FBT vehicles driven from the field

It is the end of the days of the fringe benefits tax system. Photo: Glen McCurtayne max-newnham_127x127
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There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth due to the final nail in the motor vehicle FBT coffin being hammered in. This is surprising, given previous income tax crackdowns have not caused a similar outpouring of grief. When the tax deduction for entertainment expenses was axed, which resulted in many restaurant failures, barely a whisper was heard.

The fringe benefits tax system was introduced in 1986 to tax salary taken as benefits. One of the most common benefits provided by employers has been the provision of motor vehicles used primarily for private purposes.

Employers have had a choice of two methods for calculating the taxable fringe benefit. The first is the operating cost method. Under this method, all costs for a motor vehicle are totalled. A private use percentage is established by keeping a log book for 12 weeks. The private use component is calculated by multiplying the total operating costs by the private use percentage.

The second is called the statutory method. The taxable fringe benefit is calculated by multiplying the cost of a motor vehicle by a percentage. Originally this percentage differed depending on the number of kilometres a car was driven in a year.

For cars driven less than 15,000 kilometres, the rate was 26 per cent. The rate decreased to 20 per cent for cars driven between 15,000 and 20,499 kilometres, 11 per cent for cars driven between 25,000 and 39,999 kilometres, with a lowest rate of 7 per cent for cars driven more than 40,000 kilometres a year.

Once the value of taxable fringe benefit is calculated, whether by the operating cost or statutory methods, it is grossed up to reflect the wages an employee would have earned before tax. For example, for a person to pay private car costs of $1000, at the top marginal tax rate, they would need to earn $1869 before tax. This taxable amount then has fringe benefits tax paid on it at 46.5 per cent.

Just as is the case with other tax savings schemes, many employees signed up for salary packaging of motor vehicles under the fringe benefits tax system and received no tax benefit. In most cases a benefit was only received for vehicles driven more than 25,000 kilometres a year, on cars costing less than $57,000. When the Labor government was finding it hard to balance the budget it focused on the leak in revenue due to the unfair tax advantages provided under the FBT system.

The first change to motor vehicle fringe benefits was announced in the 2011 budget. It involved the phasing out of the four-tiered statutory FBT method for vehicles. The change meant that by April 1, 2014, there would only be one rate of 20 per cent applying to motor vehicles.

This effectively meant that by having one high percentage to calculate the fringe benefit taxable value it would have not made it tax effective to salary package a vehicle.

It is interesting that this final change to the FBT treatment of vehicles was brought in as part of changes to the carbon tax system. There is an environmental argument for scrapping a tax advantage that increases the more a vehicle is driven. The decision to scrap the statutory method will mean employees provided with cars primarily used for private purposes will no longer get a tax benefit by packaging the vehicle.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Hardware’s a hard game for Woolies

Illustration: Kerrie Leishman.Since Woolworths announced it would take on the Bunnings juggernaut in 2010 by moving into the $42 billion home improvement sector, the company has taken a lot of stick.
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After Thursday’s long list of explanations for the ballooning losses to $157 million in its Masters home improvement business, it is likely to get a few more swings of the stick. The losses boiled down to misjudging the three essential parts of any retail business: sales forecasts, gross margins due to stocking the wrong product mix, and costs.

Given Masters chief Melinda Smith’s acknowledgement that five years ago, in preparation for Woolworths’ entry into this market, the company studied internationally renowned home improvement retailers, it didn’t inspire confidence to hear her comments: “We didn’t know a lot about this business when we set the budget for FY13.”

Her comments about the seasonal curve in relation to Masters joint-venture partner US-based Lowe’s also raised eyebrows. “We didn’t know a lot about the seasonal curve,” she said. “We’ve got a great joint-venture partner in America but when it’s Christmas time over there it’s also winter. Our Christmas time lines up with spring and Father’s Day, so it’s quite a different seasonal curve … we didn’t have the right stock in some instances.”

Against this backdrop, the company’s share price fell on a day when rival Wesfarmers, which owns the Bunnings hardware chain, and the broader market closed higher.

For more than a year investors have been trying to get information on how Woolworths’ home improvement business was doing, particularly after Merrill Lynch analyst David Errington started issuing reports questioning the strategy and potential drag on the overall business empire.

It wasn’t a pretty picture – and he won few friends at the company – but Woolworths kept silent and the speculation intensified that its Masters and Danks businesses were struggling and Lowe’s was ready to call it quits.

