Tight tussle for top spot

The battle for the Group Seven club championship has become a two-horse race between Gerringong and Albion Park-Oak Flats.
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Gerringong (492 points) hold a slender lead over the Eagles (489) heading into this weekend’s final round.

Kiama (465) and Warilla (406) are the only other clubs to crack the 400 mark.

Albion Park-Oak Flats will be aiming for maximum points in their home games against Batemans Bay and rely on the Lions slipping up against Jamberoo at Kevin Walsh Oval.

Gerringong also have the try-scoring and point-scoring titles sewn up. Rixon Russell is the leading try-scorer with 25, while Joel Roberts is comfortably the top point-scorer.

The Lions are unbeaten in first grade – securing the minor premiership three weeks ago – and will be eager to keep their perfect record intact heading into the finals.

Meanwhile, Nowra-Bomaderry and Warilla are playing for fifth spot this weekend.

Both teams are on 18 points, though the Gorillas are ahead of the Jets on for-and-against differential.

The Jets know their season is over if they don’t beat Kiama tomorrow, while reigning premiers Warilla face wooden spooners Milton-Ulladulla at Mollymook Oval on Sunday.

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Matt Cooper hoping for change of luck

Matt CooperDragons centre Matt Cooper hopes that a recent run of injuries will hold a silver lining when he trots out for his 14th and final NRL season next year.
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Cooper will return from a hamstring problem on Monday night to take on the Cowboys at WIN Stadium – in what will be only his 13th game this season because of a mixture of injuries.

In an ironic twist, the 33-year-old veteran said his recent run of ankle and hamstring problems had given his body more time to recover than usual.

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“That’s a positive way to look at it,” Cooper said. “Obviously, I’m getting older now [and] I need a couple more days off than most of the boys.

“This year I’ve had that opportunity and it’s given me a bit of rest, so hopefully I can come back next year a bit fresher.”

Cooper’s injury woes began back in the first week of the competition, during the Dragons’ opening-round win over Newcastle.

It was a frustrating blow for the former Test and Origin veteran, after recording “one of my best pre-seasons so far” in 2011.

“The year didn’t start well, getting injured in round one,” Cooper said.

“That put me out for a couple of weeks and then I came back too early and I was out for another couple of weeks.

“The injuries I’ve had, I wouldn’t call them old-age injuries.

“The body’s feeling pretty good other than the ankle and the hamstring. I’m keen to go around again and hopefully have a better year than what I’ve had this year.”

Cooper is hoping to put the year’s setbacks behind him when the Dragons host North Queensland.

He will have little opportunity to ease himself into the contest, with the guarantee of opposing playmaker Johnathan Thurston attacking the Dragons’ left side.

“They’ve got a great group of players there: Johnathan Thurston is going really well, they’ve got young guys going good, and they’ve got some old guys going good,” Cooper said.

“Their right side’s pretty lethal and they’re probably up there as one of the best sides in scoring tries this year. We’re going to have our hands full on Monday night, but we’re up for the challenge.”

Cooper will take part in the Dragons’ ball work session at WIN Stadium today ahead of the clash, after being sidelined for much of the week’s training.

“I’ve been running every second day, not with the team but rehab running,” he said. “I ran yesterday and hit top speed so that’s positive.

“We’ve got three more games to go here and hopefully I can put in a good performance in those three games.”

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Rohan’s got talent: living the dream after chemo

Singer Rohan Herring, pictured with fiancee Rebecca Petrovska, won four medals at a global talent quest. Picture: DAVE TEASEWhile all eyes have been on our sports stars, an Albion Park singer has flexed his vocal cords to win a swag of medals at the “Olympics of the Performing Arts”.
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Rohan Herring has just returned from Hollywood, where he claimed a gold and three silver medals at The World Championships of Performing Arts where competitors go head-to-head in a range of competitions.

The 24-year-old auditioned for the international talent quest following a debilitating course of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May last year.

“I was doing weights at home when the bar hit my chest. I thought I’d cracked a rib so I got an X-ray and a 15-centimetre tumour was discovered on my chest,” he said.

