Black Diamond AFL: Maitland, Singleton, Wyong, Gosford and Lake Macquarie set for promotion in 2018

UP: Maitland pair Dave Ross and Wade Beard hold aloft this year’s first-division trophy. Picture: Michael HartshornThe Black Diamond AFL will almost double in size next year if a proposal to promote five first-division teams gets passed during the off-season.

Maitland, Singleton, Wyong, Gosford and Lake Macquarie could all be on the up in 2018 following discussions at Sunday’s annual general meeting.

Around 35 people were in attendance at Belmont 16s withfirst grade expansion, player points systemandAFL NSW-ACT affiliation on the agenda.

The current six-team competition features premiers Terrigal-Avoca, grand finalists Cardiff, perennial powerhouse Newcastle City, Nelson Bay, Warners Bay and Killarney Vale.

Black Diamond AFL president Wal Bembic said officials have been working towards thisgrowth throughoutrecent campaigns with a tailored draw designed to help the cause.

“Certainly the idea of all the changes over the last few years has been to expand the Black Diamond Cup competition,” Bembic said.

“We’ve got six teams and previously we’ve had teams come up for a year or two, but next year we hope to have five sides come up and while it is a big step up we would have a seeded competition.

“Those five new teams will play each other twiceand they’ll play the existing six teams once. Theexisting six teams will play each other twice and they’ll play the new five teams once.

“So it’s a bit of a soft landing, but clubs get the opportunity to play the best and also play the most games against the sides at their own level.”

Maitland and Singleton played in this year’s first-division grand final, Wyong were minor premiers while Gosford and Lake Macquarie both missed the semis.

The potential introduction of a playerpoints system, including a recruitment cap, may also ease that transition.

“The idea being to enable new clubs who come to the Black Diamond to recruit as many players as they canand the top teams every year would be limited in their recruitment,” Bembic said.

Player sign-on restrictions imposed on Newcastle City and Terrigal Avoca for2017 have now been lifted.

Bembic said next year’slower grades would depend on nominations but a three-tier structure has been put forward.

Also proposed – ashort-term masters tournament and the emergence of Wallsend and Port Stephens in the women’s competition.

All clubs have until next Friday (November 17) to respond to the outlined changesbefore the Black Diamond AFL board meets again on November 29.

Bembic said the Black Diamond’s affiliation with NSW-ACT AFL next season is uncertain.

Meanwhile, Warners Bay product Paul Hunter has been retained on the rookie list of beaten AFL grand finalists the Adelaide Crows.

China’s health watchdog accused of ‘too close’ relationship with industry

‘s drug and medical device watchdog, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, needs a complete overhaul to distance it from the health industry and allow consumers to sue it for negligence, say academics and consumer advocates after the regulator quietly announced moves to classify all pelvic mesh devices high risk after years of controversy.

“The current regulatory framework is a complete bypass of the interests of consumers. They don’t have a stake at the table,” said University of Canberra academic Wendy Bonython, after the TGA said the new classification would mean “higher evidentiary requirements” before new devices are approved for use in , and for existing approved devices.

The move comes more than a decade after many pelvic mesh devices were cleared for use by the TGA with little or no independent evidence of safety and efficacy.

The announcement on the TGA’s website on October 26 also follows evidence at a Senate inquiry about the devastating and permanent consequences of mesh surgery for thousands of n women, and a class action by women against mesh manufacturer Johnson & Johnson.

Dr Bonython and University of Canberra associate professor Bruce Arnold told the Senate inquiry the TGA’s “industry-funded model of regulation” raises questions about the regulator’s independence in the wake of a string of device scandals, including pelvic mesh, joint prostheses, breast and contraceptive implants, cardiac stents and pacemakers.

The failures indicate “systemic weaknesses in the prevention of and response to foreseeable harms”, with the “enormous” cost borne by individuals and the broader community, they said.

“Trying to run a regulator on a shoestring, particularly a medical device regulator, is a bit of a false economy because if we’re not investing in the regulator, chances are we’re going to be subsidising its failures through things like the National Disability Insurance Scheme or Medicare, or lack of productivity,” Dr Bonython said.

