Shark Attack!

By Jack Brady

While the Port Stephens Sharks, the newest addition to the Real NRL competition this season, aren’t quite at ‘Great White’ status yet, think more along the lines of a baby shark, they are nonetheless the most important team in the Newcastle competition at this point in time. The club at this point in time is attempting to secure the area’s rugby league nursery and support for the game north of Newcastle for seasons to come.

With the introduction of Raymond Terrace into the Real NRL in 2001, the Port Stephens area has been well represented in some capacity through the Northern Blues (Nelson Bay) since the competition’s inception in 1910. However, this hasn’t stopped the Port Stephens Sharks being touted as the saving grace for rugby league north of Newcastle this season as it looks to go far and beyond the now defunct Northern Blues and Raymond Terrace senior clubs within Newcastle’s premier rugby league competition.

This however will not come without its challenges. Without the significant financial support needed for a rugby league club to survive, the dire lack of senior players willing to play and the non-existence of a contributing leagues club, the Port Stephens Sharks are barely swimming let alone striking as fears that the club could fold as quickly as it was established are not far from becoming a reality.

Wayne Humphreys, the president of the Port Stephens Sharks, has labelled the club as the most important project there is for senior rugby league to exist in the area.

“Is it getting the level of support that it needs? No it’s not, not corporately and sometimes even the player base is a little bit slack,” Humphreys said.

John Teaupa hits the ball up. Photo by: Emily Elias

Unlike every other club, the Sharks were allowed the concession of not fielding a third grade side this season. Yet only three weeks ago the club couldn’t even manage to field a reserve grade side.

This, plus the lack of finances that saw the Northern Blues and Raymond Terrace drop out of the competition only a couple of years ago, could end up haunting not only the Port Stephens Sharks but the existence of senior rugby league in the area: regardless of its importance to the region and the Newcastle rugby league.

John Fahey, the General Manager of the Newcastle rugby league competition stressed the significance of the Port Stephens Sharks existence and the club’s importance in tying up the area’s rugby league nursery for the sake of a quality competition and the rugby league region as a whole.

According to Fahey, the Port Stephens Sharks were positively received by the board before mentioning that the “well over”  one thousand registered players floating around the Port Stephens area could’ve been left with nothing without the existence of the Port Stephens Sharks.

“The importance of the Sharks boils down to the future of rugby league north of the Stockton Bridge and to be frank the number of players that have dispersed from up there [Port Stephens] to other clubs in the last ten years with the Northern Blues in existence is a pretty clear sign of the importance of rugby league in the area,” Fahey said.

“The strength of Raymond Terrace as a club is something that also needed to be secured and to make sure that it remained viable in the future.”

In the end though it all comes down to money and without the backing of either a leagues club or significant sponsorship the Sharks could be left floundering as early as the end of the season.

“The biggest problem with rugby league in the Port Stephens area is that there is no registered leagues club, and that’s where the problem still lies…there is significant financial support for the club this season from the Newcastle Rugby League and now we’re just waiting for the baby and taking it from there,” Fahey resonates.

Having struggled from its inception off the field the Port Stephens Sharks have not fared much better on it, the club beginning its inaugural campaign, while competitive, in an abysmal fashion, having not won a game in both of its senior grades.

Beyond all this though, the club’s committee have still managed to lay the foundations in attaining the future of rugby league in the Port Stephens region for years to come.

From this, in a move that president Humphreys labelled as a “principle philosophy of the project,” the Sharks have attempted to bridge the gap between the area’s rugby league community by including a 16’s, two 17’s and an 18’s junior team under the senior Sharks emblem.

President Humphreys explains that the inclusion of the juniors under the Port Stephens Sharks banner was the cornerstone of the project and that was it an absolute essential to the success of the club.

“The Port Stephens Sharks was always going to be about developing our juniors to play senior football in our competition,” Humphreys said.

“We identified from the youngest age, the 16s, where we could start to teach them senior league effectively.”

