Smith moving further into league of his own

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RECORDS TUMBLE: Cameron Smith will play his 50th Test for against New Zealand in Canberra on Friday night. Picture: Sitthixay DitthavongAS a top of the table clash, last Sunday’s showdown between Melbourne and St George was a bit of a fizzer.

The Dragons had their reasons. They were without Gareth Widdop, their most influential player. They head into the rep round 6-3 and second on the ladder so the result took very little bark off them, but it did provide just the latest example of the Storm’s ruthless efficiency.

It was by mere hours, but they were backing up off a shorter Anzac Day turnaround and their start to the match was marvelous to watch. Billy Slater was obviously superb, as were most of the Storm line-up. It meant the fact Cameron Smith went past Jason Taylor as the league’s all-time leading goal-kicker was reduced to an afterthought.

It’s perhaps a symptom of his own brilliance that breaking records has become somewhat of a banality, such is the regularity with which they tumble. He’s already become the games biggest winner this year. On Friday he’ll play his 50thTest, second behind only Darren Lockyer,whosepremiership games mark of 355 he’s also likely to break this year. Lockyer’s record of 35 finals games also seems ripe for the picking.

The fact he’s won just the one Dally M Medal says more about his selflessness as a player and leaderthan his ability to influence every game he plays in.People have often pondered how much of his success he owes to great mates Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater. The fact is we’ll probably get some insight given his career is likely tooutlast both.Slater has stared down his rugby league mortality and now seems capable of carrying on butCronk’s time in Melbournewill be up at season’s end.

That makes the Stormmore ominous this season. The big three’sconsistency has been such that the oft-talked about premiership window has never closed on them. At the very least it’s always been slightly ajar.This year it will slam shut –by their own doing.It takes no special insightto pencil in the Storm as premiership favourites but they became virtually unbackablethe day Cronk tearfully declared 2017 will be the last hurrahfor the game’s most celebrated triple-act.

There are several factors that prise open that premiership window. A club needs a good roster, good coach, a mix of youth, big-game experience, stability. They’re all things Melbourne have in spades, but every year there’s three to four clubs who have some or all of these qualities.What gets a team over the line is that last little inch.In recent years with the Rabbitohs, Cowboys and Sharks, it’s been the weight of history, that sense of “it’s time”that has got them over the line. Now on their final lap, it certainly seems time for Melbourne’s big three …and for Smith, the best winner of them all.

Sydney FC one game away from becoming A-League’s greatest

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For too long Sydney FC’s board has trumpeted the lofty ambition of becoming the premier football brand in the country. They might not get there, certainly not any time soon. But on Saturday night their team made a claim to a more realistic mantle: playing the best brand of football ever seen in .

The Sky Blues are now just one game away from removing any doubt whether the 2016-17 team will be remembered as the best in A-League history after thrashing Perth Glory in the preliminary final. A thumping 3-0 win secured Sydney’s hosting rights for the grand final next Sunday, but it was the performance of the rampant Sky Blues that was more befitting of the club’s mission statement.

If they wanted to talk brands, their display on Saturday was Rolls Royce. Defensively impenetrable, fluid in attack and disciplined in the engine room. That the team were so imperious when the stakes couldn’t have been higher was the most telling.

It was a game that placed a trap-door beneath their stellar season but still Sydney FC didn’t get any jitters. Instead, they produced some of their classiest football yet. It began with a 30-metre wonder goal from Josh Brillante. Centre-back Jordy Buijs scored an individual effort that strikers would envy. Filip Holosko showed his quality with a deft header for what proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Perth, who were lucky not to cop three more.

Perth Glory hoped a worn pitch scarred from rugby league games a day earlier would prove a leveller. It didn’t. As a result, their hopes of a closer affair relied on reducing the contest to a scrappy, physical battle. Their pressing from the opening was as calculated as it was fierce with a plan to stifle Sydney’s fluid ball-players. It delayed Sydney FC’s first attempt until the 17th minute but overall, it delayed the inevitable.

With a rare respite from the midfield dogfight, Brillante took advantage of the breathing space in exquisite fashion. The “water carrier” unleashed a stunning 30-metre piledriver – and a late candidate for goal of the year – that left Perth Glory goalkeeper Liam Reddy helpless.

