By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
For those who know me, it's no surprise that I am a huge American football fan.
Having fallen in love with the Madden computer game franchise as a youngster, I made it a personal mission to understand the ins and out of the game and to have a passable knowledge of all things NFL. That led to an infatuation with running back LaDanian Tomlinson and the San Diego Chargers.
The sun, the vibrancy, the powder blue uniforms and a bussling running back dominating the league, it was the perfect mix and I was hooked. Flash forward more than a decade and that team upped and left San Diego, ripping out the hearts of many locals and while it didn't really mean the team was any further away from me here in Australia, I pretty much bowed out in solidarity.
The last NFL season was a tough one. I no longer considered myself a Chargers fan but as they racked up wins in an incredible season, I found myself rooting for the individuals. Quarterback Phillip Rivers, so likeable for his off-the-cuff style of straight talk. Melvin Gordon, a running back I'd loved since his college days. Antonio Gates, one of the best to ever play the position. I wasn't a Chargers fan, but I loved seeing these guys do well.
Thankfully, a new upstart league run by Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian gave me the chance to re-connect with the city of San Diego and to watch football from the old Q again.
So far, it hasn't disappointed.
The San Diego Fleet, a team built on the proud naval traditions of the city, has well and truly captured my heart.
They're far from perfect, in fact following a fairly comprehensive loss to the Arizona Hotshots this morning, their record is below .500 and there are plenty of questions around how to re-jig the offence following the loss of surprise packet quarterback Phil Nelson, but it's football in San Diego and the promise is endless.
Developmental or secondary football leagues have cropped up so frequently, failed so spectacularly and disappeared at such a rate that it's fair for any new venture to be received with skepticism and concern. The AAF is far from perfect in its own right and while many are trying to drag it down with needless comparisons to the billion-dollar business that is the NFL, there are plenty of us who enjoy the product and the story behind it.
Any new league lives and dies by its quarterback play, that's obvious enough and in guys like Garrett Gilbert, a former practice squad journeyman at NFL level, play from under centre has been decent enough.
What the AAF is thriving on, however, is eight well-placed, well-thought-out teams and great storylines. Whether it's the return of Johnny Manziel, the attempts of Trent Richardson to work his way back to the big show and prove he's not one of the all-time biggest draft busts or the countless other guys told they weren't good enough to make an NFL roster, the Alliance of American Footbaall is all about the storylines.
Everybody loves an underdog and there's no bigger group of rejects, has-beens and never-was players deperate to shake that tag and turn things around. It's relatable, it's raw and gritty and it's real and that's why I love the Alliance.
Down under in Australia, it's not an easy prospect but thanks to a mix of dodgy online streams, the app and Twitter, I have barely missed a game of the new league and I'm officially an AAF junkie. My Sunday mornings at home or my Monday mornings at work are not the same anymore and they probably never will be.
The secondary league market will be a little busier next year when the XFL has another crack at getting off the ground, but with a 12-month headstart, good TV exposure and initial links with the NFL, including streaming of games on the NFL Network, the building blocks are in place for an awesome experience to grow.
Bring it on.
By Daniel Lang- Managing Director
On a night where a crowd of more than 33,000 turned up at the former Olympic stadium to bid farewell to Tim Cahill, did we witness the birth of Australia's next talismanic Socceroos star?
In a somewhat blunt 'out with the old, in with the new' approach to summing up Australia's 3-0 triumph over a haphazard and underdone Lebanon side, it's safe to say coach Graham Arnold's bid to lure the Scottish born star to represent the Socceroos is already paying dividends.
Cahill, himself the master behind so many of Australia's greatest moments on the world stage was given a brief cameo from the bench late on, but it was the lethal performance that preceded it by Boyle who scored a brace and set up a third goal that set tongues wagging at full-time.
Love him or hate him, respect his contribution to football but not so much his legacy when it comes to avoiding club football in Australia for as long as possible or bailing out at the first opportunity, it is hard to deny the impact Tim Cahill has had on Australian football across his 108 caps and while the last of those will go down more as the #ThanksTim footnote it was than a classic effort, the chance to see how Martin Boyle fits into the blueprint moving forward is an exciting prospect.
Currently plying his trade back home in Scotland for Hibernian, the former Montrose and Dundee striker looks the perfect fit for an Australian side that has lacked a cutting edge and a genuine goal-scoring threat for some time.
It is, of course, important to remember the quality of Tuesday night's opposition was not of the standard Australia expects to compete with at the highest levels of World and Asian Cups, but a poacher capable of finding the back of the net with some regularity will excite plenty down under after a fairly barren spell.
Cahill aside, Josh Kennedy probably looms as the Socceroo's last genuine goal-scoring threat while the days of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell and well and truly in the rear view mirror meaning the arrival of the erstwhile Martin Boyle could not have come at a better time as the Graham Arnold revolution begins to take flight.
Boyle's pace and verve also came as a stark contrast to Arnold's other options. Jamie Maclaren has plenty of wraps on his ability, but he was not able to impress Bert van Marwijk enough to make an impact on the World Cup in Russia while Tomi Juric has failed to take the position by the scruff of the neck and make it his own during his many opportunities.
Thrown into a front three with the aforementioned Juric and Awer Mabil, Boyle had Australian looking fluid, pacey and, ultimately threatening for much of the night.
There was no fairy-tale swansong goal from Cahill, but the birth of Martin Boyle as a Socceroos icon will whet the appetite of the Australian faithful well enough.
