Whitfield ready for return: Coniglio

Giants vice-captain Stephen Coniglio is adamant Lachie Whitfield has matured during his AFL-imposed suspension as the former No.1 draft pick prepares to make his long-awaited comeback against Collingwood on Saturday.

Whitfield has been training with the club for the past eight weeks – which is permitted under the terms of his six-month ban – and is now eligible to be selected for the Magpies game after missing the first seven rounds of the season.

The 22-year-old was punished by the league in November after being found guilty of “conduct unbecoming or prejudicial to the interests of the AFL” following an investigation into allegations former club staffers Graeme Allen and Craig Lambert conspired with Whitfield to help the player avoid a drug test.

Following discussions with the club’s leadership group and senior staffers after the incident, Coniglio said a remorseful Whitfield was ready to bounce back from the damaging episode.

“He probably had enough feedback from administration at our club during the time … we obviously had a chat with a few of our leaders to him on a one-on-one level,” Coniglio said.

“He knows the mistakes he made and the scrutiny that he put on the group. He’s very much past that now and really looking forward to making amends.

“We’re role models in the community. We see a number of issues in the NRL at the moment and those guys will hopefully bounce back from those little setbacks.

“Lachie’s on that upward spiral to being a little bit more mature as well in terms of what he’s doing.”

The dashing outside midfielder has put on a few kilograms during his absence and will provide an injection of speed for coach Leon Cameron, who is presiding over an injury list threatening to spiral out of control.

Coniglio returned from an ankle injury last week, but Ryan Griffen and youngster Will Setterfield are facing at least six more weeks on the sideline with similar ailments.

Adam Kennedy and Jacob Hopper were injured in the loss to St Kilda, while defender Nick Haynes is facing two months out after tearing a hamstring tendon the week before.

Tendai Mzungu has his own hamstring issues, veteran recruit Brett Deledio remains sidelined indefinitely with a calf problem and Matt Buntine’s knee injury will keep him out for the year.

It is one of the deepest injury lists Cameron has had to dal with as senior coach and Whitfield looks the man to provide a silver lining.

“I’d have no problem in terms of from a leadership perspective in putting my hand up and saying I want him to play this week,” Coniglio said.

“A lot of players, until they actually go through that situation, might not know how it feels.

“Lachie knew once it happened he felt he let the boys down. I’m sure when he comes back out his performances will be that of making up for lost time.

“Since he’s been back amongst the group, his worth ethic around the gym or whether it be out here on the track has been first class.

“We obviously know his outside flair and skill is magnificent and his run up and back, similar to Tom Scully, is first class. To bring that element of winning his own footy and laying the tackles elevated him to that elite midfield level.”

A win for the Giants this weekend would be a first in the club’s history against Collingwood.

Ex-GWS stars Adam Treloar, Will Hoskin-Elliott and Taylor Adams are all expected to line up against their old team at Spotless Stadium.

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Darren Beadman eyes first stakes win as trainer at Scone

QUICKS RESULTS: Darren Beadman has a handful of contenders at Scone on Saturday for the Godolphin stable. Picture: Getty Images Buoyed by training his first winners for Godolphin at a midweek meeting in Sydney, Darren Beadman is now eyeing his first group-level success at Scone.

Beadman started his stint as John O’Shea’s successor in style when Malahat and Bratislava scored at Canterbury on Wednesday.

He is confident four-year-old mare Kinshachi can turn a luckless last start into a positive in Saturday’s group 3 Dark Jewel Classic (1400m).

Kinshachi paid for a slow start when third behind Shillelagh and Daysee Doom in the group 3Godolphin Crown (1300m) at Hawkesbury on April 29.

“She ran very well last start after drawing off the track and being wide throughout and still loomed up to win,” Beadman said. “Her work has been first class since. She’s certainly got the ability to win this type of race.”

Kinshachi, which has been out of the top three only once in her 12-race career, is rated a $9.50 chance with the TAB for the fillies and mares feature.

Beadman also has high hopes for five-year-old gelding Grunderzeit in the listed Luskin Star Stakes (1300m), although all his five wins have been at Canterbury.

Grunderzeit ($9.50) is coming off a sixth in the Hawkesbury Gold Rush, andBeadman gave him the benefit of the doubt after he was blocked in the straight.

“He was a bit unlucky the other day. With the right run in the race and stepping up to 1300 he should be suited.”

Two-year-old filly Epidemic, which seeks her maiden win in the listed Woodlands Stakes (1100m) after running fourth on debut in October, excites Beadman.

“She looks magnificent. I really like this filly. She’s got a bit of brilliance about her.”

Epidemic’s stablemate Almanzora is the $2.80 favourite as she looks to make amends for a below-par run in the group 2Percy Sykes Stakes at Randwick last month.

