurri Bulldogs and Cessnock Goannas are intrinsically linked to the coal industry. Many of their fans, sponsors and players rely heavily on the black rock and the money it generates.
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So when Austar’s Paxton mine collapsed on April 15 and killed Jamie Mitchell, 49, and Phillip Grant, 35, it cut to the core of both clubs.

On Saturday the Bulldogs and Goannas will set aside their intense rivalry to launch a combined jersey to raise money to support the Mitchell and Grant families.

Two half-Kurri, half-Cessnock jerseys have been created. One will be signed by first-grade players from both sides and auctioned after Saturday’s game at Kurri.

The other, signed by coalfields sons and Knights legends Mark Hughes, Andrew and Matthew Johns and St George great Eddie Lumsden, will be raffled.

The deaths of Mitchell and Grant have been particularly emotional for Kurri prop Justin Peterkin.

The man they call ‘‘Bump’’ worked in the same crew as Mitchell and Grant.

‘‘It is quite close to home,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘I’d swapped shifts to play football on the Thursday night against Maitland, so I was actually on night shift and I was on the surface when the calls were coming in.’’

Three-quarters of the Kurri and Cessnock first-grade squads on Saturday work in the mining industry.

Cessnock president David Woodbury also works at Austar and has been personally affected by the tragedy.

‘‘When you’re on different crews you don’t have a lot to do with them, but I’ve known Jamie for over 20 years,’’ Woodbury said. ‘‘He played junior footy at Cessnock and was a keen supporter and would come and have a beer and follow the players.’’

The usually spiteful rivalry between the clubs has been replaced by a spirit of co-operation this week.

‘‘David Woodbury from Cessnock has been excellent in the support he’s thrown behind it,’’ Peterkin said.

‘‘Obviously I know [Cessnock coach Steve Kidd] Kiddie personally and he’s been right behind it as well.’’

Woodbury said he hoped to continue the fund-raising effort when Cessnock Sportsground host the second derby on June 28.

Rachel Jones chases world titles berth

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NEWCASTLE BMX rider Rachel Jones will take a nothing-to-lose attitude into her campaign today for the last position on the Australian team for the world titles.

Jones will debut in the elite open division of the Australian championships when they begin at Shepparton in Victoria today after two days of practice.

The 18-year-old needs a standout performance at nationals to have a chance of gaining the fourth and final place on the Australian team for the world titles in July in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

If she gets on the podium, Jones will likely head to Berlin in June for a World Cup event to satisfy world titles selection criteria and hope she gets the nod.

Despite facing a make-or-break test at Shepparton, Jones said she was not feeling under pressure.

‘‘I’ll need to do quite well but this is my first year in the elite women’s division and I’ve really got nothing to lose this week,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I’m just going to go all out, give it everything and, if I get a result, well then great. The experience I get will always be a win.’’

She is in her first year against the likes of world champion Caroline Buchanan, but the 2013 national junior champion has recorded second and fifth placings in national series rounds in Queensland and Western Australia.

‘‘I know my capabilities,’’ she said. ‘‘I may not have the experience of the other girls, but I now have the ability and I’ll be aiming to get on the podium.’’

Her results are reward for the sacrifices the Lake Macquarie BMX Club rider has made over the past two months since moving away from her family and friends to train full-time on the Gold Coast at the Australian Institute of Sport.

‘‘It’s a big move and it’s not easy, but I needed to do it to do what I want in the sport,’’ she said.

After this weekend, Jones is aiming to gain more international experience as she builds towards her ultimate goal, an Olympic Games berth.

ABILITY: Rachel Jones on the track during the junior world championships in Auckland last year. Picture: Getty Images

NHRU: Coull leaves with head high

FENTON Coull remembers people suggesting he would be bored when he was appointed general manager of the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union.
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Coull spent 16 years at Tennis Australia where, among a host of roles, he was Davis Cup team manager in the golden era of Pat Rafter, Lleyton Hewitt and the Woodies.

‘‘They thought going from a national/international role that I would be bored,’’ Coull said. ‘‘It has been anything but boring.

‘‘It doesn’t matter what level of sport you are at, everyone wants the best, everyone wants answers and everyone wants improvement.’’

Coull blew full-time yesterday after almost six years at the NHRU.

During his tenure the union improved its financial position, hosted the region’s first Test match, moved into new headquarters at the redeveloped No.2 Sportsground and won five straight country championship titles.

‘‘When you look back, there have been a number of achievements, but you always want more,’’ Coull said.

‘‘I am fairly pleased with the financial shape the union is in. Sponsorship is way up.’’

‘‘It was good to have the first full Test in Newcastle and then the British Lions.

‘‘We only missed out on a high-level game one year.

‘‘Moving into No.2 Sportsground, I was a small part of that project.

‘‘I guess one of the aims I had was to try and get the NHRU closer to the clubs.

‘‘It is a very difficult task. The governing body is always looked at suspiciously.

‘‘I might have ticked some of the boxes with some of the clubs, but I feel I haven’t ticked that box completely.’’

Coull admitted the bitter battle between Easts and the NHRU, which resulted in the club being axed from premier rugby then reinstated after mediation ordered by the Supreme Court, was the biggest and most testing issue.

‘‘It was my first day on the job,’’ he said.

‘‘I went to the board meeting that night and premier rugby went from 11 teams to 10. I didn’t realise the magnitude of the decision at the time.

‘‘I thought we will just get on with it, but there were a few hurdles.’’

The increased vitriol and animosity between clubs recently has also caused Coull concern, but overall he has enjoyed the role.

‘‘I have been fortunate to work with and meet the great majority of local rugby people, who are supportive of and hard working for our local game,’’ he said.

After helping new general manager Shelley Youman ease into the role this week, Coull is looking forward to playing more lawn bowls and travelling with wife Judy.

‘‘I nearly went to a Davis Cup tie this year,’’ Coull said.

‘‘I want to go back and be a spectator.’’