Strong showing in pennants matches

Nola Marino Ladies Championship Fours: Winners Kerry Scott, Kath Cluning, Vicki Daniel and Glenice Kaurin.Bowls
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PENNANTS results, Tuesday February 25.

Ladies’ first division won against Brunswick away 5-1.

Men’s first division won against Eaton Blue at home 3-1.

Men’s second division lost to Boyanup away 0-4.

Men’s thirrd division won against Binningup Green 3-1.

Pine Hauliers Mixed Meat Pack, Wednesday February 26.

There were 28 players. Winners Grahame Old and Jim Aris 4 +22, second Ray Colgan and George Saggers 4 +21, third Phil Fettes and Ian Bridges 4 +9. Target reached by Harley Johnston.

Corporate Bowls, Wednesday, February 26. First Blue Heelers with +19, second Stumpy Strikers with +18. Spider winner, Jillian Forrest

Nola Marino Ladies Championship Fours, played Thursday, February 27.

Winners: Kerry Scott, Kath Cluning, Vicki Daniel and Glenice Kaurin.

Twilight bowls, sponsored by Sports First, Friday, February 28.

There were 13 players. First Lyn Mitchell, Peter Kaurin, Kath Cluning with 4 +7. Second Graeme Carter and George Saggers with 4 +3, third Vicki Daniel and Rick Daniel with 2 +7.

McCafe Summer Scroungers, Sunday, March 2.

There were 20 players. Winner G Carter, second W Mitchell, third B Lowe. Highest scores Graeme Carter and Kevin Ginbey, with 34, Lowest score and the chocolate bar won by Jim Aris.

The next scroungers game on this Sunday.

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Chinese leader vows to fight pollution and maintain growth

Beijing: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has  pledged to achieve a perilously difficult juggling act: push through reforms that will restructure the nation’s economy, curb its mounting environmental woes and address corruption – all while keeping its economic growth targetsteady at 7.5 per cent.
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In his first government work report delivered as premier to the National People’s Congress, Mr Li said development remained “key to solving all our country’s problems”, despite also acknowledging that “inefficient and blind” growth in parts of the economy had contributed to “deep-seated problems”.

“We are at a critical juncture where our path upward is particularly steep,” Mr Li told the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, adding that global economic conditions remained uncertain.

“Deep-seated problems are surfacing. Painful structural adjustments need to be made”.

Mr Li also announced China’s 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army would receive a 12.2 per cent budget increase on last year to 808 billion yuan ($147 billion), extending a nearly unbroken run of double-digit hikes in China’s defence budget for the past two decades at a time when regional tensions are high over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas.

“We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age,” he said.

Beijing has been locked in a war of rhetoric with Tokyo, and has accused Shinzo Abe’s government of taking a revisionist approach to Japan’s wartime history. China last month declared two memorial days commemorating the Rape of Nanking and the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

In a thinly-veiled swipe at Japan on Wednesday, Mr Li said in his speech that China would “safeguard the victory of World War II . . .  and not allow anyone to reverse the course of history”.

China has been a key engine of the global economy after more than a decade of breakneck growth, but there is growing consensus that the unsustainably cavalier growth model has caused severe imbalances and debt problems that can only be addressed through a significant overhaul of the world’s second-largest economy.

Those reforms were included in an ambitious array proposed by the central government after the Third Plenum in November, which Mr Li said remained the “top priority”  this year.

The list included reforms keenly watched by financial markets, including interest rate and currency exchange liberalisation, but Mr Li reserved especially strong wording for addressing one of China’s most pressing social issues – its environment.

“Smog is affecting larger parts of China and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development,” he said.

“We will declare war against pollution and fight it with the same determination we battled poverty.”

China’s economic rebalancing comes at a time when President Xi Jinping has sought to consolidate power and win back the hearts and minds of ordinary Chinese through an eye-catching anti-corruption campaign.

“The social credibility system needs to be improved,” Mr Li said. “Some government employees are prone to corruption and some still do not perform their duties with integrity and diligence.”

The nearly 3000 delegates to the congress observed a minute’s silence for the victims of the Kunming railway station mass stabbing on March 1, in which 29 lives were lost.

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Sea Cliff bridge closes for Youi commercial

Sea Cliff bridge was closed for parts of Wednesday as a television commercial was filmed on the now iconic stretch of road.
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A spokesman for Roads and Maritime Services confirmed insurance company Youi was shooting a new commercial on the bridge.

