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Benji Marshall, Wests Tigers, pre-season challenge, St George Illawarra Dragons loss, news, videos, highlights, Shane Flanagan, admission


The Benji Marshall era has begun at the Tigers, but the rookie coach’s team’s final pre-season hit out only left him “disappointed”.

The merger club was beaten 34-18 by the Dragons in Mudgee, in the battle of the two teams many pundits consider the contenders for the wooden spoon.

But after a successful first trial, beating the Warriors 18-16, it was back to square one for the Tigers who lacked punch in attack and were leaky in defence.

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Speaking to the SMH, Marshall explained his team’s display against the Red V made him question the attitude of his playing group.

“One thing I didn’t think that we’d [have to] question would be our attitude around turning up,” Marshall said.

“We’re lucky it’s not round one for us and there’s not two points on the line. But if we don’t address that, we’ll be in for a tough season.

“Sometimes it’s just as simple as the other team runs harder and tackles harder than you. In our system that’s one non-negotiable where we don’t get beaten.”

Overall, the Tigers were outplayed but the statistics painted a different story, with Marshall’s side dominating in key areas.

The Tigers completed at 93 per cent compared to the Dragons’ 67 per cent, while Marshall’s men also won the territory battle, being in the opposition half for 61 per cent of the game.

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However, from 23 more carries the Tigers were only able to generate four more running metres across 80 minutes.

They also broke the line only three times compared to the Dragons’ seven line breaks, with Flanagan’s teams offloads also double that of their opponent.

“If I’m being honest, it was pretty disappointing,” Marshall said of his team’s performance.

“After feeling good last week coming off the back of beating the Warriors, [the Dragons loss] showed where we really are, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri talk down Bahrain Grand Prix expectations, Lewis Hamilton’s Ferrari move, workplace diversity, intellectual property


The week between pre-season testing and the opening race is traditionally a time for expectation management.

Teams that know they’re doing well will talk themselves down. Team that know they’re struggling will talk themselves down even more.

McLaren isn’t above engaging with this well-worn tradition, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri warning not to expect the team to start this season where it finished in 2023.

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Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton is facing more questions about his 2025 Ferrari switch than his last season at Mercedes, to which he’s revealed that his charity work for under-represented groups in motorsport will continue in Maranello.

And F1 is facing potential legal action for using a famous motorsport phrase.


McLaren ended 2023 as one of Red Bull Racing’s closest challengers, but expectations it could pick up where it left off have been dampened by Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

McLaren ended testing with the seventh-quickest time, though corrected data estimates the team is actually inside the top three or four on true pace.

But Red Bull Racing appears to have taken a considerable step forward during the off-season. Ferrari also impressed during the last two days, setting the outright fastest time and completing some eye-catching race simulations.

Having completed an unreliability-interrupted test program that lacked a clear head-turning moment, Norris suspects McLaren may have fallen further off the pace over the European winter.

“The car has definitely felt an improvement in some areas,” he said. “In other areas still plenty to improve.

“There’s still a big gap to some of the guys ahead. A lot of work we still need to do over the next week or so to close that down already.

“We’re definitely quite a chunk behind Ferrari and quite a chunk behind Red Bull. I think they’re clearly a long way ahead.

“Apart from that I think we’re still not in a bad position. We’re probably just around that next pack. But those two teams definitely seem to have a decent advantage over everyone else.”

Piastri’s comments tallied, with the Australian confirming his instinct McLaren is “thereabouts” but probably out of reach of the top two.

“I think Red Bull are a step ahead of everybody,” he said. “Ferrari look strong as well — not the same extent, but they look like a decent second fastest at the moment.

“I think we’re somewhere towards the front end in the mix there. If we want to start challenging from podiums regularly and winning races, then we need to find a bit more.”

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Lewis Hamilton says Ferrari has “a lot of work to do” on improving diversity in its workforce ahead of his blockbuster switch to Maranello next season.

Hamilton has been at the foremost voice in Formula 1 pushing for greater diversity among those working in the sport, which has been traditionally dominated by white men, particularly from the UK.

The seven-time champion set up the Hamilton Commission with the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering to inquire into the under-representation of minority groups in the science, technology, engineering and maths fields.

That work triggered him to set up Mission 44, a charity designed to improve diversity in STEM workforces, into which he has donated £20 million ($38.64 million).

Much of this work has been done in conjunction with Mercedes, but Hamilton said the continuation of his charitable efforts was a major point of discussion in his agreement to move to Ferrari.

“Of course if you look at Ferrari, they have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I’ve already made that a priority in speaking with John [Elkann, Ferrari chairman].

“They’re super excited to get on and work on it also.”

Hamilton said he was pleased by the amount of progress he’d been able to influence at Mercedes, particularly in the last four years.

“I’m immensely proud of the work we’ve done with Mercedes since 2020,” he said. “We’ve made some really great strides in improving diversity within the team — for example, within HR we’ve got a diverse HR group.