“There needs to be a clear break between the regulator and the parties they’re trying to regulate.”

The two academics called on the Senate inquiry to investigate legislated indemnity provisions that protect the TGA from being sued for negligent performance of its regulatory functions.

“The TGA can’t be sued for negligence. It doesn’t matter how negligent the regulator, it can get away with it, which is problematic because it removes any incentive towards carefulness,” Dr Bonython said.

There was a “lack of political will” to make hard decisions to protect consumers, she said.

“We’ve been writing about this since 2010. In that time we’ve seen a number of device scandals, inquiries, class actions, but we haven’t actually seen much in the way of meaningful action on the floor of parliament. This is looking like a recurring pattern. Why are we getting so many dodgy implants?”

The medical profession’s “fair degree of lobbying power” and pharmaceutical companies as “big ticket players in the economy” were issues when it came to consumer protections, she said.

In evidence to the Senate inquiry, Dr Bonython said the TGA’s approval of some devices, including pelvic mesh devices, on the basis of post-market monitoring was “problematic”.

“At the very least it needs to be flagged as an experimental device until such time as there is a sufficient body of evidence indicating that it’s safe to use,” Dr Bonython said.

Gynaecologist Professor Christopher Maher, who first raised concerns about a pelvic mesh device in a paper in 2003, told a Senate inquiry hearing that the TGA was “the first level of oversight” for new devices and drugs, but pelvic mesh devices were approved without independent evidence of safety and efficacy.

Professor Maher told the inquiry he had “sort of a frosty relationship” with the TGA after raising serious questions about pelvic mesh devices during internal reviews by the regulator over a number of years.

“With hindsight, I think, everyone in the TGA would say they wished that they didn’t allow these products through when there wasn’t much evidence supporting those products,” Professor Maher said.

The Federal Government-funded Consumers Health Forum of , representing state consumer health groups, told the Senate inquiry the approval and marketing of pelvic mesh devices for more than a decade represented a “catastrophic system-wide failure”, that included the TGA and its processes.

The TGA’s adverse events reporting system to detect serious drug and device problems was described by women as “something of a black hole, with lots of information going into it but nothing visible coming out”, the forum said.

Forum member and Victorian Health Issues Centre chief executive Danny Vadasz said the nexus between companies, the medical profession and the TGA was “insidious and undermines the integrity of our regulatory system”.

“What quality of guardianship can you expect when the poacher is paying the wages of the gamekeeper?” Mr Vadasz said.

“The government must act to give the TGA financial independence from big pharma, to raise the evidentiary bar on safety and quality and to be held accountable for its singular purpose, to protect the safety of the public.

“Until we have such legislative reform public health will remain hostage to the sales and marketing targets of medical device manufacturers.”

Forum member and Western n Health Consumers Council executive director Pip Brennan said the “appalling outcomes some women had experienced from TGA-approved pelvic mesh implants highlights a fundamental flaw in how our regulatory system is working”.

“The recent quiet announcement of the up-classification of mesh devices still does not reassure as there is no guarantee consumers will be provided with relevant consent documentation and there is still no commitment to create a register to track the devices being implanted,” Ms Brennan said.

“There must be a separation between income for our regulatory body, and the approval of devices. No one has a higher stake in a medical device than the patient who is having something permanently implanted, and yet consumers are not at the decision-making table of the TGA. This needs to change.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt’s office referred questions to the TGA, which “totally rejected” claims it had a too-close relationship with industry because of its funding model.

“Industry has no say whatsoever in how TGA spends the revenue it receives from other industry charges. This system has been in place for more than 20 years and there has been no evidence of any sort of ‘regulatory capture’,” a spokesperson said.

“Other medicines and device regulators internationally also are fully or significantly funded by industry fees and charges and operate in the same way. This takes the burden off the taxpayer for such time-consuming scrutiny.

“It is accepted as best regulatory practice for regulators to have a good understanding of and working relationship with the regulated entities. So, while the TGA meets frequently with industry and other stakeholders, including consumer and healthcare groups, it maintains a professional but arm’s length relationship and does not include them in any final decision-making once consultations are completed.”

