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Brisbane sneak into NRL finals

Brisbane became the last team to qualify for the NRL finals on Sunday night, after Parramatta and the Warriors dropped the ball in the lead up to next week’s playoffs.

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Brisbane fell into eighth spot after both the Eels and Warriors suffered last round defeats, with impressive victories to Sydney Roosters and North Queensland marking them as the teams to beat.

The premiers’ 22-18 win over South Sydney on Thursday at Allianz Stadium handed them the minor premiership after ladder leaders Manly fell 30-16 to the Cowboys in Townsville two nights later.

The win was the Roosters’ sixth on the trot ahead of Saturday evening’s first qualifying final against Penrith at Allianz Stadium.

The Cowboys, who have won seven of their last eight, including victories over top four finishers South Sydney and Manly, face Brisbane in Townsville on Saturday night in the first elimination final.

Penrith’s 22-6 win over the lacklustre Warriors on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season gave the Panthers a top four spot, with the result opening the door for the Broncos to sneak into the finals on percentages.

The Panthers’ reward is a match against the world club champions.

Penrith emerged as unlikely top four aspirants mid-season and coach Ivan Cleary, in his third year with the Panthers, said he was proud of his side heading into the finals.

“I didn’t really have any expectations (this year) apart from trying to improve,” he said.

“Eighteen months ago we were everyone’s favourites to finish last and we scratched our way up to tenth spot last year.

“The obvious one this year was to try and get in the eight and we’ve done that and I am very proud of the whole club.

“I think it is a pretty big achievement being in the top four with Souths, Roosters and Manly.”

Injury-hit Manly host Souths in the second qualifying final on Friday night at Allianz Stadium to open the finals series.

Canterbury, who limped into the finals alongside Brisbane after their 19-18 capitulation to the Titans on the Gold Coast on Sunday after leading 18-0, travel to Melbourne to play the Storm in the second elimination final on Sunday afternoon.

Brisbane’s finals fate was taken out of their own hands when they were disposed of by a clinical Melbourne outfit 22-12 at AAMI Park on Friday night.

After losing to Newcastle last week, a win over Canberra in the nation’s capital would have lifted the improved Eels to eighth spot, but the Raiders proved too good in a 33-20 win to finish their season with three straight victories.

Wests Tigers snapped a six game losing streak in defeating wooden spooners Cronulla, their first since 1969, 26-10 at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

In the other match with no bearing on the finals, the Knights smashed St George Illawarra 40-10 at Hunter Stadium on Sunday to round out both sides’ disappointing seasons in coach Wayne Bennett’s last game in charge of Newcastle.


25/04/2019 0

McFadden frustrated by Warriors flop

Warriors coach Andrew McFadden failed to hide his frustration after his talented, but under-achieving side missed out on a gilt-edged opportunity to make the NRL finals.

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With Brisbane losing to Melbourne on Friday and Parramatta going down to Canberra on Saturday, the Warriors’ destiny was in their own hands against Penrith on Sunday night.

The Panthers needed to win to book a top-four spot, but a two-point defeat for the Warriors would have been enough to finish above the Broncos on points differential.

But it proved to be too big a hurdle as the impressive Panthers won 22-6 at Sportingbet Stadium leaving the Warriors to ponder another year where they combined brilliance and mediocrity all too regularly.

A slow start to the year saw coach Matt Elliott shown the door and although things did improve under McFadden the team was found wanting at the back end of the season.

“We didn’t really fire a shot,” McFadden said.

“We had opportunities, we didn’t take them and weren’t good enough.

“We just weren’t tough enough to get ourselves out of it.

“It’s really disappointing. We know we’ve made some real progress this year and it would have been nice to get that result and get in the eight.

“It’s a dose of reality of where we sit.”

Skipper Simon Mannering said there were no excuses for another year of failure and the time had come for the whole team to take responsibility for another disappointing campaign.

“It wasn’t an ideal start to the year but we should have given ourselves opportunities throughout the year to be there in the eight,” Mannering said.

“I guess it showed tonight we didn’t quite deserve it and we’re not good enough.

“It’s something we have to learn from for next year. We didn’t have that spark which is a shame because we had everything to play for.”


25/04/2019 0

Turkey protest horror lift deaths

Hundreds have protested in Istanbul a day after 10 workers were killed when a lift crashed to the ground from the 32nd storey of a building.

