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Could eating chocolate save your memory?

Remember to eat chocolate because it might just save your memory. This is the message of a new study, by Columbia University Medical Centre.

The study shows that a naturally occurring substance in chocolate may improve the function of a part of the brain related to natural memory decline.

As we age, we tend to become more forgetful – struggling to remember people’s names or where we left our wallet. This sort of age-related memory loss affects a part of the brain that is different to the area affected in Alzheimer’s disease.

The Columbia University scientists had previously identified the age-related memory loss area in mice. They had also found that a compound within cocoa, called flavanols, boosted this part of the brain.

But they weren’t sure whether it was the same with humans.

To test the theory, the scientists took a group of 37 healthy volunteers and randomly gave them a chocolate drink rich in flavanols or low in flavanols.

Brain imaging and memory tests were conducted on the volunteers, aged between 50 and 69, before and after the three-month study.

“When we imaged our research subjects’ brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink,” said lead author Adam M. Brickman, PhD, associate professor of neuropsychology at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Ageing Brain.

The group on the high-flavanol drink also performed better in the memory test.

“If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30 or 40-year-old,” said senior author Dr Scott Small, a professor of neurology, in a statement.

Other experts have called the study’s findings “promising” but pointed out that it was a “very small” study so needs to be conducted on a larger scale.

“Given a globally ageing population, by isolating a particular area of the brain that is weakening in functioning as we grow older, and demonstrating that a non-pharmacological intervention can improve learning of new information, the authors have made a significant contribution to helping us improve our cognitive health,” said Dr Ashok Jansari, a cognitive neuropsychologist at the University of East London.

Liz Coulthard, a senior lecturer in dementia neurology from Bristol University, said further research needed to be done to check that it was in fact the flavanols and not the increased levels of caffeine or theobromine (another substance found in chocolate) that enhanced cognitive performance in the cocoa-rich group.

She also said further tests needed to explore accuracy of performance, not just improved reaction times.

“It would be very exciting if such a cognitive benefit of flavanols were shown in a larger study that probed several aspects of cognition,” she said.

And before we race out to buy the family sized bag of Snickers, it’s worth remembering that most methods of processing cocoa – and certainly the processing that takes place before it reaches the supermarket aisle – removes many of the flavanols.

“The supplement used in this study was specially formulated from cocoa beans, so people shouldn’t take this as a sign to stock up on chocolate bars,” said Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The best dietary way to reduce our risk of memory loss, Alheimer’s or dementia, is to stick with eating your greens and other good stuff.

“Continued investment in research is crucial to find ways to protect the brain and prevent the diseases that cause dementia,” Ridley said.

“Although there’s currently no certain way to prevent dementia, research shows that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of the condition.

“A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check can all help lower the risk of dementia.”

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Woman shocked by raider damage

Gladiators police raid damage ‘shocking’ STRIPPED: The Gladiators Maitland clubhouse entertainment area was raided by police on Tuesday.

STRIPPED: The Gladiators Maitland clubhouse entertainment area was raided by police on Tuesday.

STRIPPED: The Gladiators Maitland clubhouse entertainment area was raided by police on Tuesday.

STRIPPED: The Gladiators Maitland clubhouse entertainment area was raided by police on Tuesday.

STRIPPED: The Gladiators Maitland clubhouse entertainment area was raided by police on Tuesday.

Police have arrested four people after raids conducted on properties associated with the Gladiator outlaw motorcycle gang.

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A WOMAN whose stepfather was arrested in the raids of Gladiators clubhouse on Tuesday has hit out at the destruction of the headquarters.

Sarah Winchester said the clubhouse in Horseshoe Bend, Maitland, had been unfairly targeted – and gutted – and members had been wrongly labelled drug dealers.

But police believe the drugs they allegedly seized during raids on properties linked to the gang are worth in excess of $1million.

Mrs Winchester’s stepfather, 49 – labelled by police as one of the gang’s senior officer bearers – was one of four men arrested during the raids.