By Daniel Beswick
In May 2018, Al-Jazeera’s beamed Cricket’s Match Fixers to the world, intending to uncover controversies crippling international cricket and the sport’s integrity.
The Doha-based network claimed that its investigation would expose some of cricket’s superstars, with sufficient evidence to prove unequivocally that matches at international level were riddled with under-performance for the sake of financial benefit. Former players and governing bodies were quick to call out the investigation, critical of its ambiguity, naivety and its failure to provide new information. In October, Al-Jazeera returned with a second part of their investigation, The Munawar Files, claiming to have uncovered more information on the spot-fixing techniques of Aneel Munawar, a middle-ranked operative in D-Company, a mafia syndicate.
As Al-Jazeera plays its hand producing both parts, the investigation, while it manages to crack open some issues, ultimately fails to land killer blows. Given that justice may have been served by Al-Jazeera handing their work over and launching a criminal investigation instead, one could even go further to ask if it is benefitting anyone from releasing this investigation to the public.
Al-Jazeera’s naivety appears from the beginning of their investigation, even if their aim was to provide context to those who are not students of the game. It begins with a sunshine-filled club game with a humble scattering of onlookers, highlighting that the British pastime has spread to over 100 countries across the globe. In this sequence they make a mistake of dropping the most clichéd sentence in the sport’s vernacular - that cricket is ‘the gentleman’s game’. Intending to juxtapose a supposed purity of club cricket to the game’s ‘sinister side’, it blinds itself to the fact that no sport with any bearing is free of pushing limits on gamesmanship. In addition, adding a historical context of cheating in cricket negates the image that the sport holds a clean record in recent times, even excluding the supposed evidence that has come across Al-Jazeera’s desk. It contradicts itself in the early stages.
This context put forward by Al-Jazeera lacks effort and looks to be used to pad the time out. Hansie Cronje’s role in the 1990s and Lou Vincent’s confession in 2014 are cited, before lazily launching at ‘accused’ Mohammad Azharuddin and Wasim Akram. There’s no mention of Chris Cairns allegations, and Mohammad Ashraful and Danish Kaneria’s names are brought forward as an afterthought later in the production. Al-Jazeera, an organisation reputed for its journalistic class, fails to properly contextualise its argument.
Al-Jazeera’s innocence at times trickles into its understanding of the fixing processes, and undoes a lot of groundwork in the exposé. The investigation’s reporter, David Harrison, goes undercover and uses an underworld intermediary to meet and build rapport with several key figures. He pushes enough buttons to evoke answers from the investigations subjects, though what he does squeeze out isn’t enough to shift the viewer’s opinion. Harrison, after bonding at length with Munawar, asks if has players from every international team in on the operation. Munawar simply throws a ‘yes’ back. As the investigation goes on, it is apparent that Munawar’s contacts stretch to only three countries. Strangely, as an Indian fixer, he has little contact with players from his country. Munawar also alludes to players splitting cash around the players, though the investigation fails to dive into this further.Harrison’s meetings with fixer Robin Morris and his contacts show a much wider web in bringing the game into disrepute though a number of techniques. He baits Tharindu Mendis (an ex-player) into telling him of doctored pitches in Galle, though his press is met with nervousness. Tharanga Indika, the assistant manager of Galle Stadium, leaves the room. Mendis and Morris come quick to Indika’s defence claiming that he doesn’t like meeting new people, though it makes sceptics wonder why he agreed to discuss things with a stranger like Harrison in a hotel room. Similarly, Munawar, upon finding out that Harrison is not who he claims to be, remains calm while exiting the room. Many would think that after being exposed, Munawar would be fidgety, sweating in nervousness before rushing out.
Al-Jazeera’s innocence is epitomised by the types of fixes explained to them, and how the organisation incorrectly misconstrues them to the audience. On no less than ten occasions, the documentary outlines the types of session betting that Munawar and D-Company use for their syndicate. A ‘session’, not to be confused with the three two-hour periods of play in Test cricket, is rather a period of six to ten overs. Munawar and those in the fix predict that the batting team in a ‘session’ score under a set line of runs, with the last over being a ‘manda’ - an over where two or less runs are scored.
To compound this, a number of the contrived plans do not seem to add up as realistic betting fixes, especially for Test match cricket. In the case of Munawar and D-Company’s session run lines, the run totals look unachievable to reach, even for some of the world’s brutish players. Even if the plan is to go under the unrealistic total, the odds would be incredibly short. Among the fixes shown in the investigation, 48 runs in six to ten overs is the smallest line, with 68 another mentioned line in part one. In part one, there is even a misunderstanding between Munawar and a client, where Munawar clarifies that there is a one in front of the total, therefore making the line between 166-168. The numbers fail to add up. Al-Jazeera could well have missed something here, thus failing to enlighten the viewer.
Gaps appear in fixing techniques when Harrison and Al-Jazeera turn their attention to Sri Lanka. Morris, Mendis and Indika are accompanied by Gaurav Rajkumar, a fixer based in UAE who pays groundsmen up to thirty thousand US Dollars to doctor pitches. First, pitches are inspected by members if the ICC during their preparation. With all this time to assess conditions, it gives legal bookmakers, and perhaps the corrupt ones in control of their markets, enough time to adjust their match odds.