Woolworths finally updated the market on Thursday with revelations that the homeware business suffered losses of $139 million, 71 per cent higher than its budgeted loss of $81 million. This comprised a $157 million loss from its Masters business, compared with a forecast loss of $119 million, and a lower than expected profit from its Danks business of $18 million instead of an expected $38 million.

Earlier this week it emerged that Lowe’s had extended a put option to sell out of the partnership until October 2014. Woolworths’ chief financial officer, Tom Pocket, said Lowe’s had been very accommodating and was committed to the joint venture.

The challenge for Woolworths is convincing the market that the losses will stop. It said losses would not “exceed this year’s level” but that it would break even in 2016, which is in line with its original target. But given the size of the losses this year and next and the number and type of mistakes that were made, the market isn’t overflowing with confidence.

To put it into perspective, the $157 million loss doesn’t include allocated rental costs. The joint venture between Lowe’s and Woolworths owns most of the stores, so if the result was lease-adjusted it would blow the loss out to an estimated $200 million on revenue of $529 million. This is equivalent to losing more than 35¢ in the dollar, which is huge.

Woolworths has committed to opening 90 Masters stores by the end of 2016. To date it has 31.

The theory is the more stores, the greater the economies of scale and therefore the more profitable the business. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Several factors need to work to make a business profitable, including having stores in the right location. Indeed, some industry experts would argue that home improvement over the past two decades hasn’t been a scale game but a model game and some hardware chains have been able to make a profit by having the right product mix, product sourcing, labour and location.

In a report in April, Errington estimated it would lose $135 million on its hardware business in 2013, $195 million in 2014, $235 million in 2015 and $265 million in 2016.

It also renegotiated a deal with private equity group Anchorage, which bought Woolworths’ Dick Smith business in 2012 for $20 million, plus a promise to give Woolworths a proportion of any future profit growth.

Woolworths said it had “released” Anchorage from this obligation in exchange for $74 million, which consists of $50 million in June 2012 and $24 million in 2014.

Anchorage would no doubt be doing high fives on this new deal. When it bought the business last year it was generating more than $1.5 billion in revenue and a pre-tax profit of $24 million. The price included all assets and off-balance sheet leases.

At the time it was speculated that the inventory tallied up to $250 million.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Tigers will no longer move ‘home’ games

Richmond, closing in on finals, boasting record membership and soon to be free of debt, say they will never again relocate home games for money.
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After winning the last of three matches that the club agreed to move to Cairns, chief executive Brendon Gale has acknowledged that the lucrative deal he struck for a struggling side in 2010 created ”hostility and vitriol” in many fans. The Tigers were beaten in two of those matches by Gold Coast.

While maintaining the agreement that had Richmond lose a home-ground advantage but earn more than $1.5 million over three seasons was ”the right decision for the club”, Gale was adamant it would not be repeated – or replicated – while he remains in charge.

”Not on my watch,” he said. ”Why? Because we’ve stabilised. I’d be loath to do that [again] because we’re a football club, and a proud iconic football club, that has a national footprint but we play our home games at the MCG.”

Richmond’s financial turnaround coincides with a jump in membership from around 39,000 to 60,000 in three years.

Asked whether the Cairns deal that prioritised financial imperatives was popular with the Tigers faithful, Gale said: ”Absolutely not … supporters are very passionate, and particularly when you lose games they voice that. Absolutely when we lost those first two games they were very bumpy times.

”It was a difficult decision internally to work through … and when you lose games there’s a lot of hostility and vitriol.”

In contrast, Suns chief executive Travis Auld wants his team to continue playing at Cairns’ Cazaly’s Stadium – attended by 11,197 last Saturday – but now requires a new rival willing to move home games to Queensland. Even with the obvious financial incentives that is a less attractive prospect for opposition sides than it was three years ago given the Suns’ improvement.

The Suns do not want to relocate any of their home games from the Gold Coast for several reasons, chiefly their agreement with Metricon Stadium. This leaves the AFL, which wants Cairns to continue to host matches for premiership points, looking for another club.

The Western Bulldogs and Melbourne, playing one home game each in Darwin this season, and Port Adelaide are considered the sides most likely to be lured into sacrificing true home-ground advantage in exchange for handsome compensation from the AFL.

Bulldogs chief executive Simon Garlick has previously indicated that negotiations had commenced with the Northern Territory government to have the Dogs extend their deal in the Top End beyond 2013, but he told Fairfax Media on Thursday the club was now open on the matter of location.