He was granted conditional bail after being charged with firearms offences.

A second Gladiator, a 41-year-old from Largs, was charged with numerous offences relating to the commercial supply of drugs, possession of an unauthorised pistol, receiving/disposing stolen property and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

A 25-year-old Port Stephens man faces charges relating to the large commercial drug supply and possession of unauthorised firearms.

A fourth man was arrested at Tenambit on Wednesday and was assisting police.

Strike Force Meaney was set up last year to investigate a Hunter Valley-based syndicate believed to be involved in the manufacture and supply of amphetamine-type substances.

Mrs Winchester said the clubhouse’s bar and stage had been destroyed in the raids, its walls and floor damaged and its furniture seized.

She said her stepfather was asleep at the clubhouse and was dragged from his bed naked and forced to sit with guns pointed to his head.

The fact that no drugs were found at the premises led her to question why police destroyed a clubhouse that members worked so hard to build.

‘‘Obviously there is nothing to hide, so it’s a shame that everything has been destroyed,’’ Mrs Winchester said.

‘‘They’ve been building up that place for decades; they do it with their own money in their own time and for all of it to go like that is horrible.

‘‘They do a lot for the community, they love their bikes and most of the guys are quite old, they are not a very young oriented club.’’

Mrs Winchester said the charges against her stepfather had been wrongly laid because the weapons in his room did not belong to him.

Central Hunter crime manager Detective Inspector John Zdrilic said the clubhouse had been stripped because it was a restricted premises and police had the authority to obtain a search warrant and take such action.

He said it was illegal to have a bar at the clubhouse and use it to serve alcohol, and anything relating to illegal pursuits could be seized.

Mrs Winchester said police were only fuelling the perception that club members were outlaws.

Her father was made a life member of the club before his death, and she said the members had ‘‘taken him in off the streets as a 15-year-old’’ and supported him.

‘‘When my dad was alive some of his closest friends were police officers and they always had a really good relationship with police, but now that has been turned on its head which is very sad,’’ Mrs Winchester said.

‘‘I know there are clubs that do deal with drugs and I know that it is an issue, but when you think of outlaw bikie clubs the Gladiators really don’t come to mind.’’

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Nathan Tinkler’s defender Tim Allerton joins creditor list

Nathan TinklerAFTER years of wearing Nathan Tinkler’s public relations flak jacket, Sydney-based spin doctor Tim Allerton has taken court action to shut down the Tinkler Group due to unpaid debts.

Mr Allerton’s City Public Relations firm joins a long list of creditors forced to take drastic action over the past few years to recover debts from the former billionaire.

The Kent Street corporate and public relations specialist spent four years working as Mr Tinkler’s public apologist, putting out bushfires and defending the former coal baron’s business practices.

But the relationship has soured with Mr Allerton filing action last week in the NSW Supreme Court to wind up the parent company of Mr Tinkler’s dwindling empire.

When asked about the matter on Wednesday, Mr Allerton confirmed he was no longer working for Mr Tinkler but declined to reveal how much he was owed.

‘‘I really don’t have any comments to make in relation to that matter at all,’ he said.

The Newcastle Herald was unable to contact Mr Tinkler.

Patinack Farm’s HunterValley properties – Tremayne at Broke and the former Patinack headquarters, Richmond Grove at Sandy Hollow – will be up for grabs at auction in Sydney on Thursday.

Mr Tinkler is attempting to clear a $40million debt owed to Harvey Norman founder Gerry Harvey.

The Australia Taxation Office (ATO) has also registered two mortgages in relation to Patinack’s assets as part of a settlement with Mr Tinkler.

They were signed last month and in May, with one reportedly relating to a $20.1million debt, signed between the Tax Commissioner, Mr Tinkler, Patinack entities and the companies that own the Jets and the Knights.

The first offering of Patinack Farm properties last week ended with no immediate sales. The auction in Queensland failed to reach expected prices and the four properties were passed in.

