Hodges deserved captaincy: Parker

There were no awkward moments when Justin Hodges was named Brisbane captain ahead of Corey Parker.

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“Coz (Parker) was probably the first to congratulate me,” said Hodges, who shared the Brisbane reins with Parker last year.

However, one looms ahead of Thursday night’s NRL season opener against South Sydney at Suncorp Stadium.

Hodges had been expected to lead the team out after returning coach Wayne Bennett opted for the veteran centre ahead of Parker and Sam Thaiday.

But Broncos tradition indicates a player celebrating a major milestone runs out first.

And Parker becomes just the second Brisbane player to shatter the 300-game barrier in the NRL blockbuster.

It has the potential to strain the friendship but Parker seemed bemused by the predicament.

“We haven’t actually spoken about that but Hodgo is the captain so I assume he will run out first,” he smiled.

Parker confirmed he was the first to embrace Hodges after Bennett made the captaincy call last week.

“Why wouldn’t I? He is a great mate of mine,” he said.

“He is the captain and I endorse that.

“It’s a great achievement. It was only right for me to go and congratulate him.

“It was a great reward for him.”

However, Parker said no longer having the ‘c’ against his name would not alter his on-field leadership role.

“Nothing is going to change with me,” he said.

“We have leaders throughout different departments on the field.”

It may be a milestone match for Parker but it also looms as a big game for Bennett.

It will mark the foundation Broncos coach’s official return since ending a seven-year hiatus and reclaiming the Brisbane coaching reins.

Asked if Bennett’s return was like putting on an old pair of slippers, Parker laughed: “They are an old pair of slippers.

“(But) he has been refreshing for the club.

“He made it clear as soon as he came back that things were going to change and for the better.”

Asked if Bennett was nervous ahead of his comeback match, Parker said: “You have to ask him.

“He holds a pretty good poker face.”

Meanwhile, Lachlan Maranta slotted onto the right wing ahead of Daniel Vidot, while Aaron Whitchurch was named as a utility on an extended bench.

Whitchurch last played for Brisbane in 2013 before suffering a back injury.

Big name recruits named to make their Broncos debuts are pivot Anthony Milford, Kiwi prop Adam Blair and impact forward James Gavet.

Morgan at No.1, Lui at No.6 for NQ

The race for North Queensland’s No.

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1 jersey has been won by Michael Morgan.

And Robert Lui has snapped up the five-eighth spot – not that you could tell from the official team list.

Incumbent Morgan has relegated ex-Penrith No.1 Lachlan Coote to the second-tier Queensland Cup after emerging triumphant in an intriguing pre-season duel for fullback.

Morgan had been tipped to slot into the halves with co-captain Johnathan Thurston despite a sensational 2014 at fullback that ended with a Kangaroos Four Nations train-on squad nod.

But Morgan will remain at fullback for Saturday night’s NRL season opener against Sydney Roosters in Townsville with Lui at pivot – but not according to the team list.

Eyebrows were raised when Thurston was named at five-eighth and Lui at halfback for the round one clash.

But Cowboys coach Paul Green has reportedly since called it a “typo”, reassuring fans that Thurston will remain at halfback.

He said Lui’s combination with Thurston in the halves during the pre-season sealed his start.

“Robbie worked hard over the pre-season and his trial form has been pretty good too,” Green said.

“I picked the team on form.”

Green believed Coote was set to play a key role for North Queensland – but just not yet.

“It was his jersey to lose,” Green said of Morgan at fullback.

“Given Cootey hasn’t played a lot of footy in the last two years – I think he has played six games – he needs a bit of footy in the legs.

“Cootey will make a contribution for us this year at some stage – I am not sure when that is, but.”

In other team news, ex-Bronco Ben Hannant will partner co-captain Matt Scott in the front row, relegating former Test prop James Tamou to the bench.

Still, Green dipped his hat to Tamou who completed a long comeback from neck surgery with a head-turning 45 minute trial display last weekend against Cup side PNG Hunters.

North Queensland take on the Roosters for the first time since their controversial 31-30 loss in the 2014 NRL semi-finals.

Green did not have to be told his side were expected to go a couple of steps further in their 20th year.

“I’ve been a little bit excited this week,” he said.

“I said to the boys to make sure we build our week ready for Saturday, we don’t want to get ready for the game too early.

“I’ve got to keep myself in check as well.”

Panthers ready to go one better in NRL

Jamie Soward has declared the Penrith Panthers have the spine to go one better than last year and make the NRL grand final.

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The Panthers have one of the strongest creative cores in the competition in veterans Soward and Peter Wallace forming the halves, last year’s surprise packet James Segeyaro at hooker and representative star of the future Matt Moylan in the custodial role.

Soward said the quartet’s combination had improved after a year, and a pre-season, together and had the potential to go better than last year’s heart-breaking preliminary final exit.

“I’d like to think I’ve got a better understanding of Matt and James’ games,” Soward said.

“I understood Wal’s a lot earlier because we’re older guys and we room together and spend a lot of time together.