There are two more factors that appear to affect the pitch preparation. First: Sri Lanka’s opponents. In the documentary, two Galle Test matches are shown to highlight the fixing techniques - one against Australia (2016) and one against India (2017). For the first, the groundsmen prepare a wicket conducive to spin, while they prepare a pitch good for batting in the second. In the India match, the line for first innings score is 280, with fixers, after the toss, throwing thousands on overs. Though again, it wouldn’t take an expert to predict a team batting first on a flat wicket to come through and cover. Any odds on that, whether it is through illegal bookies or the world’s biggest betting companies, cannot be long. Were they just preparing them just based on Sri Lanka being competitive against the best Test playing nation, and to undo Australia with spin? To claim that the pitches are being prepared purely for fixing purposes is plausible, but by no means conclusive.
The second to undo the fixers’ variable is the weather. While Galle is in the south-west of Sri Lanka, the north-east monsoon, which tends to sweep through from late September to November, can bring rainfall to the whole country. Lengthy delays would raise the chance of matches taking all five days, and wet weather has potential to hinder batting conditions. In theory, rain could have ruined both of Morris and Mendis’ fixes. This may have occurred just days ago had Sri Lanka batted two hours longer against England, in their recent Test match in Galle. Highlighted as the next potential fix in the investigation as a match where a result within five days would be achieved, rain threatened to bring down the operation. As a thunderstorm swept through the city on Saturday, England had already locked up the Test match by dismissing Sri Lanka on the Friday afternoon. A guaranteed fix would surely factor in the likelihood of inclement weather.
It would be unfair to omit the success Al-Jazeera enjoy when they nail on Robin Morris and Hasan Raza in their sting while in Qatar, where the pair outline to Harrison plans of fixing an entire Twenty20 tournament in UAE. The Ajman All-Stars, the tournament in question, plays out almost exactly how the pair intend, with damning footage of parts of the tournament by other news outlets being the only remnants of it available on the internet. Results have been swiped from cricket websites like ESPNCricinfo and Cricbuzz, and squad lists are non-existent. The ICC Anti-Corruption Unit opened an investigation, with the final nail in the coffin being a team bowled out for 46, riddled with stumping and run outs. As Twenty20 tournaments in Associate countries don’t carry status, stats are not counted. Players could fix all they want and their career numbers would not be touched. For Morris and Raza, it was still a failure. Their plan to take their T20 tournaments to other countries and corrupt them has not materialised.
Despite this success, Al-Jazeera somehow missed Hasan Raza coming out to the media soon after, claiming that players came to him in protection from fixers. As one of two men trying to fix the whole tournament, the story screams of Raza covering up his own work. While part two of the investigation is centred around Aneel Munawar’s fixing, it would have been wise to include a follow up on some of the other figures Al-Jazeera probed in part one to tie their operation up.
Just as Al-Jazeera fail to delve into the splitting of fixing money between players speaking to Munawar, the investigation also fails to delve into other claims of fixing across the two parts. Early in part one, Al-Jazeera make a throwaway comment that fixers rig overall results, and push Raza and Morris to claim that the UAE national team has up to five fixers with up to 25 thousand US Dollars offered to players willing to deliver fixes. The failure to push the pair with more information on this is another highlight of Al-Jazeera’s blunt attack. Compounded by a lack of a paper trail for transfers of money, Al-Jazeera’s lack of direction only leads to more questions.
This lack of a cutting edge is underlined when Al-Jazeera brings in its talent, Corruption Investigator Ed Hawkins, and Chris Eaton, formerly of INTERPOL. Hawkins in particular isn’t given the chance to go at players, instead needing the audience to buy in to what he is shown. Hawkins brings up valid points in regards to D-Company and its ‘powder keg’ situation in India/Pakistan relations (as an organisation that allegedly funds Pakistan’s military), but when it comes to confirming players of fixing that he has received intelligence on in the past, it comes down to how believable his word is to the audience. Sceptics will only be converted with evidence in front of them. It’s here where Al-Jazeera is trapped even after all their hard work. If Al-Jazeera were to pass on the evidence, a criminal investigation begins and the productions can’t be aired. For the production to be shown to the public, it almost needs to be an unfinished work.
Eaton’s presence lacks a conviction, again down to Al-Jazeera not giving him the tools to go and clearly prove his importance in the investigation. Strangely, an Australian, Eaton mispronounces Andy Bichel’s name (Bichel is photographed with Munawar, assuming Munawar to be a fan) and throws around clichés that fail to add to Al-Jazeera’s argument. While Eaton’s credentials are undoubted, he is almost forced to resort to claims that lack substance. He claims that Munawar’s accurate ‘predictions’ prove he is fixing, though this is established by Harrison’s undercover work. Eaton then continues to describe allegations as ‘shocking’, and outlines that sports claim fixing can occur in lower levels of sport, but go on to claim there is purity at the top. Eaton, of all people, should know that cricket has been laced with corruption. He ends his piece by playing on cricket’s sanctimony, stating “(cricket) used to be called the gentleman’s game, what Al-Jazeera has shown me, (it) looks to me like cricket is the rotten game.” Again, it is a nice sentence to conveniently tie everything together for the sake of the piece, but again fails to improve the understanding of goings on for those watching. INTERPOL and Eaton’s involvement may evolve, with Harrison telling Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special that Al-Jazeera in the process of handing over their evidence.
Former Australian fast bowler and Coach Andy Bichel is one of many involved in high quality cricket to be pictured with Aneel Munawar during his escapades. Al-Jazeera, in the investigation, shows this to highlight how easy it can be for fixers to rub shoulders with high-profile players. In one instance, they show pictures of Umar Akmal looking into a bag allegedly full of money. Akmal denies taking the supposed bribe, and was surely wise to not partake in suspicious behaviour whilst wearing Pakistan training kit, which he was pictured in. While Akmal’s situation brings evidence to an attempted fix, other players pictured with Munawar would be well within their rights to fume at their inclusion in the documentary. Even if the investigation adds that the pictured players aren’t suspected of fixing activity, merely bringing their name and face into the documentary to make a point is unfair.