Some delays were caused by the filming, with the Live Traffic NSW website warning motorists of ‘‘intermittent closures of lanes in both directions’’ on Wednesday.

A Wollongong City Council spokesman said approval had also been given to shoot scenes on Cliff Road in Wollongong, but road delays caused by construction may have deterred filming in that area.

Picture: WOLLONGONG TOURISM

It is far from the first time Sea Cliff Bridge has been tapped as a stunning backdrop by film makers.

A Mercury report in 2011 found 42 film and television shoots had taken place since the bridge opened in 2005, and many more have been staged since.

Holden, Subaru and Ferrari have filmed ads, while Bollywood movie We Are Family, feature film Short Beach, and hit TV show Top Gear have all featured the bridge in their productions.

Filming finished on Wednesday so no further road delays are expected.

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ANZ to appeal credit card late-payment fees ruling

Australia and New Zealand Banking Group will appeal the Federal Court’s controversial ruling last month that it charged “extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable” late-payment fees on credit cards, challenging a decision that threatens to cost banks tens of millions of dollars.
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In a landmark decision that also raised doubts about the validity of other late fees charged by telecommunications providers and utilities, Justice Michelle Gordon ruled that late-payment fees charged by the bank were illegal, while four other types of fee were legitimate.

The bank on Thursday said it would appeal in the judgment to the full Federal Court.

After the full Federal Court hears the appeal, it is possible the case will be appealed again to the High Court of Australia.

Maurice Blackburn, which is leading the class action against the bank, is also appealing key parts of the ruling that favoured ANZ – that honour fees, dishonour fees, and over-limit fees were acceptable.

ANZ said it would challenge the finding that the late-payment fee was a penalty and also that fee itself was “extravagant” and “unconscionable”.

The bank charged a late-payment fee of up to $35. However, the court heard from customers the cost to ANZ of handling late payments was between 50¢ and $5.50, while ANZ argued the cost could be significantly higher – even thousands of dollars.

In its defence during the trial, ANZ argued late payments could be a precursor to a bad debt, and led to decisions about loss provisioning and levels of regulatory capital. These incurred operational costs including making inquiries of customers and collecting debts. Therefore, the bank argued the late-payment fee should be considered a “fee for service” – and the law puts no limit on the amount a business can charge for a service.

Another aspect of the ruling that ANZ plans to challenge is the court’s dismissal of the statute of limitations on claims – which meant there was no limit on how far back fees could be recovered.

The appeal process will be closely watched by seven other banks that have been sued in related proceedings, including the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac Banking Corp, National Australia Bank, and Citigroup.

The stakes for ANZ are high. It has 2.5 million card customers but only 43,500 were members of the class action. ANZ Australia chief executive Phil Chronican said last month that if ANZ ultimately lost the case, it would have to deal with not only the customers who were part of the legal action but any other card customers had ever paid a late-payment fee.

Economists criticised the judgment on the basis that the court was interfering with decisions of bank management. “It would appear that the court is violating freedom of contract and setting itself up as the de facto bank management,” Professor Peter Swan from the University of NSW said last month.

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JOANNE McCARTHY: A classic case of karma

Pope Benedict in Sydney on the red carpet at Randwick Racecourse. AND so to one of my favourite Catholic stories, on the eve of another confronting royal commission public hearing into the church that will feature evidence from soon-to-leave-these-shores Cardinal George Pell.
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This is the story about the Pope, the former Marist Brothers school student, and the 300 metres of red carpet.

The former Marist student is a friend of mine. We run together. Whenever we’re especially tired, or it’s raining, or it seems like our destination is too far away to bear thinking about, I ask him to tell me the story about the carpet, and suddenly we’re smiling again.

It started back in July 2008, a week before Pope Benedict XVI was due in Sydney for World Youth Day festivities, with a phone call to the former Marist student from a mate. The mate was plumbing-in thousands of port-a-loos at Randwick racecourse for the church event.

The plumber had just had a conversation with a worried World Youth Day organiser. Someone, or everyone, had forgotten to organise the strip of red carpet on which the Pope was to walk from the papal vehicle, aka the Pope-mobile, to the altar where he would say Mass.

The plumbing mate rang the former Marist student, a carpet business owner. Could he put his hands on some red carpet in a hurry?

Before you could say, ‘‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’’, the former Marist student had unhitched the tape measure from his back pocket, pulled out his calculator, and whipped out an order sheet.

