Warrick Nicolson

Articles Written: 115

Recent Articles by Warrick Nicolson

Picked on Form or Reputation?

WITH Round Six complete and just two weeks until the ANZAC Test Match in Brisbane, the Australian selectors have some tough decisions ahead but just how tough in reality these decisions are remains to be seen.

Johns v Thurston

THIS Sunday afternoon the two best teams of 2006 will face off at Energy Australia Stadium bringing the two form halves in the competition face to face for the first time this year. Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston go up against each other in a game that should be an absolute cracker.

Best of March

FOUR Rounds of the 2006 NRL Season have been completed and here is the best (and some of the worst) of the first month of the season.

Stats? what Stats?

NRL.COM is at it again ladies and gentlemen. While there is a fine line between pointing out areas where the site is ?challenged? and being outright defamatory, I?ll tread as carefully as I dare.With a new season generally the administration of any major sporting body likes to deliver something new and exciting to the fans to help promote their game. NRL.com has in the past few years undergone a new transformation at the conclusion of every season and 2006 proved no different. While we can?t seem to get a new theme song for the NRL (bring back Tina Turner while she can still shake it I say) after what seems like 25 years, the NRL has been keen on dishing up a new official website each season.But is new always better?As of Round 1 this year we had a site that basically imploded under the weight of (what had to be expected) heavy use by the fans and a new ?Match Console? that looked to promise a whole lot more for the fan (especially those who are keen on statistics).Then in the space of a week the site was in all liquorish sorts again as the Match Console got shut down and getting live scores seemed harder to get than chewy off your boot.Then it got re-launched and it looked like the powers that be had rigged up a server that could host the extra traffic and a Match Console that could handle the load of statistical information it carried. Well that lasted all of one week (for Round 3) and having logged on Wednesday evening I found that low and behold the Match Console has been scaled down again.Now instead of having access to the most interesting statistics like Used Plays and Unused Plays, to kick return metres, to ineffective tackles, to the amount of line drop outs conceded etc ? it is back to square one for the NRL.Now when you log into a match you get for Team Stats:Try scorers, Goal kickers and Sin Bin stats (all easily accessed elsewhere)Team Penalties Conceded (again easily accessed elsewhere)Scrums (see above).Then in Player Stats instead of about a thousand interesting (if laborious to scroll through) stats that can give you a good indication of player involvement and contribution if you have not seen the match ? NRL.com has left us with some admittedly good basic stats but left out two gigantic ones.For some reason that defies logic, tracking how many Runs and Metres Gained a player has made looks to be a thing of the past. A glitch in the system means only pure hit up tallies are listed (it could just be me but seeing Karmichael Hunt listed with ZERO hit ups next to his name from Sunday yet he made TWO line breaks seems a little odd) in the Hit up category. Somehow it seems the stat that relates directly with each hit up/run ? metres gained is gone and thus you can only assume not important enough to list.Why is it so difficult for the NRL to give the fans something that actually has something to offer which is exclusive to NRL.com. Obviously they were more than happy to show to us these stats for the first three rounds of the Telstra Premiership?So what has changed?By all means I?ll be glad if these omissions prove to be simply a logistical error in formatting and within the week most of the stats come back, but you would think that if the reason they left so many stats out was a bandwidth problem, then it seems Telstra is in more trouble than they?re letting on!One could only then assume that Australia?s biggest telecommunications company cannot sustain a hugely popular website that they bought exclusive rights to. It doesn?t seem to add up to me.But as fans we?re not important. Although if you read the big NRL.com logo on the field for Free to Air television games asking everyone to join the site, you get the feeling the NRL wants more fans logging onto the site. Well honestly you have to wonder why you would bother if they keep giving then taking away the kind of things that make any Official site stand head and shoulders above their competition.NRL.com already sits behind a number of sites (LU included) for breaking Rugby League news as it happens and why they would want to take away the one genuinely exclusive product they can offer the fans when they log on is anyone?s guess.==== The NSC Almanac is still available for subscription and League Player Ratings has a healthy number of subscribers already ? so get on board.For just $22 AUD you get the 2006 Almanac featuring the definitive guide to over 700 NRL players from all 15 NRL Clubs. Plus each week you will receive NSC Exclusive League Player Ratings of the 238 individual performances from each Round. And both products are formatted for easy printing making them not reliant on web access to view after download. As an added bonus LU will send a printed bound copy to your home address.Follow your favourite team and your favourite players throughout 2006 with a far less expensive way to track player performance than a weekly magazine (and dare I say it more reliable tracking guide than the official website). For just one $22 payment you receive the PDF printable NSC Almanac and weekly League Player Ratings ? the most comprehensive individual player ratings available on the internet ? delivered straight to your Inbox. You can order your subscription here: http://www.leagueunlimited.com/static/nsc.asp If you subscribe late don?t worry you won?t miss out as all preceding rounds will be sent to you with your first copy of LPR. 2006 LEAGUE PLAYER RATINGS ROUND 3 LEADERBOARD26 ? Andrew Johns, NEW26 ? Johnathan Thurston, NQL24 ? Mark Gasnier, STI