The TGA said it accepted evidence from an expert committee in 2008 that recommended it continue to monitor meshes, but the reported rate of complications was low. By 2013 an internal TGA report acknowledged its adverse event reporting system only received 10-20 per cent of all adverse events because it relied on manufacturers to report complications.

The TGA has not prosecuted one mesh manufacturer for failing to report complications, despite it being a criminal offence carrying a jail term and substantial fine.

In 2014 the regulator cancelled the first of more than 40 pelvic mesh devices and increased monitoring and reporting requirements for remaining devices.

In its statement the TGA said “it must be emphasised that the TGA does not regulate clinical practice and decisions by doctors to use these devices”.

Optus partners with new Perth Stadium as we take a tour inside

The State Government has confirmed Optus as the naming rights sponsor for the new Perth Stadium.

On the back of Fremantle and West Coast finally announcing their 2018 membership packages for home games at WA’s new home of football, Optus signed a 10-year deal to provide telecommunications and internet services across the stadium, as revealed by WAtoday last Friday.

While Optus will be the stadium’s naming rights sponsor for the next 10 years, Bankwest was on Sunday named the stadium’s official banking partner.

The 10-year Optus deal is expected to put $50 million back into state government coffers as WA households continue to bear the burden of a Budget repair on the back of the Barnett government blowing it out.

The deal with Optus – which will include 4G service at the ground and a unique app for fans there – comes as the telecommunications giant looks to expand and improve its network coverage across WA.

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said he wasn’t concerned about losing the marketing benefits of keeping Perth in the stadium’s name.

He said the ‘Perth Stadium’ name would be used by broadcasters of international cricket fixtures at the venue.

“The only regular international games that will be held at the stadium will be cricket, and international cricket matches,” he said.

“For the purposes of those games, it will be called Perth Stadium because Cricket have their own obligations that prevent stadium names, competitor names, being used.”

Broadcasters of other showcase events at the stadium such as the Bledisloe Cup rugby union and State of Origin rugby league would still promote Perth and WA, as would official merchandise available at these events.

Stadium CEO Mike McKenna said he was delighted to have secured Optus for the next 10 years.

“As a technologically-focused venue, Optus is the perfect partner,” he said.

Membership packages for the two AFL clubs and the naming rights sponsorship come on the back of Gage Roads being announced as the venue’s official beer provider and Mrs Macs its pie and sausage roll maker.

WAtoday was given a last-minute tour of the 60,000-seat venue late last month to see what AFL footy would look like for fans next season.

We were told there wouldn’t be a bad seat in the house… and the stadium has come good on its promise.

Under the new 10-year deal agreed to by the AFL, state government and WAFC, the latter will receive $10.3 million annually from stadium income to support grassroots football.

Construction at Perth Stadium is 97 per cent complete, with work currently happening on the stadium turf.

Seating allocated to Fremantle Dockers members for the 2018 season got ticked off on Monday, with members trying their luck swapping seats with others online.

Inside the stadium

There’s no doubt the new Optus Stadium is world-class in every aspect, but the biggest different fans will first notice when they take their seats next season is the stadium’s seating bowl, which brings them closer to the action and gives exceptional bird-eye views of how play is unfolding on the field.

From the very highest tiers, like level five, it feels like you’re sitting right on top of the ground, rather than away from it like at Subiaco Oval, with the atmosphere enhanced by the lower levels below being almost non-existent to the naked eye when seated this high.

Anyone who’s watched footy at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne will be familiar with this feeling, given the generous views from almost every seat at that venue, particularly high up.

In Perth, there are stairs, escalators and lifts to take footy fans of all ages to the higher tiers, where fans up there won’t miss the two massive, 340sqm TV screens at either end of the ground, some of the biggest in (let’s hope more replays of highlights are shown than what we saw at Subi).

Walking through the wide concourse behind the sectioned seating is like a postcard of our city, with fans treated to generous views of the CBD skyline and Swan River, after parts of the exterior panels were purposely left off the shell of the stadium.