‘‘How much do they want?’’ he asked.

‘‘Lots,’’ said the plumber mate.

‘‘When do they want it?’’ asked the former Marist student.

‘‘Now,’’ said the plumber mate.

And so it came to pass that the former Marist student, whose memories of his school days included being bullied and fearful on a regular basis, went to Randwick and advised the World Youth Day organisers they needed 300 metres of carpet, 1.2 metres wide, so the Pope would not have to put a foot on actual Australian racecourse soil.

And because it was a rush job with no contract, and money didn’t appear to be a consideration as long as the red carpet strip was provided, my former Marist student friend added a hefty mark-up to make it worthwhile.

How hefty? He’s never admitted, and I’ve never pushed.

‘‘Let’s just call it karma,’’ he said. ‘‘What goes around, comes around.’’

He had a lousy time at school. He had a smile on his face the whole time he rolled out that very expensive carpet so the Pope’s slippers stayed clean and dry while he celebrated with youths, and apologised for the church’s child sex offenders.

A couple of days after the Pope went back to Rome, my former Marist student friend went back to Randwick to roll the red carpet up and take it away. The church didn’t have any other use for the red carpet so removing it was part of the original deal.

My former Marist student friend didn’t have any use for 300 metres of Pope-trodden red carpet either. And because it was Pope-trodden, and he was a former Catholic school boy, he didn’t feel right about simply disposing of it.

‘‘So I thought some of the parishes or schools might like some of it,’’ he said.

As it turns out, there weren’t any takers, so he did the only thing a sensible former Catholic school student living in a capitalist democracy would do, and flogged the Pope-trodden pieces of red carpet on eBay, complete with certificates of authenticity he drew up himself.

‘‘Well who else was going to confirm it was red carpet the Pope had actually walked on but me, the person who supplied the stuff to the church?’’ he said.

‘‘Good point,’’ I replied.

So he advertised on Ebay and sold 20 pieces of Pope-trodden red carpet for $20 a piece.

Then he received a sternly-worded letter from a legal firm representing the Catholic Church, warning him about church action if he didn’t cease and desist.

He sent one back, saying there were no conditions about what he was to do with the red carpet after World Youth Day had come and gone, other than to remove it from Randwick racecourse.

He still has a piece left at home, which prompts a little smile every time he walks over it.

There won’t be much smiling next week when solicitor John Ellis gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about how he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a school student, and the church’s response when he reported that abuse.

Mr Ellis is well known to many Hunter victims of Catholic Church child sex offenders. He negotiated just settlements for most of the 64 known victims of notorious paedophile priest John Denham, despite the devastating impact of his own experiences with the church.

He is a champion and a gentleman.

Team Australia will take on America’s Cup with homegrown sailing crew

Iain Murray (L) with Sandy and Bob Oatley next to Team Australia, Australia’s challenger for the America’s Cup. Photo: Janie Barrett Is it a bird? Team Australia, Australia’s challenger for the America’s Cup, in Sydney Harbour. Photo: Janie Barrett
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Team Australia has pledged to assign all its crew spots for the next America’s Cup to local sailors, despite the fact that new regatta laws are likely to require that only 25 per cent of crew members come from the syndicate’s country of registration.

Syndicate chief executive Iain Murray made the commitment in Sydney on Thursday at the unveiling of Team Australia’s AC45 wingsail catamaran. Murray also announced Olympic gold medallist Mathew Belcher would be skipper.

While the last America’s Cup was raced in AC72s, Team Australia and the reigning Cup holders, Oracle Team USA, will train with the AC45 and race it during a planned World Series leading up to the next America’s Cup in 2017.

Team Australia – under the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the official Cup challenger – will start selecting crew for their campaign during an “entente cordiale” with Oracle Team USA, whereby the rival crews will train together on Sydney Harbour from now until June.

Murray, who also revealed that the boat to be raced in the Challenger Series and America’s Cup is likely to be an AC62, said Team Australia had hoped the nationality quota agreed upon in the still unfinished Cup laws and protocols would have been greater than 25 per cent.

But he understood why the ratio could not be higher – yet.

“It looks like it’s going to be 25 per cent,” Murray said.

“We would have hoped for more, but it’s a start. It’s important to bring more teams into it.

“There are a lot of inexperienced nations out there who will need to supplement their own crews with experienced crews.

“We hope that next time it will be a higher percentage … as the talent pool gets spread around and the knowledge base widens.