This decision and the importance of the junior Sharks hasn’t been taken lightly throughout the club as junior coaching co-ordinator Ric Astorini reiterates the importance of the juniors’ relationship with the senior Sharks.

Astorini signalling that the most appropriate action for rugby league in Port Stephens involves having the juniors under the Sharks banner.

“The Sharks are very important for those kids who want to play first division and proceed through to the senior ranks,” explains Astorini.

“It’s essential that [the Sharks inclusion of juniors] be in place for something that the kids can strive for.”

Ric Astorini (Back Row: 2nd from the right) with future Sharks first graders. Photo taken by: Jack Brady

Among all this it is now up to the Sharks to rekindle the area’s support towards senior rugby league and attempt to unite Port Stephens fragmented rugby league community that is Nelson Bay, Stockton, Raymond Terrace and Mallabula into the one entity.

President Humphreys notes that the Port Stephens Sharks longevity relies on the philosophy of incorporating and encompassing all of the shires through the Port Stephens Sharks.

While it may be a tough ask for the Port Stephens Sharks to get the whole community behind them in their first season, the area is not uncommon to success in Newcastle’s ‘Real NRL’ senior rugby league competition in the past.

In the last decade, a club from the area has reached the competitions’ grand final four times: Raymond Terrace in 2003 and the Northern Blues in three consecutive years: 2004, 2005 and 2006.

While only the 2005 Northern Blues managed to win on the day, the unbelievable support has all of those involved in the Sharks, including Ji Hill, convinced that the support for the ailing club will only grow stronger.

Hill, a lynchpin in the Northern Blues side for the best part of the last decade speaks of the Blues grand final run as the most memorable times and the best years of his footballing life.

Hill, who is now the assistant coach of the Port Stephens Sharks first grade side, describes the Blues grand final run as absolutely unreal.

“It was awesome, mate,” Hill said.

“The boys always loved playing at home especially if we got a home semi-final… the hill would always be packed full of blue shirts.”

When quizzed about whether the Sharks can ever reach these previous heights of support Hill is realistic about the matter.

“I do think it’ll happen although in saying that I think the club probably needs a more mature coaching staff to come in and of course for them to bring in some new players to come into the side and mix in with our local guys,” Hill said.

“I think that’s what it’s going to take.”

Like Hill, James McCabe managed to also play throughout the Blues grand final run in the mid-2000s. After beginning his senior rugby league tenure in the area in 1999 before being rewarded the captaincy of the Northern Blues in 2007, McCabe has forayed into unknown territory this season after becoming the Shark’s inaugural captain-coach.

While he says it has been fun, McCabe realises there’s still a whole lot of improvement to do.

“Coaching has been good, it has been difficult because we haven’t had a great start results-wise, but I’ve still enjoyed it,” McCabe said.

While 2004 may have seemed an eternity ago, McCabe still has fond memories of the three consecutive grand finals with the Northern Blues.

“While we didn’t win when we made our first grand final in 2004 it was very special because the area had never been in such a major grand final before,” McCabe said.

(L-R) James McCabe, Wayne Humphreys & Ji Hill

“I remember running out for that first grand final and the hill at the sportsground was just a sea of blue.

“It was something that I’ll never forget.”

Fast-forward eight years and the area’s rugby league landscape has completely changed. The Port Stephens Sharks are thus far the cellar dwellers of this year’s competition, and yet, McCabe isn’t fazed.

“This year was always going to be tough, everyone knew that,” McCabe said.

“I think we can turn it all around come the back end of the year; I think we’ll be better placed than where we’re at now.

“It’s a building process.”

While there have been some positive signs for the Sharks thus far the club is still floundering in the paddling pool. Nevertheless, the fundamentals of the club have been established this year allowing for the club to eventually become the aspired ‘Great Whites’’ in seasons to come.

While the club is still searching the waters for their first win, the Sharks will continue to swim in the Newcastle rugby league ocean, readying itself to attack everyone else in the competition.