Final bids on Patinack’s Canungra properties were $4.5million for Wadham Park, $1.8million for Elysian Fields, $3.5million for Benobble and $1.8million for Sarahvale – a total of $11.6million.

Before the auction, LJHooker managing agent Cameron McPhie said the sale was expected to make between $17million and $23million.

The Herald understands that as of Wednesday, the Hunter’s remaining Patinack Farm staff had not been paid wages for about a month.

It is understood there are still a significant number of horses at the Sandy Hollow property.

Mr Tinkler and his former right-hand man Troy Palmer might have to front a courtroom over the liquidation of Patinack Farm Administration (PFA) and $5million owed to creditors.

Amid a scuffle for company records, Adelaide-based liquidator Anthony Matthews and Associates have applied to publicly examine the pair, and Patinack chief financial officer Tony Marshall, in the South Australian Supreme Court in December.

An alleged payment of about $5million from PFA, previously the main employer at Mr Tinkler’s thoroughbred stud, to another Tinkler-group company is at the centre of the probe.

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More than 70 caught with drugs at Wee Jasper festival

More than 74 festival goers smuggled drugs into the Dragon Dreaming Music Festival at Wee Jasper over the weekend. Photo: NSW PoliceMore than 74 festival goers smuggled drugs into the Dragon Dreaming Music Festival at Wee Jasper over the weekend.

Cannabis, ecstasy, heroin, ice and magic mushrooms were among drugs seized at the music and arts festival held near Yass.

Two people were arrested for drug supply and numerous others for drug possession.

Hume and Monaro Local Area Command police officers conducted a four-day high visibility operation between Friday, October 24 and Monday, October 27 to target anti-social behaviour and boost safety.

A team of 18 police and two drug detection dogs monitored about 2500 festival goers over four days.

Police also targeted drug-driving among drivers leaving the festival on the Sunday.

Twelve motorists underwent random drug tests. Two people were arrested after allegedly testing positive to prohibited drugs. Their samples have been sent for further analysis.

Inspector Evan Quarmby said police were disappointed to see so many people caught with prohibited drugs.

“Police were kept busy during the festival with 17 people found with prohibited drugs in the first two hours of the operation,” he said.

“To end up with 74 drug detections is a major concern and police will work closely with festival organisers to ensure future events are safe for everyone attending.

“The efforts of police in detecting these drugs are highly commendable but we need people attending these events to think about the dangers and conduct themselves responsibly and within the law.”

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Two teachers to face Indonesian trial over child sex allegations

Jakarta International School. Neil Bantleman, his wife Tracy Bantleman, pictured here the day he was taken into police custody on July 14, 2014. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Two teachers from the prestigious Jakarta International School, who have spent 108 days without charge in police detention over child sex allegations, were told on Wednesday that they would face trial in an Indonesian court.

Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teachers’ aide Ferdinant Tjiong are likely to now be moved to the high security Cipinang detention centre in central Jakarta to await a trial over allegations of rape against three pre-school boys at the school.

The school and the men’s supporters had hoped the case would not move to this stage because they believe the evidence against them is thin and unconvincing.

However, on Wednesday, the head of Jakarta prosecutor’s office, Adi Toegarisman, said the dossier had been completed by police and handed up, so “now the suspects are the responsibility of the prosecutors’ office”.

The mother of one of the alleged victims said on hearing the news: “Good, good, good; of course I’m happy”.

“Based on the evidence, of course I will win. But I cannot say that because I’m not the judge,” the mother said.

But the school’s head, Timothy Carr, said the decision was a “profound disappointment as we are unaware of any viable evidence and we therefore believe these charges to be baseless”.

The school would “vigorously defend the innocence of these fine educators,” he said.

Mr Bantleman’s wife, Tracy, said she was “utterly shocked, frustrated, extremely angry”.

“We have a justice system that is exhibiting extreme carelessness with these two men … It’s an absolute disgrace to justice and human rights,” Mrs Bantleman said.