Fox Sports Exclusive: Less NRL

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2006 Rugby League Almanac

NICOLSON Sports Consultancy is pleased to offer 2006 Rugby League Players Alamanc for download through Legends World of Sport on League Unlimited this weekend. After launching the Almanac last season, the 2006 edition is a cleaner crisper version featuring the most comprehensive playing rosters of all 15 NRL clubs.The Almanac, featuring over 700 players and the two new inductees to the NSC Rugby League Honour Roll, will cost you $22.00 AUD to download this year. But for your hard earned you not only get the 2006 Almanac but NSC will be delivering weekly League Player Ratings (LPR) directly to your inbox throughout the season.LPR will analyse the performance of every single NRL player each weekend and give them a objective rating out of 10. Only subscribers will have access to the full list of LPR each week. That means 238 exclusive individual ratings in PDF format will be sent directly to your inbox allowing you to track your favourite player and team?s performance.These ratings will not be available freely online. Only a weekly leader board will be listed in NSC?s League Unlimited Column every Thursday morning.The 2006 NSC Almanac and 2006 League Player Ratings are available only through Legends World of Sport on League Unlimited for much less than you will pay for a subscription to the print magazines on the market.http://www.leagueunlimited.com/static/nsc.aspEnjoy the footy in 2006.Regards,Warrick NicolsonNicolson Sports [email protected]: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483

Morley punished again while others go free

ANYONE who has access to a replay of last Friday Night's clash between the Wests Tigers and Dragons get it out and have a look at the incident just before halftime involving Benji Marshall and Reece Simmonds. Put it on super slow motion and take a close look where Simmonds? shoulder hits Marshall... While Simmonds is putting his arms around Marshall in his effort at tackling the Tigers five-eighth look at the top of Simmonds? left shoulder and witness how it collects Marshall on the chin. While the side of Simmonds? head appears to impact on Marshall's cheekbone and thus broke it, it is clear that contact has been made by Simmonds? shoulder with the head of Marshall. Now with the Adrian Morley hit every comment/report says that the issue is not with intent but the fact Morley?s shoulder made contact with the head of an opponent. Now I'll go on the record now - Morley did not intend to knock Walker out. It was one of those plays where the playmaker drifts wide into the defence trying to pick out a gap runner and Morley, as Walker's designated defender, slides with him. Walker held the ball longer than he could afford to and not expect not to be tackled. Both player?s momentum resulted in Walker?s head colliding with Morley?s sliding shoulder. There was never any intent on Morley's part to wallop Walker in the melon, but yes (I cannot nor can the Roosters or Morley deny) there was clear and indisputable contact with the head from Morley's shoulder. Go out next weekend in your game (if you play league/union) and carry the ball on the angle towards the outside of your defender, hold onto it too long, see if you run into the bloke and see if the momentum you and the defender are carrying doesn't result in a significant body clash. The difference here is Walker almost bends into line and thus Morley's shoulder and as Morley realises Walker still has the ball he shifts some of his weight back towards the way he was coming from. Try running at a good speed and changing your body weight back the other way and see if your shoulder does not dip like Morley?s. Now if we go back to Marshall and Simmonds quickly and break down that play you?ll find Brett Hodgson takes the ball on the left edge running into half gap. He draws the inside defender leaving Marshall and Simmonds marking up only metres apart close to the sideline. Simmonds rushes in and tries to smash Marshall to shut down the play and to negate the room outside him. The hospital pass Hodgson delivers does not help Marshall at all but Simmonds intends to rush in and close down the play. Simmonds launches himself (sadly not quite in the Martin Masella/Tongan Torpedo style) towards Marshall to wrap the ball up, hits Marshall hard and does the job to stop the play. But since his shoulder connects with Marshall's chin (so his head) and his own head connects with Marshall's cheekbone (which results in the fracture) ? does that not entail attacking the head of an opponent. Now if the issue here regarding suspension is purely intent then I believe Morley should have been exonerated. But the issue being used as reasoning for the two week suspension Morley will serve is simply that significant contact with the head of the attacker was made by the shoulder of the defender - then why was Reece Simmonds praised for his intentional ball and all tackle on Marshall and Morley is chastised yet again as the villain when there was no intent in his clash with Walker outside of containing (not laying out the ball carrier) Walker?s run with the football. If I was any kind of judiciary I would have let Adrian Morley off on the basis of a clear lack of intent regardless of the contact made. The circumstances certainly showed he had no desire to flatten Walker in a tackle otherwise he would have rushed out and made short work of Walker. But had he done that and not completed the tackle he would have been criticised for not sliding across and for rushing out with a low percentage play. So in essence Morley does the right thing defensively and is now on the sidelines for two weeks because of it. Reece Simmonds (Beau Champion etc) also made the right play in his game but showed far more intent to come in and level Benji Marshall. So what is the argument? Is it simply Intent vs. Contact or a combination of both? Either way if Morley is on the sidelines then Simmonds and probably a good number of players from the weekend matches should be as well. But this is the NRL judiciary we're talking about so...Look out for the NSC Rugby League Almanac, comprising every player at each club, to be launched soon on League Unlimited.

