Roos skipper ready for AFL season-opener

Kangaroos skipper Jack Ziebell (file) has overcome his injuries and will be ready for round one.North Melbourne skipper Jack Ziebell has fully recovered from the injuries that plagued him last year and is ready to play in the AFL season-opener.
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Ziebell was on a modified training program until early January after undergoing toe surgery and having also endured rib and collarbone injuries in 2017.

The 26-year-old wasn’t named in the Kangaroos’ squad for Friday night’s AFLX round-robin at Etihad Stadium, but he is set to feature later in the pre-season competition.

“He’s had a particularly good post-Christmas period,” coach Brad Scott told reporters on Wednesday.

“He did a lot of preparation without doing a lot of full training prior to Christmas, but he’s come back from the break in great shape … he’s ready to play any time.

“We’re just working with him now to get him in absolutely perfect shape for round one.

“How we structure that we’re not quite sure yet. He won’t play AFLX but we expect him to be absolutely right for (the first pre-season competition game).”

Of more concern to Scott are Mason Wood and Declan Mountford who both picked up injuries in the past week.

Mountford will miss up to a month of training after undergoing surgery to repair an AC joint, while Wood (fractured thumb) will be held out of full contact drills for up to three weeks.

In brighter news for North, veteran goalkicker Jarrad Waite has enjoyed an excellent preparation ahead of his 16th AFL season.

Waite, who has just turned 35, was restricted to 10 games last year by shoulder and calf injuries.

But he will play in the AFLX tournament and Scott is bullish about his prospects this year.

“It is a strange thing to say about someone of his age, but he feels — and I agree with him — that his best footy is ahead of him, and he’s obviously played some high level footy in the past,” the coach said.

“We’ll probably manage his pre-season games to a certain extent, but I think the AFLX game will suit him.

“He wants to get out there and play, and while he is really enthusiastic, we want to get our best players out there and having a crack at this concept.”

Volume down, but 2018 Hunter vintage shows signs of greatness

Vintage 2018: Winemaker Andrew Thomas (no hat) checks the picking bins at Cot’e D’or vineyard. Picture: Daniel HonanEarly start, early finish.
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In the wine industry, an early start can put the pressure onplanning and preparation in time for when the grapes are ready to be picked. Lucky for wine lovers, experience comes as standard in ’s oldest wine region.

“I’ve never experienced a year where we had everything picked before February,” Tempus Two winemaker Andrew Duff says. “But, essentially, wine production wasn’t affected by much more than a shift in the harvest window and I think we will taste some outstanding wines from the 2018 vintage.”

While much of the Hunterhas been experiencing drought conditions, the wine country’s undergroundirrigation system has keptthirsty vines alive and well.

“While most vineyards have the ability to irrigate, nothing replaces rainfall for refilling parched soil,” Vitibit viticultural consultantLiz Riley explains. ““We have had a very dry season, which has come off a very dry winter, so the vines have generally had smaller canopies and lighter crops.

“The early start to vintage 2018 was something we had an inkling of right from the start of the season, with budburst being quiet early. And, while this unprecedented dry spell and hot weather has impacted yields, with fruit quantity being down on previous years, the quality is marvellous.”

Worth smiling about: Grape picker Lisa Hambly in the Hunter Valley. Picture: Daniel Honan

“I think 2018 will be quite a strong vintage in the Hunter Valley,” says Chris Tyrrell, CEO of Tyrrell’s Wines. “Semillon always performs well here, but this year I think we’ll see richer examples with softer acids – similar to 2014. Chardonnay will be the star of the white varieties, shiraz is looking spectacular, sublime even, with the lack of rain over harvest and the cooler nights during the end of January really helping to keep the fruit in pristine condition and allow plenty of flavour to develop.”

Over in thesub-region of Broke, winegrowers like Andrew Margan were surprised at the precocious nature of the 2018 vintage, but, ultimately pleased with the result.

“January 5th is the earliest I have ever picked,” Margan says. “Semillon, chardonnay and verdelho are all outstanding, with lovely ripe flavours and balanced alcohols that should let them live long, but will also drink well early. This year marks my third vintage of albariño [white, Spanish grape variety]and the first one where I reckon I got the vineyard management right. I’m really excited about this wine.”