She said her husband had not been interviewed by police since he underwent a lie detector test on July 23, and no details of the allegations have ever been put to him.

She feared for the safety of her husband and Mr Ferdy in Cipinang prison, in which 2156 mainly Indonesian prisoners, from alleged murderers to drug addicts and gangsters, are held as they are tried.

The Canadian embassy has told Mrs Bantleman the men’s safety is its highest priority.

The school’s three founding embassies, including the Australian embassy, weighed in on July 14 when the men were first taken into custody to say they were “deeply concerned” at the detention of the teachers.

The evidence in the case includes four medical examinations of one of the boys and testimony of the alleged victims. Two of the medical reports found no abnormalities and the third, which included an anal examination, found some internal inflammation, pus and lesions, but did not identify a cause.

The fourth report was conducted at the police hospital and has not been released. The boy’s mother claims it backs the rape allegation.

Three of the same medical reports have also been used in the case of five contract cleaners currently on trial for allegedly raping the same boy. However, after initially confessing, the cleaners have now recanted and are denying any wrongdoing, saying they confessed under police torture. Another cleaner died during questioning, which police explained as a suicide.

The other evidence — the boys’ testimony — includes allegations from one that he was raped multiple times during the school day in an open, heavily populated administration block with glass walls which teachers call “the aquarium”.

Among his allegations are that there was a secret underground dungeon somewhere at the school, and that Mr Bantleman, who was known as “the boss” clicked his fingers during one attack and reached up to pluck a “magic stone” out of the sky to insert in the boy’s rectum to anaesthetise him before the rape.

Other allegations include a female principal videotaping the attack and supplying a light blue drink to drug the boy.

The boys had never been taught by the teachers, and had identified them by pointing out their photographs in the school yearbook.

The family of the first alleged victim has filed a $US125 million lawsuit against the school, one of the most highly regarded in Asia.

Disclosure: The author has two children attending the Jakarta International School.

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Bill Shorten backs Nova Peris despite rort allegations

Email leak: Nova Peris has had private emails leaked by NT News. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has backed Nova Peris despite the allegations. Photo: Alex Elinghausen

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says senator and former Olympic athlete Nova Peris has his full support, despite allegations she used taxpayers’ money to bring Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon to Australia for an extra-marital affair.

The allegations, published in the Northern Territory News, detail Boldon’s visit to Australia in 2010 leading up to the London Olympics.

Boldon has labelled the allegations ‘‘gross fabrications’’ and has threatened legal action over the article.

The newspaper claims to have obtained explicit email exchanges between Senator Peris, who at the time was an Athletics Australia ambassador and communication officer with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and Boldon, a four-time Olympic medal winner from Trinidad and Tobago.

Senator Peris personally selected Boldon for the 10-day ‘‘Jump Start to London’’ program, and  sought funding from Athletics Australia and other sources to bring him to Australia.

But the newspaper claims Senator Peris, who at the time was married to Australian sprinter Daniel Batman, exchanged emails with Boldon in which they discussed their impending affair.

‘‘Ato … tell me babe … what u want … Make a bit of money and spend time together … I will take time of [sic] from work to be with u,’’ Senator Peris wrote in the email exchange, according to the paper’s report.

In other emails, Senator Peris reportedly said she was getting the money for his trip through the ‘‘indigenous grants mob” and  he would not have to pay tax on his payment.

The exact amount of money Boldon received is unclear but in an email from mid-March in 2010, Senator Peris reportedly wrote  she had managed to round up $22,000 for him, on top of the money Athletics Australia paid, the newspaper says.

In a statement, Senator Peris said she ‘‘categorically rejects any wrongdoing’’.

‘‘During his trip Mr Boldon promoted athletics, attended and promoted specific events and conducted clinics for young indigenous athletes,’’ she said.

‘‘The highs and lows of my athletic career – and now political career – are public,’’ she said.

