Menzies joins Fittler in NRL comeback

Manly legend Steve Menzies will join Sydney Roosters great Brad Fittler in a return to rugby league at this weekend’s NRL Auckland Nines.

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The involvement of Fittler, 42, in the Eden Park event was confirmed by the NRL last month and Menzies, 40, will be unveiled as part of the Sea Eagles’ 16-man squad at a promotion on Tuesday.

But fears the short-form tournament will be a haven for returning veterans and lesser-name NRL players have been allayed with the majority of teams naming strong sides for the inaugural event.

Kangaroos prop Andrew Fifita was added to a Cronulla roster containing captain Paul Gallen, Todd Carney and Wade Graham on Monday, after initially being ruled out due to eye surgery.

Captain Robbie Farah will spearhead the Wests Tigers’ Nines campaign with Aaron Woods, Curtis Sironen, David Nofoaluma, Pat Richards, Adam Blair, Marika Koroibete and young gun Mitchell Moses also among those named.

One of the few props likely to play in the tournament, Woods said he didn’t know what to expect.

“I’m looking forward to it but not quite sure what will happen,” he said.

“I’ll just be looking to hold up the middle and stop the little blokes from darting their way through.

“It’s going to be a challenge but it is also going to be a lot of fun.”

Australian winger Brett Morris was named in St George Illawarra’s line-up alongside NSW stars Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin and Kiwi representative Jason Nightingale.

Morris said he was humbled to be named skipper in the absence of Ben Creagh, whose wife recently gave birth.

“It’s really exciting. This is a club I’m proud to play for and it’s a huge honour to be made captain,” Morris told the Dragons’ website.

“It’s going to be a great tournament. It’s a whole new concept and there will be a whole new set of tactics.

“There will be a bit more space out there which should give us smaller blokes a chance to show what we can do with the ball.

“Hopefully the fans will love it.”

However, none of Melbourne’s big three of Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater will play.

The World Cup-winning Kangaroo trio were all left out of coach Craig Bellamy’s squad.

NSW back-rower Ryan Hoffman will captain the Storm side, with stars Will Chambers, Justin O’Neill, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich (emergency 17th man) also included alongside Canterbury recruit Joel Romelo.

Winger Matt Duffie has been included after a successful comeback from knee and shoulder injury in the under-strength Storm’s 20-12 loss to Canberra on Saturday.

Tohu Harris will play his first official game since being bumped out of New Zealand’s World Cup squad by Sonny Bill Williams.

The Nines take place at Eden Park on Saturday and Sunday.

Corby faces freedom in faceless fashion

The saga of convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby has at times resembled a soap opera, and her release from jail – swaddled in cloth to conceal her face – was yet another bizarre episode.

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Corby emerged on Monday from Bali’s Kerobokan Prison nine years after she went in, convicted of smuggling marijuana into the holiday island and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment.

More than 100 police officers turned out to aid her exit from the prison, where scores of shouting, shoving journalists have been camped since news came that the 36-year-old’s release on parole was close.

There was little to report.

Corby said nothing and her face was wrapped in a thin sarong, a black scarf and a white hat, giving the cameras little more than an outline of her visage.

It is believed Corby went to such lengths to remain under wraps to collect the proceeds of an exclusive TV deal with the Seven Network, reportedly worth as much as $3 million.

As a prison van transported Corby to her first stop outside jail, the prosecutor’s office, she was tailed through the narrow streets by dozens of jostling international reporters and photographers, some on mopeds, others in cars.

At the prosecutor’s office, where she was fingerprinted, journalists used cameras on poles to pry into the interview room, with little success.

It was the same for her next trip, to the corrections office, with the trail of desperate media again failing to capture her image.

Even the official in charge of corrections, Ketut Artha, was granted only a glance at Corby’s face.

He complained to reporters that with the media commotion, he wasn’t able to ask all the questions of Corby that he wanted, and she gave short answers anyway.

“I got a chance to ask to see her face and she only opened her cover a bit,” Mr Artha said.

After the truncated interview, where she was reminded of the terms of her parole, private vans were waiting to whisk Corby to a plush spa villa in Seminyak.

She remained there for much of the afternoon, believed to be interviewed by Mike Willesee for Seven’s Sunday Night program.

Mr Artha told AAP later that even though the Kuta home of Corby’s brother-in-law, Wayan Widyartha, was listed as her address for parole, if she didn’t stay there on Monday night it wouldn’t be a breach of her conditions.

“It’s possible that Corby does not stay in Wayan’s house or sleeps somewhere else,” he said.

“The most important thing is that (her location) is still in the Kuta area and any time when we reach her, she’s ready to explain her whereabouts and ready any time if she’s needed.”

In Australia, champagne corks were popping at the Queensland home of Corby’s mother Rosleigh Rose, but she didn’t speak to reporters looking on, raising speculation she also has an exclusive media deal.

Earlier she told the Seven Network: “It was just beautiful to see my beautiful Schapelle come out from those doors.”

Sister Mercedes Corby released a brief statement expressing her gratitude.

“We’ve been waiting almost 10 years for this moment – it’s very emotional for Schapelle and our family. We are all very relieved and happy,” it said.

Centurion curator says pitch will be OK

It’s more green than ethically-sourced, home-grown wheatgrass, but Centurion curator Hilbert Smit says Australia need not worry about the pitch for the first Test against South Africa.