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“This is not an accident, this is murder!” the crowd of up to 1000 people, angry at Turkey’s abysmal workplace safety record, shouted as they gathered near the construction site in Istanbul on Sunday.

Authorities said an investigation had been launched into the incident at the Torunlar Centre, which is being built on the former site of Galatasaray football club’s Ali Sami Yen stadium.

Police on Sunday released eight people detained in connection with the incident, including the safety director of the site, after hearing their testimonies.

Thirty-six of the tower’s 42 floors have already been completed, local media reported.

The exact cause of the accident remains unclear, but there have been claims that the elevator broke down two weeks ago and workers were awaiting funds to repair it.

Labour and Social Security Minister Faruk Celik said the accident happened after a freight elevator workers used to carry construction materials derailed, with workers and building materials crashing to the ground.

“We will go after (the guilty people) if there is any negligence or shortcoming,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish media.

The building’s owner Aziz Torun denied any responsibility, as well as the possibility of a technical problem with the elevator.

“I used the same elevator 10 days ago,” Torun told a press conference.

“The elevator is supposed to carry both people and materials. It can carry 2700 kilos of freight or 28 people.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the workers’ deaths “very painful and very saddening”.

Turkey has the world’s third highest rate of deadly workplace accidents, according to the International Labour Organisation.


25/04/2019 0

Palestinians face boycott over Hamas wages

The international community has threatened to boycott the Palestinian leadership if it pays the salaries of former Hamas employees in Gaza, prime minister Rami Hamdallah says.

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Hamdallah on Sunday told AFP he had been warned he would face problems if he visited the Gaza Strip without first sorting out the salaries issue.

The densely populated Palestinian coastal territory was the target of a 50-day Israeli offensive in July and August, aimed at halting militant rocket and mortar fire into the Jewish state.

Hamdallah, who heads the Palestinian government of national consensus which took office on June 2, said the question of wages had become the main stumbling block to an intra-Palestinian reconciliation deal.

“This unity government should control both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but there are many things blocking its work,” he said.

“Putting Hamas employees on the government payroll is the main problem which is preventing the government from working in the Gaza Strip.”

Since signing the agreement in April, Hamas has demanded that the new government take responsibility for paying its 45,000 employees, some 27,000 of whom are civil servants, he said.

The rest are understood to be members of the Hamas police and security forces.

Before the Hamas government stepped down in June, it had been unable to pay their wages for months because of a biting economic crisis.

But Hamdallah said his government had been warned against channelling money to anyone employed by Hamas, which is blacklisted by the United States and Europe as a terror organisation.

“The government and the banks operating in the Palestinian territories were warned that if they make these payments to former Hamas government employees in Gaza then the government and the people will be boycotted,” he said.

“If this happens, the Palestinian banking system will face a huge problem that will threaten the Palestinian situation in general.”

The Palestinians are heavily dependent on international aid, with a boycott likely to have a devastating financial impact on its financial viability.

Hamdallah’s remarks came a day after president Mahmud Abbas lashed out at Hamas for effectively running a parallel administration and preventing the consensus government from operating in Gaza.


25/04/2019 0

Nishikori, Cilic seek glory in unlikely final

It will be the first time since the Australian Open final in 2005 that a men’s grand slam final will not feature at least one of tennis’s top three – Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.

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Tenth seed Nishikori is the first Asian man to reach a grand slam singles final while Cilic is into his first final, less than 12 months after returning from a four-month suspension for what he said was inadvertently taking a banned supplement.

Before this year’s U.S. Open, Nishikori and Cilic boasted just one grand slam semi-final appearance between them, the Croat having made it to the last four at the Australian Open in 2010.

Nishikori leads their head-to-head meetings 5-2, including both their meetings this year, in Brisbane and Barcelona, while they split their two previous U.S. Open clashes.

But having beaten Djokovic and Federer respectively to reach their first grand slam final, they will be desperate to take chances on Monday.

“I hope there will be a lot of people watching (in Japan),” said Nishikori, who also beat third seed Stan Wawrinka and fifth seed Milos Raonic.

“I am a little bit surprised to make the final but am very happy to make another (piece) of history, the first time an Asian man is in the final. I hope I can win and make (more) history.”

Coached by former grand slam champion Michael Chang, Nishikori has added steel and physical strength to a game that always possessed flair but lacked endurance.