‘‘The highs and lows of my private life are matters for me and my family.’’

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described Senator Peris as a ‘‘great Australian’’ who had his full support.

‘‘Again, I think that Nova Peris is a very special person, an amazing Australian and she has my support,’’ he said.

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Greens storm into semis with shock win

Bentleigh Greens pulled off a dramatic comeback to see off the challenge of Adelaide City in extra time and book themselves a semi final berth in the inaugural FFA Cup in an incident packed quarter final at Kingston Heath Soccer Complex on Wednesday night.

Adelaide looked to be heading towards the last four after Alex Rideout’s goal early in the second half, but Greens skipper Wayne Wallace lifted his team off the canvas and salvaged extra time when he levelled with an 88th minute header.

And Bentleigh winger Jamie De Abreu ensured it was a night of joy for the Greens and  misery for the South Australians when he struck the winner in the 103rd minute after cutting inside, creating space and firing past City goalkeeper Ryan Veitch.

It was a lively contest in front of a big – for the hosts – crowd of almost 2000 as both Bentleigh and Adelaide fashioned chances which on other nights might have hit the target.

The fans got full value for turning up on a midweek night, and they can now dream of even bigger things with a home semi final tie against A-League opposition. Adelaide United and Central Coast have already qualified for the last four, while Perth Glory and Melbourne Victory were due to kick off in WA after this game finished.

Adelaide’s pacy teenager Thomas Love accelerated towards goal in the opening minutes and looked threatening early, while City’s burly striker Anthony Costa made space well for himself by beating two defenders before firing over as the visitors made a positive start

Former Melbourne Victory man Luke Pilkington then went close for the hosts with a header from a Christian Cavallo corner as Bentleigh began to threaten.

Costa then tried his luck from an acute angle while at the other end Liam McCormiick shot when he might have been better employed cutting the ball back to one of his team-mates.

It was an entertaining, end to end affair with neither side able to stamp their authority over the other in the opening period.

Rideout got free down the right for City but no-one could get on to his cross, while Nick Budin shot wide for the visitors.

Bentleigh responded with a fine move involving Wallace and Luke O’Dea (who as a youth player was on the books of both Melbourne Victory and City) who set up De Abreu for a shot which was blocked on the line by City’s Paul Blefari.

City broke the deadlock shortly after the restart with a well worked move after skipper Matthew Halliday fed the ball forward to Costa. The striker then played in Shannon Day, wide on the left. His cross was met by Rideout, whose run left him unmarked and able to finish from close range.

Greens almost got the chance to level straight after the restart when De Abreu broke down the right but no-one could get on to his cross in front of the Adelaide goal.

The visitors looked the stronger of the teams, both of whom have had a difficult preparation because their respective National Premier Leagues finished weeks ago. City almost doubled their advantage in the 53rd minute when Joel Allwright unleashed a well struck drive which Greens goalkeeper Alastair Bray did well to get down low to and keep out.

McCormick blazed over more in hope than confidence as the clock ticked past the hour mark, De Abreu’s shot was then blocked and youngster Luke Gallo came agonisingly close to levelling with a long range effort that hit the bar. De Abreu then squandered a gilt edged chance to equalise when his shot tricked agonisingly past the far post. It looked costly _ until Wallace’s last gasp intervention.

With both sides lacking match practice tiredness became a major issue in extra time. Cavallo almost put the hosts in front with a wonderful free kick which beat the wall but crashed off the crossbar.

Halliday had the ball in the net for Adelaide but the effort was ruled out for offside. Both teams went at each other hammer and tongs and it seemed either a mistake or a moment of inspiration would decide the contest. De Abreu’s drive was enough to make the crucial difference, and Bentleigh can continue to dream of Cup glory.

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GREG RAY: Just crumbs for Hunter

I GOT a bit excited there, for a moment.

I thought the state government had listened to my endless whining.

A story in The Sydney Morning Herald said the government wanted to shift some cultural spending out of the middle of Sydney.