“That will continue beyond me, which is something I’m really proud of. I’m proud of the team for pushing so hard ahead. I think we are ahead of every other team in that respect.

“There is still a huge amount of work within the whole sport. I’m speaking to Stefano [Domenicali, F1 CEO] constantly and looking to work more with Formula 1.”

Feeney wins in chaotic Supercars opener | 01:23


Indianapolis Motor Speedway will take “every measure possible” to protect its brand after accusing F1 of breaching copyright law for the third time in the last 12 months.

Indianapolis is home to the famous Indianapolis 500, which has long billed itself as “the greatest spectacle in motor racing”, a phrase it trademarked in 1986.

The IMS refers to itself as the “racing capital of the world”, an epithet it has also trademarked.

The ire of the Brickyard was raised last year when F1 social media accounts began promoting the Las Vegas Grand Prix as “the greatest racing spectacle on the planet” in the “sports and entertainment capital of the world”.

Eyebrows were raised again at the Miami Grand Prix, which LL Cool J called “the greatest spectacle in motorsports” during the scripted pre-race driver presentation.

IMS president Doug Boles said he had taken up the issue with F1 last year and had been met with a “gracious” response, which included taking down the offending copyright material.

But Boles has heightened his language after an F1 advertisement for the 2024 season on ESPN at the weekend again referred to the sport as “the greatest spectacle in motorsports”.

“We are aware of the use of our mark in what appears to be a broadcast promotional spot,” Boles said, per IndyStar. “We will once again address it with the appropriate people and are prepared to take every measure possible to protect our brand’s intellectual property.

“It continues to be disappointing that others can’t create their own brand identity without infringing upon ours.”

Formula 1 has made substantial inroads into the American market in recent years. ESPN recorded an average viewership of 1.11 million people last season, just behind IndyCar’s 1.32 million across its various broadcasters.

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Sydney Kings’ Boomers debutant Jordi Hunter tipped to “dominate” with NBL season on the line


The Sydney Kings’ interest in ex-NBA centre Isaac Humphries will prompt current big man Jordi Hunter to play with a “point to prove” in Wednesday’s sudden-death Play-in qualifier against the New Zealand Breakers.

That’s the opinion of former Kings captain Brad Rosen, who is tipping Hunter to dominate against the Breakers following revelations the back-to-back champions have made inquiries about Humphries.

The off-contract Adelaide centre recently hit a stalemate with the 36ers on an extension, opening the door for him to test the open market.

Code Sports has been told Sydney is considering Humphries for NBL25 following his standout season for the Sixers.

According to Rosen, though, the Kings should do everything in their power to retain Hunter as the team’s starting centre.

“Of course you have to look at Humphries, but if I was the Kings I’d be bringing Jordi back again,” said Rosen about Hunter, who has averaged 10.3 points on 60 per cent shooting from the field and seven rebounds this season.

“I can understand why Sydney would show interest in Isaac, but it’s a tough one because he and Jordi would both want to be the man in their team.

“That would make it hard to have both of them in one side.

“I’m expecting Jordi to play like he has all season against the Breakers.

“He can also knock down the three ball, he rebounds, he plays hard and is the anchor of Sydney’s defence.”

Jordan Hunter shoots a free throw during the FIBA Asia Cup 2025 Qualifying match between Australia Boomers and Korea at Red Energy Arena on February 22, 2024 in Bendigo, Australia. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

Rosen is also anticipating Hunter to have a spring in his step after impressing in his debut for the Boomers in two Asia Cup qualifiers over the weekend.

The Kings’ big man was particularly impressive in a big win over Indonesia in the early hours of Monday morning, Australian time.

Hunter stuffed the stat sheet in the 106-51 triumph, finishing with six points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block.

Rosen has been a big fan of the Sydney centre all season, saying he was “surprised” he wasn’t in contention for the NBL’s Most Improved Player award.

“Jordi has had a terrific season,” he said.

“He is the best screen and roller in the game, there is no question.

“I love him. He is a fantastic player and I think there is so much upside with Jordi in this Sydney team.”

Jordan Hunter of the Kings shoots for two defended by Issac Humphries of the 36ers during the round 18 NBL match between Adelaide 36ers and Sydney Kings at Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images.Source: Getty Images

Sydney must win two straight elimination games to even reach the final four, but Rosen still has faith in the men in purple and gold.

He hopes the Kings can beat the Breakers to set up another do-or-die clash against the loser of the Tasmania versus Illawarra clash.

“You don’t want the Hawks to lose to Tasmania because you want them to continue their fairytale charge, but imagine a knockout finals game between the Hawks and the Kings in Wollongong,” he said.

“That game and atmosphere would be phenomenal.”


Wednesday, February 28:

Seeding qualifier:

Tasmania JackJumpers vs Illawarra Hawks at MyState Bank Arena from 5.30pm (AEDT)

Play-in qualifier:

Sydney Kings vs New Zealand Breakers at Qudos Bank Arena from 7.30pm (AEDT)

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NFL owner Robert Kraft’s tells Taylor Swift she ‘should be dating Gronk’ rather than Travis Kelce


New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has left NFL fans puzzled with a bizarre Taylor Swift take.