“Last time, there was a lot of inequality in racing.

“We need to make sure that the Challenger series, with six, eight or 10 teams, has high quality races throughout.”

Murray said Team Australia was committed to picking as close to an all-Australian sailing crew of 12 as possible – eight for the race boat and four others.

“Our target is 100 per cent,” Murray said, before adding: “It’s a little bit grey between Australia and New Zealand.

“There are a lot of people who probably regard themselves as Australian who have a Kiwi passport.

“What we would call Australians, are people who live here, work here and have been part of yachting here in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Murray said the AC62 would be equipped with the foiling systems of the AC72 – unlike the AC45 – and should be almost as fast as the AC72.

“We think they sail as fast – if not faster – down wind, and close to as fast up wind,” Murray said.

Murray said the boat size would also help reduce the exorbitant $100 million budget for a syndicate in the last America’s Cup.

Sandy Oatley, who with his father Bob is the mainstay behind Team Australia, estimates the budget for the next America’s Cup will now be about $50 million.

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The Monuments Men: The art of finding treasures

More on The Monuments MenMovie session timesFull movies coverage
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When millions of people are losing their lives, limbs and loved ones in war, who is really bothered about art? In the face of the horrors of World War II, it is a question anyone might ask. And in a letter home to a colleague, American soldier George Stout came close to answering it.

In late 1944, the tide had turned in Europe and the Allies had advanced into Germany. Stout, a member of a US Army team called Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, was in a barn on the frontline examining what appeared to be a Bruegel. There were explosions outside, but he was never less than meticulous: this was the point of it all, the civilisation they were trying to defend. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been more certain than I am now,” he wrote to his friend, “that the development and understanding of man’s workmanship is the fundamental need of man’s spirit, or that we can never look for a healthy social body until that need, among others, is fed.”

Stout is the hitherto unsung hero of Robert Edsel’s book The Monuments Men, a surprisingly compelling account of the MFAA’s work, and the basis (loosely speaking) of George Clooney’s film of the same title.

Before he put on a uniform, Stout was an innovative art conservator at Harvard University’s Fogg Museum; according to Edsel, the MFAA was his idea. Its job as the fighting advanced was to identify and try to protect the most important buildings in the army’s path, then help with immediate repairs. Once the fighting had moved on, they took on an even bigger job: finding, recovering and returning the huge numbers of artworks that had been looted, stolen or hidden by the Germans.

Robert Edsel is the author of three books on rescuing art in wartime; he freely admits to being obsessed with his subject. He seems an unlikely art buff, though. Earlier phases of his life include 10 years as a pro tennis player and a glitteringly successful career in the oil industry.

It was after he had sold his oil company and moved with his family to Florence that he fell to wondering how its Renaissance glories had survived the war. With the tenacity he no doubt learnt as a young athlete, he pursued that curiosity: The Monuments Men is the result. (Clooney’s film is more of a comic romp than a faithful retelling, peopled as it is with fictional characters.)

Looting has always been part of war. Many of Europe’s great museums were stocked with the spoils of conquered territory. But Edsel sees Adolf Hitler’s looting campaign as far worse than anything that came before.

“It was premeditated looting that had been planned years in advance on an industrial scale. The effort to steal these things, and destroy so much of it, too, was all part of the ideology,” he says. “The perniciousness of the Nazis in changing laws to try and make their thefts look legal, in particular stripping people, especially Jews, of ownership rights, is really a whole new rung in Hell.”

Meanwhile, the formidable Nazi propaganda machine put it about that the American barbarians would destroy Europe’s historic architecture while sending its art off to those rapacious art dealers – all Jewish, of course – in New York. “The Americans for the longest while didn’t understand the power of all this propaganda. They learnt it the hard way,” says Edsel.

Among other priorities, the work of the Monuments men represented a counter-strategy. “People could see that nothing was taken and that there was a demonstrable effort to protect things.”

In countries that had been systematically stripped, however, the Monuments men were naturally regarded with some suspicion. One of the most intriguing characters in Edsel’s book is a middle-aged French woman called Rose Valland; her equivalent character in the film is played by Cate Blanchett. Valland was working at the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris when the Nazis sequestered it as a clearing house for artistic treasures being sent to Germany.

She was able to pass information about it to the Resistance, but her reluctance to admit anything to James Rorimer, the Monuments man on the ground, gives Edsel’s story much of its suspense. “Rorimer was the director of an American museum,” he observes, the mediaeval section of the Metropolitan in New York. “Were they going to be the next problem for France, finding these things and not giving them back? From her perspective, she was boxed in.”

