NHRU: Maitland milestone man Nick Davidson to produce the goods

TON OF FUN: Rugged No.8 will notch his 100th first grade game when the Blacks host Southern Beaches at Marcellin Park on Saturday. Picture: Marina Neil
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MAITLAND coach Mick Hickling expects milestone man Nick Davidson to“have a red hot go” against Southern Beaches at Marcellin Park on Saturday.

It wouldn’t matter if it was the No.8’s first or, as it is, his 100thfirst grade game.That is the way he plays. Fullstop.

“Davo is a pretty unique individual,” Hickling said.“He is driven to have a red hot go no matter the circumstance. I’m sure he will have a big game tomorrow. He always has a big game.”

Davidson made his debut aged 19 in 2009. Playing alongside Hickling and Adam Perkins, he was like a bull-at-a-gate. Little has changed, except the bull has grownbigger and stronger.

A regular in the Newcastle representative team before work commitments intervened, the born-and-bred Blackwas awarded the Anderson Medal last year.

Hickling, who instigateda move toNo.8 this season, believes Davidson has surpassed the lofty heights of 2015.

“He has added bits to his arsenal, “Hickling said. “He hasmore confidence in his passing game at the line and is playing really well.”

The Blacks need Davidson and the rest of the pack to fire as they attempt to end a run of heavy defeats, going downto Hamilton (45-8) and The Waratahs (45-15).

“You can cop a loss when you play well and get beaten by a better team,” Hickling said. “We haven’treally shown are wares, particularly last week. Our pillar defence was poor. Three or four times they got us through the ruck. The effort was there but our spacing and the waywe defend in certain parts of the field wasoff. We haveaddressed it at training and have a few focus areas this week with the ball and without the ball.”

Southern Beaches have won three of the past four games and sit four points behind the Blacks.

Adrian Delore shifts to halfback for his last game before heading to Wales with the Australian side for the World University Sevens.

In other games on Saturday,Hamilton will be without five NSW Country representatives when they host a resurgent Lake Macquarie at Passmore Oval.

League convertHowie Grant makes his first grade debut at centre for Wanderers against Singleton at No.2 Sportsground.

The Waratahs will be out to hit back from their22-20 loss to Merewether midweek against University at Uni No.1 Oval.

BreakawayJosh Stewart (hamstring) is out of the Greens’ clash with Nelson Bay at Townson Oval but coach Stacey Sykes expects him back in a fortnight.

Lawyers call for women barristers to be briefed in 30 per cent of cases by 2020

Australian Bar Association president Fiona McLeod, SC, says the bar is among the worst professions for unequal pay. Photo: Roger Cummins Australia’s peak lawyer group is calling on government agencies and company lawyers to raise the number of women barristers they brief to represent them in court to narrow the gender gap at the bar.
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The Law Council of Australia will on Friday unveil its “equitable briefing” policy, which for the first time sets a national target that aims for women barristers to be briefed in at least 30 per cent of all matters, and paid 30 per cent of all brief fees by 2020.

One of Australia’s most senior female barristers, Fiona McLeod, SC, said the bar was among the worst professions for unequal pay, due in part to the lack of opportunities for women to work on more expensive cases, despite their experience.

Ms McLeod said that the same pool of barristers may be being briefed out of “habit”, while unconscious bias also played a role.

“I think there’s also an element of expectation that court work requires machismo, that the warrior has a traditional male figure and even if they’re unconscious expectations, that’s influencing briefing decisions.”

While many more women graduated from law schools than men, she said they made up a minority of barristers, spent fewer hours in court and were paid less in fees.

“We want women barristers to be considered based on their skill, experience, expertise, and interest,” Ms McLeod, the Council’s president-elect said. “But for that to happen we need to promote a cultural shift, and that means encouraging participants to seek out women barristers appropriate for the relevant matter.

“If we want our best and brightest law graduates to be attracted to a career as a barrister, we need to start showing young women such a career is possible.”

The Council stressed in its policy document that the target was not a quota. Those who adopted it would be publicly named, but only obliged to provide confidential reports to the Council about their progress towards the 30 per cent target every year.

The initial target – 20 per cent of all matters and 20 per cent of all fees by 2018 – was slightly higher than the combined current number of senior counsel who are women – 10 per cent – and women who have been at the bar for more than a decade.

Top-tier law firm Allens has already committed to the voluntary target, with the council to invite government and in-house corporate lawyers to sign on.