“She’s trialled very well since her last run when she raced upside down and went too hard,” Beadman said.

Chris Waller will be back to business at Scone afterwatching the Kentucky Derby from the Churchill Downs stands as a fan.

The Scone crowd will be minuscule compared to the 145,000 at Churchill Downs who saw Always Dreaming win the Derby’s 143rd edition, but Sydney’s premier trainer still drew comparisons with the NSW town.

“Louisville has 800,000 people, but it’s realistically a country town. It’s the breeding hub of America, as is Scone. “There’s a lot of similarities between there and Scone. There’s fantastic open spaces, a lot of history.”

Waller lines up Shillelagh, Tsaritsa and Elle Lou in the Dark Jewel Classic on Saturday.

The $200,000 Scone Cup is on Friday.

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Sydney Film Festival to open with provocative film on Southern Cross

Filmmaker Warwick Thornton knows just what a powerful symbol the Southern Cross is in Australia.

The director of the powerful drama Samson & Delilah sparked outrage when, as a finalist for Australian of the Year in 2010, he spoke about his fear it was being misused as a racist emblem – suggesting it was at risk of becoming “the new Swastika”.

“People got quite hysterical,” Thornton said of that time. “There was a bit of Warwick bashing.”

But rather than shy away from the subject, the Aboriginal director and cinematographer has made a lively comic documentary that will have its world premiere on opening night of the Sydney Film Festival next month.

Called We Don’t Need A Map, it covers the Southern Cross’ history from its Aboriginal spiritual significance to becoming a prominent tattoo during the Cronulla riots and beyond.

“I thought, someone has given me a camera for the last 20 years and asked me to talk about what my fears and my fantasies are,” Thornton said at the festival program launch. “This one really scared the hell out of me so I thought ‘I’m going to make a movie about that’.”

Producer Brendan Fletcher, who met Thornton when they made a Tourism Australia commercial together, describes the film as bold and provocative.

“But it’s also about ‘let’s open up a dialogue; we’re all now Australians under this one night sky so let’s talk about what that really means’,” he said.

Festival director Nashen Moodley said the 64th instalment featured films on such hot topics as racism, the refugee crisis, the environment, the impact of social media, sexuality and the shifting face of politics.

“It reflects filmmakers thinking quite closely about these issues – painting pictures of a very complex world where we still have problems and difficulties that you could have imagined we wouldn’t have in 2017,” he said.

“But they also make a real argument for coming together and being kind to each other and treating each other with dignity and respect.”

One of these films is Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day, a thriller that is also having its world premiere at the festival.

Starring Bryan Brown and Shari Sebbens, it centres on three people – an indigenous teenager, an Iranian boy and Chinese woman – who are all running away over 12 hours on Australia Day.

“It’s a fairly brutal ride,” Stenders said. “It presses a few buttons and asks some challenging questions but it’s also very affirming.”

The prolific director of Red Dog and Red Dog: True Blue also has the documentary The Go Betweens: Right Here, on the seminal Australian band, screening in a Sounds On Screen program.

It’s a film that dates back to when Stenders became friends with band founders Grant McLennan and Robert Forster while they were working in a Brisbane record store in the 1970s.

“I started shooting films for them,” he said. “So my whole destiny is wrapped up in that band.”

The $60,000 competition for “courageous, audacious and cutting-edge cinema” includes Nicole Kidman in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, a thriller set in a girl’s boarding school during the American Civil War; Raoul Peck’s racially-charged documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which was nominated for an Oscar this year; and Australian director Benedict Andrews’ Una, a psychological drama that has Rooney Mara as a woman who confronts a man played by Ben Mendelsohn who sexually abused her as a child.

Mendelsohn and Vanessa Redgrave, who has made her directing debut at the age of 80 with the refugee documentary Sea Sorrow, will be guests at the festival.

The Australian documentary competition includes Barbecue, on barbecues around the world; The Pink House, about a famous Kalgoorlie brothel; and Roller Dreams, about roller dancing in California in the 1980s.

The festival also features newly restored versions of the Australian films The Year My Voice Broke, The Well and Rocking The Foundations; a punk rock program that includes the Sex Pistols films The Filth and the Fury and The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle; and a retrospective of the films of master Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

The festival program will be free with The Sydney Morning Herald on Friday.

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Former judge backs plan to stem ‘tsunami’ of criminal cases in NSW

A major shake-up of the NSW criminal justice system including a push to stem a “tsunami” of cases in the state’s busiest criminal trial court has received cautious backing from the legal profession, but experts have warned against “populist” changes to the parole system.

