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The most powerful rugby club in Australia and their 79-year-old star

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Canberra sport covered - from grassroots to gossip.

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ACT Veterans rugby players  are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a club.

ACT Veterans rugby players are celebrating their 20th anniversary as a club. Photo: Supplied

World Cup winners, rugby league legends, politicians and Defence Force chiefs - meet the most powerful rugby team in Australia: the ACT Veterans. After 20 years of getting around the field, plus raising $170,000 for charity since 2006, the Veterans now have an ally in the highest of places - Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove. The Veterans comprise players aged 35 or older and are celebrating their 20th anniversary. Past players include Cosgrove - who was sworn in as Australia's representative to the Queen on Friday - Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham, Canberra Raiders great Mal Meninga, Australian NRL coach Tim Sheens, former ACT Liberal leader Bill Stefaniak and Defence Force boss David Hurley. But perhaps the most popular member is Ian Wells, who at 79 is the Veterans' oldest player and still gets man of the match at every Brumbies curtain-raiser game. Wells, who turns 80 in April, is the Veterans' highest try-scorer, a stalwart of Easts and a former military pilot. Former Royals player John Hillier started the Veterans in 1994. "The score is always 9-9, there's no pushing in scrums, there are three 20-minute periods instead of two halves, over-vigorous play is not tolerated and Ian Wells also gets man of the match at Canberra Stadium," Hillier said of the rules."Sir Peter Cosgrove was our patron in chief ... we are especially chuffed Peter has agreed to maintain the connection with us. But for now I think he's busy settling into Yarralumla."

Vikings' colours cause a stir

The name and colours of Canberra's team in the new National Rugby Championship has caused a stir, but could there be a peace offering? There's a petition to have the Canberra Vikings - backed by the Brumbies, Vikings Group and University of Canberra - to play in traditional ACT colours of blue, white and gold instead of the Vikings' red and white strip. The links to the Tuggeranong Vikings have hit a sore spot with some fans. Vikings Rugby president Geoff Adam hinted if 1000 people signed the petition, the colours of the team could change to suit ACT rugby tradition. One other option is to allow the Vikings players to wear their respective club socks with a red and white Vikings jersey, similar to Barbarians teams. Uni-Norths Owls president Jason Smith said the criticism of the Vikings was unwarranted and all clubs should support the team. Club rugby legend Craig Robberds led Wests to four premierships against the Tuggeranong Vikings and "loved beating them". But Robberds, who also captained the Canberra Vikings in the Brisbane competition, said supporters should forget the hatred. "It's about supporting a pathway for Canberra players, that's the important thing," Robberds said.

ACT Veterans legend Ian Wells - who is 79 years young.

ACT Veterans legend Ian Wells - who is 79 years young. Photo: Supplied

Jones has a screw loose

Canberra golfer Brendan Jones was part of the half-time entertainment for the Raiders last weekend, taking on some Green Machine members in a chipping contest for State of Origin tickets. But the Raiders tragic is close to resuming his real game, having played his first full 18 holes during the week since his wrist surgery last year. Jones is hoping to be fit for the start of the Japan Tour and play in the Token Homemate Cup in mid April. "I also had an X-ray when I got home from New Zealand and it showed up that I have a fracture in my wrist where one of the screws have been put in," Jones said. "I didn't even know I had screws In my wrist, but I have three - so I saw on the X-ray! I think [the fracture] has been there since the screw went in and it doesn't seem to be affecting me too much. If it does start to be a problem it will be another operation to remove the screw and clean up the fracture plus another three months out." 

No fairytale ending

Mark Bartholomeusz of the Vikings celebrates winning the grand final against the Gold Coast during the Queensland Premier Rugby Union competition in 2003.