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Some members of the Australian camp were in disbelief when they trained at the venue last week and couldn’t find anything closely resembling a cricket pitch in the middle.

Smit told AAP that while heavy rain threw his schedule out a little bit, the green pitch will be cut back and ready on Wednesday for a five-day contest.

“We had a lot of people here last week saying ‘where is the pitch?! What about these blokes, they haven’t even started preparing it!’,” Smit said.

“The pitch has been pre-prepared if you want to put it that way. It’s been put on hold, and the grass has come back and grown nicely.

“We’re right up to where we want to be; nothing is holding us back. The rain slows up the process of preparing the pitch, but we’ve been preparing this pitch for more than a month.”

Proteas coach Russell Domingo has publicly asked for pace-friendly pitches throughout the three-Test series, which will feature two of the world’s finest pace attacks.

“I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist to say it’s going to have some pretty good bounce and carry,” Australian wicketkeeper Brad Haddin said of the centre strip.

But with days four and five of the Test falling on the weekend when big crowds could attend, Domingo isn’t the only Cricket South Africa employee Smit has to satisfy.

“In this country, everyone pushes us to go as long as possible in a Test,” he said.

“We’ve tried to get a decent cricket pitch. It’s two of the world’s best sides, so you don’t want one session to favour one team so much it decides the game.”

Centurion is South Africa’s fortress.

In 18 Tests there, they have lost just once – a highly controversial defeat to England in 2000 in which both sides forfeited an innings at the suggestion of then Proteas skipper Hansie Cronje.

Smit suggested he could not take credit for the home team’s incredible record.

“It’s not like we’re preparing them a pitch that suits all the time,” he said.

“They’ve played on flat decks, on friendly decks, lots of different decks and they’ve always won.

“It’s a question we’ve all been asking, and nobody has an answer yet.”

Shorten greets Griffith election ‘victor’

School is back for federal Labor MPs and there’s a new kid in class: Terri Butler.

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Ms Butler received a rousing welcome as she accompanied Opposition Leader Bill Shorten into the caucus meeting on Monday, where he introduced her as the member-elect for Griffith two days after the by-election in Kevin Rudd’s vacated seat.

Her main rival Liberal National Party candidate Bill Glasson has not conceded defeat but admits Ms Butler is likely to hold the seat.

Mr Shorten noted Ms Butler had only been preselected a week before Christmas and she’d had a steep learning curve.

“With Terri Butler we’ve just increased our firepower and we’ll hold this mob to account,” he told the caucus meeting, to cheers.

“Terri Butler’s values, her dedication of her whole working life to standing up for working people … will be skills and values that we will appreciate and the nation’s parliament will appreciate.”

Mr Shorten also pre-empted Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s expected announcement of a royal commission into unions, tying it to attacks on workers and their conditions as SPC Ardmona.

“When 54,000 people have lost their jobs in the last 12 months … why is it the Abbott government can find $100 million-plus to pursue a political stunt but it can’t spend $25 million to save thousands of jobs in the Goulburn valley?” Mr Shorten asked.

Labor MPs responded with cries of “shame”.

Mr Shorten said the government finished 2013 poorly and now had started the new year “back to the future, trying to run negative campaigns more suited to the 1980s than 2014”.

“This nation can engage in a race to the top or a race to the bottom,” he said.

“We can choose to be a smarter nation or a poorer nation.

“This will be the year when Labor will take the fight up to the government.”

Seven refuses to confirm Corby deal

The Seven Network is refusing to confirm reports that it has a struck a multi-million media deal for an exclusive interview with drug smuggler Schapelle Corby.

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Corby was granted parole on Monday after more than nine years in an Indonesian prison for trying to smuggle more than 4kg of marijuana into Bali.

However, on Monday Corby covered herself from head to foot, in a style reminiscent of the way the late popstar Michael Jackson would shroud his children to make it difficult for them to be photographed.

It’s believed Corby went to great lengths to cover her face and body in order to protect a media deal with Seven, estimated to be worth between $1.5 and $3 million.

The agreement is believed to embrace an exclusive interview with Seven’s current affair show Sunday Night, plus a magazine photo-shoot and interview with one of the network’s affiliated magazines.

Despite several requests for Seven to confirm or deny speculation about the deal, on early Monday evening the network was still refusing to comment.

Seven seems to be both fuelling the rumours and keeping some of its own network in the dark. Seven’s Brisbane nightly news service was reporting: “There’s strong speculation Seven’s Sunday Night program has secured an exclusive interview with Schapelle Corby but that has yet to be confirmed.”

Veteran Aussie journalist Mike Willesee appears to have scored the interview for Sunday Night.

Willesee has been spotted in Bali following Corby’s every movement since her release on Monday morning.

After a frenetic few hours surrounded and chased by press following her release on Monday morning from Bali’s Kerokoban prison, Corby was taken to the luxury Sentosa Seminyak hotel.

The Nine Network will re-screen the telemovie Schapelle on Monday night, to follow a news special on Corby’s release from an Indonesian jail.

The arrest, trial and conviction were the centrepiece of the telemovie Schapelle, which aired on Sunday night and attracted more than a million viewers.

The drama had originally been scheduled to first screen on Monday, but Nine pulled it forward by a day.

Nine will broadcast the news special, Schapelle: Finally Free, at 8.40pm on Monday, and follow it at 9.40pm with a repeat of the telemovie.