The Patriots boss said the Anti-Hero singer should have chosen former New England tight end Rob Gronkowski rather than Travis Kelce, 34, when she looked for a boyfriend.

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A clip of Kraft, 82, emerged on social media Saturday in which the businessman recalled his role in bringing Swift to perform at Gilette Stadium on June 5, 2010.

The Patriots owner pointed out that it was the pop star’s first show at an NFL arena – and that it took place on his birthday.

“We convinced her and her family that she could sell out a stadium,” he said.

Kraft added he gifted Swift, 34, a framed ticket from that 2010 concert when she visited Gilette Stadium to cheer on Kelce during New England’s clash with the Kansas City Chiefs last season.

“Think about it, she was like 18, 19 – and she’s done pretty well since then,” the Pats owner said.

“Except … maybe she should have been dating Gronk. He’s better looking.”

Swift is dating Travis Kelce, while Gronk has been in a long-term relationship with Camille Kostek. Photo: Getty Images and InstagramSource: Getty Images

The joke elicited mixed reactions from those who listened to Kraft’s story as both laughter and awkward sighs could be heard in the background of the video.

NFL fans had a similarly confused reaction on social media with some pointing out that Gronkowski, 34, is in a long-term relationship with model Camille Kostek.

“Gronk has Camille. He doing alright,” one wrote.

“Lol what’s going on here …” another added.

“What’s happening?” a third said.

“Gronk is dating already,” one wrote.

Kraft and Swift shared a hug as they met at the 2024 Grammy Awards earlier in February.

The six-time Super Bowl champion then lauded the artist for helping the NFL grow its female fanbase since she started dating Kelce last year.

Kelce has also support Swift while on her record breaking Eras Tour, including heading to Sydney in a whirlwind two-day trip before returning for a friend’s bachelor party in Las Vegas.

This story first appeared in The US SSun and was republished with permission.

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Melbourne Demons season preview, First Crack, analysis, reaction, response, latest news


AFL greats David King and Leigh Montagna are at odds over their outlook for Melbourne’s prospects for the 2024 campaign after a turbulent off-season.

The Demons made headlines for the wrong reasons over the summer including ongoing drama surrounding Clayton Oliver and Joel Smith’s drug-related suspension to prompt questions of the club’s culture, while Angus Brayshaw last week sadly announced his retirement due to concussion.

It comes just three years after Melbourne’s drought-breaking premiership in 2021, however the Dees have since fallen out of finals in straight sets the last two seasons.

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How will the Dees fare in 2024? (Photo by Dylan Burns/AFL Photos via Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack Season Preview show, King believes the off-season has put too much “stress” on the club that will ultimately see it tumble out of the top eight altogether.

“I think they’ve had a great run and been terrific as a football club. We laud their leaders — Gawn, Petracca, Viney, May and Lever — they’re hall of famers for the Melbourne Football Club,” the dual premiership Kangaroo began.

“But I just think there’s too many self inflicted wounds through one off-season and the stress of everything going on around the edges. You start wasting too much time on things outside of football.

“You stress the football club, not just these players, and it permeates through the group.”

King also highlighted Brayshaw would be a “huge loss” and the uncertainty around Oliver after the star midfielder’s interrupted pre-season, saying “there’s a potential for more things to go wrong than right” for Simon Goodwin’s side.

Beyond the club’s off-field issues, King believes the Demons have also lost quality depth players to leave the list thinner than in recent years.

Heartbroken Brayshaw reflects on career | 01:46

“I don’t think this list is as deep as what it was last year,” he added.

“They’ve allowed players to leave that weren’t probably in their best 20 players, but somewhere between 20 and 30. Guys like Harmes, Jordon, Grundy and Hibberd retires.

“There’s a little changing of the guard with that next wrung of player, which puts more stress on those senior players to lead the way.

“I just think the stress on the football club will have an impact.”

Are Collingwood a shoo-in for 2024? | 04:20

Montagna however saw things differently, suggesting the club’s stormy off-season could “galvanise” the playing group.

“I understand the club has got some issues they’re going to have to work through, but as a team, you can focus in and use that and say: ‘We are going to be as tight as ever’,” the Saints legend said.

“Collingwood have had some off-field indiscretions the last few years … they still came through it and won a flag. Richmond had some issues in the hub.

“Sometimes I think it’s overplayed. I think this will be like the redeem team and I think they’ll have a chip on their shoulder with how they’ve gone out in the finals.

“I believe the leaders have still got some really good footy left in them. I also think there’s a lot of upside in some players — McVee, Bowey, Rivers, Pickett, van Rooyen, Chandler, Sparrow — they’ve still got a heap of improvement in them to go to the next level.

“They play 14 games at the MCG where we know they have a really strong record. I’ve just got faith they can bunker down as a group and go again.”