Allens partner Ross Drinnan denied there was an unconscious bias in briefing or that women were being held back. While there were fewer women barristers in corporate law, he said there was a greater proportion of women who were regularly briefed in family, public and criminal law.

“We want to ensure [women] have the maximum opportunity to be briefed in the best work available if they are qualified and the most suitably experienced candidate for the job.”

Mr Drinnan is also the chairman of Law Firms Australia, which represents nine top and mid-tier firms. He said that while all the members supported the policy, it was unclear how many would sign up. Some already had their own diversity programs.

The policy, he said, would establish reliable national data on the gender divide for the first time. Law firms, senior barristers and clients, he said, were all jointly responsible for determining which barristers were selected for cases.

It follows Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ vow last year to choose women for at least half of all the state’s judicial and government board appointments until 2018.

Sam Neill slams Australia’s offshore ‘concentration camps’

Sam Neill may sprinkle most of what he says with humour, but he is in deadly earnest when talking politics. Photo: Steven Siewert Actor Sam Neill at Sake Restaurant in Double Bay. Photo: Steven Siewert
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Dumplings at Sake. Photo: Steven Siewert

Brussels sprouts at Sake Photo: Steven Siewert

Sam Neill has the charmer’s way of remembering your name and using it often. Like when I take an edamame pod and accidentally drop the empty shell back in the food bowl rather than in the one for scraps. “You’re forgiven, Karl,” he says, the eyes twinkling, the smile crinkling through the grey beard.

It’s cold outside, and he’s wearing a black woollen overcoat; perhaps unwisely, he trimmed his facial hair this morning while wearing it. “It’s turned what’s a rather nice jacket into a sort of homeless jacket,” he says, picking at a stray follicle or two.

Like much of what he says, the observation is delivered wryly, with just a hint of mischief. It’s as if he has the inside word on a very funny joke that he’s giving serious thought to letting me in on. Oh please, Sam. Go on.

We’ve met for lunch at Sake, a Japanese restaurant in Double Bay that has just opened a sister venue in Melbourne on Flinders Lane (to add to the one beneath Hamer Hall). It’s been picked by an intermediary rather than either of us, but it’s an apposite venue: his wife is Japanese, and he’s a big fan of Japanese food, though she rarely cooks it at home.

“I have to take her out and lavish money on her at expensive places like this,” he says.

Today, we’ve ordered fairly simply: a selection of sashimi and dumplings, with a side of brussels sprouts.

“How good is that,” he says as a long plate of toro (tuna belly), kingfish, scallop and eel atop little mounds of rice is laid down in front of us. “One of the things I love about Japan is that extraordinary craftsmanship that goes with the food. It’s that 10-year apprenticeship spent getting the rice right before you get to put a single bit of fish on it. That extraordinary devotion they have to excellence.”

He likes the idea of the sensei, the master, “someone who is revered. My mother-in-law is always called ‘sensei’, and she’s a hairdresser. She’s also a sensei in traditional Japanese kimono and all that stuff they do with their hair. I call her sensei too. Sometimes. It’s important to respect your mother-in-law.”

Neill has a place in Sydney not far from where we’re dining. He’s had a home here since he first arrived in Australia in the late 1970s, a 30-year-old director of half a dozen documentaries – “not very good ones,” he says – and star of exactly one feature film.

Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs was the first New Zealand feature made in colour, and the first of any stripe in 17 years. “There was no film industry, virtually no television,” Neill says. “There was no possibility of making a living as an actor in New Zealand at that time.”

Soon after he arrived in Sydney he auditioned for, and won the male lead in, My Brilliant Career. “I couldn’t believe my luck – I was working in Australia on a real film, where people had made films before. It was a real wave of Australian culture and I was right in the middle of it, bodysurfing along with everyone else.” Forty years on, he says, “I still can’t believe I’m actually making a living as an actor”.

The friendships he made back then have stood the test of time – he’s just spent the weekend on Bryan Brown’s farm, and shows me a photo on his phone of a massive huntsman spider to prove it. “I love getting on planes, I love going somewhere new, but I’m really comfortable working in Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “I get to work with lots of friends here.”

With old mate Bryan Brown in the ABC TV series Old School.

In addition to the Sydney home, he has a number of properties in Queenstown, where he makes some acclaimed wines under the Two Paddocks label, has an organic fruit orchard, grows saffron and has just pressed his first batch of olive oil.