Nearby is the premium Skyview Lounge, which shares a long balcony with a public area for members and fans who may require a breather from the action (or a phone call to a rival supporter).

While higher-priced member seats for Eagles (click here) and Dockers fans (click here) provide the best overall view and are positioned in the middle of the ground on the wing, there is exceptional value for those considering cheaper seats, particularly in the higher tiers in rows closer to the front.

For example, Fremantle fans interested in $599 memberships can choose from a variety of sections close to the wing and forward pockets on level five that seem to be the best value for money, the only downside the steep stairs for rows towards the back.

But it’s behind the scenes that the stadium scores the most points, with a concourse three times the width of Subiaco Oval giving fans plenty of room to wander and roam while gourging on the plethora of TVs and food and drink outlets close by.

There are also plenty of toilets just short relief away from each section, standing areas undercover with great views of the ground (like the MCG) and external resting areas if you need a breather from the thrills and spills.

Fremantle and West Coast memberships

Dockers memberships will be the cheapest in the AFL and $140 less than rivals West Coast.

Season memberships at Fremantle start from $249 for adults – $100 cheaper than 2017 memberships at Subiaco Oval, while at West Coast the cheapest are $390.

West Coast has also begun transitioning its 40,000 members to the new stadium, contacting members recently about the process.

Both WA clubs have had telephone lines open since Monday for membership queries, but WAtoday understands there has been long waits for Fremantle members at least getting through.

The stadium bowl will bring the atmosphere at Perth Stadium games to another level. Pic credit: Hassel Cox HKS.

Around 50,000 seats will be allocated to Fremantle and West Coast members, with 6,000 reserved for general admission, 1000 for tourism packages and 1400 for stadium memberships, which will cost around $6000 and allow a ticket holder to attend any event at the stadium throughout the year.

Fans will have 13 seating options including general admission and premium products such as the Victory Lounge and club lounges and terraces.

The ground itself has an east-west orientation like Subiaco Oval and the MCG, with the field-of-play dimensions aligned with the latter.

The atmosphere at respective home games will light up the eyes of fans, literally, with state-of-the-art LED in club colours illuminated through the roof. It should make the home-ground advantage both WA clubs enjoy even greater than what they experienced at Subi.

On the northern side of the stadium, either side of The Locker Room, fans can watch their team warm up and run onto the ground, with West Coast’s dedicated changing room on the north-east side and Fremantle’s on the north-west.

Coaches aren’t forgotten either, with access to a 60-person briefing room as well as the 30-person coaches’ box, medical rooms and recovery facilities that include hot and cold spas on level three,.

FAN-FIRST FEATURES: ??? 4G coverage across the stadium ??? 2 x 340sqm super screens at either end ??? 1000 other TV screens strategically placed throughout the stadium ??? 85% of seats are covered by the lightweight fabric roof ??? 70 food and beverage outlets, 50 of which have views of the ground ??? 50cm-wide seats that all include cup holders ??? 12 lifts, elevators, 3 adult change rooms, parents/baby room, bigger cubicles ??? 360-degree access at all GA levels ??? 60 universal toilets ??? 748 male bathrooms, 781 female bathrooms ??? 600 bike racks ??? 450 wheelchair positions and 327 seats for fans with other mobility requirements ??? 10,000 additional seats can be used if needed

A restaurant overlooking the Swan River will also be open pre and post???game and on non-event days.

The restaurant overlooking the city and Swan River at Perth Stadium. Pic credit: Hassel.

Facilities outside the stadium have been designed also with the fan forefront of mind, with a covered community arbour representing Noongar stories linking the six-platform Stadium Station to the Swan River.

The grounds west of the stadium house a boardwalk and amphitheatre, parkland, children’s playgrounds, BBQ and picnic areas while an oval on the north is available for public use on non-event days.

A network of walking and cycle tracks will come in handy on game day and beyond, while the transport strategy promises safe and efficient movement of 83 per cent of a capacity crowd within 30 minutes of a game finishing.

An overview of the parks and facilities surrounding Perth Stadium. Pic credit: Hassel.