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Awkward Netflix Drive to Survive question ages badly for Red Bull boss Christian Horner amid investigation


Netflix has thrown under-fire F1 boss Christian Horner under the bus, as the probe into allegations of controlling behaviour continues.

Horner has been the story of the sport’s off-season after reports of “serious allegations” of “inappropriate behaviour” rocked the Red Bull chief.

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While it started as allegations of controlling behaviour towards a female worker, there have since been claims of “sexually suggestive texts”.

The current constructor’s champion, and home of driver’s champion Max Verstappen, has been thrown into turmoil, with Horner’s future in F1 up the air, though the 50-year-old has denied the allegations.

However the second episode of the recently released sixth season Netflix’s Drive to Survive hangs the Red Bull team boss out to dry.

The episode starts with a scene of Horner, his ex-Spice Girl wife Geri and their children Bluebell, Olivia and Monty getting a visit from Santa at their luxury estate on Christmas.

After meeting the family, Santa asks: “Has Dad been good this year?”

Olivia replies: “Let me think about that.”

Santa meets the Horners. Photo: Netflix
Santa meets the Horners. Photo: NetflixSource: Netflix
Christian Horner was stitched up deluxe. Photo: NetflixSource: Netflix

Geri chimes in saying: “He won a championship, I think he’s been amazing.”

Santa then says: “He’s super fast. You know, apart from me, this man’s the fastest person in the universe.”

Horner replies: “I think Max Verstappen might be a bit quicker than you Father Christmas.”

Santa says: “I travel three time the speed of light. How fast does he go?”

“Probably four,” Horner quips.

But it was the first question that had fans tripping over themselves to roast Horner online.

One fan wrote: “Netflix stitching up Horner on the new F1 Drive to Survive series.”

Another said: “Netflix is trolling Christian Horner, aren’t they?”

Another said it was “so cringe to watch”.

A fourth said: “This aged like milk …”

Horner has called for a swift conclusion to the probe into claims he sent sexual messages to a colleague.

Speaking in Bahrain on the second day of testing last week, Horner was twice asked about the accusations.

“There is a process going on which I am part of that process and I am afraid I cannot comment on it,” he said.

“Look, I am really sorry but I cannot comment on the process or the timescale.

“I think everybody would like a conclusion as soon as possible but I am really not at liberty to talk about the process.”

Horner with bosses at pre-season testing. Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFPSource: AFP

Horner also spoke about the allegations at the RB20 launch.

“Inevitably there has been a distraction, but the team are very together,” Horner said.

“Everybody’s focused on the season ahead, so it’s been very much business as ­normal and the support has been fantastic.

“In situations like these, you see where the strengths are, and it’s been overwhelming the support that I’ve had from within the team.

“There have been some allegations made, which I fully deny, so that the investigation is very much going on in the background while preparing for the season ahead, and hopefully it will be concluded in the near future.”

Horner has overseen seven drivers world championships and six constructors titles since joining the team in 2005.

Red Bull were dominant on the track in 2023, winning 21 of 22 Grands Prix as Max Verstappen romped to a third consecutive drivers’ championship.

With AFP

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India v England, match report, highlights, video wickets, series win, Shubman Gill, Rohit Sharma, Joe Root, Bazball


India beat England by five wickets in the fourth Test at Ranchi on Monday to clinch the five-match series 3-1.

Chasing 192, India slipped to 120-5 but Shubman Gill (52) and Dhruv Jurel (39) put on an unbroken 72-run stand to guide their side to victory during the second session of the fourth day.

England’s spinners hit back with three wickets on Monday, including skipper Rohit Sharma, as India reached 118-3 at lunch in their chase to clinch the fourth Test and the series.

India lost Yashasvi Jaiswal for 37, Rohit (55) and Rajat Patidar (0) as Joe Root, Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir took one wicket each in the first session on the fourth day in Ranchi.

Shubman Gill, on 18, and Ravindra Jadeja, on three, were batting at the break with India needing another 74 for a third straight victory and an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-Test series.

England needed seven wickets to take it to a winner-takes-all decider in Dharamsala next week, and while they produced two straight after lunch they fell short.

Rohit and the left-handed Jaiswal, who resumed at 40-0, began aggressively on a pitch peppered with cracks and offering variable bounce.

Rohit looked fluent and hit a dismissive six over long-on from James Anderson, who had reached 698 wickets in India’s first innings.

Root made the breakthrough in his first over of the day as he induced Jaiswal, who leads the series batting with 655 runs, to loop a catch to a diving Anderson at backward point to end an 84-run opening stand.

Rohit passed fifty but soon fell, stumped by Ben Foakes off Hartley’s left-arm spin.

England’s travelling army of fans then erupted when Bashir, who took his maiden five-wicket haul in the first innings, had Rajat Patidar brilliantly caught by Ollie Pope for a duck to leave India 100-3.

England scored 353 all out in their first innings and led by 46 after India’s 307.

But spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav took nine wickets on Sunday as England collapsed from 47-0 to 145 all out on Sunday in their second innings.