This unfairness is taken one step further while Ed Hawkins watches a supposed fix in England’s innings against India at Chennai, in 2016. Al-Jazeera show blurred footage of a passage of play, showing a left-handed player with English insignia on his pants and an SS bat knocking a ball to the leg side. It doesn’t take a detective that the player is Moeen Ali, and Moeen’s lawyer, like that of the player who is supposedly recorded in a phone conversation with Munawar, is no doubt weighing up several options.
As the ICC’s anti-corruption unit continues its brigade by lecturing players on what is not condoned, Hawkins opposes the ICC’s work suggesting that the players are naive, in that they suggest that spot-fixing is acceptable given that it doesn’t affect the outcome of the game. If that is correct, the problem rests on the shoulders of the ICC, if they are failing to convey things effectively. How can players at the elite level not think that under-performing at any stage is acceptable? This should be a barb at the ICC, like several of Al-Jazeera’s valid arguments are. With conflicting reports from the ICC on their knowledge of Munawar, Al-Jazeera’s attack may have been more effective if it was directed to the ICC and its negligence.
There is no doubt that fixing is rife within international cricket, though it would be foolish to think that Al-Jazeera’s work to bring operations undone is ground-breaking. Despite exposing the UAE Ajman-All Stars T20 League for example, it fails in proving that doctoring the pitches in Sri Lanka is specifically fixing for betting purposes. In the case of Aneel Munawar and D-Company, the scales are on the verge of tipping the case beyond reasonable doubt, though are prevented to do so without the supposed evidence. A part of the two episodes that almost epitomises Al-Jazeera’s lack of cutting edge information occurs when Hawkins challenges anyone who loves the game to ‘watch and not have a knot in their stomach.’ Unfortunately, there is no chance for people to judge for themselves. Knowledge withheld is knowledge wasted. Al-Jazeera hedged their bets and produced an incomplete work that former players and sceptics rightfully condemned.
By Daniel Beswick (@dgbeswick1)
Games that are supposedly fixed by Munawar
- 2011 England and Pakistan series in UAE (three matches)
- 2011 South Africa v Australia in Cape Town
- Australia v New Zealand - location and tour unknown (either 2011/12 or 2015/16)
- 2016 India v England Test in Chennai
2011 Cricket World Cup
- Australia vs Kenya
- England vs Netherlands
- Australia v Zimbabwe
- Australia v England
- England v South Africa
- England v Bangladesh
2012 World T20
- Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe
- England v Afghanistan
- South Africa v Pakistan
Australians who played the Test match against South Africa at Cape Town and played at the 2011 World Cup. Interestingly there are no World T20 fixes for Australia, which may suggest that the players in question weren't at the tournament.
English players who were in the winning 2010/2011 Ashes squad, and played at the 2011 Cricket World Cup. One 2012 World T20 match.
To Robin Morris
Any international players at Ajman-All Stars T20 Tournament.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
There were tears. Oh yes, there were so many tears.
From the moment the apologies and accountability started from the players with Cam Bancroft in front of a hastily gathered press group at Perth airport to the free-flowing, emotional display from the soon-to-be deposed skipper Steve Smith and the somehow less contrite but still raw performance from David Warner, Australian cricket was cut open and at its most vulnerable in front of a seething and disappointed public.
Deep down, plenty of us probably knew things like this went on, players have tampered with cricket balls for as long as cricket has been played in the ever-continuing desperation to find an edge, but this bombshell was different. Not only did it implicate the captain and his deputy, it appeared they had pushed a younger member of the side into being the 'bag-man' for want of a better term, and that did not sit right, not in the slightest.
Six months down the line, Australian cricket is still stumbling around in something of a daze, a monumental draw against the odds and a fearsome Pakistan outfit vanquished by yet another batting collapse and a lost Test and a humbling T20 series defeat.
At home, as tickets go on sale and the promotion begins to ramp up for the traditional 'summer of cricket' we're not so sure how things are going to pan out.
The diehards will come back to the game regardless, but how will public sentiment sit when the first ball of the first Test is thundered down?
As with most outrages these days, Cricket Australia implimented a review into the state of the game following the ill-fated South African sojourn and we are now seeing the outcome of that.
The Longstaff report perhaps more than anything confirmed a fairly long-held belief that there has been a pretty average culture in and around the upper reaches of the game in Australia for some time, but the report appears to paint a picture of a culture where bad behaviour often went unpunished or even unaccounted for while there was little encouragement to speak out against what was going on behind closed doors.
In that regard, it's not hard to draw a line from how Cricket Australia manages its affairs and what happened on the field in Cape Town. A bad work culture bears decisions made in the belief that acting against the spirit or rules of the game is fine if it helps us win.
While I can't agree with the Australian Cricketer's Association that the culture of CA alone is enough justification for the bans handed down to Smith, Warner and Bancroft be completely negated, it does raise far more questions about those who sit in the highest management positions and whether or not they've been held accountable for their roles in creating the environment in which the transgression took place.
It's not so long ago the players and management were locked in a bitter dispute over money, but now, with the culture they've all clubbed together to create and foster over time, they're once again lumped firmly in the same boat.
That the average cricket fan has little to no idea who David Peever is doesn't come as much of a surprise given they follow the game and the players rather than the pencil pushers and bureaucrats behind the scenes at Cricket Australia, but for my money, he's the man most culpable for the dramatic swings in workplace culture.