His missile burst the dam and Sydney should have doubled their lead with a flurry of quick chances soon after. Marquee Bobo was denied by Reddy from close range. Captain Alex Brosque flashed a header agonisingly wide. Bobo tested Reddy at his near post before bizarre circumstances ripped the floodgates wide open.

What started as the spectacular became controversial after Buijs made an incredible run from central defence to beat three defenders and Reddy to find the back of the net. Instead, his celebrations were cut short after a linesman noticed Bobo had breached the offside line and disallowed the goal.

The video assistant referee then overruled the on-field decision because Bobo was judged not to have interfered with play. Sydney FC were eventually awarded the goal after a lengthy review.

That wasn’t the end of the VAR’s intervention, however. It ensured Sydney FC could begin planning for their grand final by the half-time break when Filip Holosko’s disallowed header was proven to be onside by replays, giving the Sky Blues a commanding 3-0 lead.

It was nearly 4-0 within minutes of the resumption when Bobo pounced on a Milos Ninkovic cross to head past Reddy, but Sydney were met with the all-too-familiar sight of the linesman’s raised flag. This time, there was no need for any intervention from the VARs.

Perth Glory should have clawed one back in the aftermath only for Andy Keogh to fire a tap-in over the bar. The Ireland international loomed as the most likely to spark a Perth comeback, hitting the post in the 56th minute with a short header. However, it proved a mere detour from the running order of the evening. This was a night that belonged to Sydney FC, who were putting on a show for the nearly 22,000 fans on hand. A deft touch by Ninkovic should have seen Brosque beat Reddy with a one-on-one, while Bernie Ibini came within centimetres of squeezing a fourth past Perth’s busiest man.

The final stanzas mirrored a cat toying with a dead mouse as the Sky Blues marched into the grand final in intimidating fashion.

Princess Charlotte might be 2, but she’s already exerting an influence in Oz.

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MY middle sonwas named after a motel.

And it’s not what you’re thinking.

It was back in 1987, when every second boy was named Christopher, girls were Jessica or Amy, and my then husband and I were struggling to find a name for our second child that we could both agree on.

We named our first son Mitchell after a student at the school where we met. Mitchell is the only one of our three sons to get a second name –Alexander after his paternal great grandfather who died before he was born –because just agreeing on a first name forour second and third sons was exhausting, and a second name was beyond us.

If that sounds lame can I state in our defence that my second pregnancy coincided with owner-building a house while we lived in a caravan with a two-year-old. Names were a little down the list of things to do in a race between house, baby and the descent into sleepless insanity.

Which is why I threw something of a tantrum –and I really can’t soften that word-towards the end of the pregnancy when our forthcoming child remained nameless while we were spending too much time talking about light fittings and wall colours.

I didn’t want to be the proud new mother of No Name.

I don’t think I need dwell on what I said during the tantrum, apart from confirming that pregnant women swear. But it achieved the desired response and we sat at a nice place by the water tosettle on our baby’s name with only days to go before his/her arrival.

We’d agreed on a girl’s name, Phoebe. It was the boy’s name that had us stumped. My ex-husband liked Sam. I hated it. I liked Liam. He hated it.

So we went through a baby name book for help. Thomas? David? James? Daniel? Raised and abandoned.

We started running through the names of people we went to school with, but it was a list that featured too many Craigs, Darrens and Bretts, and not enough names that sounded a little bit different, but not so different that the poor child would be burdened by his parents’ idiocy for life.

Public servant taking down details for something official: “Sorry, what was that name again?”

Poor child, who is now an adult: “Sprockette Weylynne Turmeric-Smith.”

Public servant: “Can you spell Sprockette, please, and I didn’t quite catch the rest.”

Poor Sprockette: “Sigh.”

We wandered around for a bit until we ended up leaning against the back of the car, and I idly lookedacross the road while we discussed what to have for dinner. And there it was. The Reece Motel.

“What about Reece?” I asked, and we tried it out against his father’s surname and liked the sound.

Reece it was.

Our third son we namedDarcy after a kid we liked from a family of distinctive people, who we fortunately ran into while I was pregnant.

McCrindle Research released areport on Monday of the top 100 boys’ and girls’names for 2017, in a year when 300,000 babies were born, including my youngestniece, Violet, now five months old.

Violetis the 25thand final grandchild in a family of 11 siblings, barring a miracle that no-one’s praying for.