The Berejiklian government announced a package of proposed changes on Tuesday aimed at reducing chronic delays in the District Court and increasing supervision of offenders outside the prison system.

The sweeping changes include encouraging early guilty pleas and allowing non-violent offenders to serve the last six months of their prison sentence in home detention before they are released on parole.

Corrections Minister David Elliott said he expected changes to the prison system would “slow the increase in the incarceration rate” in NSW, which is at record highs.

Associate professor Julia Quilter from the University of Wollongong Law School said measures to improve the reintegration of offenders into the community “may well be a very good thing” but cautioned against other “populist” changes to the parole system.

This included new powers for the State Parole Authority to refuse parole to an offender with “terrorism links” or a convicted killer who refused to reveal the location of a victim’s body. Dr Quilter said “terrorism connections” would need to be defined carefully.

The centrepiece of the plan to tackle court delays is a new system of fixed sentence discounts for early guilty pleas for serious criminal offences, ranging from a 25 per cent discount for the earliest plea to 5 per cent if the plea is made on the day of trial or later.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said 73 per cent of criminal cases in the District Court were resolved with a guilty plea but 22 per cent of those were entered “as late as the day of trial or even later”, causing “incredible inefficiencies” and stress to victims.

The NSW Law Reform Commission recommended in 2013 that the discounts be introduced to tackle delays in the District Court, which is labouring under a backlog of thousands of criminal cases.

Mr Speakman said “a number of exceptions” would apply including for “heinous” crimes, such as murder.

The new regime would also require senior prosecutors and defenders to be involved in criminal cases in the preliminary stages to get charges right at a much earlier stage.

Former Supreme Court judge Anthony Whealy, QC, the lead law reform commissioner behind the report on early guilty pleas, welcomed the proposed changes and said the District Court was “overwhelmed with work” and “appointing four or five judges is not really the answer”.

“It’s like trying to stem a tsunami,” Mr Whealy said. “Unless you have systemic change these delays are going to get worse and worse. These changes are systemic.”

But NSW Bar Association senior vice-president Arthur Moses, SC, raised concerns fixed discounts could create injustice if “judges cannot take into account reasons for a guilty plea being entered into at some later stage” and said the plan would require “significant funding increases for legal aid” to ensure an accused was properly advised.

Mr Speakman told Fairfax Media: “As part of these reforms, the government will provide additional resources to Legal Aid to ensure accused persons obtain appropriate advice about entering an earlier guilty plea.”

NSW Law Society president Pauline Wright welcomed changes to encourage early guilty pleas but cautioned against moves to scrap committal hearings, a type of preliminary hearing to determine if an accused should stand trial.

The vast majority of committal hearings lead to a trial but Ms Wright said their abolition would remove “independent oversight” of the strength of a prosecution case by a judge.

Ms Wright also opposed limiting judges’ “sentencing options” by scrapping suspended sentences, where a person is convicted of a crime warranting a prison sentence but released subject to a good behaviour bond.

Mr Speakman said suspended sentences, which were reintroduced in 2000 after being scrapped in 1974, would be replaced with new intensive correction orders including supervision by community corrections officers.

The government will consult on the changes before introducing legislation in the latter half of the year.

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A mountain lion was spotted at Jewells Wetland decades ago

The tale of a mountain lion at Lake Macquarie in 1980 A marsupial lion.

TweetFacebook Mountain lions.A Lake Macquarie woman has revealed she once saw a mountain lion at Jewells Wetland.

Following our recent stories about black panthers, Judith told us her story by email.

“Australia doesn’t just have black cats, it has lions as well,” Judith said.

“I can vouch for this. I saw one at Jewells Wetlands in 1980. People say ‘it must have been a feral cat’.

“But definitely not. It moved like a lion, not a tabby. And I have seen a huge feral cat in almost the same place.

“This animal was bigger than a feral cat. It was a light colour, either fawn or cream. It was dusk so you couldn’t tell. It probably looked like a puma, but was smaller, perhaps only half the size.

“It was slimmer thana big cat.”

We’d reported previously that researcher Rex Gilroy believed some panther sightings were marsupial cats.

Judith agreed.

“I believe that it was a marsupial cat. Since then, I have talked to many people who have also seen a big cat ortracks of a big cat from here to Albany in Western Australia.

“I read an article once in which Aboriginals said there has always been cats in Australia.”

She’d heard a story about baby panther cubs playing near Blackbutt.

“I also heard that someone’s uncle used to talk about the lion in Blackbutt,” she said.

“There are pictures and reports on the internet of lions in Australia.”

Vaughan King, founder of the Australian Big Cat Research Group, doesn’t think they’re large marsupial cats.

But he believes the big cat species in Australia are the leopard, jaguar and mountain lion.

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