The Powerhouse Museum, the report said, is apparently being encouraged to move to a regional location.

Parramatta. Sigh.

That just about sums it up, really. From the government’s point of view, going regional means a cab ride to Parramatta.

Hunter people will recall that Western Sydney is now officially a region, a development that suddenly occurred a couple of years ago when the government had an out-of-character brain snap and set aside some funds specifically for “regions”.

Somebody in the bureaucracy must have noticed that this concept came with a serious risk of dollars leaking out of Sydney, so the solution was to spot-rezone Sydney’s western suburbs as a region in their own right.

That instantly rescued millions of dollars that might otherwise have accidentally flowed to places other than Sydney.

In its desire to recognise that the heritage and culture of NSW doesn’t finish at central Sydney, the government is to be encouraged.

But, if its vision ends at Parramatta, then it only reinforces what I keep saying about the problem our present electoral system creates for everywhere in the state that isn’t Sydney.

What should happen, in my opinion, is that Newcastle Regional Museum ought to be pulled under the Powerhouse Museum umbrella and automatically get state funding every year. It should not have to depend on poor old Newcastle City Council and its hapless ratepayers.

Same with the Art Gallery, which has a fabulous collection languishing in inadequate accommodation. Our gallery ought to be funded directly by the state.

Same with our main library. Newcastle’s place in the evolution of Australian literature is very significant. You’ve heard of Lancelot Threlkeld’s incredible Australian Language – the codification of the Awabakal tongue, co-written with Aboriginal mentor Biraban. That’s a milestone work of Australian publishing, done here, in Newcastle.

How about the Skottowe Manuscript, the Macquarie Chest?

How about The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux? The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh?

If you haven’t heard of them, look them up. In any country with a fair dinkum electoral system, Newcastle’s cultural facilities would be generously funded by the state.

I wrote yesterday about the Bogey Hole, and how the government spent $350,000 bolting an unsightly steel monstrosity onto this amazing cliff-foot bathing place that the notorious commandant Morisset had convicts carve from the living rock for his personal use.

Our local National Trust people told me yesterday how they begged the government’s Heritage Branch people come to Newcastle to have a look at the Bogey Hole before they committed money to this mistake, but they couldn’t be bothered.

And now their scrap-metal is storm-damaged and they can’t be bothered fixing it.

Spare a thought for the hundreds of hard-working volunteers who turn up every week to put their valuable labour into the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens at Heatherbrae.

They never know from one year to the next whether they will get a single cent from the government, which throws money at Sydney Botanic Gardens without a quibble.

Newcastle’s first botanic gardens site was by the harbour. You can see it on old maps.

But BHP wanted the land, so that was that, with no replacement provided.

If you haven’t visited the gardens, you ought to. It’s a tribute to the sweat and vision of hundreds of Hunter people.

I admit the government has tipped in some dollars. Apparently they funnelled $50,000 via the Sydney Botanic Gardens in 1996 and that’s been somewhat grudgingly maintained until now (not indexed, you’ll notice).

The gardens people tell me they’re hoping for a breakthrough soon to guarantee some annual money, but I’m not holding my breath.

Unless we get electoral reform or a charter of budget equity in NSW, then I’m afraid Woolloomooloo will be gazetted a region before we get more than crumbs.

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Charlestown import Callum Jackson thrown in Villawood, sent home over visa

Callum Jackson CHARLESTOWN cricket club’s English recruit Callum Jackson was refused entry to Australia and spent a night in Villawood Detention Centre before being sent home after a visa wrangle this week.

The 20-year-old Sussex wicketkeeper, pictured left, flew into Sydney Airport on Monday afternoon to begin his second summer with Charlestown in Newcastle district cricket.

But he was detained at the airport due to an incorrect visa.

Jackson was then transferred to Villawood Detention Centre, before he was released on Tuesday night to board a flight back to London.