“He’s been really helpful,” Nishikori said. “He’s been helping me a lot from the end of last year, (especially) mentally.

“I feel my tennis is changing (to be a) little more aggressive and playing with more confidence. He’s tough, but I needed someone to push me.”

Cilic, whose victory over Federer in the semi-finals was described by his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, as “perfection”, is aiming for glory, 11 months after returning from a drugs ban that left him questioning his future.

Originally banned for nine months, Cilic’s suspension was cut to four months on appeal and the 25-year-old always maintained that he had taken the banned substance without knowing, through a tainted supplement.

The road back to the top was hard but with the help of former Wimbledon champion Ivanisevic, he has emerged a more aggressive player, using his serve and groundstrokes to stunning effect.

“For the guys that are top, (reaching the final) feels normal,” he said. “But for some guys that are making it for the first time it’s the achievement of their career.

“When I’m playing now these bigger matches I feel like if I’m going to play well I have a good chance.

“That’s a different mind-set than I used to have because before I felt that I should (try to do) more than I’m able to and then your game breaks.”

Cilic said he was looking forward to one more great battle with Nishikori.

“It’s going to be a special day for both of us, an opportunity for both of us to win a grand slam, to be a part of history,” he said.

“There are going to be definitely huge emotions on the court. We have different game styles. I think it’s going to be a good tactical match-up.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)


25/04/2019 0

Deliberate? I just made a mistake, says Rosberg

The Mercedes driver, who finished second after making a mistake at the first chicane while under pressure from winning team mate Lewis Hamilton, could scarcely believe anyone would suggest such a thing.

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“I’ve heard about that, but what would be the reason for me to do something like that deliberately?,” asked the German, who saw his lead cut to 22 points with six races remaining.

“There is no possible reason. There is no reason why the team would ask me to change position, or something like that.

“The only thing in people’s minds could be Spa, but Spa was a mistake which I’ve apologised for,” added the German, who hit the back of Hamilton’s car on the second lap of the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Hamilton said after that race that Rosberg had “done it on purpose” but he was certainly not accusing him of any such intent in Italy.

Rosberg accepted blame for the Spa incident, which led to Hamilton’s race retirement, and was handed an unspecified punishment from his angry team who reminded their drivers they could race each other but must not make contact on the track.

If there were some wondering whether a restitution of points might form part of that penalty, an idea that was discussed and swiftly dismissed by some paddock pundits post-race, the driver and team ridiculed the very thought.

“It’s not something where I have to give back something. Mistakes, errors happen, and that’s the way it is, (I make) an apology and on we go,” said Rosberg, who braked late and continued straight on at the chicane.

He then had to slow and zig-zag to get back on track.

“It’s not like we now start shuffling and things like that, so there is no reason why I would do something like that on purpose,” added Rosberg.

Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff found the idea even more mind-boggling after being asked by BBC pundit and former team owner Eddie Jordan.

“I said to Eddie that only a paranoid mind could come up with such an idea,” he said.

“I think there was lots of pressure on Nico because Lewis was so quick yesterday and you could see that today as well,” he added, explaining also that Rosberg had to miss the chicane because the alternative was to damage the tyres.

That would have entailed another pitstop and lost time.

Television images also showed Wolff smiling apparently as Hamilton took the lead after Rosberg’s error, providing more fuel for the conspiracy theorists, but he dismissed any suggestion the two things were linked.

“Whoever picks that up and tries to interpret anything in such a picture must be out of his mind,” said the Austrian. “First of all, it’s not live.

“It wasn’t synchronised with the picture.”

Wolff explained that he had smiled when his two drivers were closing up, with Hamilton chasing down Rosberg, out of a sense of ‘here we go again’ and anticipation of sparks to come. The footage was then spliced into the live action later.

Hamilton had started from pole position on Sunday, with Rosberg second, but fell to fourth at the start after a problem with his car’s race start settings.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Tony Goodson)


27/03/2019 0

NBA owner to sell after racist email leak

Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson says he’ll sell his controlling interest in the NBA team in the wake of racially-charged remarks he made in an email two years ago.

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Levenson’s decision to voluntarily sell comes after the NBA’s ugly fight to remove Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after racist remarks he made to a girlfriend became public.

After months of legal wrangling and resistance by Sterling, the LA club’s $US2 billion sale to former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer was made official in August.