Access to CBD car parks and areas not serviced by rail will be handled by special buses, while punters can wet the whistle on their way to the game (or during if things are going that bad) at a massive microbrewery just outside the main entrance.

Perth Stadium will officially open with a free Community Open Day on Sunday January 21. Fremantle play Collingwood in round 2 of the AFLW on Saturday February 10. These events will be followed by a series of additional world-class entertainment and sporting events before the 2018 AFL season begins.

Live at the Foreshore 2017 rocks out in new location despite rainy weatherPhotos

Even more photos from Live at the Foreshore 2017 Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

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Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

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Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

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Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

Photo: Mitch Lowe Photo // SaveTonight

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Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

Photo: Marina Neil

TweetFacebookThis That festival and Live at the Foreshore made their west end debut, after relocating from the foreshoredue to construction of the Supercars race track.

Up to 12,000 revellers piled into the park on Saturday for This That, with the lineup featuring Tash Sultana, The Preatures and Alison Wonderland.

But it was electronic heavyweights The Presets that stole the show after sundown, attracting the largest crowd of the evening.

There was also a marked turnaround in spectator behaviour, after police putfestival organisers on notice following last year’s event.

Newcastle City police Chief Inspector Gerard Lawson praised the actions of the crowds, despite more than two dozen arrests, mainly for drug possession.

He said a handful were likely to face charges.

“It was a well-run event that went smoothly and that’s because of all the preparation we do in the lead-up with the various stakeholders,” he said.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison fears proposed police restructure will leave Central Hunter worse off

CONCERNED: Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison says a proposed police restructure would leave her community ‘short-changed’. Picture: Simone De PeakMAITLAND will “suffer” and is on track to being “short-changed” if a proposed police restructure does not boost the number of frontline officers, Jenny Aitchison has told Police Minister Troy Grant.

The Maitland Labor MP has ratcheted up her criticism of the state-wide police restructure, which, if approved, would see the biggest changes to Hunter local area commandsin more than two decades, with a flatter management structure and the creation of new “policing districts”.

The biggest changes to the Central Hunter Local Area Command – which is headquartered at Maitland station – would see the command’s superintendent shift to Raymond Terrace.

The communities of Cessnock and Kurri Kurri would also be shaved off the jurisdiction to become the responsibility of Hunter Valley police.

In strong criticism of the proposal, Ms Aitchison said Maitland was being “short-changed” underthe restructure,and questioned why the state government was yet to spell out the number of new police it would bring.

“I cannot stand by silent while our community is being short-changed and even more of our precious police resources are given back to the NSW treasury, while we here in Maitland suffer with increasing rates of domestic violence, car theft and other crimes with a police force that is struggling to keep on top of the task, regardless of their amazing efforts thus far,” she said in a letter to the Police Minister, seen by Fairfax Media.

“There is only so much capacity for people to work in this environment.”

‘Their greatest concern is that they would like to see additional police’ … Northern Region Commander Assistant Commissioner Max Mitchell. Picture: Marina Neil

Ms Aitchison claimed that the command was understaffed by at least 20 officers and police were under “constant strain and pressure”.

“A major opportunity to provide more ‘boots on the ground’ does not actually result in any additional police,” the Labor MP said.

“In fact, across the two areas [Port Stephens and Maitland] there will actually be one less police officer.”

Ms Aitchison also feared the loss of local leadership with the removal of a Maitland-based superintendent, despite police assurances each station would retain a chief inspector.

“I have great reservations about whether or not the issues will be addressed, or swept under the carpet as they will be ‘out of sight out of mind’,” she said.

In a recentinterview with theHerald, Northern Region commander Assistant Commissioner Max Mitchell acknowledged that Hunter MPs and mayors were opposed to aspects of the looming restructure.

“Their greatest concern is that they would like to see additional police and that’s a matter, really, for the government and the commissioner’soffice,” he said.

Johanne Defay rules Hunter waves again to top QS rankingsphotos

DOUBLE DELIGHT: France’s Johanne Defay is chaired up Birubi Beach after her victory in the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro final over Tatiana Weston-Webb on Sunday. Picture: Ethan Smith/WSLFrenchwoman Johanne Defay started and finished her qualifying series season a champion in the Hunter with victory in the inaugural Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro at Birubi Beach on Sunday.