Hawthorn, North Melbourne and St Kilda are the three clubs that have ongoing arrangements to play ”home” games on foreign turf.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Swans, Eagles enjoying the Kennedy years

Number one: The Swans’ Josh Kennedy celebrates last year’s premiership triumph over Hawthorn. Photo: Paul RovereIf you could have one name playing for your club it would likely be Josh Kennedy.
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Even before Josh Kennedy headed home the winning goal that sent the Socceroos to the World Cup, his AFL namesakes had already gone a long way to ensuring 2013 would be a memorable year for the name with their efforts for their respective clubs.

Sunday’s clash between their teams is shaping as an occupational hazard for broadcasters as they are likely to spend much of the game having to differentiate between the pair.

Both are integral members of their teams and will have major, but very different, roles to play.

Sydney’s Kennedy will be in the engine room winning the hard ball for the Swans’ band of runners while the Eagles’ Kennedy will be catching the eye in the forward 50, not least for his comical, yet effective, goal-kicking technique.

The Swan is one of the leading possession-winners in the competition while the Eagle is sharing the lead in the Coleman Medal race. But which Josh Kennedy would you rather have at your club?

Both players are on track for All Australian selection this year. Should it happen it would be the first time since a pair of Jack Clarkes from Essendon and East Fremantle achieved such an honour in 1958.

Former Geelong premiership captain Tom Harley is a fan of both Kennedys but would happily take the Swans No.12.

Based in Sydney through his role with AFL NSW, Harley has seen the Swans play more often than the Eagles but it’s what the Kennedy wearing red and white does in big games that pushes him over the line. Not only did Kennedy star in Sydney’s September campaign last year, he was a runaway best-and-fairest winner in a premiership season.

”There are so many individual awards in the AFL, whether it’s media, Brownlows or MVPs, but if you want a true gauge on how good an individual year is I think best and fairest in a premiership year is about as good as it gets,” Harley said.

”Given it’s a premiership year you’ve played in a lot of big games and more often than not contributed significantly. On that basis I’d say [that I’d take] Josh from the Swans again.”

He rates the Eagles’ Kennedy highly and believes he is well placed to collect his first All Australian jumper at the end of the season but stops short of describing him as a ”dominant key forward” just yet.

”That’s not downplaying his influence on the comp but I think Josh Kennedy from the Swans can mount a case he’s in the top half a dozen players in the comp and top two, three or four midfielders in the competition,” Harley said.

What Harley admires most about Kennedy is his consistency – a trait upon which Swans coach John Longmire recently remarked.

The Sydney ball magnet leads the league for contested possessions, is second for clearances, averages 27 disposals a game this year and has had fewer than 20 possessions in just two of his past 43 games.

”If you put his form line on a graph it would be flat line with the occasional earthquake tremor heading north but he’s been a phenomenal player,” Harley said.

”He never loses his feet. He’s a classic big-bodied midfielder who a lot of clubs would love. Sure key forwards are a point of difference but how many clubs have a six-foot-three, 94-kilogram midfielder who can run all day, use the ball well and move forward and kick goals?

”I put him in the class of Jobe Watson, Ryan Griffen. Once you throw out those names it reinforces his standing in the game.”

Harley can remember playing on West Coast’s Kennedy before he was traded to the Eagles in the deal that netted Carlton Chris Judd and it did not take long for him to identify the then Blue as a player worth keeping an eye on.

”He had unbelievable athletic ability,” he said.

”You think people would be foolish to judge Josh Kennedy and make comment on him purely on his goal-kicking technique because it’s become a bit of a comedy. But he’s deadly accurate and takes contested marks and kicks goals. When I played on him you got the sense of his athletic ability but didn’t get the sense of the fact he’d dominate the competition or be an extremely good key forward in the competition because he was so young.”

The Swans, with their depth of tall stocks being tested, would dearly love a forward of Kennedy’s calibre but not at the expense of their reigning club champion.

”I’m happy with ours but I like the other bloke, too. Can I have two?” Longmire said. ”I’m sure both coaches are happy with their Josh Kennedys.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Politis backs Pearce

Roosters supremo Nick Politis has hit back at critics of Mitchell Pearce and urged NSW powerbrokers not to put a line through his name for future Origin matches.
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The biggest talking point after the Blues’ eighth straight series loss – excepting perhaps Wati Holmwood’s streak across ANZ Stadium – is whether Pearce should be given another chance in NSW sky blue.