Levenson clearly hopes to spare the NBA a similar episode.

“After much long and difficult contemplation, I have decided that it is in the best interests of the team, the Atlanta community, and the NBA to sell my controlling interest in the Hawks franchise,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

The team said chief executive Steve Koonin will oversee all team operations and take all organisational reports as they proceed with the sale process.

Levenson said he was “truly embarrassed” by the words in the email, which he said were “inappropriate and offensive” as he tried to address issues relating to low attendance and the need for more season ticket holders and corporate sponsorship.

“I shared my thoughts on why our efforts to bridge Atlanta’s racial sports divide seemed to be failing.” Levenson said.

“I trivialised our fans by making cliched assumptions about their interests (i.e. hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e. that white fans might be afraid of our black fans).

“By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who banned Sterling for life from all league activities, praised Levenson for notifying the league himself of the email.

The league launched its own investigation into the circumstances, but Levenson told Silver he was selling before the probe was completed.

“As Mr. Levenson acknowledged, the views he expressed are entirely unacceptable and are in stark contrast to the core principles of the National Basketball Association,” Silver said.

“He shared with me how truly remorseful he is for using those hurtful words and how apologetic he is to the entire NBA family – fans, players, team employees, business partners and fellow team owners — for having diverted attention away from our game.

“I commend Mr. Levenson for self-reporting to the league office, for being fully cooperative with the league and its independent investigator, and for putting the best interests of the Hawks, the Atlanta community, and the NBA first,” the commissioner said.


27/03/2019 0

Iraq parliament to vote on government

Iraq’s parliament is set to meet to vote on a new government in a key moment for the country, which is battling to regain territory from jihadist-led militants.

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“The Council of Representatives will hold a session… to form the government,” said an invitation from parliament for media to attend the event on Monday.

If a government is not agreed, this will mean a return to the start of the contentious process, leaving Iraq rudderless at a time of crisis.

Government formation got off to a rocky start.

Incumbent premier Nuri al-Maliki accused President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution by approving the nomination of Haidar al-Abadi instead of him to form the next government, and threatened to sue.

Maliki eventually agreed to step aside, leaving Abadi to cobble together a cabinet on which Iraq’s sharply divided politicians could agree.

Abadi said on his Twitter account on Saturday that “cabinet formation is in its final stages”, but that the process had been held up by blocs that either delayed presenting candidates or nominated people who were unqualified.

Maliki’s website on the same day said negotiations were “overshadowed by party and sectarian and nationalist rivalry, and the national spirit was unfortunately absent”.

One apparent point of contention was the Badr bloc – which has a powerful associated militia that is close to Iran – angling for the defence ministry.

The process of forming a new government comes at a critical time as Iraq fights to retake large areas of territory lost to a sweeping June militant offensive.

There have been repeated calls from the international community, including the United States, for a broad-based government to help confront the militants.

But while this would ensure all sides are represented, similar arrangements previously have led to deadlock that has helped undermine government effectiveness.


27/03/2019 0

Contador frustrated but retains lead in Tour of Spain

Spaniard Contador, who retained the overall leader’s red jersey, battled against the negative tactics of Alejandro Valverde, second overall, and Joaquim Rodriguez to finish a few seconds behind his two compatriots.

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The Tinkoff-Saxo rider attacked time and again in the final climb – a 12.2-km ascent at an average gradient of 7.2 per cent to Lagos De Covadonga.

But Rodriguez and Valverde refused to cooperate to get rid of Froome, who was struggling a few metres behind.

The Briton limited the damage and still lies third overall, 1:20 behind Contador after losing seven seconds to the Spaniard at the end of Sunday’s 152.2-km ride.

“At the end of the day he actually lost time to Valverde and Rodriguez but he gained time on Froome,” said Tinkoff-Saxo sports director Tristan Hoffman.

“It was a difficult situation tactically but I think he managed the situation very well. Tomorrow, there’s another big day in the mountains and we”ll do everything we can to maintain the lead.”

Frenchman Warren Barguil was the first to shake off a small group of favourites in the final climb but it was Contador who went hard in the final six kilometres.

Froome, who was yo-yoing at the back, appeared to crack several times but always managed to fight his way back, never losing sight of Contador.