It is understood Jackson had a tourist visa and was told he needed to return home to apply for a working visa.

Jackson was due to live with Newcastle cricket great Greg Arms, whose son Daniel plays for Charlestown.

‘‘As far as we know we’re expecting himto be back as soon as the visa is approved,’’ Arms said.

‘‘It’s just one of those things that there was an irregularity.’’

The Herald attempted to contact Jackson on Wednesday through social media, but he spent the majority of the day flying to London and had not replied at the time of publication.

The former England under-19 gloveman, who made his first-class debut for Sussex in a tour game against Australia on last year’s Ashes tour, was a revelation in his debut season for Charlestown.

He scored 484 runs at an average of 60.5 to finish dual winner of the Herald cricketer of the year award with Merewether’s former NSW Blues quick Mark Cameron.

Jackson’s return to Australia was delayed due to finger surgery in England four weeks ago.

Before the visa problems, Charlestown had hoped Jackson would play in their round-five game against Stockton-Raymond Terrace on November 8.

Charlestown president Chris Oliver was busy throughout Tuesday night attempting to sort through the visa impasse with Sussex and an immigration lawyer in London.

What happens next will hinge on the Englishman’s desire to return to Australia.

‘‘I’d say we’re 48 hours away on deciding if it’s tenable that he re-applies and comes back,’’ Oliver said.

‘‘At this stage we’re pessimistic about the outcome.’’

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Auva’a could be on the move from Redfern

South Sydney centre Kirisome Auva’a is effectively a free agent after triggering a clause in his contract that allows him to test his market value.

Auva’a is one of the season’s most unlikely success stories, picking up a minimum-wage contract with the Rabbitohs after being deemed surplus to requirements at Cronulla. At one point Auva’a – who can bench press 150 kilograms – considered a career as a professional bodybuilder until the Rabbitohs offered him a lifeline.

Instead, he won a premiership in his rookie NRL year, scoring the match-clinching try in his side’s breakthrough grand final win against Canterbury. In the process he played his 21st NRL game, activating a clause in his Bunnies deal allowing him to exercise  his options if he made more than 20 first-grade appearances. The 22-year-old retains the right to see out his two-year deal at Redfern, which will guarantee him a pay increase but is still understood to be below his market worth.

“He’s really enjoyed his time at Souths and we do have another year there,” said Auva’a’s manager, Andrew Purcell. “The clause was put in to ensure he is paid his market value. We’ve fielded a little bit of interest. Souths have been great about the whole thing. They’re in a difficult situation and are doing their best to help the young fella out by upgrading him and keeping him.”

Auva’a was born in Samoa and had the opportunity to represent his country of birth, but instead pledged his allegiance to New Zealand. His omission from the Kiwis’ Four Nations squad was considered a surprise and prompted the nation’s former skipper, Hugh McGahan, to describe him as unlucky. Auva’a feared he would not ever get a look in when he signed for the Rabbitohs and was overlooked for the opening five rounds. However, he ended up scoring nine tries and averaging 105 run metres per game in an unforgettable start to his NRL career.

“When I didn’t get named in that round-one team I had a lot of head noise going on,” Auva’a said after his grand final heroics. “[Coach Michael Maguire said] ‘I believe in you, keep chipping at it and when you get a chance, don’t look back’. When I got my chance in round six, well it’s all history now.

“I’m speechless, I can’t put into words how I’m feeling. To win a ring in the first year along with the other rookies in our team is something special. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices and a lot of pain. And it’s all worth it when you get there.

“A lot of belief has been put into me by Madge and the coaching staff and you can’t let them down when they put that much faith in you. I tried to perform every week to keep my spot.”

Veteran three-quarter Lote Tuqiri is yet to decide whether to play on, while Souths will begin their premiership defence without Ben Te’o, Beau Champion, Apisai Koroisau and Nathan Merritt. The Rabbitohs will also be without chief financial controller Joe Kelly, who replaced David Perry as the boss at Manly.

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