The McCrindle report showsthat when it comes to baby names we tend to stick to what we know, we tend to name babies according to trends, and there’s nothing like a royal baby or a celebrity offspring to skew results.

In 2017 one in 10 n babies was named one ofthe top 10 baby names, with Charlotte and Oliver top of the list. Princess Charlotte might only be two years old, but already she’s exerting an influence on that puts a chill in the heart of all republicans.

There are no Georges in the top 10 boys’ names, which is encouraging for anyone hoping to break the ties with the Old Country before the century is out. Prince George might be cute but n parents aren’t quite ready to saddle their children with that name for life. It rated 38th in 2017, a long way behind Noah, Ethan, Lachlan and Mason, but streets ahead of Parker (100) and Vincent (99).

Names that were popular when I was a kid in the 1960s don’t even rate in the top 100 these days. Half the girls I knew were called Sharon, and it seems that half the men I know today, who were also kids in the 1960s, areCraig. Both missing in action from the n baby names top 100 for years, according to McCrindle.

Sharon hasn’t made an appearance since 1983. Craig staggered on for a few more years but by 1992 it had vanished from the popular names list, not to appear again.

When a couple I know gave birth to a girl a while ago I rang a relative to let him know.

He asked how mother and baby were, and I said both fine. Then he asked the name and I gave it. There was a pause, and then he asked the question everyone thinks when people nametheir babiessomething unusual, or a name they’ve made up, which was the case with this name.

“Why?” asked the relative.

I said I didn’t know. He asked me to spell it. I had a stab but admitted I was guessing.

“Poor kid,” said the relative.

The little girl is delightful and it’s hard to think of her now with a name other than the one she has. Time, and saying it regularly, has made the name familiar, charming and exactly right for the child who bears it.

People are probably still giving those assurances to Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter, Apple, too.

ADVERTISING FEATURE: Fight obesity with facts

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BE INFORMED: Dr Tim Wright believes treatment for obesity varies from patient to patient but if you are having difficulty keeping weight off after five years using diet and exercise, surgery should be a genuine consideration.Access to information is critical when making decisions about obesity treatment.

Lifestyle interventions–primarily diet and exercise – have been the cornerstone of traditional therapy, yet their effectiveness is debatable.

Evidence suggests they work in the short term, but the vast majority of obese patients put weight back on.

A much more effective answer to those suffering long-term obesityis surgery, according to Dr Tim Wright, from Newcastle Obesity Surgery Centre.

“It’s an exceptional patient that can keep weight off long term via diet and exercise,” Dr Wright said.

“It’s the exact opposite for obesity surgery patients – long-term results are excellent, begging the question: Why delay surgery in situations where that delay can effect long-term quality of life?”

Dr Wright believes that it is appropriate in most cases to try diet and exercise first, buttime limits should apply.

“If you fail to lose weight after five years, then you should consider obesity surgery,” he said.

“Particularly if your Body Mass Index is over 35.

“You should set finite limits and if they fail, consider surgical intervention.”

Misconceptions exist about the surgery itself due toinappropriate information circulated online and in the media.

To enable people to make informed decisions when considering surgical options, Dr Wright holds monthly seminars.

“They are broken up into three components,” Dr Wright said. “Why do we do surgery? What do we do and what are the risks? And how can you afford it if you’re not in a health fund?”

Options on procedures vary from patient to patient.

“Certain patients are more suited to one procedure than another,” Dr Wright said.

“For example, those suffering Type 2 diabetes or gastro oesophageal reflux might be better suited to gastric bypass.

“On the other hand, people who live in remote ares, or move frequently are more suited to sleeve gastrectomy because there is less follow-up.

“It’s important to individualise the procedure, and that’s what we explain at the seminars.”

Obesity surgery is only available in a private hospital, but a little known fact is that you can pay for it through your super fund.

“At the seminars we take people through that process,” Dr Wright said.

“The seminars run of a Thursday each month in either Charlestown or Rutherford and last from6pm to 8pm.

“We have a guest speaker who has been through surgery, people can ask me questions, and in that way make informed decisions.”

For more information ringNewcastle Obesity Surgery Centre on 4032 8777.