As a writer, Edsel sought another kind of hidden treasure: the letters various Monuments men had sent home. “I think these really were the key to telling the story,” he says. “I thought if I could use their words to walk us through the story, it would be very gripping.”

Jim Rorimer’s letters were his great find; his daughter had them among her mother’s effects but didn’t realise it. Another of the Monuments men, Robert Posey, had sent his son mementos everywhere he went; they found both the letters and his gifts, carefully filed by his wife.

Included was the first picture taken of the Altaussee salt mine in Austria, where such major missing works as the Ghent altarpiece were discovered. Discoveries continue, often intercepted at auction houses where curators recognise the old museum markings on the backs of paintings sent in for sale. Edsel has set up a Monuments Men Foundation, dedicated to tracking them down before it is too late.

“I think there are hundreds of thousands of cultural treasures still missing – paintings, books, tapestries and so on,” he says. “We have to think in terms of things that are portable, things that could be carried by a soldier as a souvenir, things that could be picked up by a displaced person wandering the countryside looking for anything of value to try and find a way out. These are the things that are in attics and basements.

”Just last May we returned eight books, that were about 500 years old each, to the University of Naples library. [They] had been taken by an American soldier as a souvenir.”

Edsel is clearly keen to maintain the memory of each of the Monuments men, but also to revive their ethos. In Iraq in 2003, he laments, both seemed to have been entirely forgotten.

“It was a shameful moment in my country’s history, that this American-led invasion had as protected targets the oil installations and electrical grid – which, of course, are smart things to do – but failed to protect the cultural institutions, the museums and national archives and library.”

Eventually, the modern-day equivalents of the Monuments men were brought in, but by that time 15,000 important items were missing. Only half have been recovered.

What shocked Edsel was that these people had never heard of the Monuments men or what was achieved in the aftermath of World War II. Neither, clearly, had their leaders. He wants to change that, which is why he is busy promoting George Clooney’s film. “Because no book can do that like a feature film can,” he says.

Nearly 70 years on, the propaganda war is still going on.

The Monuments Men opens on Thursday.

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Doctor fears junior players at risk

Knockout blow: The NRL has introduced new laws to deal with concussed players. Photo: Anthony JohnsonUltimate League: Click here to sign up for our Fantasy NRL game 
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Former Roosters doctor John Orchard has pleaded with junior rugby league clubs to err on the side of caution when it comes to concussion to minimise the risk of long-term health problems.

The NRL recently announced strict guidelines for players displaying concussion-like symptoms, and clubs face the deduction of premiership points for failing to comply. A key initiative is a tweaking of interchange rules to give doctors time to make a thorough diagnosis without costing them an interchange.

The Australian Rugby League Commission also banned the shoulder charge last year, but stopped short of employing independent doctors or following the lead of boxing and ordering mandatory periods where players are stood down after a concussion.

While the changes will have an impact at the elite level, Sports Medicine Australia fears those playing at the grassroots level could still be vulnerable.

SMA spokesman Orchard, one of several respected medicos who quit their NRL posts in the off-season, urged junior clubs to exercise caution in relation to the issue.

“The recently updated guidelines state that any player displaying signs of concussion should receive an urgent medical assessment and should in no circumstances return to play or train until formal medical clearance has been provided,” Orchard said.

“Junior clubs in particular should take note of the updated guidelines and err on the side of caution, as currently fewer than 20 per cent of concussed children are actually diagnosed with concussion.

“SMA is aware that many local and community rugby clubs simply don’t have the resources to provide a doctor for every game, however in the absence of a qualified medical practitioner, we would urge those coaches and trainers responsible for player welfare to exercise extreme caution where head injuries are concerned.”

The concussion debate is a hot one after the NFL recently agreed to spend almost $US800 million ($890 million) to diagnose or compensate former players who have developed conditions such as brain injury and dementia as a result of game-day contact.

NSW Rugby League chief executive David Trodden said it was an issue that was being taken seriously.

“All of our accredited officials are required to undergo comprehensive first-aid training, which includes a concussion and head-injuries module,” Trodden said. “Our junior leagues are amongst the safest and most heavily policed in all junior sport.”

Orchard, who has toured as the Australian cricket team’s medico, pushed the message.