Famous for his stoushes with unions and workers in previous work for big mining companies, Peever has created the ultimate 'us vs them' mentality amongst the Cricket Australia hierarchy and fostered the growth of a diminishing and arrogant environment.
Even now, having largely backed down and lost the infamous pay dispute with the players and the ACA, Peever carries himself with an air of quiet arrogance, comfortable in his belief that he can run a sport like a big business without regard for the unique circumstances that come with the gig.
A similar response to the Longstaff review from the top down seems inevitable and that's really the problem, isn't it?
By The Mug Punter
It's the one we've all been waiting for.
All the controversy and drama is in the rear view mirror and it's Everest Day at Royal Randwick.
The Mug Punter brings his best and brightest tips to The Pioneer Australia once again.
Track: Heavy 9
Bias: Inside the track will play
The Mug doesn't like betting on any two-year-old race at this time of year but he does like the look of #9 Anaheed which is very good trail on the heavy track. The Mug's suggesting three units on #9 Anaheed.
Race two is an absolute highway race and The Mug is steering clear.
The Mug Punter is a very big fan of #6 Unguarded which showed out a good run last start and comes from a very good stable. He also likes #1 Cristobal which also put out a good run last start and likes a wet track. The Mug's going for four units on #6 and two units on #1 with a two-unit Quinella on #1-#6.
The Mug reckons #9 Kaonic could be the best bet of the day. He's backed it every start and he's in front. Kaonic is great on a wet track and The Mug loves it for today. Ten units on #9 Kaonic.
#3 After All That
#1 The Monstar
The Mug's not a fan of this race but does like two horses, #1 The Monstar and #3 After All That. He's taking two units on #3 and two units on #1 with a three-unit Quinella on #3-#1.
#3 Jungle Edge
The Mug's calling this horse the best wet-track horse in the whole world and that says something. He loves #3 Jungle Edge in a big way and will be riding it home hard. Five units on #3 Jungle Edge. The Mug also likes two units on #9 Tactical Advantage and a four-unit Quinella on #3-#9.
The big one, The Everest.
The Mug's giving out no tips on this one as anything can win, but make sure you check out his Facebook page 'The Mug Punter' for his MYM on The Everest.
#12 Egg Tart
What can The Mug say about this one? Just get on this one, #12 Egg Tart. He loves the wet track and loves the 2000m run. Throw seven units on #12 Egg Tart.
Steer clear of this one, there's nothing worth investing in.
The Mug's tips for the last of the day are pretty soft. Have something small on #1 Bryan and #2 Revenire to win or even each-way.
Best bets, best value and a quick look at Caulfield
Race One - #9 Anaheed
Race Three - #6 Unguarded
Race Six - #3 Jungle Edge
Value of the day
Race Five - #3 After All That
Moral of the day
Race Four - #9 Kaonic
Race Two - #1 Comicas
Race Six - #2 Fiesta
Race Seven - #10 Noire
Race Eight - #5 The Cliffsofmoher
Race Nine - #1 The Autumn Sun
Race Ten - #8 Brimham Rocks
Good luck and good punting!
The Mug Punter
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
Latest confirmed transfers
Cowboys snare Dragons winger
The North Queensland Cowboys have confirmed the signature of former St George Illawarra Dragons winger Nene MacDonald, adding significant firepower to their backline.
Not long after the club captured former Bulldogs, Broncos and Sharks fullback Ben Barba from UK Super League club St Helens on a one-year deal.
Papua New Guinea star MacDonald joins the club on a three-year deal and adds a much-needed extra body to a Cowboys side undergoing a significant off-season transformation.
Panthers re-sign young forward
The Penrith Panthers have continued to lock-down key personnel with the announcement young prop forward Moses Leota has signed a three-year extension at the club, keeping him at the foot of the mountains until the end of the 2022 season.
23-year-old Leota was already under contract for the 2019 season, but the extension sees him remain as one of the core nucleus of young forwards alongside Viliame Kikau and New South Wales representative prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Touted as one of the "hardest working"players at the club by Executive General Manager Phil Gould, news of extending Leota's deal has been received well by the Penrith faithful.
Melbourne farewell a number of players
The Melbourne Storm have confirmed the departure of a number of players at their end of season awards night.
Veteran club legends Ryan Hoffman and Billy Slater have both ended their careers and were paid heavy tributes by the club while forward Tim Glasby will depart the club to take up a three-year deal with the Newcastle Knights.
Alongside Glasby, Slater and Hoffman, the club also announced Louis Geraghty and Lachlan Timm would not be back with the club in 2019.
Tigers add Roosters youngster
The Wests Tigers have confirmed the capture of 22-year-old centre Paul Momirovski from the 2018 premiers Sydney Roosters.
Momirovski joins the battling Tigers on a two-year deal through to the end of the 2020 campaign and adds further depth to a backline boasting a handful of unique talents.
The youngster managed one game for the Roosters in 2018, scoring a try during the Chook's 20-12 win over the Titans.
With on-going concerns over the future of Tigers coach Ivan Cleary, bringing in a handy player like Momirovski will be some rare good news for the western suburbs club.
Penrith confirm departures
The Penrith Panthers have used the club's 2018 Merv Cartwright Medal night to confirm the departure of a number of high-profile players.
Supremo Phil Gould was visibly emotional as he confirmed Tyrone Peachey, Corey Harawira-Naera, Christian Crichton and Maika Sivo would depart the club for greener pastures in 2019 while Peter Wallace and Tim Browne were both given fond farewells as they brought the curtains down on their careers.