It seems the alternate varieties, like albariño, vermentino, touriga and tempranillo are coming into their own in the Hunter.

“Tempranillo can be a challenge to grow in the Hunter, but this year, in particular, it’s demonstrated its potential as an alternate variety, capable of producing some unique and delicious wines” says winemaker Daniel Binet, from Domaine De Binet in Lovedale.

“We started picking on the 4th of January, our earliest vintage ever,” says Linda Keeping from Two Rivers, near Denman. “The long dry summer impacted our expected tonnages, but overall we couldn’t be happier with how the harvest has progressed. All our fruit was clean with great fruit flavour and intensity, particularly our whites; semillon, chardonnay, and verdelho.”

The 2018 vintage in the Hunter Valley will be remembered as one that was short, hot and dry, with a fast start and early finish, low yields but high quality, with plenty of fine wine to look forward to, as the year unfolds. In the meantime, we should all pray for rain.

Adam and Brooke put trust in their music

After ten years together, Brooke McClymont (R) and Adam Eckersley have released their first album.From the beginning, Brooke McClymont and Adam Eckersley have truly tested their relationship.
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The country musicians grew up on the same street in Grafton NSW and were friends before anything else, but by the time they decided to make it something else, Eckersley had a nine-month-old son from a previous relationship and was living in a van.

“I was like ‘what am I doing’? I’d never thought of myself as going into a relationship as a step mum, but we just kind of said ‘Let’s do it’,” McClymont told AAP.

So she jumped in, despite any potential reservations she may have had. Their life in a van at Merewether Beach in Newcastle lasted a month before they embarked on the next test – moving into an actual house together.

Within 18 months, they were married.

It’s ten years later and the couple have a five-year-old daughter, a strong relationships and have managed to maintain their separate music careers in popular country groups The McClymonts and the Adam Eckersely Band.

So, obviously, it felt like time for their next test – their first album together.

“There were a lot of ‘firsts’ with this project so it kept it interesting. Like producing it ourselves, working together on a serious project, picking what the sound was going to be, creating something fresh,” McClymont said.

The self-titled album has been a decade in the making.

“We’d kind of been writing for ten years, we had a few in the catalogue and really went back and looked at those songs. A few of them were perfect for this project so we only had about five songs to write for the album,” McClymont said.

On their first track, Train Wreck, they sing: “Have you had enough of this crazy ride yet?”

But these two seem to thrive on the unpredictable. It’s unlikely either of them will be jumping off this ride any time soon.

The rest of the album sounds like an honest love letter to a relationship that has survived every test this pair have thrown at it.

“Musically we both have so much respect for each other and where we come from with music, we sort of naturally found that we complemented each other,” Eckersley said.

* Adam & Brooke the album is out now and the pair are currently on a national tour

Artist Mitch ‘Revs’ Resevsky’s detailed Surfest artwork to raise funds for the Mark Hughes Foundation

Teamwork: Mitch ‘Revs’ Resevsky with Mark Hughes at Reseveky’s home. He sells prints in different sizes through mitchrevs苏州夜总会招聘 Picture: Simon McCarthyARTIST and illustrator Mitch ‘Revs’ Resevsky likes to keep his creations “busy”.
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“Anartwork for me is something you can stand in front of and see something different every time,” he said.

“I want them to be jam packed full of personality.”

Capturing Surfest for the battle against brain cancer Surfest 1985 at Newcastle beach attracted a large crowd.

1985 inaugural Surfest winner Tom Curren.

Pam Burridge, left listens to the female winner of the inaugural Surfest event in 1985, Wendy Botha. Pic Quentin Jones

TweetFacebookHeraldto celebrateSurfest, is inspired by Michael Eggleston’s work and features local icons including Mark Richards, a coal ship and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, plus landmarks such as the Pumphouse, Surfhouse and Merewether Surf Life Saving Club.

“I want to show everyone how great the event is for Newcastle and what it brings here,” he said.

“I want it to be something people have on their wall and go ‘We live in a really cool place’.”

But there’s also a few hidden surprises.

“There’s a half-pipe in the foreground and I couldn’t help but draw a little dog doing a wee and it running down,” he said.