With yet another series on the line, the Roosters halfback failed to seize the initiative in what many are predicting will be his last interstate game. His performance and place in the team have been dissected across social media and talkback radio since full-time, with most pundits calling for his head.

However, long-serving Roosters chairman Politis, who also serves on the NSWRL board, said Pearce was an easy target and should not be ruled out of future Origin campaigns.

”He’s a champion,” Politis said. ”We’re 100 per cent behind him. He’s a great player and a great bloke. I’m sure he will be there next year. At the end of the day it’s a very close game and it’s not fair to blame ‘Pearcey’.

”They lost by two points. You can go through the whole game and find 20 ‘what ifs’ – what if this player did this or that. It’s not like they were killed. They had plenty of opportunities to take a penalty. If they did, then it could have been different.”

Before Origin III, Pearce conceded he was almost certain to be blacklisted if the Blues did not end Queensland’s winning streak.

”He’s very honest and that honesty is coming back at him,” Politis said. ”As expected, if they lost, he was going to be the one to cop it because of what he said before.”

Former Blues halfback Greg Alexander suspected those pre-game comments played on Pearce’s mind when the game was there to be won.

”He put a lot of pressure on himself by saying that if he doesn’t aim up in this one it would be the end of the section,” Alexander said.

”I thought it showed. You don’t like to criticise someone because they all gave their guts, all of them. But I thought he lost his nerve in the last 15 minutes after he turned that ball over on the grubber when they were only 10 [metres out] out.

”A couple of his decisions after that, and his execution, were off. Maybe what he said before the game got into the back of his head. He tried hard but he put a little bit too much pressure on himself with that statement.”

Roosters legend Brad Fittler, a member of the NSW coaching staff and Pearce’s former club coach, said there was no need for selectors to declare their hand given the next Origin series was almost 11 months away.

”I think Mitchell realises the situation he was in, that things didn’t go his way,” Fittler said. ”He tried hard.

”There’s a few things he’d wished he’d done better.”

Asked if the criticism of the 24-year-old was warranted, Fittler said: ”It depends on how he takes it. And who is giving it. I’m not going to sit here and bag him. He knows he didn’t have his best game

and that his position is under threat. Simple as that.”

On his Phil Gould Show – which is available in full on smh上海夜生活m.au – NSW’s most successful coach said he believed there was ”something frantic” in Pearce’s decision-making.

While Gould praised Pearce’s courage and commitment – and said he would not be surprised if the Blues hierarchy persevered with him – he said it was time for Pearce to show the control his Queensland counterparts displayed.

”There were a few occasions where he got the ball and you could see that he had half a dozen things on his mind – usually, if he gets the right one, it’s a fluke,” Gould said. ”Whether he can gather that at this stage of his career, I don’t know. I’m sure it will come with age. He’s had 12 Origin games now – you would have thought that the penny would have dropped.”

Pearce is NSW’s most capped halfback after making his 12th appearance on Wednesday night. His Maroons counterpart, Cooper Cronk, again outplayed him, and after the match the Storm star offered some kind words.

”I’m not aware of the specifics that have happened, the criticism and things like that, but Origin football is the toughest arena to play,” Cronk said.

”He’s a very good player, he’s been a part of NSW for a long time and good players are a part of Origin. It was a tough night for everyone out there.

”He’s a good player and he’ll continue on.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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B-grade Sharknado teaches Hollywood a cruel lesson

In this image released by Syfy, sharks attack a man in a scene from the Syfy original film Sharknado. Photo: Supplied Ian Ziering, second left, and Cassie Scerbo battle a shark in the Syfy original film Sharknado.

Sharknado gets a sequelSharknado heads to Australia

Hollywood: she’s a fickle mistress.

As the accountants at the Disney studio count their losses on The Lone Ranger, a big-ticket film with a budget of US$200 million which landed with a thud, across down a cheesy, cheap piece of cinematic detritus – Sharknado – has become the biggest film event of the American summer.

Sharknado is the made-for-television B-movie about a tornado which lifts sharks out of the ocean and fires them like bullets into the suburbs of Los Angeles. In it, people are, quite literally, being eaten in the streets.

In spite of its bus ticket budget, or perhaps because of it, Sharknado was transformed into a cultural phenomenon, teaching Tinseltown the cruelest of lessons: that a $200 million budget is no guarantee of success.