Decorated club captain Peter Wallace will remain as part of the coaching staff, as will Browne who's career ended prematurely due to a bowel injury.
Penrith also confirmed Corey Waddell and Soni Luke would not be with the club next season.
Dragons players on the way out
The St George Illawarra Dragons have confirmed a number of off-season departures from the club, including the high-profile retirement of long-time winger Jason Nightingale.
The Dragons confirmed Leeson Ah Mau will leave the club to take up a deal with the New Zealand Warriors, the club where he made his debut back in 2009, while Patrick Herbet, Hame Sele and Reuben Garrick will not be returning to the Red V in 2019.
New Zealand international Nightingale has drawn the curtains on a long career at the highest level, finishing his 12-year career as a one-club player with the Dragons.
The depatures, along with the move of Nene MacDonald to North Queensland has allowed the club to bring in Mikaele Ravalawa, Jonus Pearson and Jason Saab.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
While the Melbourne Cup has always been thought of as the 'race that stops the nation,' for those who prefer horsepower to horses, the Bathurst 1000 at the picturesque Mount Panorama circuit is truly the greatest race in the country.
In early October every year, hundreds of thousands of fans flock to the historic track, many camping through the wind, rain, sunshine and sometimes hail that ensures the Central West town cops all four seasons across a weekend.
The big race is on again this weekend, and with that in mind, we'll take a look at those expected to be fighting it out for the Peter Brock Trophy at the end of a grueling 1000km event on Sunday.
Car #1 - Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell (Red Bull Holden Racing Team)
Picture credit: Supercars
One of the more experienced duos in the field in 2018, defending Supercars champion Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell rank amongst the favourites to claim victory in this year's Bathurst 1000.
Whincup, a seven-time series champion and four-time Bathurst winner has had his fair share of bad luck over the last few years at the famous circuit, but he was faultless as the pair rode to victory in the Sandown 500 two weeks ago and they have been right on the pace in a tricky week so far.
Having taken provisional pole in Friday's qualifying session with a blistering lap, Whincup is the favourite to claim pole in Saturday evening's Top 10 shoot-out and looms as a key contender for the Peter Brock Trophy on Sunday.
Dumbrell, a former series regular, is one the best co-drivers in the field and his experience and pace will act as the perfect foil for Whincup and should ensure the #1 car will be at the pointy end of proceedings throughout each session and the race.
My tip: Winners
Car #17 - Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat (DJR Team Penske)
Picture credit: Fox Sports Australia
The man who set the all-time lap record at Mount Panorama in 2017, Scott McLaughlin returns to the famous Bathurst circuit with a point to prove.
Much like Jamie Whincup so far this year, McLaughlin set the pace and was amongst the best cars in every session last year before his blistering lap in last year's Top 10 shoot-out, lifting expectations higher and higher each time he or Frenchman Premat stepped out onto the circuit.
Then, in a perfect ode to the cruelty of the Mountain itself, the pair failed to finish the race as car #17 sputtered to a halt with Premat behind the wheel. For the Frenchman, it mean being temporarily stuck on top of the Mountain, for McLaughlin it meant much more.
The Bathurst DNF ultimately played a major role in the championship fight as McLaughlin surrendered his season-long lead on the final day and for any success this year, he'll need to overcome some serious demons.
My tip: Top five
Car #97 - Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber (Red Bull Holden Racing Team)
Picture credit: Red Bull
The current series leader, no one comes to Bathurst with more form on the board than Shane van Gisbergen.
Paired with Kiwi Earl Bamber, van Gisbergen will once again be amongst the top-end contenders on the Mountain in 2018 as he and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team chase a return to the ultimate summit.
Bamber comes with a strong touring car pedigree and has barely put a foot wrong so far in Australia, putting in a solid shift as he and van Gisbergen brought home car #97 in second place at the Sandown 500.
The main man, Shane van Gisbergen has never won the Bathurst 1000 and 2018 could be his very best chance at getting the last monkey off his back.
My tip: Top five
Car #9 - David Reynolds and Luke Youlden (Erebus Penrite Racing)
Picture credit: David Reynolds
One of the genuine characters in the field, David Reynolds managed to stun the world alongside Luke Youlden as Penrite Erebus Racing pulled off an unthinkable race win in the 2017 Bathurst 1000.
It would be madness to rule out the defending champions, but with the pedigree and bank balances of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and DJR Team Penske in front of them, it would need to be another case of keeping their noses clean and being in the right place at the right time rather than outright dominance across the whole weekend.
My tip: Top ten
Car #12 - Fabian Coulthard and Tony D'Alberto (DJR Team Penske)
Picture credit: Driven
The stablemate of race favourite Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat, Car #12 of Fabian Coulthard and Tony D'Alberto has not featured right near the pointy end much so far across the weekend but if things fell their way on Sunday, they have the experience to take advantage.
Coulthard has slipped behind McLaughlin as the lead driver at DJR Team Penske, but being the first of the pair to grab a Bathurst 1000 win would go a long way to restoring parity between the two.
Like the Reynolds/Youlden entry, there's no expectation that Coulthard and D'Alberto will be at the front of the pack all Sunday, but if they're in the mix at the backend, they could strike.
My tip: Outside the top 10
Car #25 - James Courtney and Jack Perkins (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing)
Picture credit: Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing
It has been a tough transition for the former Holden Racing Team outfit as they've moved to a new ownership structure under Walkinshaw Andretti United but the veteran former champion has been impressive so far this week.