The championship tour surfer, who won Surfest’s Anditi Pro at Merewether in February, beat Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb to claima second 6000-point QS event in the Hunter.

It meant she finished top of the QS standings to guarantee her place again on the CT, where she is ninth and likely to re-qualify with a top-10 finish.Weston-Webb, 11thon the CT, was second on the QS to secure another year on the top tour.

Defay strikes late to ride high again in the Hunter TweetFacebook Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro© WSL / Ethan SmithDefay trailed in the final before earning a score of9.07, on a wave Weston-Webb had to concede, with four minutes left. The ride, featuring a huge lay-back snap, secured a17.74 to 14.43 win.

“I didn’t have much pressure on me because I’m pretty safe on the CT so that definitely helped me relax,” Defay said. “I had never won a QS and now I have won two in the same area which is really special.”

Merewether’s Philippa Anderson was eliminated in round six on Saturday and Avoca teenagerMacy Callaghan made the semi-finals on Sunday. Both needed a better result to book a maiden CT berth.

In the men’s 1000-point event, Surfest pro junior winner Liam O’Brien defeated Jacob Willcox in the final.

Meanwhile, Kiwi Paige Hareb, a runner at Surfest and quarter-finalist on Sunday, secured a return to the women’s CT.

“I was so shattered after my loss I came home to watch the event online,” Hareb said. “That heat was so hard to watch and I just felt sick for the last few minutes, it just took forever. Once it was over and I knew I had qualified I just burst into tears. It has been an intense week and a long year so I’m glad it’s over and I’m back. I have matured a lot over the last few years so am stoked to get back on and tackle it with a different approach and hopefully stay there.”

Weston-Webb was pleased to cement her place on the CT.

“I’m really proud of the way I surfed in the final,” she said.

“Johanne got that last wave in the end and we kind of had a laugh about it. I mean, I can’t do anything else. She’s an amazing surferand to share a final with a friend is really nice. I’m really happy to requalify for next year and hopefully we come back next year.”

She added: “It’s been an awesome week here. At the beginning of the year I didn’t think I would be here chasing points on the QS, but here I am. It’s a good feeling though to make the final and know how well I surfed and know I have re-qualified, I can head to Maui for the final CT with confidence.”

Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick says undefeated A-League squad are still warming to the task

12 photos capture the Jets’ rampage into the 2017 season TweetFacebookHIS team are unbeaten after five games and have scored more goals than any rival outfit in the A-League, but Newcastle Jets coach Ernie Merrick believes they are at least a month away from showing their true potential.

Newcastle’s dream start to 2017-18 continued on Saturday night when they dispatched Wellington 3-0 at McDonald Jones Stadium, in what Merrick described as their best all-round performance since he assumed the reins.

They now have three wins and two draws to their name and are third on the ladder with 11 points, behind only Melbourne City (12) and Sydney FC (13).

Read more: ‘Maintain the rage’ urges W-league coach Craig Deans after 2-0 victory

Already they have scored 13 goals, almost half as many as they did last season (28), when they finished with the wooden spoon.

But Merrick hasnodoubt his team have plenty of scope for improvement.

He said most teams take “about eight or nine games” to find peak form, although defending champions Sydney were an obvious exception, “because they’ve had that team together for so long now, and they’ve added two or three quality players”.

“With us, our starting line-up, half of them are new,” Merrick said. “It’ll take us about nine games to be playing at our best.

“Then it’s a case of maintaining it and trying to make sure we’ve got the depth when we lose players like [Ronny] Vargas and [Daniel] Georgievski.We covered for those really well today.”

Read more:Two qualities make Cassidy Davis invaluable to the Newcastle Jets W-League squad

Newcastle next face testing away games against Adelaide on Saturday and Sydney a week later, and Merrick said that would provide a gauge of their progress.

“Adelaide’s playing really well, and Sydney’s unbeatable this season, so I think it’s a good challenge, but it’s at the right time,” he said.

“We’ve had a couple of games at home and now we’ve set ourselves up to play our best football away from home.