Sharknado’s television audience was modest in relative terms – only 1.4 million viewers, putting it roughly on par with an average episode of the Channel Seven reality series House Rules. And remember: America’s television market is roughly 15 times larger than Australia’s market.

But in terms of noise, Sharknado drowned the opposition. Twitter very nearly broke, with more than 5000 tweets a minute during the broadcast. And the channel that produced it, cable network SyFy, already has a follow-up, Ghost Shark.

“Really, it’s a deceptively tough feat that the makers of Sharknado pulled off: making a movie that’s shlockily and campily hilarious without seeming to try too hard to make something shlockily and campily hilarious,” wrote Time magazine’s TV critic James Poniewozik.

“From the opening moments–an almost non sequitur high-seas showdown between an evil shark-fin buyer and more-evil shark-fin peddler that ends with both swallowed by balletic sharks–the movie signals its determination to efficiently get you the balls-out-crazy mayhem you want and not let narrative, budget constraints, or the laws of science get in the way.”

The film won almost universal affection from Hollywood’s establishment.

The writer/producer Greg Berlanti, whose credits include Brothers & Sisters and the comic book spin-off TV series Arrow, tweeted: “Somewhere in Hollywood there is a senior executive yelling at a junior executive for not coming up with Sharknado first.”

Another writer/producer Damon Lindelof – the man behind the TV series Lost and JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise – tweeted: “I am going to write the Sharknado sequel and I am going to do it before Sharknado is over.”

The iconic New York-based theatre and film actress Mia Farrow was almost lost for words. She simply tweeted: “OMG OMG OMG #sharknado.” OMG is an internet contraction for “oh my God”.

Asked by a US media outlet for advice on dealing with aerial shark attacks, the National Weather Service wryly offered this: “As with any waterspout or tornado, the best advice is to be in an interior part of the lowest floor of a sturdy building and not outside, whether sharks are raining down or not.”

The venerable Los Angeles Times newspaper even got into the action, proposing a slew of B-movie spin-offs, including Piranhacane, Twistquake and The Day After the Stormcano.

Significantly, however, the media cyclone of Sharknado has managed to exhume one of the great cornerstones of American culture: the B movie. Born in the 1950s as the companion piece to a movie with A-list stars, screened in a double bill at the local drive-in theatre.

In truth, the B-movie never died. It was just replaced with the direct-to-DVD sequel, like American Psycho 2: Angrier, Deadlier, Sexier, Son of the Mask and Home Alone 4: Taking Back The House.

Sharknado returns the B-movie to its genesis: a genuinely cheaper movie, with a B-tier cast. The biggest star name in Sharknado is former Beverly Hills 90210 star (turned Chippendales dancer) Ian Ziering. The rest of the cast have names like Tara Reid, the sort of “know the name but can’t quite remember the face” kind of actor. And even one Australian, former Baywatch star Jaason Simmons.

In fact, the cable channel SyFy has been quietly reinventing the B-movie, largely because new web players such as Netflix and Hulu Plus have been hoovering up second tier movie content, forcing the channel to take control of its own drama portfolio to replace its dissolving sources.

Some of the gems in SyFy’s library include Chupacabra vs. the Alamo, and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, a nod to Japanese kaiju films, such as Godzilla and Gamera.

The channel produces more than 20 films a year, and each has a budget of US$1.5 million. They typically have absurd titles, such as Frankenfish (2004), Mansquito (2005), Sharktopus (2010) and Piranhaconda (2011).

In that sense, at least, the LA Times suggestions of Piranhacane or The Day After the Stormcano aren’t so much lame jokes as legitimate intellectual property.

All eyes, now, are on Ghost Shark, the film the channel is unveiling on August. You don’t need a science degree to know what it’s about. In fact, no scientific knowledge whatsoever will probably hold you in good stead. Films like Sharknado and Ghost Shark don’t stand too much scrutiny.

What is interesting, though, is how Hollywood perceives the audience’s reaction to it. The cash registers of tinseltown can smell money, and as the summer blockbusters continue to pile up by the side of the road, traditional film studios may be looking for a new strategy.

This year, between May and August, no less than 17 “blockbuster” films are being released. It is not economically feasible for all of them to be successful, which means most will die a financial death. The Lone Ranger has already tanked.

Still, don’t feel too sorry for Walt Disney Pictures. The Lone Ranger may have tanked, but they’ve banked one billion dollars in domestic gross this year, ahead of their rivals.