Glee Coffee leaps from shopfront to growing distributor

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Coffee and people: Ben Gleeson (left) and Chris Gleeson, baristas, roasters and businessmen.If there was a novel about coffee culture coming of age in Newcastle, surely Glee would account for a chapter. While the company’s small shopfront on Darby Street closed its doors late last year, it shook up the scene in the city while it was there and made a lasting impact as witnessed by the fact that adozen Newcastle cafesnow usetheir roasted coffee brand.

Chris Gleeson

Brothers Ben and Chris Gleeson founded Glee in 2009 on the Central Coast, operating a 5kg roaster from an industrial estate in Tuggerah. They now roast a tonne of coffee beans every week and service more than 30 accounts in Newcastle and the Central Coast. This month they will see their brand gain a foothold on the Gold Coast, when The Marketplace cafe opens in Robina.

When Glee chose not to renew its lease in Newcastle, it reflected how the business had, once again, grown with the times. After seven years, the coffee culture had changed for the better. When they come back to Newcastle, it will have to be a bigger cafe with the same serious coffee.

Recalling the state of play in Newcastle in 2011, Chris Gleeson says, “There were a lot of big cafes at that point. The cafes back then were more just about food, and not exactly fantastic coffee. Back then, there were maybe four or five -a handful of cafes – that you could get a good cup of coffee in Newcastle.”

The Gleesons had learned the coffee trade in Sydney, where it’s fast-moving, sophisticated, and competitive. They felt Newcastle was ready for a better cup of coffee.

“We were unique at that point,” Chris says. “We thought, let’s just do coffee, which was what we were exposed to Sydney a few years before, where there were alot of hole-in-the-wall shops. When we did that, it was almost like the anti cafe: cheap furniture, just a coffee machine and pastries.”

The foothold also gave them a chance to establish their brand by gaining exposure for their coffee blend for other cafes and potential cafe owners.

“We had no storefront,” Chris explains. “We had started in wholesale roasting and training. Darby Street came out of that, wantingto get out there. It was kind of tricky. We only had a couple of customers, and we had to direct people to storeswith a good barista. Wecouldn’t guarantee they would get the experience you wanted them to have.

“But having our ownstore, that was only way to go viral in an area. Have 200 people come in every day and tell fourof their friends. And they tell four of their friends. It was the only way to break out of being an industrial roaster.”

Now, Glee operates two full-menu cafes on the Central Coast, one at Wyong and another at Erina Heights. Both are strong businesses. And they fit the trend of big cafes now paying attention to offering a high-quality specialty coffee.

And Newcastle has changed, too.

“Now, Newcastle has 25 or 30 cafes with a good cup of coffee,” Chris says. “If we come back, it’s got to be fantastic coffee and good food. That’s what people would expect. Seven years ago it was like a breath of fresh air: ‘a great latte, ah, I can drink this.’ The market has changed.”

Lauren Henry, owner of Common Circus, an upmarket giftwares and coffee shop on Brooks Parade, Belmont, opened her shop in October 2015, serving Glee coffee.

“I went with Glee because they were local,” says Henry, whosecoffee sales have skyrocketed. “I guess, moving up from Sydney, there were a few brands from SydneyIwas going to drag up here. I realised how good it was, and connected with them straight away.

“I think Ihave the same values – it’s not about the money, it’s about producing quality. That’s why Iwent with them.”

From the beginning, the Gleesons have been committed to quality. Both of the brothers are, well, aficionados, unless you want to call them crazy about coffee. Oh yes, their other brother, Nick, also came on board Glee, as the roaster.

Ben was the first to leap into the coffee industry, quitting a good job with Singapore Airlines at their Sydney headquarters to chase an overwhelming passion for coffee that saw him take a positionas a barista in Woolloomooloo in 2005. It wasn’t just any job –it was the first shopfront opened by Tobys Estate roasters, at their original roasting facility.

“When Ifirst started working in Sydney [for the airline], most people drank instant coffee at work, it was moreof a lunchroom culture,” Ben says.“What started to happen, was this initial boom of coffee culture where people started getting their coffees on way to work and going out for coffee on a break . . . it became cool to get a coffee on the way to work.”

Ben bought a home espresso machine, which he had to hunt down, and starting making coffee at home and researching on the internet how to make better coffee. He started following some coffee bloggers in Seattle, and then took a big step.

“I found a guy, Max, who had an espresso bar and he was the only one running it, from morning to mid afternoon,” Ben says. “He was a fantastic barista, taking coffee seriously. I started going to him quite regularly.