That’s a lot of bills to pay; do you ever take jobs just for the pay cheque?

“Robert Mitchum used to maintain that he never worried about the script – it was the money and where he was shooting,” he says. “‘St Tropez and a couple of mill? I’m your man’. I think he was underselling himself.

“I don’t think anyone does it just for the money. Sometimes you’ll do a job for f— all money. Wilderpeople was that sort of job. It was such a pleasure to do it that I would have done it for nothing, really.” He pauses. “But I don’t want to set a precedent here.”

In Hunt For the Wilderpeople, Neill plays Uncle Hector, a curmudgeonly old bushman who forms an unlikely bond with Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), the foster child sent from the city to live with him and his wife Bella (Rima Te Wiata) in the middle of nowhere. When she dies, and the authorities try to send Ricky to juvie, the pair go on the lam.

Taika Waititi’s film has become the biggest home-grown box-office hit in New Zealand history (eclipsing his own Boy, which now sits in second place). In Australia, it has already taken more than $4.5 million. It did better on its second weekend than its first, which is almost unheard of. It did better again on its third than its second, which is even rarer.

The film is based on a book by New Zealand author Barry Crump, Wild Pork and Watercress. “People my age were raised on Barry Crump,” Neill says. “He loved drinking, loved being in a pub, loved telling stories. Hector is definitely based on him, but I don’t think he’s got any stories – and if he had, he wouldn’t tell you.”

Hector is a dour bushman with a heart of gold, though it takes a while to detect a heart of any sort at all. He’s the still centre of a film that frequently teeters on the edge of utter, delirious chaos.

As Hector in Hunt For the Wilderpeople.

“I never really saw this film as a comedy,” Neill says. “I knew it would be funny but there’s too much poignancy and sadness for it to be entirely a comedy. These are damaged people. Everyone else could be funny, my job was to keep it real.”

Besides, according to one review he read recently, the last time Sam Neill was funny was in Death in Brunswick – and that was in 1990.

“Jesus, it’s a long time between drinks,” he says in mock outrage. “That’s 25 f—ing years and I haven’t had a laugh since.”

Speaking of drinks, do you think of yourself these days more as an actor who makes wine or as a winemaker who acts?

“The catch with doing two things is that people think you’re not quite serious about either of them,” he says, the twinkle and the crinkle working overtime. “But trust me, Karl, I am deadly serious about acting, I am deadly serious about winemaking, and I am more than deadly serious about myself.”

He’s been making wine for 23 years now, and he’s bursting with delight at the news that he’s just got a 97 for his top-line pinot noir. He describes himself as a farmer. “I’m no good at tools,” he says, “but I can grow things”.

I take him at his word on the wine and the acting, though I’m not sure how seriously Sam Neill really takes himself. But when it comes to politicians pandering to our worst instincts, he is deadly earnest indeed.

He describes as “utterly shameful” the support of both major parties in Australia for the “terrible incarceration in offshore concentration camps” of asylum seekers, though he wonders if, as a non-citizen, he even has the right to speak up. Then again, “any time I see the race card being played I start to see red”.

He publicly backed former Labor prime minister Helen Clark because “she stood for a New Zealand that was inclusive rather than exclusive, and I gave my family as being an exemplar of that. We’re Asian, we’re Maori, that’s how New Zealand is now. And I refuse to be divided.

“I hate borders. I hate walls between people,” he continues, warming to the theme. “Donald Trump wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico – what f—ing madness is that? Tear down the walls!”

For once there’s no twinkle in his eye. But there’s plenty of charm in that all the same.

Karl Quinn is on Facebook and on twitter @karlkwinThe bill, please


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Wimbledon 2016: Sam Stosur returns to where the grass is not always greener

The fact that Sam Stosur does not experience the same feelings when she first passes through the iron gates of the All England Club as she does during her annual expedition to Roland Garros is not to say that her least-successful grand slam does not hold some happy memories. Three times a doubles finalist, and twice a champion in the mixed, two of Stosur’s best three Wimbledon singles results have come in the past three years.
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Never, though, has she passed the third round, which is evidence of how much more difficult Australia’s highest-ranked player has found the grasscourt major than the clay – or US hardcourt – varieties. In Paris, for example, her recent, career-reviving run to a fourth French Open semi-final has also restored Stosur to the relative comfort of the top 20, and a top-16 seeding next week on the south-west London lawns.

“For whatever reason it hasn’t quite happened [for me] at Wimbledon, but I don’t think it’s been a disaster by any means,” says Stosur, who limited her preparation to the traditional lead-up week at Eastbourne – the scene of, historically, her best results on grass, but this time a 6-2, 6-1 thrashing from Caroline Wozniacki.

“I just find it harder. And that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately it happens at a really big tournament where Australia’s had a great history, and there’s a lot of emphasis on Wimbledon. So it’s easy to kind of get hung-up and think things have been a lot worse than maybe what they are.”

Still, the silver lining in the clouds that so often hover over Wimbledon during the famous fortnight is that, at least relatively, expectations are low. From an Australian perspective, most eyes – including the bleary ones conducting late-night TV vigils a hemisphere away – will be trained on former quarter-finalists Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. Which suits Stosur perfectly well.

If only the grass did. The lower bounce does not help her topspin-heavy game, or the wide kick serve with which she likes to set up points for her big forehands to finish off. She has struggled with her movement at times, too, and admits she erred tactically in her early visits by trying to depart too radically from her natural game.

“I don’t serve and volley, really, any other time of the year, and I think I kind of got hung up on trying to do certain things too much that I’m just not as comfortable with,” Stosur says. “Then all of a sudden you’re on a surface that you’re a little more uncomfortable with, trying to play a game style that you’re not quite sure of, and then you end up having some early losses.

“I think as I’ve got older and further along in my career I’ve realised that ‘you know what, you’ve still got to play the way you play well, no matter what surface you’re on’ and I think I’ve been able to have that mentality a lot better the last few years so I want to kind of continue along that line and just really try and enjoy these next couple of weeks.

“It’s really such a short stint of the year, and I’d love to get to the fourth round and get my best results. I think it’s definitely achievable but I’ve almost got to be extra focused and I guess committed to doing certain things maybe a little bit more than even other surfaces, because I can’t do certain things that come very easily, say, on the clay.”

One upside should be the sliced backhand she used to such good effect during a French Open run halted only by eventual champion Garbine Muguruza. Stosur points out that not only is it not something everyone possesses, but nor do opponents necessarily deal with it well. She plans to use it, but not overdo it, mix it into her game, and vary the pace and depth to help gain control of points and, thus, play the way she likes to.

The kick serve, though, she laughingly describes as “a bit irrelevant” on grass, even if her experiences at the pointy end of the doubles and mixed draws has made her aware it can be more useful later in the tournament. “As the court gets older and more worn out it gets harder if there’s a lot of sunshine, so then you can start incorporating it.

“To me it’s a lot harder to play at Wimbledon the first few days when the grass is super green, it’s a bit longer, and it’s harder to move because it’s more slippery, and unfortunately that’s when something like the kick serve can kind of just check-up a little bit; it doesn’t get the height, obviously, so I may have to hit a few more sliced second serves than what I normally would  and try and keep the ball a little bit lower.

“But I think if I can get through that early part where it is a little more difficult, so many times by the end of the tournament when I’ve been playing doubles, I’m playing exactly how I want and everything feels fantastic. But you’ve got to get to that point!”

Trialling a new coach, Fed Cup hitting partner Andrew Roberts, since her long association with David Taylor ended this month, Stosur sneaked back to Australia for eight or nine days after Paris, where she rated her wins over nemesis Lucie Safarova and sixth seed Simona Halep as two of her best matches “for a very long time”.

So next is Wimbledon, another nemesis of sorts. Walking back in to where she has a 10-13 career singles record is not like returning to Roland Garros, where she was the 2012 runner-up, but nor is that necessarily a bad thing. “I still love getting to Wimbledon and it’s got a different feel to it,” says Stosur. “It is exciting and all of that, but I guess I haven’t got the fantastic memories from the singles matches there as I do at Roland Garros.

“But then also if you look at it another way I guess at Roland Garros I really feel like I should be able to do well, and have a result like I did a couple of weeks ago, whereas I’m not walking into Wimbledon thinking ‘oh, far out, I have to make semis or I’m not going to be happy with my results’. I can almost be a little bit more relaxed at Wimbledon in some ways, and just enjoy being there.

“It’s just a couple of tournaments for me for the year on grass, and it’s a bit of a novelty in some ways, but it’s certainly somewhere where I do feel I can play well. Really, there’s no real pressure on me to do great on this surface, it’s just ‘see where you can get to’.”