“This has been the best Test match I’ve seen in a long time,” Fox Cricket commentator Nick Knight said.

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Tom De Koning, Carlton Blues season preview, First Crack, analysis, reaction, response, latest news


Is 2024 the year Tom De Koning breaks out to become a fully fledged star?

St Kilda great Leigh Montana has urged Michael Voss to “unleash” De Koning as his No. 1 ruckman to help the 25-year old reach his full potential and take the Blues to another level.

De Koning has shown flashes since making his AFL debut — including some impressive moments in last year’s finals series — but is yet to put it all together.

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The 201cm ruckman/key forward was among the most in demand players on the market last year, in large due to his enormous upside, before shunning rival clubs to pen a two-year extension with Carlton until at least the end of 2025.

Speaking on Fox Footy’s First Crack Season Preview show, Montagna thinks De Koning being played as a pure ruckman, with Harry McKay as his backup, would unlock other parts of the Blues’ game in a season the club has flag aspirations.

Is De Koning ready to take his game to another level (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

“I think it’s time for Tom De Koning to take the mantle as the No. 1 ruck. His form and numbers in the second half of the season were huge,” Montagna said.

“If they want to be more explosive and get this counter punch game going, I don’t think they need Marc Pittonet in their side, I think he slows them down.

“It’s time for De Koning to play 75-85 per cent in the ruck and Harry McKay should embrace the second ruck role, like what Joe Daniher did — Daniher kicked 60 goals playing second ruck — so I think it’s possible.

“That will help Charlie Curnow get a bit more freedom and they can mix and match what the rest of their forward line looks like. I think that might help their transition and ball speed.

“De Koning didn’t rally have an impact as a forward — in 19 games he kicked nine goals and took eight marks inside 50. I don’t think they need him as the third tall forward, let him develop as the No. 1 ruck and get Harry in there and see if that can help them speed up their game.”

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Dual premiership Kangaroo David King was less convinced by De Koning, questioning if the former Pick 30 will ever reach the heights some have suggested he can.

“We talk a lot about Tom De Koning … he’s almost 25 years of age. At what point do you say: ‘This is the product’,” King noted.

“We’re waiting and waiting, potential is the dirtiest word in world sport … the jury’s out for me.”

The North Melbourne legend also put the blowtorch on Carlton’s forward line, arguing it’s where Voss’ side is most vulnerable beyond Coleman medallists Charlie Curnow and Harry McKay.

King implored the rest of the Blues forwards to step up in 2024.

“It’s a bit of a myth, the Carlton forward 50, it’s not as dominant as it should be. We all talk about Curnow and the season that he had and a lot about Harry,” King added.

“(Jesse) Motlop is becoming a very good player, but the rest – the bits and pieces – they’re not the dominant forward 50 that we give them credit for. There’s a lot of scope for improvement there and I think that’s where the problem actually is – getting bang for buck … the forward 50 needs to lift.

“It is my biggest worry – where will the goals come from if Charlie doesn’t have that year again? Is Harry absolutely going to stand up and kick 60 goals? If it’s not those two, where to?

“That, for me, is still a concern. I think (the) fourth, fifth, sixth player they pick in that forward 50 is not of the same calibre of the other contenders. That’s my worry with them.”

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What we learned, pre-season matches, stats, every club, talking points, best players, new positions


After a long off-season, all 18 AFL clubs have completed their first practice match against rival clubs.

While still early, there are plenty of learnings to take into this week’s more official pre-season hit-outs and the season proper. goes through a key learning for each club from their practice match clashes.

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Parker breaks arm in innocuous incident | 00:31


Tex may finally have company up forward

It’s been a while, but Taylor Walker may finally have some genuine support in the forward line if the pre-season Showdown is anything to go by. Riley Thilthorpe has been a slow burn as he grows into his frame, but the 21-year-old was in imposing touch against the Power, taking a number of big contested marks. If he’s able to perform at that level throughout the season, it will give Walker some much-needed help in the air, while at ground level the likes of Izak Rankine and Josh Rachele will feast on the second chance opportunities. Rankine could spend more time in the middle of the ground too, making for a more dynamic Crows side in 2024.


Lions might be even better in 2024

The grand finalists looked like they hadn’t missed a beat since that epic decider and appear primed to challenge for the flag yet again. Yes, it’s only February, but the Lions might actually have scope to improve in 2024 with how dominant and confident they looked in patches against Gold Coast – particularly forward of centre – despite missing a host of stars including Lachie Neale, Jarrod Berry and Tom Doedee. Chris Fagan has some selection moves to ponder – or aces up his sleeve – with Cam Rayner and Callum Ah Chee both standouts in the midfield and Darcy Gardiner impressing up forward. A side that wants for nothing with incredible depth, there’s so much to like about Brisbane this year. “(The Lions have) just got to continue on their path, their system is really strong and stacks up in September. They were a kick away from potentially winning a premiership. They were really impressive in their first hitout against genuine opposition,” former Brisbane and Power star Tom Rockliff said on Fox Footy.