“If there’s any doubt, sit them out,” he said. “If any player is displaying symptoms including loss of consciousness, confusion, memory disturbance, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea and/or unsteadiness, coaches and trainers should immediately remove the player from the field and not allow them to return to play.

“Players suspected of concussion should then be referred to the closest sports physician, or if that is not an option, their local GP.

“It is also vital that local GPs ensure their concussion management and guideline knowledge is up to date, particularly for those regional and remote communities home to local club rugby competitions.

“With research suggesting that full recovery of brain function may take longer than previously thought, it is extremely important that players suspected of concussion are not allowed to return to the field and risk further head injury.”

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Roosters on the cusp of greatness

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What can we say about the new season that we haven’t already said before every other season for the past 20 years?

It could be the biggest season ever? This will be the most fiercely fought competition in history? This competition will be more even than ever before? This season will be the most exciting on record?

At this time every year, the same old clichés get a run as we look to pump up the expectations for a new beginning.

So what will make the 2014 NRL competition different to any we have witnessed for the past two decades?

Well, try this on for size.

It could well be the first time since 1993 that the defending champions go back-to-back and win consecutive premierships. That’s right. The Sydney Roosters are on the verge of becoming the first club since the Broncos in 1992-93 that successfully defend their title.

The Roosters were outstanding in 2013. Their recent demolition of English champions Wigan in the World Club Challenge shows they are on song from the get-go. The Roosters are definitely the team to beat.

But enough about them. How will your team fare this season?

If your favourite team did not make the top eight in season 2013 and you’re hoping they can return to finals football in 2014, then here’s a challenge for you. Tell me which team you think they will replace from last year’s top eight?

The Roosters, Rabbitohs, Storm and Sea Eagles were the top four last year and were clearly a cut above the rest over the course of the 26 premiership rounds. It’s hard to see any of these teams going backwards this season. All have strong playing rosters, great coaches and look to have very stable environments.

The next four teams in the pecking order in 2013 were probably a shade below the top four, but they themselves were clearly superior to the remaining eight teams in the premiership race. I’m sure the respective fans of the Sharks, Bulldogs, Knights and Cowboys will only be eyeing higher honours in 2014. They will have no thoughts of slipping back down the ladder.

So it would appear there could well be very few places available in the top eight for those teams which finished outside the finals cut-off in 2013. All teams which missed the top eight last year will be anticipating improvement. But there is no doubt that if they want to play finals football in 2014, they’re going to have to do a lot of things right over a long period of time to earn their spot.

All eyes will be on the Titans, Warriors, Panthers, Broncos, Raiders, Dragons, Tigers and Eels to see which team can improve enough to challenge those who finished above them in 2013. At this stage of the year, all will be filled with optimism and good intentions. These feelings are about to be put to the test over the next six months in the most gruelling examination rugby league has to offer.

Another team hoping for improvement this season will undoubtedly be the NSW State of Origin team. They only have one team to beat in their competition, but for the past eight seasons in a row they have been unable to conquer the mighty Maroons.

Again, it is no good the Blues waiting for the Maroons to falter. Queenslanders will never beat themselves. NSW simply has to find the improvement to overcome them. With two of the three Origin matches being played in Queensland this season, the challenge for NSW is even greater. But this will only make it a series all the more worth winning.

I would like to wish all the best to every club and all players for a successful and injury-free season.

Like all you fans out there, I can’t wait to get back to the footy.

See you there!

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The ultimate test of cricket skill takes five days

Nowhere to hide: Kyle Abbott of South Africa is in action surrounded by Australian fielders on day 5 of the third Test match in Cape Town. Photo: AFP/Luigi BennettAustralians may be represented by loudmouthed, smart-aleck, brash boundary-pushers on the field, but we love Test cricket. Despite continual, understandable concerns about the conduct of our team, the affection of Australian fans helps to sustain one of the world’s greatest sporting anomalies – a contest which can take five days and be decided in its final few minutes.
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Crowds may flock to Big Bash League Twenty20 games, but the throngs remain larger and more truly engaged at our iconic Test occasions in each city, and the national summer game unites us like nothing except World Cup soccer.

Having a common team to follow does not mean Test cricket fans all blindly approve of everything done by the national 11 in our names. It means we argue endlessly and passionately about the behaviour of the players, the selection of the team, and the strategies employed by captains.