“I put in all these little bits that don’t stand out to everyone but they’ll see it one day and go ‘Oh!’”

Merewether-raised Resevsky, 27, spent about 12 hours every day for the past fortnight creating the work.

He sketched in blue pencil, red pencil and then black Sharpie, before scanning the image into his computer and colouring it using Photoshop to create a digital artwork.

He laughed at suggestions it could be recreated as a mural.

“You can get someone else to paint it, because it took me two weeks to do it that size and I don’t want to be standing painting it for a year,” he said.

“It would be nice to see it somewhere big but I think maybe doing a vinyl print would be better.”

Resevskyis hoping to have Surfest competitors sign a print, which he has offered to theMark Hughes Foundation to auction to fund its work raising awareness about, promotingresearch into and supporting patients with brain cancer.

Resevskysaid he had lost two friends to brain cancer, including a seven year old.

“Mitch can’t do enough for us,” Hughes said.

“He’s a super talented local bloke who wants to use his talents tomake a difference and help people.

“His work is just awesome.”

Hughessaid the foundation “jumped at the chance” to be involved in Surfest through the inaugural Evolution Charity Cup.

Cricket: Hunter product Grant Stewart marks A-List debut for Kent with scalp of former Windies captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul

MOMENT: Hunter cricketer Grant Stewart (right) receives a Kent cap ahead of his List A debut on tour in the West Indies. Picture: Kent County Cricket Club websiteHUNTER product Grant Stewart has made an immediate mark in his List A debut for English county club Kent and next up opponent will be West Indies superstar Chris Gayle.
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TheNewcastle and NSW Country representativecould send themdown to the big-hitting Jamaicanin a tour match Thursday(ADST) fresh from dismissing former Windies skipper Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Stewart, who turns 24 on Monday, took the prized scalp playing Guyana on the weekend en route tofigures of 3-17 from8.1 overs.

SCALP: Screen shot of scorecard showing Grant Stewart dismissing former West Indies captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Picture: Facebook via Northern Suburbs Cricket Club

“A great privilege getting to pull on the @kentcricket coloured kit for my List A debut on Saturday,” Stewart posted on social media.

“Has been an unbelievable experience so far on the @FGSPlant tour of the West Indies.”

The recent University all-rounder, who last year signed with Kent until the end of 2019, is playing alongside one-time City captain-coachMitch Claydon and being mentored by former Test bowlers Allan Donald and Min Patel.

WINNERS: Wallsend’s Nathan Price (third from left at front) holds the trophy after NSW claimed the National Indigenous Championships in Alice Springs on Monday. Picture: Twitter via Cricket NSW

* WALLSENDall-rounderNathan Pricehas steered NSW to another National Indigenous Championships title after reversing last year’s decider against Victoria in Alice Springs on Monday night.

“Yeah it feels amazing,” Price told Cricket NSW media. “This was something we’ve been looking forward to ever since last season, and to have Victoria in the final this year and to win was obviously amazing.”

ROUND 13: Toronto v Charlestown; Belmont v Wests; Hamwicks v City; Waratah v Cardiff; Merewether v Stockton; University v Wallsend.

* NOVOCASTRIAN Jason Sangha resumed playing with Sydney club Randy Petes on Saturday followingthe Under-19 World Cup.

NRLNewcastle Knights throw career life-line to former Canberra and Warriors centre Matt Allwood

All aboard as Knights sign former Raiders centre Matt Allwood goes up for a bomb while at the Raiders
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Matt Allwood

TweetFacebookNewcastle Knights have boosted their backline depth with the signing of former Canberra Raiders and Warriors centre Matt Allwood.

Allwood 25, linked with the club this weekon a part-time contract and is expected to line up in a NSW Cup trial against North Sydney on Friday night at Redfern Oval.

Read more: Tyrone Amey signs contract with Lakes United

While he fallswell short of being the top-line centre recruit coach Nathan Brown is still craving, the Scone-born Allwood does boast some NRL experience and could become a more than handy back-up this season.

“It’s a part-time deal that just gives us a little bit of extra insurance as far as ouroutside back situation goes,”Knights head of football Darren Mooney said.