They’re still willing to experiment

The Blues got back to their contested ball winning ways in the backend of 2023, but they still look willing to try new things ahead of the 2024 season. Most recently against Geelong, the Blues looked intent on taking the game on and moving the ball quickly, something markedly different to the style of game that was on show for large parts of last season. It didn’t exactly pay off in spades, but it did signal Michael Voss is keen on seeing what the Blues are capable of adding to their game as they look to go a couple of steps further in 2024. Realistically we didn’t learn a heap about them, but that was worth noting.


McStay replacements impress … but no clear standout

Reef McInnes and Ash Johnson have been talked up over the summer as key contenders to fill the Dan McStay key forward void for the reigning premiers. Well, against North Melbourne, both players produced some big moments, but neither really emerged as a clear frontrunner. McInnes looked on early with several highlights, crashing packs and kicking two goals in the opening term. Conversely, Johnson started slow bot got better as the day went on. Based on reports out of Collingwood HQ over the pre-season, you sense McInnes might just be slightly ahead in the pecking order right now. But missing nine premiership stars against the Roos, this Magpies side, when healthy will be seriously tough to crack into. It’s clearly going to be an important role for Craig McRae’s side to fill in its bid to go back-to-back.


The gloss of the trade period can only do so much

It was a pre-season game, but Essendon’s meek showing against St Kilda wasn’t exactly what Dons fans would’ve envisaged given all four of their marquee recruits were out on the park. To be fair, there were glimpses of potential, with Jade Gresham setting up some scores early and showing off his footy acumen. Still, they were picked apart on turnover and the addition of Ben McKay wasn’t enough to shore up a back six that gets let down by a lack of defence further up the ground. The Bombers could simply be dusting off cobwebs ahead of the season proper, but given the optimism that has accompanied their pre-season and new-found fitness levels, it was far from an ideal start to 2024.


Believe the Fyfe hype

Justin Longmuir said earlier this month Fyfe is the fittest he’s seen him in his time at the club so far, but it would be easy to dismiss it as another bold pre-season statement. Fyfe’s performance against West Coast during Saturday’s practice match, however, is cause for optimism. The dual Brownlow Medal winner was back in his natural habitat in the midfield, but more importantly looked confident in his body, with the results impressive. He set up a couple of goals early and looked assured with virtually all of his possessions, of which there were many on the night. Fyfe looks ready to recapture some of his best form in the twilight of his career and it adds a distinct edge to the Dockers’ midfield brigade, which looks fierce with him in it. What it means for fellow contested beasts like Will Brodie remains to be seen, but the competition for spots can only mean good things for Fremantle.


Holmes’ halfback move an early winner

It’s not a bad idea to expand your repertoire in a contract year, which is exactly what Max Holmes looked poised to do. Holmes was played primarily as a halfback against Carlton, having spent time forward of centre and on the ball in previous years. There were very good signs from the 21-year-old, who could come into his own with Tom Stewart slated to spend more time in the middle of the ground. Geelong looks set to tinker slightly with their existing mix and Holmes looms large as a player they’ll be desperate to keep given his age, ability and versatility. How he performs this season is set to play a part in how high his price tag soars.


Veteran forward still has plenty to offer

There’s been a lot made of Gold Coast’s potential changes under Damien Hardwick this year and where he can take the budding list. But one of the Suns’ less talked about senior players – Levi Casboult – showed he still has plenty to offer in a brilliant five-goal performance against Brisbane. Though Casboult did most of his work against the Lions’ younger/VFL players later in the seven-period game – to potentially signal where he stands in the pecking order – the 33-year old looked fit and powerful, and perhaps most importantly for him, consistently nailed his set shots, which has been an issue over the years. With Casboult regressing from a career-best 35 goals in 2022 – when Gold Coast was without Ben King – to 24 goals last season, there’s question marks on whether ex-Blue would still be a regular in the Suns’ best 23 this year as the club centres its forward line around King and Jack Lukosius. A new coach brings a fresh slate for everyone though, and Casboult couldn’t have done much more to impress Hardwick.

King signs two-year extension with Suns | 00:33


Last year wasn’t a fluke

The Giants may’ve lost to Sydney in the hitout, but last week proved there was a lot to be bullish about for 2024. They look to be going nicely ahead of the season and there doesn’t look to be any drop off at all from the likes of Tom Green and Jesse Hogan, who are improving on already-stellar 2023 campaigns. Aaron Cadman will be 20 when the season gets underway but is already showing signs of a marked uptick this year as he grows into his frame, which spells trouble for opposition clubs. It took the competition by storm at the backend of last season, but the orange tsunami isn’t going anywhere in 2024.


The Hardwick experiment is here to stay

Blake Hardwick has been moved forward this pre-season and it looks to be working a treat, with the career defender booting a couple of goals in the first term and looking lively in the forward 50. Small forward Luke Breust has likened Hardwick’s running patterns to Toby Greene and Jamie Elliott, which is cause for optimism among Hawks fans. With significant injury concerns heading into the season, Hawthorn needs to use the assets it has and Hardwick’s ability to play forward suggests the side’s coaching department isn’t sitting idly ahead of the season proper.


It won’t take long for Oliver to get back to his best

It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Clayton Oliver, particularly off the field. But against Richmond, he reminded the footy world what he can do the on the field. Having been slowly ramped up at training after a disrupted pre-season, Oliver could’ve been forgiven for looking an off the boil against the Tigers upon coming into the game in the fifth period with the less experienced/VFL players. But the superstar midfielder was his usual explosive self, instantly racking up a heap of the ball with a dominant presence and even kicking a highlight left-footed goal from the boundary line. While he was only competing against lesser names, Oliver most importantly passed the eye test and got through the session unscathed as he continues to build towards the season proper in a critical year for the under-fire Dees.


Future bright as new generation shines

Having loaded up on young talent through the draft in recent years, many have been bullish about North Melbourne’s future. That bright future was very much on show last week as the next generation of Kangaroos shined in a promising 34-point win over reigning premier Collingwood, albeit an undermanned Magpies side. Reigning Rising Star winner Harry Sheezel picked up right where he left off last year – seemingly everywhere you looked in a masterful performance across halfback, well supported by recruit Zac Fisher and top draftee Colby McKercher. Tristan Xerri, Tom Powell and George Wardlaw were both standouts in the midfield, while Paul Curtis was dangerous all day in attack with four goals. Indeed, there was a lot to like for Roos fans even before you get to their senior guns that played well. “They’ve been really impressive – playing really well-connected footy and it’s probably got something to do with Alastair Clarkson, just being around that little bit longer now and having a really solid pre-season under him,” Melbourne AFLW premiership star Lily Mithen told Fox Footy.


New mix will take time to settle

That goes for the existing players as well as those added in the off-season. Trade-wise, the quartet of recruits all had a crack on Friday night and it looked like they were finding their way in their new side. Esava Ratugolea and Brandon Zerk-Thatcher will need some time to get used to each other in the back six, but having both out on the park ready to go is a plus. Mitch Georgiades is back after missing most of 2023 with an ACL tear and will add a fresh look to the forward line and give Charlie Dixon a chop out. In the middle of the ground, there are some decisions to be made about the best setup. Ollie Wines has returned to the engine room after a 2023 spent largely on a wing, while Xavier Duursma’s trade out means a new wing brigade is likely, with Miles Bergman one of those likely to take up the mantle there. It’s now about finding the best mix for Ken Hinkley and company.


New-look forward line has potential

The forward line is an area with some uncertainty for Richmond beyond Tom Lynch – with some claiming the club has been Lynch or bust in recent years. But with the superstar forward missing against Melbourne – a top four side of the last two years renowned for its stout defence – the Tigers’ new-look attack sure looked good – 18 goals over four periods good. Shai Bolton, who’s expected to play permanently forward in 2024, led the way with four goals and Noah Balta kicked three majors in a successful first appearance in attack. Plus recruit Jacob Koschitzke fired early with two goals in the first quarter and Steely Green and Tyler Sonsie had some bright moments too with two goals apiece. While there’s only so much you can read into pre-season, new coach Adem Yze would’ve liked what he saw.


There’s no plan on slowing down

Many have predicted the Saints to slide out of the top eight in 2024, with some surprised they even qualified in 2023. Judging by their win over Essendon, there’s no signs of a let-down in 2024. Even without back-to-back club champion Jack Sinclair and several others, the Saints ran amok against Essendon last week, with contributors across every line. Ross Lyon was effectively coaching with a hand tied behind his back last year given the injury woes that befell the forward line, but despite a decent-sized injury list this year things are looking more positive for the squad.


Brodie is back

The former Collingwood and Melbourne ruckman did enough against GWS to prove he will be back to somewhere near his best as a full-time ruck in 2024. His ruckwork was solid up against Kieren Briggs, but his follow-up work is where he has stood out across his career and he showed that in spades against the Giants. It couldn’t be more timely with the retirement of Tom Hickey and the Swans’ desire to surge back up the ladder this season. There was also a bit to like up forward with the side scoring freely despite the retirement of Lance Franklin.


Harley Reid doesn’t fix everything

OK maybe that’s a bit unfair since Harley Reid hasn’t claimed to able to fix everything, but the hype surrounding the teenager has been and remains considerable. Ultimately, however, he’s just one of many on the field and he is going to take some time to come into his own at AFL level. He tried a couple of fendoffs that would’ve worked at lower levels but backfired at AFL level and that could likely be said of many aspects of his game as he finds his way around a senior side. There are some talented young kids for the Eagles but they were comfortably beaten by Fremantle, albeit with goalkicking inaccuracy partially to blame too. Reid coming down with a bad case of cramp late in the match was just another reminder there’s still a lot of improvement ahead for the prodigious talent, much as there is for the Eagles.


Ryley Sanders is ready to roll

With the first clearance of the match and a silky smooth finish from 50 later in the opening quarter, Ryley Sanders made good on the hype that has accompanied his pre-season. Last year’s pick No. 6 looks ready to roll whenever the Dogs slot him in, which could be immediately given the promise he showed last week. He looked to combine brilliantly with the likes of Tom Liberatore in the middle and had no trouble finding the footy. It’s very early, but he has all the potential to be footy’s latest first-year sensation.

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Sam Goodman vs Naoya Inoue, No Limit want to bring Japanese megastar to Australia


Sam Goodman is suddenly a chance of being catapulted into an Australian world title blockbuster – and his very own ‘Manny Pacquiao moment’ — as promoters No Limit launch an audacious bid to bring Japanese megastar Naoya Inoue Down Under.

Seven years after Jeff Horn upset the legendary Pacquiao in front of 60,000 screaming fans at Suncorp Stadium, Fox Sports Australia can reveal a push is now underway for Goodman to receive his own shot at boxing immortality.

Already, the undefeated 25-year-old has punched his way into the mandatory challenger position for IBF super bantamweight gold – which is one of four straps held by Inoue, the division’s undisputed king and arguably the greatest fighter anywhere on earth.

BOXING: Goodman v Schleibs & Hardman v Saavedra | WED 13 MAR | Order Now with Main Event on Kayo Sports.

Goodman SLAPS Schleibs in fiery exchange | 01:29

Yet rather than sit around waiting for the Japanese phenom dubbed ‘Monster’, whose next defence is likely to be Mexico’s Luis Nery in May, Goodman is instead continuing to stay busy, roll the dice – and win.

As a result, the popular Albion Park native is currently preparing for an upcoming Pay-Per-View headliner against brash Melburnian Mark Schleibs, which takes places inside Wollongong Entertainment Centre on March 13.

A fight for which, suddenly, the stakes are even greater than first thought.

Speaking with Fox Sports Australia on Monday afternoon, No Limit CEO George Rose confirmed talks were already underway with Top Rank boss Bob Arum about bringing Inoue Down Under this year.

The revelation is sure to become one of the biggest talking points when both Rose and Goodman front a fight press conference at Wollongong Entertainment Centre on Tuesday morning.

Should the Inoue fight be made in Australia, Goodman would not only find himself headlining one of the modern era’s biggest fights Down Under, but a chance of inking his name alongside the likes of Horn and Danny Green, who famously upset Roy Jones Jnr by KO in 2009.

“This would be a huge coup for not only Australian boxing, but Australian sport,” Rose said.

“Inoue is a once-in-a-generation fighter.

“And in my opinion, the world’s No.1 pound-for-pound.

“When you look at his records, his world titles, all of the achievements – it’s phenomenal.

Japan’s Naoya Inoue.Source: AFP

“It’s why the guy is packing out stadiums in Japan, why he has such a huge following globally and why whenever he takes a world title fight, it’s something the whole world tunes in for.

“The aura he has at the moment, the fighter you compare him to is Pacquaio.

“Because it doesn’t matter if you’re from the Philippines or not, if you’re a boxing fan you’re a Manny fan.

“Same with Inoue.”

Rose quickly added however that Goodman’s shot against Inoue, and all four straps, would obviously go ahead only if he beats Schleibs in next month’s Wollongong headliner.

“So this next fight is suddenly a huge risk,” he conceded. “Because if Sammy loses to Schleibs, he loses everything.

“But like Tim Tszyu, he wants to keep fighting and always stay ready.

“Sam Goodman’s a competitor.

“Has been since the amateurs.

“And that’s why while almost everyone is running from Inoue and the monster he’s become in the sport globally, Sammy Goodman is running towards him.

“Going at him head on.

“This is the fight Sam wants and one we want in Australia.”

BOXING: Goodman v Schleibs & Hardman v Saavedra | WED 13 MAR | Order Now with Main Event on Kayo Sports.

‘Punch the s*** out of each other’ | 00:30

Better, Rose insists his man can create his some underdog story like Horn and Green previously.

“When you look at the opponents Inoue has had lately, Sammy is very different,” the promoter explained.

“And that’s why he can be the one who takes it to the champ.

“Who upsets the apple cart.

“Because Sammy Goodman is a guy who can’t be hit.

“He’s always in front of you, but the guy can’t be hit.

“And that’s why he is pursuing this fight so confidently.”

And if he wins?

“Absolutely changes his life,” Rose said.

Undefeated in all 26 fights as a professional, Inoue initially unified the bantamweight division before moving up a weight class for more of the same in 2023 – taking all four straps in title fights against Stephen Fulton and Marlon Tapales.

While there have been suggestions ‘Monster’ could now move up again for big fights at featherweight, or even super featherweight, the champion recently suggested he wants to stay where he is and dominate.

In a recent interview, Inoue said his plan is to box three times this year – starting with a Tokyo blockbuster against Nery, in May.

The champ said he then wants to fight again in September, before turning around once more in December.

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