NSC's 2006 NRL Predictions

SEASON 2006 is here at last. The reigning premiers may have little respect with the bookies and their punters but no one can take away the Wests Tigers 2005 title.But who will fight tooth and nail for the 2006 premiership?NSC will release the 2006 Rugby League Players Almanac on the weekend through the League Unlimited Online Shop but here is a look at the predictions for the NRL season.NRL 2006Premiers:BulldogsRunner Up: Sydney RoostersTop 8 (in order of regular season finish):BulldogsRoostersCowboysKnightsBroncosEelsTigersRaiders Also Rans (in order):DragonsSea EaglesStormSharksPanthersWarriorsWooden Spoon:RabbitohsDally M Winner:Andrew Johns ? NewcastleRookie of the Year:Sam Perrett ? SydneyCoach of the Year:Michael Hagan ? NewcastleTop Tryscorer:Ty Williams ? North QueenslandTop Pointscorer:Hazem El Masri ? BulldogsState of Origin:NSW 2-1Anzac Test:AustraliaCity-Country:City OriginTri-Nations:Australia * And for the record: Round 1 TipsTigers Eels Bulldogs Raiders Warriors Roosters Cowboys And Wests Tigers winger Jamaal Lolesi to score the first try of the season from a Scott Prince cross kick.Regards,Warrick NicolsonNicolson Sports [email protected]: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483