“Simon [Woolford, NSW Cup coach] is taking a big squad down for a trial with North Sydney and Matty will have his first run for usin that.”

Allwood was set to play for Wynnum Manly in the Queensland Cup this year after finishing a three year deal at the Warriors at the end of last season.

But the Seagulls reluctantly agreed to released him on compassionate grounds with Allwood recently moving back to the Central Coast to be closer to his family.

Ironically, the Knights tried unsuccessfully to sign Allwood several years ago when he was still a teenagerbuthe opted to join the Canberra Raiders after attending Farrar Agricultural High School.

He played in the juniors for the Raiders before making his NRL debut in the centres at 21 for the club in a 28-22 loss tothe Cowboys in Townsville in round 1, 2014.

But after making 11 appearances that year in the top grade, he signed a three year deal with the Warriors where hisNRL career stalled.

He managed just six NRL games during that period before his contract expired at the end of last season.

But he has been one of the Warriors leading players in the NSW Cup and represented NSW Residents in both 2016 and 2017.

After scoring three tries in three NRL games in 2015, he made four appearances in 2016 but did not get a look in last season under new coach Stephen Kearney.

It is understood Allwood’s signing won’t influence the club’s continued pursuit for a top-line centre if the right player comes on the market before June 30.

“We are keeping ouroptions open,”Mooney said.

Meanwhile,the Knights are expected toofficially announce the signing of young Cronulla Sharks centre Jesse Ramien on a two year deal before the end of this week.

In a move first revealed ontheHeraldwebsite on Sunday night,Ramien, a Junior Kangaroo and NSW Under 20’s representative, has signed for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

It’s understood the Sharks were desperate to re-sign the 20-year-old, who made his NRL debut for the club against the Knights in last season’s final round, while the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers also hotly pursued the young centre.

Knights insiders claim suggestions Ramien’s signing was part of a swap deal involving Trent Hodkinson are well wide of the mark.

“His signing has absolutely nothing to do with Trent going to Cronulla,”a source said.

“The Sharks did everything they could to keep him.”

Warners Bay post office inquest day three: Stephen Hodge shot four times after lunging at police with large knife

FATAL CONFRONTATION: Mobile phone footage shows the moments before a knife-wielding Stephen Hodge was shot dead by two police officers in the Warners Bay post office car park on September 9, 2015. THE police officer who became trapped behind a gate during a tense stand-off with knife-wielding postal worker Stephen Hodge said he repeatedly called on the advancing 51-year-old to drop the weapon until he had no choice but to shoot.
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Lake Macquarie Senior Constable Jamie Taylor was giving evidence at a coronial inquest into the death of Mr Hodge, who was shot four times by police in the car park of the Warners Bay post office on September 9, 2015.

‘You don’t want to do this’: Warners Bay post office shooting inquesthttps://nnimgt-a.akamaihd苏州夜场招聘/transform/v1/crop/frm/v6ZqFubQfSczSV22Th78nc/144b7b4f-008c-4f5f-9ffc-1ebb08b7957b.JPG/r0_163_5400_3214_w1200_h678_fmax.jpg”I called on him numerous times to put the weapon down until it got to the point where I thought if I didn’t discharge my weapon I was going to be stabbed,” Senior Constable Taylor, local-news, stephen hodge, warners bay, shooting, postal worker, post office, inquest, police2018-02-14T17:00:00+11:00https://players.brightcove苏州夜场招聘/3879528182001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5732347263001https://players.brightcove苏州夜场招聘/3879528182001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5732347263001Constable Taylor and his partner, Constable Darren Hamilton, had been called to Postmans Lane after reports Mr Hodge was chasing the postmaster, Brendan Hogan, with a large knife.

For about 40 seconds the pair tried unsuccessfully to communicate with an agitated, bleeding and intoxicated Mr Hodge, repeatedly demanding, and then requesting, that he put the knife down.

“Come on mate you don’t want to do this,” Senior Constable Taylor said at one point.But after Mr Hodge suddenly turned and advanced on then-Constable Taylor, the knife raised, the police officer found himself on the other side of a gate.

RELATED:Warners Bay post office inquest day two

Heexplained on Wednesdaythat if he tried to move to his left he would have been too close to Mr Hodge and the knife or possibly in the line of fire of his partner.