Mark Bartholomeusz of the Vikings celebrates winning the grand final against the Gold Coast during the Queensland Premier Rugby Union competition in 2003. Photo: Getty Images

Eastlake cricketing duo Peter O'Callaghan and Michael Shaw look forward to spending many summer weekends off, retiring after their semi-final loss last week. “I've played with Pete since 2001 – he's my brother-in-law now, too ... it's been a great ride,” Shaw said. O'Callaghan added: “It would [have been] good to go on and finish with a premiership, but that's sport and sometimes you don't get a fairytale ending.” A 200-run first innings loss was certainly no fairytale, but it was a “bitter-sweet” finale for Shaw, who scored his first ever century for the club as he tried to rescue its grand final chances. Chasing Wests' 444-run target, he came in at 6-9 and made 124 not out. “We both won a two-day flag and we won a one-day flag … so it's a disappointing end, but it's not that it's a regret as such. There's always something on a sporting field you can do more of,” O'Callaghan said. With both now married – O'Callaghan to Shaw's sister – they talk about a future of summer weekend trips to the coast and Saturday family barbecues.

Rain washes away oval opening

There's been an early setback for the new Gungahlin Enclosed oval complex before a ball has been kicked, heavy rain delaying its scheduled opening this weekend. A variety of sporting codes were going to showcase their sports during the day, including Capital Football, AFL NSW/ACT, ACT and Southern NSW Rugby Union as well as Canberra Region Rugby League. The venue is still on track to host its first NEAFL game later this season. The home of division three club the Gungahlin Jets will hand the keys over to the NEAFL on August 10 when the Belconnen Magpies play the Sydney Hills Eagles. The Magpies are hoping they can expand their supporter base out to the growing northern suburbs of Gungahlin.

Canberra golfer Brendan Jones.

Canberra golfer Brendan Jones. Photo: Getty Images

Raiders green with envy over Picker

It hasn't taken long for former Raiders back-rower Joe Picker to find the spotlight. Picker will face his old teammates for the first time when he lines up for South Sydney against the Raiders at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. The Rabbitohs have been in the prime-time Friday night spot twice and opened the season on a Thursday against reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters. It's the sort of free-to-air TV exposure the Raiders can only dream of. Raiders hooker Josh McCrone said: "He's probably got more publicity in the last three weeks playing for Souths than the seven years he had here."

ACT's golden girls

Michael and Peter O'Callaghan are looking forward to their cricket retirement.

Michael and Peter O'Callaghan are looking forward to their cricket retirement. Photo: Melissa Adams

While all the focus has been on bowls' super couple, Andrew Howie and Kelsey Cottrell, the ACT women have continued their rise through the national ranks. Lois Waters, Ruth Moore and Nicole Mengel teamed up to win the gold medal in the triples at the Super Sixes - a lead-up event to the Australian Sides Championships in Burnie, Tasmania, which starts on Monday. Howie missed out on the bronze medal in the singles, losing to Australian representative Aron Sherriff to finish fourth, while Cottrell went back-to-back in the women's singles.

Cavalry finally gets its reward

The Canberra Cavalry might have been champions of Asia since November, but they've only just received the Asia Series trophy they won against some of the biggest teams in world baseball last year. Cavalry chief executive Thom Carter picked up the trophy from Sydney last weekend at the Major League Baseball opening series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cavalry not only became the first Australian team to win a game at the tournament, they went on to win the whole thing. The Australian Baseball League has also received the $500,000 the Cavs won for them at the tournament.

Phoenix not rising in Canberra

April Fool’s Day came early with speculation on Saturday the Wellington Phoenix could relocate its A-League team to Canberra. It was on April 1 last year that a satirical story was circulated on soccer website The Football Sack proclaiming the rise of the Canberra Phoenix. The Phoenix has struggled for crowds and has this season taken home games across New Zealand, to Napier, Christchurch and Eden Park in Auckland. A Canberra team would need to find $6-8 million to get an A-League side off the ground, plus the ongoing funding to make it viable. In the short term, the best chance Canberrans have of seeing quality men’s football will be at next year’s Asian Cup. South Korea will be involved in two of the six group games at Canberra Stadium, while Japan is on track to feature in the quarter-final.

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