Back in May the New York Times predicted the studios were driving over a blockbuster “cliff”.

“Competition for the spectacle-craving young male and surging international audience has never been more intense,” journalist James B. Stewart wrote.

The answer may not lie in the future, though. Perhaps it lies in the past, with a genre that gave birth to film titles such as Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy, Cannibal Holocaust and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The recipe is simple: just take anything. And add sharks.

[View the story “Sharknado blows Twitter away” on Storify]

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Earl gets injunction to prevent publication

Injunction: Sandor Earl has had a win in the NSW Supreme Court. Photo: Melissa AdamsCanberra winger Sandor Earl, allegedly under investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, has sought and obtained a Supreme Court injunction to prevent his medical records being published.

The 23-year-old Raiders three-quarter is, according to a report aired by the Nine Network last month, alleged to have been treated with peptides at a private medical clinic in south-west Sydney while at Penrith in 2011.

Fairfax Media can reveal that Earl has since obtained an injunction from the NSW Supreme Court after being told that another media outlet was in possession of ”copies of accounts relating to medical treatment” provided to him by Dr Ijaz Khan at Cabramatta clinic Injury Care in late 2011 and early last year.

In a judgment delivered by Justice Richard White on June 20, lawyers for Earl were successful in preventing Nationwide News, publisher of the Daily Telegraph, printing the player’s ”confidential” medical information.

”It suffices to say that the documents contain confidential information that would reveal to a reader who understood the items of service referred to what treatment was provided to the plaintiff on a number of different days,” the judgment read. ”I infer that a knowledgeable reader could infer the condition, or a range of possible medical conditions, for which the treatment was given.”

Justice White added that he thought Earl had ”a strong prima facie case to restrain the use of confidential information about his medical treatment”.

The court heard that Earl’s solicitor had contacted Dr Khan via email on June 14, asking whether he had spoken or given documents to anyone else, but that ”he did not receive a response”.

Earl has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was stunned at allegations that he used peptides to aid his recovery from shoulder surgery while he was at the Panthers, without the knowledge of Penrith officials.

A fortnight before the claims were aired by Nine, it was announced that Earl had signed with French rugby club Pau, who he will join after the NRL season.

A source close to Earl told Fairfax Media the player had become frustrated with the medical systems at Penrith and was recommended a specialist in musculoskeletal rehabilitation to hasten his recovery.

Earl admitted in March that he knew the controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank, who is a key figure in the wider investigation into the alleged use of banned substances in the NRL and the AFL, but denied he had had treatment administered to him by the supplements expert.

”No … no … no,” he said at the time. ”I know him, but not, like, properly … he didn’t have a proper role [at Penrith] like everyone else.”

Dank worked for a short time at Penrith in 2011 after being dismissed by Cronulla. Later, when he was employed by Essendon, he arranged a secret try-out for Earl with the AFL club.

Earl’s name features in a large stockpile of text messages sent between Dank and individual NRL players, which are reportedly already in the possession of ASADA. Dank has repeatedly denied he ever gave any banned substances to players.

Enhanced coercive powers provided to the federal government agency by Parliament will soon help investigators.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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After Junior, new Blues could be the Kelly gang

If not Mitchell Pearce, then who? That is the question NSW powerbrokers will be asking themselves for the next 10 months after falling short again.

Before the series, Blues coach Laurie Daley stated that Adam Reynolds wasn’t yet ready to make the step up to the interstate arena. But with another year of first grade under his belt, the South Sydney halfback is shaping as the most likely replacement.

However, there are other options. In preseason, Albert Kelly was without a club and, when he found one at the Gold Coast, he was stuck behind Scott Prince.

However, the former Parramatta, Cronulla and Newcastle playmaker has made the No.7 spot his own, and has turned out to be one of the bargain buys of the season. While he is still in the early stages of an NRL career that has had several false starts, the 22-year-old will come into the reckoning if he can maintain consistent form.

Otherwise it’s back to the future, with Newcastle stalwarts Kurt Gidley or Jarrod Mullen having yet another crack at the Blues No.7 jersey. Or there’s the option of shifting Todd Carney to halfback, although the fact that he hasn’t played his best football in his preferred pivot position on the biggest stage could count against him.

New Dragons recruit Sam Williams played for Country Origin this year but, given he wasn’t a regular starter at the Raiders, would be considered an outside chance.