Courtney and Jack Perkins have been together for some time now and come to the Mountain as a comfortable, experienced pairing capable of chalking up a top five finish should things fall their way throughout a long, long race on Sunday.
Like most outfits in the field, the WAU boys will be looking enviously at the setups rolled out by Red Bull and DJR, but they are more than capable of throwing a few punches of their own.
My tip: Ninth
Car #888 - Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards ( Autobarn Lowndes Racing)
Picture credit: Supercars
When fan-favourite Craig Lowndes confirmed 2018 would be his last season as a full-time driver, there was the expected outpouring of emotion.
That raw feeling should be well and truly on show this weekend as the seven-time Bathurst winner takes to the Mountain for one last crack at the Bathurst 1000.
Alongside long-time co-driver Steve Richards, Lowndesy has had his share of in-car gremlins over the week leading into Sunday's race, but with their canny ability to steer around avoiding trouble and a top ten starting spot, it would take an idiot to discount Car #888 as we draw close to the end of another 1000kms on Sunday evening.
My tip: Top ten
Car #33 - Garth Tander and Chris Pither (Wilson Security Racing)
Picture credit: Supercars
The Great thing about the Bathurst 1000 is that pretty much any car in the field could end up at the pointy end as we draw down to the end of a 1000km marathon on late Sunday evening.
With that in mind, I can't discount a wily veteran like Garth Tander.
A three-time winner here in his previous stint with Garry Rogers Motorsport and the factory-backed Holden Racing Team, Tander's return to the GRM fold has been tough for the lanky West Aussie but it's races like the big enduro at Bathurst that bring out the best in him.
Paired with the solid Chris Pither, Car #33 could be well in the mix this weekend.
My tip: Top ten
Car #55 - Chaz Mostert and James Moffatt (Supercheap Auto Racing)
Picture credit: Chaz Mostert
Another former winner of the great race, Chaz Mostert only narrowly missed out on the Top Ten shoot-out and will likely have a pretty handy race car come Sunday.
The former Ford Performance Racing mob at Tickford have struggled mightily in 2018 but have looked pacey in the wet so far this week and will back themselves to be on the pass when the flag drops on the big race.
Mostert is a brave and handy steerer and backed by James Moffatt, it would be a foolish move to completely discount Car #55.
My tip: Top ten
By: The Mug Punter
As we get set for a mammoth day of racing at Randwick on the back of a wet and wild week in Sydney, The Pioneer Australia is happy to confirm we have partnered with The Mug Punter to bring you a detailed look at a big day of racing.
With Thursday and Friday's big precipitation numbers, the form has been done for a heavy track.
Track: Heavy 9
Rail: 6m 1600m - W/P, True Remainder
Bias: RAND = 6m with strong home-run tailwind, wide running no advantage
Form: Heavy track
#3 Yulong January
#1 Royal Celebration
These are my two bets in race one. The Mug suggests three units on #3 and one unit on #1 and a quinella (#3-#1) for five units.
The Mug will be steering clear of any bets in race two. Not a fan of the high way races.
This is the only runner the Mug likes in this race so he suggests two units each-way as it comes in with very good wet track form.
#3 Just Dreaming
#4 Magic Alibi
The Mug suggests three units for the win on #7 Insensata, two units on #3 Just Dreaming and one unit on #4 Magic Alibi with a Trifecta (#7-#3-#4) for $6 (100%).
#13 Data Point
The Mug is feeling bullish on this one as #13 Data Point loves the wet and he's a big fan of Michael Kent. He suggests six units for the win on #13 Data Point and two units on #9 Zourkhan. Additionally, the Mug likes five units on the Quinella (#13-#9).
The Mug likes two units each-way on #2 Aylmerton, three units for the win on #3 Jonker and one unit each-way on #8 Spain with a $6 (100%) Trifecta on #3-#2-#8.
#1 Thinkin' Big
#6 Mickey Blue Eyes
The Mug has opted for five units for the win on #1 Thinkin' Big, one unit each-way on #5 Dealmaker and one unit each-way on #6 Micky Blue Eyes with a $6 (100%) Trifecta on #1-#6-#5.
#5 I Am Serious
This one is The Mug's Moral of the Day. He's loading up 10 units on #5 I Am Serious for the win. This is a quality horse and it genuinely loves running in the wet.
#4 Za Zi Ba
The Mug likes four units on #5 Warranty for the win, three units for the win on Za Zi Ba and five units on the Quinella (#5-#4) in this one.
Best bets, best value and a quick look at Flemington
Race One - #3 Yulong January
Race Four - #7 Insensata
Race Five - #13 Data Point
Race Three - #2 Cosmologist
Moral of the Day
Race Eight - #5 I Am Serious
There is no stand-out Quaddie in today's selections.
Race Six - #3 Perast
Race Seven - #1 Avllius
Race Nine - #3 Invincibella
Good luck and good punting!
The Mug Punter
Make sure you check out The Mug Punter's Facebook page for all his news, information and up to the minute tips.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
With the 2018 NRL season in the rearview mirror, the Sydney Roosters off celebrating a much-deserved Grand Final triumph and 15 other sides plotting how they're going to bring them down and win it themselves next season, it's worth casting our eye over which high-profile stars remain un-contracted for next season.
It's probably fair to suggest that had things panned out a little differently on the last Sunday of the season, we may have been here memorializing the fine career of Cameron Smith.
But with Grand Final defeat fresh in the memory, Smith looks likely to play on in 2019 and while I can't imagine he'll do so anywhere but in Melbourne, it does remain interesting that he and the club have yet to come to terms on a new deal.