Hagan?s legacy forever linked with Johns

WITH the news this week that current Newcastle coach Michael Hagan will leave the club and take the reigns at Parramatta from 2007, it seems the claws have come out regarding the legacy Hagan will leave behind in Newcastle. This week internet forums have sprung to life over the decision by Parramatta to appoint Hagan as their replacement for Brian Smith following the Newcastle board electing not to renew Hagan?s current contract which expires at the end of 2006. Teaming with Andrew Johns for the 2001 NRL season brought immediate success with the Novocastrians overcoming the favoured Eels in the Grand Final. But reaching that level of success has been beyond Newcastle ever since. The naysayers pinpoint Hagan as the culprit; the facts however suggest a far more logical answer. Those who have written off the Knights this season because of Hagan's impending departure and 'conflict of interest' during 2006 conveniently forget the fact that every year Hagan and Newcastle?s record has lived and died by the availability of one Andrew Johns. Evaluating a coach inevitably comes back to wins on the board and premierships won. While club, player and league-wide profile development are often advertised as critical areas for a coach to improve once given the job ? the fact is no matter how much success a coach has with the club off the field - only Premiership victory and sustained success delivers job security. Having your best player available generally has a lot to do with satisfying the latter. Since taking charge of the Knights in 2001 Hagan has won a premiership (2001), reached the Finals on three occasions (2001-03) and won 53.1% of premiership games coached. The Knights may have taken the Wooden Spoon home in 2005, but the long term injury to Johns and a weakened playing roster (no Ben Kennedy, Timana Tahu, Robbie O?Davis or Matt Parsons) were at the forefront of the reasons they were awarded the infamous kitchen utensil for the first time. Without Johns the Knights don?t win - that has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (thanks Matthew Johns for making that saying fashionable again) and reading opinion criticising Hagan for not delivering success without Johns is bewildering. Let's look at the facts ? examining Newcastle?s fortunes with and without Andrew Johns during Michael Hagan?s tenure. 2001 ? PREMIERS.Johns available for most of season (bar knee injury that keeps him out 10 weeks but that is mid-year so Knights get good start with him in the side) and in brilliant form come finals time. Rolling past the Roosters and edging the Sharks in the lead up games they blow the Eels off the park in the Grand Final?s opening 40 minutes and take the title from 3rd position. Johns wins the Clive Churchill Medal and definitively establishes himself as the best in the game. 2002 - Knocked out of the Finals with consecutive losses after finishing 2nd on table.Johns and the Knights look set to repeat as champions with a great regular season. But when Luke Bailey's knees collide with Joey's spine in the qualifying final - it is all over bar the shouting. The Knights lose that game to the Dragons and despite pushing the Roosters in the elimination semi final bow out of the race. The first question of 'what if Johns was fit' arises. 2003 - Knocked out of the Finals in week one by Roosters.Johns leads the NSW Blues in their victorious State of Origin campaign and dominates the NRL once again. Late in the season Johns injures his neck despite playing on for a few weeks finally succumbs to the pain after leading the Knights to a 48 point first half romp against the Cowboys. He doesn't play again and the Knights limp into the Finals where they are easily defeated by the Roosters in the qualifying final. 'What Ifs' abound around Newcastle for a second year running. 2004 - 10th place missed Finals by two points.The Joey led Knights beat Panthers in Round 1, Melbourne in Round 2 and just get pipped by the Eels in Round 3 - the round Joey does his knee. In case you're wondering Penrith won the comp in 2003, Melbourne got knocked out in the semi final stage and Parramatta had just beaten the Broncos in the previous round of the 2004 premiership. A decent start to the season but without Johns in the side there is no realistic hope of a title challenge. Despite having no Joey for almost the entire season the Knights only just miss the Finals. 2005 - Wooden Spoon.A vastly weaker side than any of the Knights teams that ran around from 2002-04 and a bad start having lost their first four games is compounded when Johns breaks his jaw against the Warriors in Round 6 (a game they looked set to win before his injury). By the time Joey returns the Knights are rock bottom and no chance of making the Finals. They win 8 of their last 11 and one Andrew Johns has an awful lot to do about it. Now if Andrew Johns is fit in the 2002 and 2003 campaigns - Newcastle probably make at least one Grand Final. And you can?t deny them the possibility of making it three titles on the trot. In 2004 - he's injured for the whole season and in 2005 his relatively short term injury occurs at the wrong time for the Knights to be able to salvage their season upon his return. So is it fair to say that Hagan is a ?dud? coach because Newcastle didn't win anything in 2002 and 2003 without Johns? And is it fair to expect Hagan to have led the Knights to the Finals without the injured Johns in 2004 and 2005? Whether or not you like Hagan and Johns - surely there must be a general understanding amongst fans that when the coach of an NRL side structures his game plan he does so around his best and most influential player. That game plan only backfires if that player gets hurt at Finals time and your chances of winning the title go out the window, or if you lose him during the season which makes a playoff spot a tough, tough ask. Still whether you agree or not the above are I believe pretty much factual summations of each Newcastle season since 2001. 2006 could be another year of 'What Ifs' for the Knights but I cannot rule them out simply because their coach is leaving in 2007 as has been suggested. The fact is with Andrew Johns back in the side and a very, very good pack assembled for 2006, the Knights can and probably will challenge the more fancied teams this season. And if Joey is fit come Finals time I certainly don't want to bet against the guy. So if Michael Hagan walks away from the Knights with 2 premierships in 5 seasons at the helm - really who are any of us to say that he's not got any credibility as a coach? Not to mention the fact he would leave Newcastle as the club?s most successful premiership coach. And while I've just stated Andrew Johns is the reason for the rise and fall of the Knights in recent seasons, surely everyone doesn?t think Jack Gibson, Wayne Bennett, Tim Sheens, Clive Churchill, Ken Kearney and Norm Provan (all with at least four premierships) won simply because of their own coaching ability? The players you have, the luck you get and yes, the ability of your coach, win premierships (plus many other factors). Coaches need players like players need coaches - and if I had to pick the most important factor it would be the health of your number one player, but that hardly guarantees success. Michael Hagan will leave Newcastle with I believe a legacy of success that may have been tied to the fitness of Andrew Johns but that legacy will have been well earned for backing his number one player to lead the Knights to victory.