It certainly does not mean many of the fans disappointed by Dave Warner’s howling, or Brad Haddin’s sledging, will ignore a magnificently tense finale like that of the third Test at Cape Town. The sizeable portion of cricket fans outraged, dismayed or disgusted by the gung-ho histrionics of our fieldsmen love the game too much to abandon it. They are a loud and consistent presence on any forum available. But they keep watching.

Because Test cricket, despite its corruption and ugliness, is epic. It truly is a test, more than any other in a ball sport, of the mind as well as the body, technique as well as ticker. Within one encounter, an individual can dominate, but rarely determine the result. It takes supreme effort from many individuals, and an improbably fragile team bonhomie, for a team to win consistently.

There is nothing in the sporting world like Test cricket. It is hard to explain how it works, its appeals, and its idiosyncrasies, to someone who did not grow up with it. That is a virtue. Test cricket is a novel, where a T20 game is a tweet, but that does not mean it lacks excitement.

Not every Test is as enthralling as the three just completed in South Africa, but every one goes through peaks and troughs. The weather changes. The pitch changes – what other game is so affected by the agriculture performed at its centre? You can understand time better by your day having a Test match as its clock – what has happened in your day while South Africa to precipitate a batting collapse? As Warner turned the contest on its head? When no wickets fell and few runs were added as the Proteas resisted Australia’s passionate attempts to dismiss them, and the tension rose madly?

The changeable nature of a Test match entrances its lovers, who stay up until all hours watching. On the final day in Cape Town, every armchair watcher became a captain, alongside Michael Clarke, suggesting a bowling change, a fielding position, anything which could prise loose a wicket and bring the seemingly unattainable a wicket closer.

Test cricket, endlessly announced to be on death row, is not as beloved by minor cricket nations as by its superpowers.

More broadly, cricket itself is beset by greed, corruption and short-sightedness.

But Test cricket, pronounced terminal for 30 years, continues to defy the cynicism and boorish behaviour by providing brilliant contests. That is because of its structure, but also because its participants love it and desperately want to win at it. And that is because they are like us, cricket tragics who love the five-day version more than any other abbreviation, and rate teams and players by how they perform in the Test cricket cauldron.

The reasons change, but most who think Test cricket is about to go belly-up seem unable to believe that such a ponderous relic of colonial times could remain relevant. It is precisely because it takes time, thereby testing its participants, and creating ebbs and flows of influence and performance, that the long form of the game remains relevant. Novels are still a more nourishing read than blogs.

Test cricket is a counterpoint to everything else in life, which seems to accelerate pointlessly, exponentially, by the minute.

I’d prefer our uncouth mob were more gentlemanly. It’s annoying, occasionally embarrassing. But it’s not a deal-breaker. The game is the thing. And it is still great, whoever wins.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Sharks not sure if they will continue fighting $1m fine

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The Sharks are yet to decide if they will appeal their $1 million fine handed down by the NRL.

The governing body upheld its provisional findings on Wednesday which hit the Sharks with a $1 million fine, deregistered former trainer Trent Elkin and suspended coach Shane Flanagan for 12 months.

The club received the NRL’s findings late on Wednesday night. Cronulla have five days to appeal the fine – via an NRL Appeals Tribunal, which will be headed by former High Court judge Ian Callinan QC and includes former Penrith hooker Luke Priddis and former NSW minister for sport and player Mike Cleary.

Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce said the club was undecided if it would appeal the fine – of which $400,000 is suspended. “Before you can make any decision you need all the information,” he said.

The Sharks board met at the club’s headquarters on Wednesday night following the NRL’s announcement. It is understood that unlike Flanagan, who is set to appeal the ban, the Sharks are likely to cop the punishment.

Cronulla face the prospect of expulsion from this year’s finals series if they fail to overhaul their governance structures to the satisfaction of the NRL.

The edicts from the league included: the completion of an independent governance review; an assessment of the club’s risk and control reporting framework; appointment of additional resources to the football department; and, compliance with new supplement and medication rules.

The NRL has demanded the checklist be completed by July 31.

Noyce said the club had already evolved its processes.

“There’s been a lot of work done on governance well before David Smith’s determination in December,” Noyce said. “That’s an area we have put a lot of focus into [with our] audit, risk and compliance committee.”

Flanagan said he intended to fight his ban.

“One thing is for sure, I am going to fight this decision until I am exonerated and my reputation is totally restored,” Flanagan said.