“They couldn’t operate as it had wrapped around my left lung and heart so I underwent stage four chemotherapy, which fortunately was successful in getting rid of the cancer.

“After the treatment, my whole outlook on life changed. I thought, ‘Life’s too short, I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to do, I’m not going to be afraid to just go for it’.”

Go for it he did, sending off his audition tape to the Australian talent scout who chose him out of thousands of hopefuls to be part of the 54-strong national squad to compete in the United States.

His rendition of Walking in Memphis won him gold in the male 18-24 vocal pop section, and he came second in his contemporary, R&B/soul/jazz and broadway sections.

“I’ve done a lot of competitions in the Illawarra and Sydney, plus I was a featured artist in Southern Stars in 2004 and 2005,” he said.

“I’ve also done shows at IPAC, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and The Pirates of Penzance and I’ve worked alongside my mentor Scott Radburn on many occasions.

“But I’ve never done anything on such an international scale before. I had to sing against 3652 competitors from 40 countries during 10 days of competition, and it was pretty surreal to win those medals.”

This is the 16th year of the global talent quest founded by Griff O’Neil, a former executive of the Miss Universe pageant.

In 2012 he recruited more than 75 scouts to scour the globe for outstanding talent, with more than 75,000 applicants auditioning for a spot in the July event.

“This is the only Olympic-style talent competition ever created and a rare opportunity for the privileged few selected to participate at this elite world event,” O’Neil said.

Herring is back home, polishing his medals and planning to record an album. Plus he has another reason to celebrate – while in the US he got engaged to his girlfriend Rebecca Petrovska.

“She’s been my rock,” he said. “Finally some good things are happening in my life.”

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Homeless given van-load of life’s essentials

Edna Wilson, Sharen Muller and Bob Kotic with food, clothing and bedding donated to St Vincent de Paul by Illawarra Credit Union staff and members.Picture: MELANIE RUSSELLIt is Illawarra Credit Union’s 40th birthday but members and staff have decided to celebrate by giving to others.
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This week the credit union handed over a van-load of food, clothing and bedding to St Vincent de Paul to distribute to the homeless.

A steering committee of ICU staff has organised three charity drives for the 40th anniversary and members have quickly come on board with dozens of people busy knitting and donating items.

Initially ICU had planned to make one large donation at the end of the month but so many employees and members were concerned about the recent cold snap, everyone was keen to fast-track the delivery.

When St Vincent de Paul was contacted this week it wasted no time organising a van to pick up everything from beanies to socks and toiletries which had started to fill ICU’s head office foyer.

St Vinnie’s regional president Denis Walsh said it was an amazing collection in such a short time.

He said they would distribute the items to dozens of people in need over the coming days.

“Here in Wollongong there are probably 100 or so people who physically live on the streets on a permanent basis,” Mr Walsh said.

“But there are many others who live hand-to-mouth from cars to temporary accommodation who come under the definition of homeless as well.”

ICU charity committee chairwoman Sharen Muller said the response had been fantastic.

“One of the members of the Dapto branch knitted beanies and scarves and had her husband bring them in so we could not identify who she was,” she said.

Mrs Muller said the credit union had a history of involving its staff in community activities.

They have done everything from send books to Samoa to provide musical instruments for children at Para Meadows.

“Not only do our staff members feel like one big family but we encourage our members to feel exactly the same,” she said.

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Grandstands closed by a centimetre

The Shellharbour Sharks Rugby League Club is one of the most go-ahead sporting outfits in the region.
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It’s home ground, named after local boy and Australian league great Ron Costello, is a showpiece and the club’s pride and joy.

It boasts outstanding facilities all built as part of a $1 million Federal Government grant that was also used to build two grandstands.

But now fans and visitors to the oval may never be able to use the grandstands, which have been closed during this season.

And it’s all over the matter of one centimetre, because the concrete steps, once used at the Sydney Aquatic Centre and then WIN Stadium, don’t comply with Australian safety standards.