Top 25 players of 2005

SEASON 2005 saw the Wests Tigers win the first Premiership by a joint venture club in the history of the game, New Zealand knock Australia off their perch and become the new Tri Nations champions and NSW recovering from a heartbreaking Game I loss to dominate Queensland in the State of Origin series. So who are the Top 25 players from the season just past? NSC delivers the verdict based on NRL, Test and Origin performances in 2005*. Counting down from #25 to #1 26. Dallas JOHNSON, Storm & Cameron SMITH, Storm/QLD. Could not split the Melbourne pair. Johnson is a clone of defensive weapons Trevor Gillmeister and Dean Lance, while Smith proved in season 2005 he is the best Queensland hooker since Steve Walters. (Yes it is now a Top 26 but these two demanded selection) 25. Aaron PAYNE, Cowboys. Absolute bolter from the clouds on this list but every week he was vital to the style of football the Cowboys showed us in 2005. Rarely gets noticed but has tremendous attacking instincts from dummy half and has adapted to the workload in the centre of the ruck despite his smaller frame. 24. Ty WILLIAMS, Cowboys/QLD. Scored some of the most memorable (and controversial) tries of 2005 for the Cowboys and Queensland. Had a great year on the flank but could be even better if switched to the centres in 2006. 23. Benji MARSHALL, Tigers/New Zealand. Setting up That Try in the Grand Final alone is a good enough reason to make this list. But throw in his step/step/step/pass on That Other Try against Cronulla and his touch of genius for The Other Other Try in the Anzac Test and there are two more good ones. 22. Matthew KING, Storm/NSW/Australia. Few will forget his barnstorming State of Origin Series on the wing for NSW but his quality performances year round earned him this spot in the rankings and recognition as a fine attacking three-quarter. 21. Mark GASNIER, Dragons/NSW/Australia. When Gasnier brought his A Game there was no defender who could shut him down on his favoured right hand edge. Watching Gasnier in 2005 made it easy to believe his Uncle Reg more than lived up to the Immortal tag. 20. Robbie FARAH, Tigers. Came along in leaps and bounds during 2005 and is developing into an incredibly skillful hooker and accurately drawing comparisons with Benny Elias. 19. Nathan CAYLESS, Eels/New Zealand. Quietly put together his best season since making the grade in 1997. Shrugged off injuries and lead his Parramatta team to the Minor Premiership with superb go-forward each week. 18. Stacey JONES, Warriors/New Zealand. New Zealand would not have won the Tri Nations had the little halfback not come out of a premature international retirement and commit to play for New Zealand coach Brian McClennan. His NRL form was so good that his move to France is sadly just as premature as that International retirement was. 17. Matthew BOWEN, Cowboys/QLD. Dynamic for most of the season for the Cowboys but lacked the kind of consistency needed to force his way into the Top 10. Stole Origin I with a memorable intercept and thrilled crowds with his natural attacking skills and breakaway speed. 16. Luke BAILEY, Dragons/NSW. Bailey will take over from the next man on the list as the NRL's most consistent prop when the latter retires but he came very close to taking the crown in 2005. Arguably the finest front rower from the Illawarra region to play in the top grade since Craig Young. 15. Shane WEBCKE, Broncos. Focusing his efforts on club football had immediate results as he turned in another stellar season leading the way for the Brisbane pack. Will not be around for too much longer so seasons like his 2005 should be remembered fondly. 14. Ruben WIKI, Warriors/New Zealand. Wiki along with Steven Price formed the foundations that kept the Warriors out of the cellar in the NRL but his International performances stood out. Still one of the most feared players running around at 32 years of age and he could keep playing for a few more years yet. 13. Luke O'DONNELL, Cowboys/Australia. Deserved his Kangaroo jumper after a great regular season and impressive Finals Series. Delivered on the promise he showed with the Tigers earlier in his career and with Paul Rauhihi off to England O'Donnell becomes the leader of the North Queensland pack. 12. Ben HORNBY, Dragons. Having a season that showcased him as the best player on a great football team proved that Hornby has only got better since his surprising Origin debut in 2004. Played his best football at fullback (without the defensive chores of halfback), with his ability to join the backline at his leisure making him deadly in attack. 