In due time, the Sharks will strike.


Monk and D’arcy are guilty of what exactly?

By Jack Brady

With the Australian Olympic Swimming team leaving for the London Olympics yesterday, many are still confused with the ‘controversy’ that the team has been embroiled in with after the supposed haphazard actions of Nick D’arcy and Kenrick Monk.

Monk and D’arcy were reprimanded after Monk uploaded a picture on Facebook of himself and D’arcy posing with firearms three weeks ago. After practically being forced into a ‘self-imposed’ social media ban, Monk and D’arcy will now be sent home immediately after their events are finished at the Olympics, but why?

They posed with guns, in a gun store, in a country where one has the legal right to bear a firearm: how is that punishable?

Eamon Sullivan, a fellow Australian Olympic swimmer came out a few days after the photo was published on Facebook and scrutinized by multiple media outlets around Australia and said simply, “They haven’t done anything wrong.”

Many agree wholeheartedly with Sullivan, I myself tend to agree. I think Swimming Australia are using this situation as a square up for the grief both men have caused the organisation in the past.

Sullivan also established the hypocrisy of Swimming Australia’s punishment as he noted how the organisation took the team to a shooting range in Canberra for a bonding session in lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

In all honesty, while this situation is stupid and should not have garnered the coverage it received, Monk and D’arcy are both dickheads, I’m not a fan of either of them.

D’arcy of course is the man who was convicted of bashing fellow swimmer Simon Cowley before declaring himself bankrupt to avoid paying Cowley damages whilst Monk made a statement to police accusing an imagery driver of an elbow injury after he was supposedly a victim of a hit and run, when instead it was just him falling off his skateboard.

Regardless of their past indiscretions, the punishment of not being able to experience London or in that Europe after the Olympics is harsh, particularly for something that shouldn’t have been punished to begin with.

I mean in the end, they’re just holding legal guns and shooting is an Olympic sport. Shooters don’t get punished for swimming, should it not work both ways?

Supporting Sarah

By Jack Brady

The past two years of hardship and pain her young family have faced seem an eternity away upon entering Sarah Litten’s home.

Mrs Litten’s youngest daughter Brooklyn is buzzing with excitement over her newly discovered pet mice found at the bottom of the family’s aviary.

Her youngest child and only son Eden meanwhile shows off his Batman costume, proudly crashing on to a mattress laid out on the lounge room floor.

It’s quickly made clear Mrs Litten, a brilliant wife and mother, is a lover and not a fighter.

But on the 25th June, 2010, she discovered she was in for an unavoidable battle for her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now in remission, Mrs Litten’s concentration has shifted to preparing other ladies in their respective “battles” against the disease as the pioneer of the Port Stephens Women’s Cancer Support Group.

Mrs Litten was forced to rely on networks in Newcastle for the support she’s looking to introduce to female cancer sufferers in her local area.

“I helped establish [the network] here for a friend of mine. She had blood cancer and didn’t have any help at all, she didn’t have any support and that’s when I thought that Port Stephens needed a support group for all types of cancer,” Mrs Litten said.

“We are planning to help and teach people on how to help themselves. I just thought it would be nice to get everyone in the one place to learn about what is available and how  to help your body after all it’s been through.”

Born in England, Mrs Litten moved to Australia with her husband Andy back in September, 1994.

Mrs Litten first met Andy in 1986 and nervously laughed about how she met him at a nightclub because that’s “how they were so meant to meet”.

Mr Litten laughed off any suggestion of fate as he proudly recalls  “he was a bit of a douche” and joked how it wasn’t uncommon for the ladies to be chasing him.

Engaged after just six months, they married in 1991. Six years, and three kids later, they found solace in Anna Bay after moving between Ballarat, Stockton and even back to England for 18 months.

In 2007 their family was complete with the birth of Eden, the Litten clan were finally settled and living their dream life in Australia.