So he backed up as Mr Hodge “advanced quickly”, closing the gap.

SCARED: Stephen Hodge confronts his boss Brendan Hogan in the post office on September 9, 2015.

“I called on him numerous times to put the weapon down until it got to the point where I thought if I didn’t discharge my weapon I was going to be stabbed,” Senior Constable Taylor said.

RELATED:Warners Bay post office inquest day one

The inquest is exploring a number of issues relating to Mr Hodge’s death, including the significance of the fact that then-Constable Taylor became trapped between a gate and the fence in the post office car park as Mr Hodge advanced as well as how the management of Mr Hodge’s behaviour and performance at work as well as his mental illness contributed to his erratic behaviour on the day he died.

At the conclusion of his evidence, Senior Constable Hamilton was asked if there was anything he would say to Mr Hodge’s mother, Janet.

“Just to express my condolences to the family,” he said.

LONER: Stephen Hodge was described as a man with “no children, no hobbies, no pets and no friends”.

Senior Constable Jamie Taylor.

Auction action: Lifestyle and location in Darby Street home

PRIME POSITION: This home on Darby Street is within walking distance of Bar Beach and The Junction and will be taken to auction today with a price guide of $1 million to $1.1 million.Afive-bedroom residence in Cooks Hill’s Darby Street will headline auctions around town on Saturday.
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The home is seton 424 square metres of land within walking distance of Bar Beach, The Junction shopping village and Darby Street’s cafe and restaurant strip.

It is being marketed by First National Newcastle City’s Tom Lemke with a price guide of $1 million to $1.1 million, which he described as “the cheapest home you can get that close to the beach”.

Mr Lemke said around 60 groups had been through the home in the three-week campaign.

It is set for auction at 10.30am.

First National also have twotownhouses in Merewether going under the hammer on Saturday.

A brand new three-bedroom executive residence designed by architect Jodie Dixon at 61 Helen Street will be auctioned at 9am with a price guide of $1.3 million to $1.43 million.

A three-bedroom duplex built in 2015 at 213 Morgan Street will auction at 4pm with a guide of $1.15 million to $1.25 million.

At PRDnationwide’s auction night on February 7, homes in Farrington Avenue, Caves Beach ($562,500),Laman Street, Cooks Hill ($767,500) and Marsden Street, Shortland ($588,000) all sold under the hammer.

The auction of a home on 914 square metres in WilliamStreet,Jesmondmarketed by McGrath Estate Agents’ Tammy Hawkins proved popular with 13 registrations last Saturday.

Related: Warners Bay, Jesmond properties in demand

It had a guide of $550,000and eventually sold for $710,000, a record for the tightly held street.

In James Street,Merewethera period home across from the park sold for $1.005 million for the street’s first million-dollar sale.

A two-bedroom home which had only ever had one owner in Hamilton Street,Kahibahsold for $592,000.

Read more: Rock star to auctioneer: a property journey

BoatingGet the power party startedMark Rothfield

SUPER-SIZE: The powerful MasterCraft XT25 is the perfect platform for socialising and watching the wake action. IF MasterCraft’s new, super-sized XT25 runabout takes your fancy, the first thing you’ll need is a tribe of 18 people to fill it.In fact, your kids might have to issue a party post on Snapchat.
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The 25-footer is the largest and most expensive multipurpose crossover boat in the US builder’s five-boat XT range, targeting the towsport enthusiast who truly appreciates the finer things in life and has a Brady Bunch of family and friends.It’s not just big in capacity – the all-around performance and luxury features apparently set the industry standard for towboat activities.

The interior layout has more rear-facing seating than ever, giving passengers a front-row view of the wake action.This includes a standard flip-up rear facing seat that can convert into a bench seat, plus an optional starboard pull-up seat with a raising backrest that also converts into a bench.

Mastercraft employs three full-time naval architects, more than any other builder, to perfect the hull shape, drive system, surf tabs and ballast distribution of each new model. Here, they’ve opted for a traditional vee bow, rather than a pitchfork.

The underwater entry is kept relatively sharp to cushion the ride beneath the bow but the vee flattens considerably as it travels aft.