“It will be quite a challenge and a good indication of whether we’re getting to our best and continuing to improve or not.”

Irish import Roy O’Donovan continued his hot streak on Saturday, scoring twice against Wellington in the first halfto take his tally forthe season to seven goals–three more than any other player in the A-League.

Newcastle’s other goal from winger Andrew Nabbout in the second half, his first of the campaign.

“I thought that was a verypleasing performance and everyone, all the team, should be pretty happy with that performance and set themselves another goal to improve on that again,” Merricksaid.

“I don’t give them outcomes to focus on, I give them processes, what their job entails.See if they can do it better, with more possession, more forward passes, more balls in the box, more tackles, etcetera.”

At the other end of the pitch, Newcastle were rock solid and kept their opponents scoreless for the first time in 13 games.

“I’ve never been that worried about clean sheets,” Merricksaid.

“It’s certainly a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s making sure you score more goals than the opposition, rather than conceding less.”

Wellington coachDarije Kalezic said Newcastle were a“physically aggressive” team.

“They use that as a strength and a maximum,” he said.

“All the points that they want comefrom that factor.”

Merrick said Newcastle would not resort to safety-first football during their two games on the road.

“One thing I’ve tried to instill, and I think the boys have taken it on board, is that it doesn’t matter if we’re home or away, we’re going for a win,” he said.

Cricket: Joe Price guides Newcastle into NSW Country Championships final

FORM: Newcastle all-rounder Joe Price (right) preparing for day one of the NSW Country Championships at Inverell. Picture: Heidi GibsonAll-rounder Joe Price has continued his rich vein of form with a century and two wickets helping unbeaten Newcastle into this month’s NSW Country Championships final.

With his side in trouble in Sunday’s third and deciding group game,Price made 111 not out in Newcastle’s total of 7-223 before taking a crucial 2-28 in Western’s reply of 160 at Inverell.

The 63-run victory over the title holdersmeans Newcastle now travel to Bowral’s Bradman Oval on November 26searching fora third crown in five seasons.

Price, who batted at No.5, arrived at the crease with Newcastle 3-22 and they were 5-52 not long after but he soldiered on hitting 10 fours and three sixes in his 127-ball knock.

He then broke an innings-high 50-run second-wicket partnership with his medium pacers, bowling Mitch Bower (24) and trapping Darrel Williams (27) leg beforein quick succession to make it 3-79.

“Obviously he’s in really good form at the moment and he was outstanding for us today,” Newcastle representative coach Shane Burley said.

Price shared vital half-century partnerships with newcomers Jed Dickson (36) and Dylan Hunter (21), who also claimed match-best figures of 4-22 from his 10 overs of left-arm orthodox spinners.

Western captain Jordan Moran (18) batted down the order after breaking his thumbwhile wicketkeeping in the same outing.

Newcastle and Western went into the encounter at Varley Oval without loss after defeating North Coast and Central North respectively on Saturday.Price made 68 from 69 balls.

Meanwhile in Newcastle District Cricket Association first grade results from a rain-affected Saturday and Charlestown have already secured first innings points and built a 43-run leadafter dismissing Belmont for 63.

Magpies pair Bayley McGill (52 not out) and Daniel Arms (48 not out) remain in the middle with thehosts, who temporarily jump into first spot on the competition ladder, reaching 2-106 from 19 overs at Kahibah Oval.

Earlier in the opening two-day fixtureSri Lankan first-class all-rounderSaliya Saman (4-27) did most of the damage with Belmont lasting just 25.4 overs.

Elsewhere and Merewether opening bowler Harrison Colbert (4-7) claimed his third straight four-wicket haul with hosts Cardiff-Boolaroo 7-61 from 19.3 overs.

There was also limited play between Toronto (5-116 off 43 overs) and Wests, Stockton-Raymond Terrace (6-65 off 33 overs) and Waratah-Mayfield, defending champions Hamilton-Wickham (0-19 off 6.5 overs) and Wallsend as well as Newcastle City (1-41 off 11 overs) and University.

Theround six encounters continue this Saturday.