That was until 2010 when Mrs Litten’s fears about a bump underneath her arm was confirmed as breast cancer. The news shocked her family to their core.

“I knew I was in for the fight of my life straight away,” Mrs Litten said.

The cruel pain of her diagnosis was compounded by the fact her father Eric was dealing with incurable lung cancer.

As Mrs Litten recalled: “It was horrendous. I couldn’t even tell him about my diagnosis, Andy rang him and he just couldn’t believe it.

“I just knew I couldn’t break the news to them, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, to tell Dad when he’s laying there dying from cancer himself that I have it.

“I actually contemplated not even telling them and just going through with everything because I didn’t want to make things worse.”

At this point, Mrs Litten answered every question without hesitation. Even with Eden injecting himself into the interview by amusingly repeating his mother’s answers.

The possibility of tears being shed grew when questions shifted to the death of her father but true to her character she battled through.

Eric passed away in December, 2010, while his daughter was undergoing chemotherapy.

It prevented her from travelling back to England to attend the funeral in what she said was the lowest point of her life.

“I never want to be down that low again but from that I thought I had to carry on. I could have gone two ways: fall down in a heap and never get up or get on with it and fight it, and that’s what I did,” Mrs Litten said.

Adding insult to Mrs Litten’s already difficult cancer turmoil was the fact her husband was made redundant.

Mr Litten put it into perspective however.

“Redundancy was barely anything compared to what Sarah was going through,” he said.

“In hindsight, it was probably a good thing really because it gave me time off to help her out. I never missed any of her treatments or doctor sessions.”

Mrs Litten’s chemotherapy finished up on the eve of 2011, signalling a fresh start for the family following their year from hell.

Mr Litten said it led to a lot of “positives” for his family.

“I think Sarah’s learnt a lot, all the healthy stuff she now does and all the healthy stuff the family is now all doing,” he said.

“It’s led to her doing the cancer support network group which is a great thing.”

Litten now plans on sticking it to cancer through the Port Stephens Women’s Cancer Support Group.

The Port Stephens Women’s Cancer Support Group begun on May 15 and will run every third Tuesday of the month at Salamander Bay Natural Health Services centre.


Matchbox Twenty- She’s So Mean

By Jack Brady

Last week, Matchbox Twenty released a new single, ‘She’s So Mean’ off their forthcoming album North. After listening to the song several times, I can’t help but think Rob Thomas and co. have sold out to musical hell i.e. mainstream.

Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t mind the song, and yet, undeniably, I think the band is trying to reach out to the most impressionable minds when it comes to mainstream music, teenagers.

Teenagers will be the ones requesting it, talking about it and buying the single because of its pop music linage, it will be continually played on mainstream radio stations (think LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It and Maroon 5’s Moves like Jagger), and more  importantly, from the bands’ point of view, they will be making money.

However, to that, I say fuck the teenagers.

How about the band’s loyal fans, like myself and millions of others?

We are the ones who have loved and listened to albums like Mad Season, Yourself or Someone Like You and More Than You Think You Are;  the ones who have loved and enjoyed songs like ‘Bent’, ‘Unwell’ and ‘Push.’

The song is nothing like their previous songs, in fact, in relation to their other songs, its rubbish. It sounds like it should belong on a Maroon 5 album.

If they stuck to their roots, and dare I say not sold out, they would’ve received the same if not a better reception from the fans of their past work.

Matchbox Twenty’s 2007 album, Exile on Mainstream, was a diversion from the bands’ previous work. It was a bold move for the band and it worked. Songs like “How Far We’ve Come” and “I Believe You When” were accompanied with a second disc of the bands’ Greatest Hits. It blurred the lines between old and new, with their new songs bringing loyal and younger fans together. The band pulled off a winner.

Fast-forward five years, and the band has gone to the dark side, and it isn’t good. In my opinion, this song is a slap in the face to the bands’ loyal fans.

Tell me what you think: