Olympic shot put finalist O’Dayne Richards is optimistic about his 2017 prospects and is looking forward to competition with the likes of Olympic champion Ryan Crouser and World Champion Joe Kovacs. Speaking in Mandeville before he won the shot put event at the Manchester High School/Charlie Fuller Memorial, Richards says he is working to improve this year. He also hopes more fans will watch the shot as time goes by.He was at the Memorial to test his fitness a season after knee surgery and a slow recovery threatened his Olympic hopes. He is thankful to be headed in the right direction.”I think there is still a bit of room to catch up,” the MVP Track Club throwing ace said. “It’s very close to what it was the year before.”In that year, he cemented years of steady advances with the Pan-Am Games gold medal and bronze at the World Championships in Beijing, China. Both were achieved with the national record distance of 21.69 metres. Now he just wants to improve.”That has always been the target and I guess the target really hasn’t changed; to continue to improve,” Richards noted.With a nod to the size of giant rivals like the 6 foot 7 inch Crouser, the 5′ 11″ Jamaican cracked a little smile and said, “No I can’t get taller so everything that I have control over, speed, technique, mental strength, you know, everything, whatever it takes for me to try and improve, that is what I’m working on.”The American pair of Crouser and Kovacs and New Zealander Tom Walsh went beyond 22m in 2016 and the St George’s College and University of Technology graduate thinks others will soon do it as well.”I expected to be amongst four or five guys hitting 22m within the same year,” he shared calmly, while waiting for his event to start at the Memorial. “So far, we haven’t seen it yet and I still believe that one year we will see four or five guys hitting 22m within the same year.”Richards has clear ideas as to how to get more Jamaicans to take an interest in his event. He recommends the staging of street shot put meets in places like Half Way Tree and Crossroads.”Some people stay far away in the stadium,” he described. “So you don’t really know how heavy the shot put lands on the ground.””You don’t really see it coming at you at 13 metres per second,” Richards said with a statistic on the high speed at with his implement travels.”So when people come to get closer to the event, even get involved, maybe roll back a shot and see how heavy it is and I guess people will start to see and maybe enjoy it.”Richards won the shot put at the Memorial with a distance of 20.11m.
“I’ve been watching the Auckland Nines for a lot of years now and to know that I’m playing in it next year is exciting,” says Hayne.”Coach [Neil Henry] has told me that I’m playing in the Auckland Nines. I’m looking forward to getting down there with the guys. I’m pumped to be a part of it.”Rated the best player in the game in 2009 and again in 2014, Hayne made a stunning return to rugby league in 2016 after fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL for San Francisco 49ers.He signed for the Gold Coast Titans and immediately showed he is still one of the game’s elite talents, helping to guide his new club into the NRL finals for the first time since 2010.”The guys have told me of the experiences of being in Auckland for the big weekend and I’m looking forward to getting down there having fun and getting our hands on that trophy,” Hayne said. “And I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the best players in the world out there – Jonathan Thurston, Shaun Johnson and my skinny mate MVP from last year Corey Norman [Parramatta Eels].”Gold Coast Titans CEO Graham Annesley confirmed Hayne would be in their line-up.”Jarryd’s obviously a world class international player,” Annesley said. “Everyone knows what he’s done in the NRL in the past. He’s been off improving himself in the NFL – you know everyone doubted he had the ability to make it … but he did.”He’s just a general all round great athlete. So to have him as part of the Nines, particularly playing for the Titans, it’s exciting for us and I think he’ll bring a lot of people through the turn-style.”With Hayne on board, Annesley was confident the Titans would be contenders in Auckland in 2017.”I’d like to think that we could give it a shake. We could certainly do with the prize money!”Jarryd will add a lot to the team in terms of the extra open space there is on the field and hopefully it will give us a good shot.”Coach Neil Henry confirmed Hayne would be central to his plans as the Titans chase the coveted pre-season title.”Jarryd’s been a fantastic acquisition for our team here on the Gold Coast,” said Henry. “I think he’s really suited to playing Nines football. Barring injury, Jarryd will be one of the first players picked.”He’ll get a bit more space out there and he carries the ball well. He tried his hand at Sevens to try and get over to the Olympics and he’ll be no stranger to playing that style of footy.”Promising young halves Ash Taylor and Kane Elgey had also been earmarked for the tournament, Henry said.Martin Snedden, the chief executive of Downer NRL Auckland Nines promoters Duco Events, said Hayne’s presence added to an already incredible line-up of stars who had committed to the 2017 event.”Over its first three years the Downer NRL Auckland Nines has attracted a who’s who of the game’s greatest players,” Snedden said.”And now we’ve got two of the all-time greats in Jarryd Hayne and Johnathan Thurston coming to showcase their skills in front of what will be another massive crowd.”Snedden pointed to the remarkable number of elite players the event had attracted over its first three years.”Fans of world class sport have had the chance to see the likes of Sam Thaiday, Paul Gallen, Benji Marshall, Darius Boyd, Roger Tuivasa-Scheck, Greg Bird, Robbie Farah and the Burgess brothers light up Eden Park,” he said. “To date 48 Australian internationals and 44 Kiwi test players and 45 State of Origin stars, together with a host of Pacific nations test players have appeared in the tournament, and that number will increase significantly in 2017.”Grant Fenn, the chief executive of naming rights sponsor Downer, said: “We are looking forward to another wonderful weekend of exciting rugby league and outstanding entertainment in Auckland and I am sure tickets will sell quickly.”NRL chief execuitve Todd Greenberg said the tournament would once again be a fitting way to kick the calendar season off.”Nines is a celebration of some of the best of rugby league,” Mr Greenberg said.”The weekend is all about the colour of our clubs and our fans and the incredible athleticism of our players. I’m sure the 2017 version will once again be a rolling highlights reel.”