The stands are off-limits until a resolution can be found, but if the club is forced to pull them down, that would be a case of safety restrictions gone mad.

If they were safe enough to be used at two of the biggest sporting venues in the state then they should be safe enough for a suburban sporting oval.

The club should be given the green light to get on and finish the project without any further delay.

And another thing …

Families who have loved ones in nursing homes will be reassured by the O’Farrell government’s ruling that all of the homes should be fitted with sprinkler systems.

The edict follows last year’s fire at Quakers Hill in Sydney where 11 elderly residents perished.

It will be a costly but worthwhile project and deserves the financial support of the federal government.

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What’s next in battle for Bulli ED?

12,000 people have signed the petition against downgrading Bulli Hospital services.Keira MP Ryan Park has vowed to keep fighting for a 24-hour emergency department at Bulli Hospital after raising the issue in NSW Parliament yesterday.
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Mr Park formally tabled a petition with 12,000 signatures calling on the state government to urgently upgrade the hospital, and not downgrade the emergency department (ED).

Wollongong MP Noreen Hay and Macquarie Fields MP and opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald supported the upgrade of Bulli Hospital.

MORE: Taking the fight to Parliament

Mr McDonald claimed it was “ludicrous” to close the ED at night – when about 50 per cent of presentations to emergency departments typically occurred.

A group of 25 northern Illawarra residents – including members of the Save Bulli ED Group – also went to Sydney to hear the debate.

“It’s very disappointing that the government once again has refused to commit that Bulli emergency department will stay open 24/7,” Mr Park said after the debate.

“This is a service that needs additional funding, that needs upgrading. We are not asking for a service like Wollongong Hospital, we’re not asking for something we don’t already have – we’re just asking that it remains open 24/7 and that adequate funding be made available in the coming budget.

A draft report released by the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District this week said the number of emergency department representations at Bulli appeared too low for “sustainable medical staffing and diagnostic capability 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.

However, Mr Park said there was a difference between people not turning up, and people not wanting to turn up.

“It’s clear when you order ambulances not to go to Bulli Hospital, when you constantly say on local media that there’s no emergency doctors available, when you haven’t put the capital upgrade into the facility that’s needed – that people are not going to go there,” he said.

“The fight doesn’t stop here – we will continue to lobby during the consultation period [which ends on August 31], not only for the benefit of northern Illawarra residents, but to take the pressure off Wollongong Hospital.”

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Survey to improve tourism data

Small accommodation businesses in the Mid-Western region have been given change to better track and compare their quarterly performances.
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A Tourism Research Australia (TRA) initiative to begin in January 2013 will monitor revenue and occupancy trends of small-scale accommodation houses not covered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Launched earlier this month as the “Small-Scale Accommodation Survey”, the program is set to provide a more comprehensive overview of how the sector is fairing.

Hotels, motels and serviced apartments (up to 14 rooms), visitor hostels and caravan parks will all be included in data collection.

Federal minister for tourism, Martin Ferguson, said the survey will reduce a data collection burden on participants.

“Governments and businesses will be able to use survey results for policy, planning and investment purposes and the success of the survey will depend on accommodation providers’ participation in providing data,” he said.

Tourism Research Australia agrees.

“For the Small-Scale Accommodation Survey to realise its potential it is essential that a large number of operators in the target segment provide their data on a monthly basis. Wide and committed industry support to achieve this outcome will be critical,” the organisation said.

Through the Federal Government’s Tourism 2020 plan, the national tourism research body has contracted STR Global Limited (STR) to deliver the survey.

After data is uploaded each respondent will receive an electronic report that tracks individual performance and compares it to others in a comparison set. The comparison set is likely to be other accommodation providers in the same region.

The main dataset segmented by sector and tourism region will be provided to TRA by STR for release on the TRA website toward the end of each month.

It is hoped that data back to July 2010 will be entered into the system to facilitate time series comparison of performance.

TRA will run workshops with operator groups in the next month . A webpage is being developed.

For further information head to www.ret.gov.au/tra

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