Max was not even taking a toilet break, so Ben made him an offer: “Would you be interested in me coming in for half an hour to make coffee on my lunch break?If you train me, I’ll do that. “

The deal was made and Ben found himself on the levers of a coffee machine.

“What Ifound really quickly that was the part of the day Iwas looking forward to the most was that half an hour of pulling shots for customers,” he says. “It was the highlight of my day.”

The hobby had gotten serious –he took an extensive barista course –and he soon quit the airline for the Tobys Estatebarista job. Within three-and-a-years he had worked in quality control, barista training and roasting training.

“It was like a big apprenticeship that you could only dream about,” he says.

He helped Chris get into the industry selling espresso machines. Between them, they spent many long weekends making coffees, toying with beans and machines, until they finally decided to start their own business as roasters.

For a while, they were in business with an entrepreneur who wanted to spread coffee roasting into regional areas. But when that arrangement ended, they were keen to go out on their own, even though they only had $400 in the bank.

The keys to their success, by their own admission: a commitment to excellence, and partnering with businesses that hold that same philosophy.

“We’ve never been willing to settle for mediocre, or what we believe is mediocre,” Ben says of the roasting process.“We are always chasing better. I think that persistence is making a huge difference for us.”

Glee’s wholesale manager Jesse Milani is called into our interview to explain how he viewsthe characteristics of theirblend.“What is amazing aboutour coffee, the houseblend in particular, it tastes really fruity in black coffees, which you are looking for in blackcoffees, but then reallycaramelly and chocolately in milk coffees,” Milani explains.

The Gleesonsdedication to coffee, chasing the perfect blend, is clear.“It is a very veryfine line between the right amount of acidity, the right amount of body, the rightamount of sweetness, the right amount of complexity of flavours,” Chris says.,“We really ride that fine line Ibelieve in the middle where we can get the best of both worldswith that blend.”

While they acknowledge the current global trend toward the“metrics” of making coffee–exact measurements, temperatures, even robotics, they both believe the people factor is vital at the front line where baristas can make or break a good coffee.

“At the moment, a lot of baristas are not being educated in being engaged with their senses, like being educated to use your nose, educated to use your eyes,” Chris says.

As for making a good cup of coffee, it’s a simple concept the way Ben breaks it down.

“You’ve got three things you must understand,” he says.“If any of the three aren’t right, you’re in trouble. If you have all three working well, your coffee will taste exceptional.The coffee product must be good. The barista must be good. And the equipment mustbe of high quality.”

That’s it, straight from the Glee bible.

It would not be an overstatement to say the brothers have made more than half a million cups of coffee. And they have been training baristas for years–Ben has evenwrittenmanuals on how to be a barista.

“For us, we like to train a baristain the why–why we do every process,” Ben says“So if you jump into a different scenario -if the grinder changes, or the coffee changes, you’re not thrown because you know the why behind the process, so you can quickly navigate your way to a good product. It’s understanding.

“And that really helps, it makes a big difference.”

Hooper immense as Waratahs overcome Reds in spiteful derby

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Daryl Gibson may not have to vacate his chair for Alan Jones just yet.

For the seventh time in a row, the Waratahs have won the interstate clash with the Queensland Reds, this time in an ill-tempered affair at Suncorp Stadium.

It may well have kick-started their season, at long last.

Bernard Foley kicked his team to victory. With the Reds smashed 16-5 on the penalty count, Foley (19 points) made them pay, booting four of his six penalties in the second to add to a pair of conversions.

The Reds scored four tries to two, but they lost Izzy Perese on the stroke of half-time when he was shown a yellow card. Poor discipline would be the flavour of the evening, although the officials were roundly booed off the field by the 18,781-strong crowd.

Bad sports up north? Not really, because the night had a decent, old-school feel from the start. It was an entertaining match, spiteful at times, before eventually being bogged down by the whistle. The code needed some emotion and finally got some.

George Smith was immense for the Reds, as was Michael Hooper for the Tahs. After the debacle against the Kings, he needed to lead from the front and did so, producing a number of match-turning plays that proved crucial in the wash-up.

Karmichael Hunt ended the night limping but was involved in everything. With Israel Folau well contained again, there are more than a few suggesting he should strongly be considered for Wallaby fullback.