If Reynolds gets the nod, there is likely to be a push for his Souths partner, John Sutton, to make the step up with him. Alternatively, they could go for the Titans pairing of Kelly and Aidan Sezer.

Should Kelly get the nod, it would be an opportunity to go up against his cousin, Maroons star Greg Inglis. While they both hail from Macksville, Kelly’s ambition is to represent the southerners.

”I love watching Greggo play and get into space, it gets me excited, but I’m Blue all the way through,” Kelly said.

”If I get a chance to play for the Blues it would be a great honour, but I’ve got to concentrate on club football first.

”When I played against the Rabbitohs this year, it was a dream come true to go one-on-one with G.I. in the top grade.

”To do [the same thing] in Origin … I can’t explain. It would be a big bonus.

”Our family would be stoked and I can guarantee there will be at least 40 people coming from Kempsey, Bowraville, Macksville, all along the coast there.”

Kelly has already marked up on Inglis this year at club level, with the latter stopping him from what would have been a match-winning try for the Titans. ”There will be another [encounter],” said Kelly, who marks up against Maroons and Manly playmaker Daly Cherry-Evans on Sunday.

”He’s got the upper [hand] on me at the moment. He’s the best in the world, and sometimes you get beaten by good football.” While Daley indicated early in this year’s campaign that Pearce would be his halfback, former NSW No. 7 Greg Alexander said it would be prudent to keep the options open for next year.

”I wouldn’t [want] any bold statements early in the season, I’d see how things pan out in the opening couple of months,” Alexander said. ”They will have their eye on Reynolds and Kelly but I’d want to see how players start the year, make sure they are good in form before we rubber-stamp them.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Pritchard, Folau speculation off mark

Everyone wants him: Israel Folau is not on his way to the Bulldogs and will stay with the Waratahs. Photo: Dallas KilponenReports of Frank Pritchard’s exit to Salford and sightings of Israel Folau in the company of outgoing Canterbury chief executive Todd Greenberg at Origin III sparked speculation the Bulldogs may be close to signing the Wallabies star. However, Sin Bin has confirmed Pritchard is not going anywhere next season and Folau is set to stay at the Waratahs. Despite re-signing with Canterbury in May, Pritchard has been linked with Salford after the English Super League club’s ambitious owner Marwan Koukash revealed this week he had made an offer for the New Zealand forward. ”We have made an offer to Pritchard and are waiting to hear back from him,” Koukash told the Manchester Evening News. ”We feel he would be a tremendous signing. We are looking to bring in two quality second-row forwards to bolster our squad.” Former Penrith forward Tony Puletua, who now plays for St Helens and is good mates with Pritchard, is understood to be the other second-row target. Salford have also been linked with Newcastle’s Neville Costigan. But Pritchard’s agent Jason Arraj has ruled out any chance of him moving to Super League, saying: ”There is no chance in hell. Salford expressed an interest, as any club would, and we told them he had signed with Canterbury.” As for Folau, he is an ambassador of ANZ Stadium and spent Wednesday night in a corporate suite with Greenberg, St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust, other club officials and Manchester United players before joining the celebrations in the Queensland dressing room. Sin Bin understands he is odds-on to stay in rugby union.Benji in Salford’s sights

Having missed out on Pritchard, Salford officials are set to turn their attention to Benji Marshall in the hope he may consider a stint in the Super League after requesting a release from Wests Tigers. Marshall said he wanted to test himself in rugby, but Salford are understood to be planning an approach anyway. As revealed in Sin Bin last month, Salford officials recently contacted fellow Kiwi stars Issac Luke, Ben Matulino and Simon Mannering about a move to Salford. They will understandably want to check Marshall’s interest.Interest in Storm star

Marshall is not the only New Zealand playmaker being targeted by rugby, with Melbourne’s Matt McGahan also in the sights of the Blues and Chiefs franchises. McGahan, the son of former Kiwis and Roosters captain Hugh McGahan, is a former Junior All Blacks halfback in his third season at the Storm. He is still eligible for the under 20s but will play this weekend for the NSW Cup feeder team Melbourne share with Cronulla.All eyes on Origin