“With the young guys, just keeping up with them is the main thing.

“We’re a tight-knit spine. You’ve got Isaac John there as well who can step in at the drop of the hat.

“Between the five of us, we’ve got a real good combination there and if everyone does their job right, we can go further this year.”

The Panthers will kick off their season with a grudge match against Canterbury at Pepper Stadium on Sunday.

It was the Bulldogs that brought their fairytale run to an end last year, one game short of the grand final.

The Panthers’ playmakers have had a disrupted pre-season with Soward (ankle) and Segeyaro (ankle) having minor surgery while Wallace is returning from an ACL injury which cut short his 2014 season.

Moylan, meanwhile, returned late after earning a call-up to Australia’s Four Nations squad.

“Wal coming back in different stages through the pre-season, he had to get his knee moving, we had him chiming in and then I had surgery and Chicko (Segeyaro) had surgery and Matty was in the Four Nations,” Soward said.

“Before Christmas we didn’t really have much to do with each other but after Christmas we got back together and I think we understand that we’ve all developed our games from last year.

“Everything’s looking good, I can’t say that enough at the moment, we’re ready to go.”

Gilmore’s dominance can be ‘infuriating’

Layne Beachley reckons Stephanie Gilmore’s dominance of the women’s world surfing tour has left her younger Australian rivals furious and frustrated.

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But the seven-time champion has urged them to use that as fuel to break through.

Gilmore is just one crown short of Beachley’s all-time record, having claimed six of the past eight championships.

Hawaii’s Carissa Moore is the only other winner since 2007.

Compatriots Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons have both been runner-up twice to Gilmore – and last year were within arm’s reach of the 2014 title at the final round.

“I know that can be infuriating, it can be frustrating,” Beachley told AAP.

“You get to a state where you keep asking yourself: `How can I beat this girl? What more do I have to do?’

“When you have your competitors questioning themselves against you, then you have a distinct advantage over them.

“But then, when you’ve got someone as young and passionate and hard-working as Tyler, vying for your position, then it keeps you looking over your shoulder as well.”

The 42-year-old said the likes of Wright and Fitzgibbons needed to try “shake off” the heartbreak and return fresh, energised and focused.

“That’s what I did throughout my career – I was winning every year, but I would start fresh every year as well, so I would never bring last year’s results into this year’s mindset,” she said.

“Having the capacity to do that and then the motivation to maintain that mindset is another skill in itself.”

Beachley said she could never rule Gilmore out of a world title position, given her experience, competitive nature and ability.

“But I know she’s got a hell of a job ahead of her to repeat it considering the level of talent she’s up against,” she said.

Much has been made of Gilmore’s chance to match Beachley’s record title haul, but they are yet to chat about it beyond a brief TV interview for 60 Minutes last month.

“That was only on camera – we haven’t actually spoken about it off-line,” Beachley said.

“So I will definitely have that conversation with her when I see her next.

“Steph’s just got to be conscious of the fact that she may be looking for excuses instead of ways to achieve it.”

Gilmore has been nominated for the Laureus World Action Sports Award – Beachley, who is now a Laureus ambassador, won that award in 2004.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in Shanghai on April 15.

Badminton lacks future ‘star’, says Indonesia’s Taufik

As the world’s best prepared for this season’s first Premier Superseries, with China seeded to win four of the five titles, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic champion, said the game was “only about Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the moment.

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That long-lasting rivalry, however, will not continue in Birmingham, as Malaysia’s Lee is still suspended indefinitely for failing a doping test at last August’s world championships.

Lee, who won silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, remains confident he can clear his name when a Badminton World Federation panel conducts a hearing into the case.

With Lee missing, Taufik said he could not predict the next big rivalry to excite the sport, largely due to inconsistency among the players at the top of the men’s game.

“For a great player, we will have to wait five more years as the standard is going up and down,” said twice All-England runner-up Taufik, who retired in 2013.

“Everyone has a different style. After (Lee) Chong Wei and Lin leave, who else is there? Chen Long [the current world number one] perhaps, but he is not like these two. He has a different style and a different character.

“Badminton needs an icon like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis. It is a question of how you become a champion and stay at the top.”

TRUE STAR

Taufik’s view was echoed by Denmark’s former world number one Peter Gade.

“The combination of finding a true star is a complex thing,” said Gade, the last European to win the men’s title here in 1999. “We need to see some of the younger players coming through and show that they have the full package.”

Gade and Taufik were speaking at a Yonex event to celebrate a major sponsorship deal with Lin, indicating the Chinese will be a regular on the world circuit ahead of an expected tilt at a third Olympic title.

Lin, looking relaxed in a suit during a question and answer session, last appeared at the championships in 2012 when he won his last All-England crown.

“I have played here 12 times and won five titles,” he said ahead of his first round match on Wednesday against Hong Kong’s Wei Nan. “The history is very special.”

On his great rival, Lee, he added: “He’s not only my opponent, but also my good friend. I’m hopeful he will make a swift comeback.”

(Editing by Ken Ferris)