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Rattled witness who heard six shots back in defence’s sights

Pretoria: A witness who claims he heard up to six shots fired the night Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend will come under renewed pressure on day four of the athlete’s trial, as his lawyers try to discredit key parts of the state’s case for murder.
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Charl Peter Johnson, who lives on a neighbouring estate to Mr Pistorius, was already rattled earlier on day three of the trial, telling the court he had received threatening phone calls after his phone number was read out in court.

Mr Johnson, the husband of the state’s first witness Michelle Burger, received a number of threatening telephone messages, he said.

“It keeps on ringing so I keep it off,” he said. “I feel my privacy has been compromised severely.”

One caller accused him of lying under oath.

Like his wife, Mr Johnson had requested his image not be shown on the live television coverage of the case, as each witness is entitled to do.

His evidence was cut short on Wednesday after Mr Pistorius’ defence counsel, Barry Roux, requested that Mr Johnson be given time to go home and collect his original notes about what he heard in the early hours of February 14, 2013.

Mr Pistorius has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, after an argument escalated and she locked herself in a toilet cubicle of his house.

He claims the shooting was a terrible accident after he was woken in the night and believed an intruder was posing an imminent threat to them both.

Dr Burger and Mr Johnson claim they were woken by the sound of screaming at about 3am, followed by loud bangs they claim were gunshots.

While his wife clearly said she heard four shots – the number fired by Mr Pistorius – Mr Johnson has said he heard “five or six”.

Mr Roux is expected to continue cross-examining Mr Johnson about the similarities between his and his wife’s statements, arguing the pair colluded about what they heard and that their testimony may also have been influenced by media coverage.

Mr Johnson and Dr Burger live in Silver Stream Estate, adjacent to the Silver Woods Country Estate where Mr Pistorius lived, and their property has a direct line of sight to the double amputee’s luxury home.

Mr Johnson has told the court he heard two separate voices and screams:  “I could hear she was in trouble. They were clearly distress calls.”

He told Judge Thokozile Masipa he initially did not want to involve himself in such a high-profile matter, but eventually realised it was important to give his account.

Dr Burger described her distress at the “blood-curdling” screams she heard, which were followed by four shots: “Bang. (pause). Bang, bang, bang.”

The case continues.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

NBA star becomes a cog in China’s political machine

Beijing: A key reason hordes of reporters flock to the National People’s Congress in Beijing is the rare glimpse it provides of China’s senior leaders, and the even rarer opportunity to ask them questions – albeit in tightly-controlled conditions.
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Then there is the celebrity aspect. Increasingly, the Communist Party is embracing the country’s sporting and cultural icons and inviting them to sit as members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a largely symbolic advisory body which runs concurrently with the Congress.

Film star Jackie Chan is a Conference member, as are Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan, director Chen Kaige and Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang.

But at the height of 2.29 metres, former NBA star Yao Ming is a  crowd favourite,  towering over the hordes of reporters at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

After retiring from basketball in 2011, Mr Yao has parlayed his high profile into political influence of sorts, using his  status as a CPPCC member to push his causes.

In his first proposal last year, Mr Yao voiced concerns about the living conditions of retired athletes, with some former champions having trouble making ends meet.

This week, he proposed a ban on the sale of ivory in China, inspired by recent visits to Africa.

“Only by completely eliminating the market can we eliminate ivory and protect elephants,” he said.

But is it just a gimmick to try and make the Communist Party more palatable to the average Chinese person, and put a friendlier face on politics?

“They’re meant to discuss politics but really it’s just an honour given to those who do well in different fields, including celebrities,” said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University. “It just shows that China’s NPC and CPPCC are not actual institutions to participate in the administration and discussion of state affairs. It’s all controlled by the central party.”

Having turned his hand to politics of sorts, Mr Yao fielded a broad range of questions at a press conference on Thursday with diplomatic aplomb.

He was asked about the pollution in China (“I believe the government will do the right thing”), about the rising incidence of obesity (“I’ve put on some weight myself”) and maverick Australian Open champion Li Na (“She’s had a very successful career and she has great character”).

Asked about the decline of China’s national soccer and basketball teams, he eloquently argued for less government regulation and greater autonomy for sporting associations.

“Even a 40-person chess tournament needs to have formal government approval,” he said. “I’ve only just found this out myself.”

Perhaps most tellingly, he was asked whether he felt he was making an impact as a Conference member.

“I’m still quite unfamiliar with it all,” he said. “I’m still exploring the best way to propose things through the system – just having an idea is not enough.”

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