Origin III was officially the most watched match in rugby league history, with Channel Nine’s national audience of 4.232 million surpassing the 4.102 million who tuned into the 2005 NRL grand final. A significant reason for the success was the audience in Melbourne, where the decider smashed the previous Origin record set in game one and won the ratings on Wednesday night with 464,000 viewers, giving Channel Nine a 28 per cent share. In Sydney, an average of 1.165 million viewers watched the Maroons win 12-10, while in Brisbane the game drew an average audience of 865,000. The ratings and a record crowd of 83,813 at ANZ Stadium for the decider ensured this year’s series was the most watched on television, with a cumulative total audience of 11.966 million viewers, and live, with 215,883 fans attending the three games.Here’s to you, Robinson

Trent Robinson is impressing people in his first season as an NRL coach – and not just because of the way the Sydney Roosters are playing. Sin Bin has received a copy of a letter sent to NRL chief executive Dave Smith praising Robinson for his efforts assisting Kingsgrove juniors by attending a fund-raising dinner after the Roosters played St George Illawarra on July 6. ”After completing his duties with his players, club and the media, Trent departed WIN Jubilee Oval and drove straight to Kingsgrove RSL to attend our function,” Kingsgrove juniors chief operating officer Sam Ayache wrote. ”Not only did Mr Robinson attend the event at no cost, he was one of the last to depart the function which concluded at about 11.15pm and he purchased an auction item. His effort was outstanding and he is a great role model for the game of rugby league.” Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce and Roosters boss Brian Canavan also attended.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Farah’s Origin prep rocked by Marshall’s news

”Sitting in my room in shock, I just wanted to let you know that I love you like a brother. We’ve been through a lot together, good and bad, and no matter what happens, we’re mates for life. Can’t wait to play the rest of the year with you.”

With those words, Wests Tigers captain Robbie Farah responded to Benji Marshall’s confirmation that he was leaving the club. Marshall, then, responded by breaking down. ”He was the hardest person to have to tell,” Marshall said.

”The first phone call I made was to Robbie, and he’s in the middle of an Origin camp – I didn’t want to disturb him, and I said, ‘We’ll talk about it on Thursday when you’re finished’.

”But he wanted to know, so I had to tell him. He was spewing. I didn’t get a lot of time to get around to everyone. But I did get to call Robbie first, and he heard it from me first. I was happy that I got that chance to tell him. It was hard, because we started together, and we thought we were going to finish together.”

Telling his teammates that he was leaving was one thing. But when his phone started buzzing with text messages, including Farah’s, Marshall admitted he ”lost it”.

”It was one thing writing the message to them, but seeing their reactions, and the messages back, was the hard part,” he said. ”At the end of the day, the club’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than the coaches, it’s bigger than the people who run it.

”It’s about keeping the club alive. As far as I’m concerned, my decision is a win for them too … with the young talent they’ve got coming through, they can invest their time and their money into re-signing those boys, which is what they wanted to do.”

And on Thursday, the change continued. On the eve of the clash with the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval, the club announced the re-signings of Tim Simona (until the end of 2015) and Marika Koroibete (until 2014), their salary cap having been eased. The club is also likely to be in a better position to re-sign young halves Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses to long-term deals.

”Not only only did I believe it was time for a change for me, but I think the club needed a change as well,” Marshall said. ”I felt that change could be good for the club.

”With the reality of me being there for another three years, those younger guys might not have wanted to wait around three years to stay at the club. And they’re that talented that they could have had a great opportunity to prove themselves, and play next year.”

With a switch to rugby union beckoning, Marshall will not be playing with the club next year. Yet he was adamant, as was his coach Mick Potter, that he would see out the season, despite Ben Elias’ comments on Channel 10 on Wednesday that he should quit now.

”I’m not going to go out and have a running verbal battle with Benny Elias – he’s entitled to think whatever he likes,” Marshall said. ”But he’s not around the club seeing what I do at training, or how I am with the boys, or what I’m trying to achieve there. He doesn’t see that.

”I won’t be walking out now, unless they force me. But I’ve got confirmation from [chief operating officer] Grant Mayer that that’s not going to happen.”

Thus, Marshall will play his last Leichhardt Oval match on Friday night, yet he said he was ”trying not to think about that, to be honest”. ”I don’t want to make it about being last this, last that. I just want to win games,” he said. ”Realistically, I believe we’re a chance of still making the semis.”

Asked what reaction he expected from Tigers supporters, Marshall said: ”I just hope out of respect for what I’ve done for the club in the past, and my loyalty to the club, I hope it’s positive. Obviously I’d love for the fans to be supportive and still cheer me. If they don’t, I can understand their frustration and their anger.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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