THE INSIDE BACK
At last ... Rocky Elsom's return is imminent. Photo: Steve Christo
We're two months into the Super Rugby season but Rocky Elsom's name is finally set to appear on a team sheet, with Waratahs coach Michael Foley to name the international breakaway today in his side to host the Rebels on Saturday night. So far the captain of his own ship, Elsom will for the first time lead out the NSW side as skipper after overcoming long-term hamstring and shoulder injuries that have restricted him to just one Super Rugby game in 18 months.
BEDSY A CERT
Newcastle veteran Danny Buderus may well be on the outer with Country officials but take it as fact that if fit, the 34-year-old rake will be the NSW No.9. Desperate to break a six-year losing streak, coach Ricky Stuart is hoping the presence of the Origin great and former captain will lift the Blues, likening the effect to that of Allan Langer when he returned from England in 2001 to guide Queensland to an unlikely series victory. Like Langer, Buderus typifies what State of Origin is about and while Buderus might not have the ball-playing ability of opposite Cameron Smith or Robbie Farah, Stuart is adamant his presence alone is all that is needed to inspire a Blues side looking to avoid a seventh-straight series loss.
ENNIS ON OUTER
While we're talking Blues No.9s, it's understood the only way incumbent NSW hooker Michael Ennis will get a start in Origin I is if Buderus and Farah are injured. Despite Canterbury's good start to the season, Stuart hasn't been impressed with Ennis's form and, injury or not, insiders say he was never in the frame for a Country jersey. Ennis can play but long-time nemesis Farah has the jump on him and is considered a better attacking option in the event Buderus is unavailable. Look for Farah to battle Kurt Gidley for the all-important interchange role.
The Inside Back linked Willie Mason to Newcastle back in January but, while discussions have continued between representatives of the uncontracted prop and the club, the Knights have yet to table an offer - contrary to reports. Mason would love to reignite his NRL career with the Knights, but The Inside Back was informed the only test the former international faced yesterday was trying to make it from a training session in Centennial Park to his mum's for lunch on time in treacherous weather conditions. Knights coach Wayne Bennett remains keen to secure Mason but, with a big representative season coming up, don't be surprised to see the Wests Tigers reconsider their stance on the enforcer. Mason will play in the NRL this year and the Knights and Tigers could certainly do with some help in the engine room.
Four-time world surfing champ Stephanie Gilmore has credited a Madonna-like re-invention for her stunning return to form this year. In Sydney for this week's fourth stop of the ASP women's world tour - the Layne Beachley Classic at Dee Why - the 24-year-old leads the world rankings and heads into the event with two wins and a second from the first three events. After four consecutive world titles, an assault at her Gold Coast home in last year hampered her season and poor form kept her out of the title race. ''I had to shake a fair bit off last year. But it's a re-invention this year - Madonna style,'' Gilmore said with her trademark laugh. ''This is my best start to a year on the ASP world tour. I enjoy being on tour again, I love competing and I'm passionate about it again.'' The event is expected to run Thursday through Saturday with a six-foot swell expected.
Richard Graham's impending defection from the Western Force has been met with trepidation by bookmakers, sportsbet.com.au putting David Pocock and company at $4 not to win another game this season. Graham will leave at the end of the season to take on the head coaching role at reigning Super Rugby champions the Queensland Reds and his move has already further unsettled a camp that lost star James O'Connor this season and is fighting to retain Wallabies breakaway Pocock.