Soft ballast tanks are located centrally beneath the helm and aft quarters.

The 7.7-metre hull delivers everything from huge wakeboard wakes to massive customisable surf waves and smooth slalom skiing.

The optional Gen 2 Surf System has been customised for the XT25, creating three zones of sculpted lips and curling surf waves.To this you can add almost 1.3 tonnes of water ballast.

There’s an easy-folding, shock-assisted tower as standard, though MasterCraft’s premium Power Towers are options – these bring custom colours, speaker layouts and vertical storage.

Naturally, the XT25 carries the exclusive Klipsch audio system that gives concert-level sound to every corner of the cockpit as well as aft to the skier.

A single 4.5-inch touch-screen dash is standard but it’s worth stretching your budget to the optional dual-screen version that simplifies the driving mode and improves helm styling.You get diagnostic information, navigation data and a Go-Pro view astern.

Another innovation is the DockStar handling system, which places two smaller rudders ahead of the propeller to direct the waterflow when reversing and counteract prop torque.It would be a godsend when manoeuvring such a large and powerful boat in confined marinas and ramp areas.

The XT25 has a choice of GM-sourced petrol V8 engines, all marinised by Ilmor Marine.Base motor is the 5.3-litre direct injection 5500, while 6.2-litre and 7.4-litre powerplants are optional.

CELEBRATION: Sibby Ilzhofer, Dare Devil’s skipper and owner, will be part of a guest panel at a special dinner at the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. Photo: Ben Rushton

If you’re planning to party, and carry a hefty water ballast load, the additional power wouldn’t go astray.

The prop is shaft-borne, running through a vee-drive to an angle of around 16 degrees. This helps keep the bow down at displacement speeds, with a heavier bow wave integral to creating more energy astern.Sydney’s Blakes Marine is the NSW dealer.

FAREAST LIVING LARGEPERFORMANCE yachting brand Fareast is heading northwards with its size ambitions, developing the 37R for the bigger boat market.

It’s a milestone for Fareast as they fill a void in the cruiser-racer segment that’s been vacated by bigger brands over the past few years.

Hull lines are reminiscent of the R-series, capitalising on the proven track record of the 28R in mixed-fleet events like Sail Port Stephens.

The 37-footer features a large asymmetric kite and a carbon keel fin sporting an 1800-kilogram lead bulb. The interior includes carbon and stainless inlays with ambiance backlighting, while keeping weight to a bare minimum.

Toasting our top sailorsA SPECIAL dinner at Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club on February 23 will honour the 20 Hunter sailors who took part in the recent Sydney-Hobart.

“We’d love to have a big crowd celebrate with us,” Club CEO Paul O’Rourke said. “If you’re interested in the race, you’ll find the event fascinating.”

A guest panel will include Sibby Ilzhofer, skipper and owner of Dare Devil. She’s the Culprit co-owner Glen Picasso will also speak after gaining second place in PHS and third in the Corinthian division.

It starts at 7pm, with tickets just $55. All funds go to the Youth Sailing Academy Keelboat program.

Surfest 2018: Sally Fitzgibbons and Matt Banting out to bounce back

Sally FitzgibbonsSally Fitzgibbons and Matt Banting have been coming toSurfest since their earliest days of dreaming about world tour success.
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Now both are heading to Merewether for the February 19-25 main events on the comeback trail after seeing their hopes come“crashing down”.

Fitzgibbons, a three-time runner-up in the world championship, led the 2017 race before the season-ending Maui Pro but was knocked out in the second round by local wildcard Brisa Hennessy.ItallowedCulburra’s Tyler Wright, who is returning to Surfest after a seven-year absence, to go on and claim a second consecutive world crown.

The heart-breaking loss left Fitzgibbons, now 27 and starting her 10thyear on tour, with an eighth top-four season finish without a maiden world crown.She admitted it was tough coming to terms with the defeat.

“It was like this crescendo to a lot of different things,” Fitzgibbons said.“That feeling of just sitting there in that fairytale that Ivisualisedto happen, and itjust didn’t.

“To know at the end of the day the reward is I get to stand back up, put the jersey on again this season and try again, that’sthe beauty of it all.And I think just the overwhelming amount of support really just gotme back on my board and in the water again.