11. Nathan HINDMARSH, Eels/NSW/Australia. The what if's surrounding his injury during the Finals aside, Hindmarsh was at his workaholic best during 2005 giving the Eels quality and quantity for their investment. After a great defensive Origin series, smart coaching from Brian Smith gradually helped him rediscover his running game before injury struck. 10. Tim SMITH, Eels. Sure the tricks didn't work in the Preliminary Final but this kid was by far the best of a very good rookie bunch in 2005. His kicking game was pure genius for a 20 year old. As he matures and gains experience in the halfback role the Eels may well take that (evidently tough) next step with Smith at the helm. 9. Jason SMITH, Raiders. Age before beauty is a term that definitely applies to this ranking. The crafty veteran toyed with opposition defences on a weekly basis and his undoubted class was the backbone of the Raiders early season success. Convinced himself he could go around again in 2006 with a superb year. 8. Roy ASOTASI, Bulldogs/New Zealand. His development from bench boy to a leader of men as the cornerstone of the Bulldogs forward pack was nothing short of astounding. His consistency in an inconsistent side was a testament to his drive and determination to take his game to another level. 7. Darren LOCKYER, Broncos/QLD/Australia. Before the Broncos late season slide Lockyer was a class above his peers as he directed Brisbane to the top of the table. Even during their losing streak he still showed his class more often than not and Australia missed him dearly in the Tri Nations. 6. Scott PRINCE, Tigers/Australia. Thrived in his coach's halfback orientated system and the Tigers became an attacking team to be reckoned with. Prince was the driving force behind the Tigers playoff run capping off string of outstanding performances with the Clive Churchill Medal in the decider. 5. Ben KENNEDY, Sea Eagles/NSW/Australia. The most influential NRL forward of 2005 and made a significant impact at Origin level. Held the Sea Eagles together with his determination during a late season fade that threatened Manly’s first playoff appearance since 1997. 4. Brett HODGSON, Tigers. There is simply no better support player in the game and Hodgson turned many half chances into points during a prolific 2005. His all round play improved and he was simply brilliant week in week out for the Premiers. 3. Anthony MINICHIELLO, Roosters/NSW/Australia. Another blockbusting season from the NRL's best custodian. It has been a long while since we've seen a running fullback as powerful as the Count and his durability is remarkable given the workload he has carried over the past few seasons. 2. Johnathan THURSTON, Cowboys/QLD. Emerged as a magician with the football and fully deserved his Dally M Award as the best NRL player over the course of the season. His Grand Final performance proved he could lift for the big game despite the result going against the Cowboys. And the #1 player of 2005 is: 1. Andrew JOHNS, Knights/NSW/Australia. When fit there is no more dominant player in the game and his incredible Origin performance rivaled King Wally at his best. The exclamation point on his value to a side came when Newcastle were transformed from easy beats to world beaters post-Origin. Ten on the Cusp (in alphabetical order): Danny BUDERUS, Knights/NSW/Australia;Paul GALLEN, Sharks;Michael MONAGHAN, Sea Eagles;John MORRIS, Eels; Matt ORFORD, Storm; Steven PRICE, Warriors/QLD/Australia; Luke PRIDDIS, Panthers/Australia; John SKANDALIS, Tigers; John SUTTON, Rabbitohs; Dean WIDDERS, Eels. * Super League performances and UK based players exempt from this list.

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