Both Smith and the Storm have publicly confirmed they want their incredibly successful partnership to continue, but until a contract is signed, speculation will continue to grow about a possible swansong move away in a similar move to former long-time friend Cooper Cronk.
I'd suggest it's still more likely Smith will be in a Storm jersey come 2019, but there is a growing school of thought he might wind up finishing his career back in Brisbane, where he started out as a youngster with Norths Devils.
Tevita Pangai Junior
Perhaps one of the most exciting young forwards in the game, Brisbane will be desperate to lock down Tevita Pangai Junior for a lengthy period but as things stand, he's still on the market.
After an acrimonious split with his former management team, Pangai Junior can't officially sign a new contract until November and has previously stated he has no interest in leaving Brisbane but with the ongoing issue between club bosses and coach Wayne Bennett yet to play out, nothing is set in stone just yet.
Bennett won't be at the club in 2020, but should he leave early, Pangai Junior, who is fiercely loyal to his coach, may opt to follow the veteran mentor elsewhere.
Much like Cameron Smith, most expect tevita Pangai Junior will be staying put in 2019 and beyond.
Sutton, a long-time club legend at Redfern, turned back the clock and put together a fine season in 2018 but as things stand, he is off-contract and looking for a new gig next season.
Having passed the 300 game milestone for the club this year, the veteran back-rower is keen to play out another season for the Rabbitohs, but he's yet to come to terms on a new deal with the club which gave him his start way back in 2004.
Coach Anthony Seibold has publicly stated he's keen to bring Sutton back for 2019, so this one appears another formality on the face of it, but until the deal is done, speculation will continue to mount.
Despite his strong resurgence last season, it's unlikely many other clubs would be interested in luring Sutton away from Redfern, even on a one-year deal.
Despite suggestions the Queensland representative winger remains keen on a controversial switch to the back-row, Corey Oates appears to be highly in demand and could be one of the few high-profile off-contract stars who could yet switch clubs for the 2019 season.
There is plenty of interest in Oates around the league, with the Bulldogs reportedly deep in negotiations with Oates' management team, but his asking price appears to be a stumbling block to a deal being sort out in the short-term.
Corey Oates has been one of Brisbane's best over the last few seasons and looms as a highly attractive marquee recruit for a number of clubs around the league.
Will the 'Hayne Plane' take flight again in 2019?
The veteran back is a highly controversial and divisive figure in rugby league circles and would probably not have any other clubs interested in his services for next season should he and the Parramatta Eels not come to terms on an extension of the one-year deal he took to return to the club after an ill-fated spell with the Gold Coast Titans.
While Hayne is yet to go on the record with his plans for next season, there is a school of thought that he may decide to take another crack at making it big in Fijian rugby.
One of the younger brothers of former representative star Michael Jennings, Robert Jennings came of age at South Sydney in 2018 and you'd have to expect the club are keen to keep him around at Redfern over the next couple of years.
Jennings bagged 19 tries this year as the finisher on a dangerous South Sydney backline and looked to have come to grips with club footy at the highest level.
For his part, it's safe to assume Jennings will want to continue working with coach Anthony Seibold and there appears no real reason the club would want to part company with him at this stage. Another one where a deal seems likely before too long.
By Daniel Lang - Managing Director
Her first tilt at an NRLW Grand Final may have ended in heartbreak as the Brisbane Broncos, the form side of the inaugural competition ran riot, but the last effects of Taleena Simon's story will speak many volumes for those who witnessed history in the making.
Having grown up kicking around a battered Steeden around Redfern's famous Indigenous housing complex 'The Block,' Simon has always been a natural with a ball in her hands or at her feet, but it will be her choices and path that stand out as a shining example to many young kids facing the same challenges early in life.
Simon doesn't shy away from her roots, she's on the record as saying she "loved her Redfern childhood," but given the environment and choices of so many before her and as many after her, it's telling that Taleena Simon could sit through the temptations of drugs and alcohol or a life of crime, take a long, hard look at the ultimate devastation they cause and rise above.
It's a cliche around the world, often wheeled out when a young Brazilian soccer star rises from the favelas to play for the Selecao or a young kid from inner Los Angeles makes it to the NBA, but choosing sport, dedicating her life to being fit and active will have played a huge role in Taleena Simon's life.
Rugby league was Simon's way out of a life that could have ended up down the same path as many others, just another sad statistic.
"There was a lot of drugs, alcohol around The Block when I was growing up, but I jest kept my focus on footy... some of my family and friends were affected by drugs and alchol," she told The Daily Telegraph's Jessica Halloran.
"I didn't want to be like that. Just seeing them like that made me stay away from it."
Discipline and drive pushed Taleena Simon from a rough life on The Block to the Koori Knockout tournament where she saw women playing the game she loved for the first time.
She was hooked.
Fast-forward to Sunday's epic Grand Final day and a good crowd settling in early at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith would later call the same crowd disrespectful for their treatment of the retiring Billy Slater, but as the NRLW Grand Final kicked off the day's proceedings, it's worth noting the inspiration in the eyes of so many young boys and girls who were watching the very best the women's game has to offer in this country,
Women's sport in general has taken huge leaps forward in Australia over the last two years and Taleena Simon is yet another face of the game finally earning the recognition and respect she deserves.
It ended in defeat, it ended without the spoils of triumph, but for Taleena Simon as with the many other women on the park on Sunday afternoon, the inaugural NRLW Grand Final was a complete success from start to finish.
Did you watch the NRLW Grand Final? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!