The double Tour de France champion, looking to win the Vuelta for the third time, was outsprinted by Valverde and Rodriguez in the finale as the Movistar and Katusha riders snatched six and four seconds of time bonuses respectively.

Niemiec, of the Lampre-Merida team, was the sole survivor of the day’s breakaway and held off the trio of rivals to win the stage, crossing the line five seconds ahead of Valverde and Rodriguez.

Monday’s 16th stage is classed as the queen stage, a 160.5-km trek to La Farrapona, featuring four categorised climbs.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Steve Tongue and Justin Palmer)


27/03/2019 0

Rosberg error hands Hamilton victory in Italy

Rosberg, whose 29th lap mistake at the first chicane cost him the lead and the race, finished second as dominant Mercedes celebrated a first one-two since Austria in June and their seventh in 13 races.

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Brazilian Felipe Massa was third for Williams in his first podium appearance since May 2013.

Rosberg, who now has 238 points to Hamilton’s 216 with six races remaining after the end of the European part of the season, recognised his error.

“It’s a terrible feeling to lose the lead like that but in the end Lewis was really quick in the whole race. He came like a rocket and I had to push and I made the mistake,” he said.

With the sport taking a deep breath as the rivals lined up together on the front row, two weeks after they had collided in Belgium on the second lap, the start provided immediate drama.

Hamilton had taken pole position for the first time since May but problems with the car’s start controls left him struggling to get away. He was fourth into the first corner as Rosberg led untroubled but kept his cool.

“I’m quite grateful today that I didn’t lose it, I didn’t end up crashing in the first corner, I didn’t end up touching anyone, I didn’t end up locking or anything like that. I managed to keep my composure,” he said.

It was the start of a thrilling chase, with the 2008 world champion hunting down his quarry and seizing the lead when Rosberg missed the chicane.

The Briton had earlier shunned advice from his race engineer to back off and save tyres for a later attack and it proved the right approach.

The two crossed the finish line 3.1 seconds apart, with Hamilton celebrating his first win since Britain in July. It was his sixth of the season and 28th of his career, taking him ahead of triple champion Jackie Stewart in the all-time lists.

DIFFICULT RACE

“It was a difficult race,” said Hamilton. “For whatever reason, at the start the button didn’t press which engages the launch sequence.

“For the formation lap it didn’t work and when I got to the grid and put it on again, again it didn’t work. It was very strange. I’ve never really had that happen before.”

In a sport full of conspiracy theorists, Rosberg and team bosses ridiculed a suggestion that he might have been ordered to cede place to Hamilton as a result of what happened in Spa.

“I’ve heard about that, but what would be the reason for me to do something like that deliberately? There is no possible reason,” he said, explaining that he had missed the chicane to avoid locking up and ‘flat-spotting’ a tyre – which would have forced an extra pitstop and a lot of lost time.

Massa’s podium came on Brazilian independence day and after the team had announced the former Ferrari driver was staying for 2015 along with Valtteri Bottas.

The points, at the fastest track on the calendar, meant Williams leapfrogged Ferrari into third place.

“I hope really we can get this third place in the Constructors’ Championship. It would be fantastic for the whole team. I’m so happy to be on the podium here in this amazing place that I really love,” said Massa.

In the absence of their current Ferrari heroes, the passionate home crowd welcomed Massa onto the podium with cheers as they spilled out in a vast red wave onto the finish straight.

Rosberg, blamed by his own team for the second lap Spa collision that led to Hamilton’s retirement from that race, was booed for the second grand prix in a row.

Massa’s Finnish team mate Bottas was fourth following another impressive day of overtaking after he had dropped from the second row to 10th at the end of the first lap.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso retired from his team’s home race on lap 29 with a failure in the car’s energy recovery system, his first mechanical retirement in 86 races, while Kimi Raikkonen finished ninth.

The Finn crossed the line 10th but moved up after McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen was penalised for forcing Bottas off.

Until Sunday, Alonso was the only driver to have scored points in every race this season.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo, winner of the two previous races, had another brilliant race for Red Bull and finished fifth after some breathtaking overtaking moves including one on four times champion team mate Sebastian Vettel who was sixth.

Mexican Sergio Perez came seventh for Force India after a wheel-to-wheel battle with McLaren’s Jenson Button in eighth. The championship now heads east to Singapore and Japan.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Justin Palmer)


27/03/2019 0