Sally Fitzgibbons winning Surfest in 2016

“It took a couple of weeks where I just rode my twin fin, just sat in the water and I kind of triedto digest it. It was pretty tricky,for all that to come crashing down. It’s such abig emotional, mental ride as well as thephysical.Just the end of the year as well, it all kind of releases and pours out.

“It was brilliant, though, that after everything, I go back to the ocean and let it be my comfort.I was just in the water a lot over Christmas, and with people Ilove, and on boards and riding waves, which is why I definitelystarted this journey.”

Shestarts her competitive year in Newcastleagainst a class field featuring13 of the top 18 ranked surfers, including of courseWright, at theGrandstand Sports Clinic Women’s Pro –a 6000-point event on the World Surf Leaguequalifying series.

“It’s so good to see the top seeds there,” said Fitzgibbons, who meets wildcard trials winner Alysse Cooper in the round of 48.“Obviously it’s close to home for us Aussies and it’s a good way to start the year. I just love coming to Newy, and these match-ups are such good intel.Just to check out what needs to happenin your own performance to really match it with the best.”

The Gerroa product,champion at Surfest in 2016 and 2012 and also a pro junior winner,isarguably the carnival’smost popular visitor.And the feeling is mutual.

“It just feels awesome, just walking down the beach, it feels like a second home,” she said.“And that support for women’s surfing–I still really have that memory of when I had that final with Steph [Gilmore] a couple of years back.The whole beach was packed and to see people lining the boardwalk, those moments are in the memory chest and just present …they pull me back each time and just remind me how special it is to compete in .”

For Banting, the 2014 men’s champion,theroad back to Surfest has been much longer.

Matt Banting at Surfest 2014

The Port Macquarie natural-footer burst onto thechampionship tour in 2015 but missed the second half of the season with a knee injury. He returned in 2016butwas sidelined again thatDecember andspent more than a yearrecovering from osteitis pubis,an inflammation of the pubic bone and surrounding muscle.

Now 23, Banting returned to competition last week for the first time in 14 months at the 1000-point Great Lakes Pro, where hemade a semi-final exit.

He wasdetermined to kick-start his shot at acomeback to the CTat the 6000-point Burton Automotive Pro after a break which included losing his major sponsor andworking part-time concreting with his dad.

“It was all on the up for me, but as soon as I got tothe back half of 2016, I just started feeling it in America and it got worse and worse,” Banting said.“I powered through it and tried to surf heats the rest of the year with a bit of pain and everything.Quiksilver ended up dropping me at the end of the year when my contract was up as well.

“Everything was up until then, then it all come crashing down pretty hard. Then I had all of last year to sit around and think about it and reassess.

“It’s kind of re-lit the fire within me and I just want to get back going, get back on the CT, get that winning feeling again and get some money behind me and be successful.

“There’s not much I could really do about it, being forced to sit out. I’ve just got to take it as part of God’s plan and move forward.”

Matt Banting at Surfest 2014

Banting avoided surgery but took anti-inflammatory drugsfor about eight months beforea thirdscan showed swellingaround the pubic bone had finally died down. The condition, more common in football and AFL players, kept Banting out of all surfing for nine months and forced him to change his approach to training.

“I think I kind of created it from some exercises in the gym, doing heavy weights, rugby league kind of training,” he said.“Now I’m off all that and just doing a lot of core work, just stretching and more functional stuff, which is good.

“I’m just getting the core strong again and I’vegot into bike riding, swimming, running, things like that.”

Happy with his return at Boomerang Beach last week, Banting washoping to “channel some of that 2014” at Surfestwhenhe beat Nathan Hedge in the final with two nine-point rides.

“I can always take some confidence from that win there,” he said.“I had a couple of good results back in the juniors there as well. Other than Boomerang and places like that, it’s the closest meaningful event to home. I’ve got some family there as well, and after having the past year off competitively, I’m hungrier than ever to get some good results in these next few.”

Banting, a wildcard, will start in the round of 144 against Soli Bailey,Joshua Burke and AndyCriere.

World No.5 Matt Wilkinson, the 2016 winner, is the top seed, ahead of training partner Owen Wright.