The Waratahs certainly started like they meant business. They won a penalty in almost record time, attacked the Reds line with crisp passing and strong running lines and should have been ahead 3-0 if not for a surprise penalty miss from Foley. It was his only blemish.

A mistake from Rob Horne would gift the Reds quality ball in an even better spot. Scott Higginbotham would brush off Hooper at the ruck and scoop it inside for Hunt, who was untouched to set up a 7-0 lead.

The Reds were opening up the Tahs with worrying ease, offloading in the tackle and starting to put NSW on the back foot. The Waratahs needed to find and they did with some spirited attack of their own.

Passes started sticking and they went 70 metres, side to side, before Nick Phipps lunged at the line and claimed the try as he burrowed through tackles, locking the scores at 7-7 after 20 minutes.

The Reds sparked back into action as Lukhan Tui thundered over, backing up Hunt who was once again instrumental.

Quade Cooper’s miss left it at 12-7 but he made up soon after, pouncing on the intercept, running 50 metres then putting the left-foot grubber in for Perese, who finished for the 19-7 lead after 32 minutes.

A Foley penalty reduced the deficit to nine but the visitors needed more than the occasional penalty to get them back in the mix. Stand up Hooper, who came up with huge plays at both ends to put the Tahs right back in the hunt.

His turnover on Samu Kerevi might have stopped a try, before he ran a sensational line to score under the posts. And when Perese was given a yellow card on the stroke of half-time for attacking the man in the air, the tide began to turn.

Queensland’s 19-17 quickly turned into a 20-19 lead for NSW as Foley bagged an early penalty, only for Stephen Moore to score his first try since returning to the Reds (his last was in 2006) when the home side powered over with the rolling maul.

By now, the penalty count was hugely worry for Queensland, with the tally at 11-4 to NSW as the Waratahs did their utmost to respond. Foley found his range from 40m out to make it 26-23 as the Reds struggled to stay on the right side of the referee.

Again, Foley would strike. With their 15th penalty of the night, the Tahs playmaker levelled scores at 26 to set up a nail-biting final eight minutes of play. And with their 16th, Foley would nail the coffin shut.

Ski website founder Richard Tribe the debut speaker in the University of Newcastle’s Startup Stories series

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Stayer: Web entrepreneur Richard Tribe will be the debut speaker at Three76 Hub’s Startup Stories series. Picture: Simone de PeakRICHARD Tribe was managing a ski shop in his home town of Newcastle in the mid-90s when a customer came in saying it was high time ski reports went online.

“In those days, the only way to get a snow report was on NBN and it was a grab, and we used to sticky tape faxes from ski resorts to the shop window,” says Mr Tribe.

Ergo he and the customer, Ian Dunlop, later joined by Peter Bradica, started ski苏州夜网.au, which has maintained its ranking as the number one trafficked snow sport website since its launch in 1995.

Mr Tribe, who went on to create and install the nation’s first web-cam network and help pioneer website monetisation, is the first speaker in the University of Newcastle’s Startup Stories.

The free Thursday lunchtimeseries has been developed by the university’s Three76 Hub to provide a platform for students and entrepreneurs to hear real-life examples of the different stages of the start-up journey.

For Mr Tribe, 51, it will be a chance to offer advice and reflect upon his lengthy experience online –these days he is a sought-after UX (user experience) consultant.

“I’m an also ran, there’s no glorious story, I’m just a stayer and I’ve made a career of it,” he says dryly of his longevity in the web space.

Mr Tribe says while most startups crash and burn, the upside is they gain 10 years’ experience in a fifth of the time and can transfer skills into other professions.

“Everybody has stars in their eyes that their ideas will fly and they will have a million dollars in equity and funky offices but most of those ideas flare out and are gone in two years,” he says, adding that success hinges on stubborness and passion.

Mr Tribe says Newcastle is“two steps forward and one step backward” in the start-up space: there are more techmillennial graduates than ever, but they are flockingto Sydney and abroad.

Running from 1pm-2pm, Startup Stories begins on Thursday May 18 at the newly renovated Three76 Hub on Hunter Street, which leases office spaceand desks to students and entrepreneurs.

To register for the Startup Stories, go to Event Brite.

Vixens confirm top spot, flag favouritism

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Super Netball, round 10: Melbourne Vixens 71 (Kumwenda 40, Philip 31) d Sunshine Coast Lightning 59 (Bassett 41, Wood 18) at Margaret Court Arena. Match MVP: Mwai Kumwenda

For all the disquiet surrounding the entry of privately-owned teams to the new Super Netball competition, the noise being made by the Melbourne Vixens continues to silence all those who had questioned the readiness of the proud establishment-owned club. After 10 rounds, the Vixens have skipped a game clear. They are premiership favourites. Go on. Say it loudly.

The Vixens’ seventh consecutive win came 70-59 in the table-topping clash with the Sunshine Coast Lightning at Margaret Court Arena on Saturday night, their second score of 70 or above reversing the six-goal away result in two. Boasting identical 7-1-1 records, less that one percentage point had separated the two leading teams coming in; Melbourne departs with a two-point buffer that the Giants can close to one on Sunday.

Coach Simone McKinnis rated the performance the best of her team’s season. “For that consistency across the game, at a high standard, I think that’s as good as we’ve done,” she said. “The quality of play I thought was really good from start to finish. [Against] a really good opponent. I’m really pleased, and just very proud of them.”

In what the statisticians had billed as the highest-scoring team in the competition against the stingiest on defence, the Vixens started exceptionally well, a 20-goal first quarter both slick and sure. The 38-goal first half was their most prolific so far, Lightning coach Noeline Taurua having used nine of her 10 players eight minutes into the second term, but an eight-goal deficit soon after was never cut to less than four for the balance of the game.

Malawian sensation Mwai Kumwenda finishing with a perfect 40 from 40 shooting record as her partner Tegan Philip nailed 30 of 33 to continue a collaboration without peer in their first season together.

Liz Watson (26 goal assists) and Kate Moloney again excelled in the midcourt, and circle defenders Jo Weston and Emily Mannix kept Diamonds pair Caitlin Bassett and Steph Wood to a manageable total with the help of Chloe Watson and others exerting pressure from further up the court in a team defensive effort the coach considered much-improved.

While former Vixens Geva Mentor and Kelsey Browne were wearing their new colours, the off-season recruiting decisions endorsed by McKinnis are looking wiser by the week. Her faith in talented young circle duo of Jo Weston and Emily Mannix is being rewarded, while the shuffled midcourt has lost little for the departure of playmaker Madi Robinson.

The importance of Kumwenda and Philip has also been criticial to the Vixens’ success, considering the attacking challenges of a 2016 season in which their scoring duties had been split between the inconsistent Karyn Bailey and rookies Alice Teague-Neeld and Emma Ryde after Philip was ruptured her ACL just weeks before the opening round.

In contrast, the Kumwenda-Philip partnership has thrived since setting the tone on opening night against the Magpies, marvellously accurate while sharing the load and a growing understanding. Philip has never played better, or been more confident on the shot; Kumwenda is the wildcard, her tricks, flair and elevation providing an air of athletic unpredictability that even the likes of Mentor struggle to stop.

“There’s two shooters there, quality, that can shoot, that are tough, want the ball, want to put it up,” said McKinnis, who said Kumwenda had brought fierce competitiveness to the team. “I love that, and you wouldn’t know it, but she gets so nervous before a game and I’m just ‘oh, MJ, you’re just brilliant’. She’s just naturally so competitive, she loves the team, we all love her and it’s just been really special having her in the group.”

Rarely more so than on Saturday, as finals loom, but are not discussed, amid smiles, big ones, and obvious satisfaction from McKinnis and co. “We’ve spoken in terms of consolidating our position; we spoke before the game, it’s like ‘hey, we’ve won six games in a row, why not seven?’, because the opportunity’s there and we quite enjoy being on top,” she said.

“But in terms of the finals, it’s not that we purposely don’t think about it, we’re just thinking about each game … But they do have that belief and that has been there right from the word go.”

Advertising feature: Peter Drayton Wines launches microbrewery

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Tuck in: Visit Ironbark Hill microbrewery to enjoy a refreshing craft beer, tasty food and the beauty of the Vineyards.

If the notion of sitting back among the picturesque vineyards tucking into home-made pizza leaves you thirsting for a refreshing pale ale, then look no further than Ironbark Hill.

This latest microbrewery to explode onto the Hunter Vine-scene is the brain-child of Peter Drayton, best known for hislong established Winery, Peter Drayton Wineson Pokolbin’s Hermitage Road.

Having produced great tasting red varietals, whites and sparkling blendsfor the last 16 years, Peter Drayton Wines have added yet another dimension to their already popular winery.

In addition to the well established function room, villa accommodation and exclusive wedding chapel at the Vineyard, they began their first foray into the microbrewery industrywith the launch of Ironbark Hill in late April.

“We appreciate that noteveryone drinks wine, so we’re really giving our customers the chance to come along in small or large groups and know that both beer and wine drinkers will be catered for with some exceptional quality in either,” said wine producer and owner, Peter Drayton.

Nestled far enough away from the usual haunts of wine tours and the inevitable crowds, yet close enough to easily reach, Ironbark Hill offers all the beauty of the vineyards with all the cool of craft beer.

“Much of our appeal is that we are situated slightly away from the usual tourist wine-trails.

“Customers can really settle in and enjoy a relaxing atmosphere while they’re here and take their time to taste or enjoy drinks with friends and family in their own time,”

With 10 types of beer on offer, all interestingly made from rainwater andproduced on site and 6 brews on tap to choose from, the industrial inspired microbrewery offers tastings daily and serves a great range of day time food from Thursday to Sunday.

While Ironbark Hill has already released some of its beers to pubs in the region,the microbrewery opened it’s own doors just last week, showcasing its already popular fruity Summer Ale, a Pilsner, Pale Ale and an Indian Ale to name but a few.

There’s even an apple cider and pear cider to try if something a little sweeter tickles your taste-buds.

Whether you’re after a beer garden style experience that allows the kids to let off steam and run in the fresh air, or prefer an indoor spot taking in the ‘engine room’ of brewing, Ironbark Hill can cater for everyone.

Groups of ten or more are best to book ahead.

Tastings run daily from 10am to 5pm and between 11am and 4pm on Sundays and Mondays.

A great pub-style menu is also available on Thursday, Fridays and the weekends.

Ironbark Hill Vineyard can be found at 694 Hermitage Road, Polkobin.

Cheers: Customers are already being wowed by the quality craft beer on offer and the cool industrial vibe of Ironbark Hill.

Rain or shine: Whatever the weather there’s a great spot to enjoy at Ironbark Hill.

Jarrod Mullen banned for four years over steroid use

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Jarrod Mullen banned for four years Mathew Gidley addresses the media after Jarrod Mullen is stood down over a positive steroid test. Picture: Brodie Owen

Mathew Gidley addresses the media after Jarrod Mullen is stood down over a positive steroid test. Picture: Brodie Owen

TweetFacebookJarrod Mullen’s NRL career is all but over after the Newcastle Knights veteran was suspended for four years for doping offences.

The governing body on Wednesday rubbed out the one-time NSW Origin playmaker until 2021 after he was found guilty of taking banned steroid Drostanolone by the NRL’s anti-doping authority.

The 30-year-old has 21 days to appeal the decision and take the NRL to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Mullen delivered a positive result for Drostanolone after a routine swab test during pre-season training last year.

In March, the Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) recommended Mullen be banned for four years however he chose not to accept the punishment and appealed to the NRL anti-doping tribunal.

He pleaded for leniency, arguing he was not attempting to gain a competitive advantage but was hoping to repair his body after suffering a second serious hamstring injury in a year.

Mullen, who played 211 games for the Knights since debuting in 2005, was provisionally suspended on January 17.

On Wednesday he was suspended after the anti-doping tribunal, chaired by former High Court judge Ian Callinan, found he had violated the game’s anti-doping policy.

“As we have said all along, this has been a disappointing matter for all parties,’’ Knights chief executive Matt Gidley said.

‘‘We wish to reiterate this matter took place independently of the club.”

He acknowledged Mullen’s talent.

‘‘It is important to acknowledge Jarrod made a significant contribution to the club over a long period of time and that adds to the disappointment in how he now departs the club,” he said.

ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt said Mullen had paid a high price for his error.

‘‘ASADA will continue to work to protect those athletes who make the right decisions when it comes to injury treatment and rehabilitation,” he said.‘‘Ultimately, Mr Mullen has paid a heavy price for his poor decision making.’’

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg previously said he was saddened by Mullen’s drugs saga.

“Anyone who loses a career, it’s disappointing for them, and ultimately disappointing for the game. But there are always consequences for poor decisions,” he said.