Labor enemy of regional NSW: Nats

The Nationals are urging country voters not to back a resurgent ALP, labelling the party as “enemies” of regional NSW.

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Premier Mike Baird and his deputy Troy Grant were in Dubbo on Sunday to officially launch the Nationals’ campaign for the March 28 election.

Mr Grant pointed to Labor’s “neglect” of rural NSW when it was last in power.

“Let me be clear: Labor is the enemy of regional NSW and the enemy is at our gates,” Mr Grant, who is also Nationals leader, told the launch.

The Nats won an impressive 18 of the 20 seats they contested at the 2011 election but are now focused on a far more defensive campaign amid an expected statewide swing against the coalitions.

Community fears over the government’s power privatisation plans and anti-coal seam gas sentiment are proving to be the two biggest challenges for sitting National MPs.

Mr Grant said his party had a strong record on the poles and wires plan, pointing to the fact that they successfully lobbied the government to keep Essential Energy, the major rural and regional electricity distributor, in public hands.

“Essential Energy will remain 100 per cent in public hands – that is not negotiable,” he said.

A major battleground for the Nationals will be on the state’s North Coast, where Labor leader Luke Foley has already visited and made big ticket spending promises.

Tweed, Ballina and Lismore are all held by the Nationals on margins of more than 20 per cent but are at risk of falling to Labor.

Mr Foley has also promised a complete CSG ban on the North Coast, highlighting just how crucial the issue could be in deciding those seats.

Monaro, in the state’s south, is another key seat considering it’s been won by the governing party in 25 of the past 28 elections.

Nationals MP John Barilaro holds Monaro on a two per cent margin and could easily lose it to Labor’s Steve Whan, who is back to reclaim his old seat.

Mr Foley focused on law and order on Sunday, promising to employ an extra 480 police officers in his first term.

He stressed he’d pay for the extra staff without leasing the state’s poles and wires.

Meanwhile, the Greens launched their campaign in Sydney with an ambitious package of laws designed to stamp out corruption and boost social housing.

Souths show their mettle to down Roosters

Michael Maguire hailed the character of his South Sydney players after they fought back to beat the Sydney Roosters 34-26 in a see-sawing encounter at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

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The Rabbitohs showed they’re still the team to beat in the NRL in 2015 after clawing back a 22-12 deficit to see off their bitter rivals in front of a crowd of 27,298. Coach Michael Maguire said his players needed all their fighting spirit to see off a Roosters side that came from 12-0 down to lead 22-12 midway through the second half to maintain their 100 per cent start to the campaign.

A moment of magic from skipper Greg Inglis was the highlight of an absorbing affair with the Queensland superstar fighting his way out of the end-goal area after picking up a Mitchell Pearce grubber-kick then finding Alex Johnston who raced the length of the field to score.

Maguire said there is a feeling of confidence around the team that has been built around last year’s premiership success but there was disappointment at the way the Roosters were let back into the game.

“The belief is growing in the team and it still is,” Maguire said.

“The players know we were not at our best and have already recognised that. That comes back to the belief factor.

“But the Roosters are a very good team, have two very good halves and a pretty good backfield.”

The 11-minute absence of Adam Reynolds, who underwent a concussion test after his head connected with the knee of Aidan Guerra, saw Souths lose their way as the Roosters ran in three quickfire tries.

The mini collapse was reminiscent of the 2012 preliminary final defeat by Canterbury when Reynolds went off with a hamstring injury and the Rabbitohs struggled terribly to lose to the Bulldogs.

But Maguire insisted he was not concerned and said the points scored were a result of good play from the Roosters and not entirely down to the loss of Reynolds.

“We lost our way a bit when he went off but we regrouped,” he said.

“I thought he performed well at the back-end of the game … but the (momentum shift) is part of the game.

“I think the Roosters completed at about 90 per cent and when any team does that it will hurt you.

“But we stuck solid and defended our way out of it.”

Roosters coach Trent Robinson said his side’s defensive effort was to blame for the defeat.

“They have had a really good start but we don’t really care,” Robinson said.

“We didn’t win the game today but I thought we had a lot of good stuff in the game.

“There was a lot of stuff we did well. But there was a lot of stuff that was unacceptable at the Roosters as well. To let some of those tries in on the goal line, that doesn’t happen.”

“Moments are really important in games. Some players took theirs and some players let it go.”

Messi-inspired Barca riding high before City, ‘Clasico’

Barca have won 16 of their 18 matches in 2015, their only blemishes defeats to Real Sociedad and Malaga in La Liga, and are in with a chance of repeating 2009’s historic haul of Champions League and Spanish league and Cup.

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Luis Enrique’s men take a 2-1 lead into Wednesday’s Champions League last 16, second leg at home to Manchester City, will be at least a point clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga when they host their arch rivals on Sunday and are through to May’s King’s Cup final to face Athletic Bilbao.

A big reason Barca are riding high is the form of talisman Lionel Messi, who has been scoring for fun since the turn of the year.

The Argentina forward added two more goals in Saturday’s 2-0 La Liga win at Eibar, which put Barca four points clear of Real ahead of their match at home to Levante later on Sunday.

With Xavi and Andres Iniesta on the bench, Messi captained the side and put Barca ahead in the 31st minute when he converted a penalty.

The 27-year-old made it 2-0 with a header from a corner 10 minutes into the second half, his 32nd La Liga goal of the campaign and his 43rd in all competitions, two more than he managed in the whole of an injury-disrupted 2013-14.

Two goals clear of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo as La Liga’s leading marksman this term, Messi has scored at least twice in 120 matches for club and country, 112 for Barcelona and eight for Argentina.

He has 11 matches left in which to try to match or surpass his own record for goals in a La Liga season of 50 set in 2011-12.

Speculation after the defeat at Sociedad that Messi and Luis Enrique had fallen out and the Argentine could even leave the club he joined as a 13-year-old has long been forgotten.

“We will go into the ‘Clasico’ as leaders and in perfect shape,” Luis Enrique told a news conference after Saturday’s victory.

“But we have to focus on City because we are playing for our classification,” added the former Barca and Spain midfielder. “Then we will see what happens at the weekend.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Pressure on NRL to protect playmakers

The NRL is under pressure for referees to offer greater protection for playmakers after North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston was left battered and bruised by Newcastle.

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Cowboys coach Paul Green was forced to bite his lip after Thurston was poleaxed by Knights enforced Beau Scott in the visitors’ 16-14 win in Townsville on Saturday night.

Scott was put on report when he hit Thurston without the ball in the first half before tipping the Queensland and Australian five-eighth on his head in a tackle.

The Cowboys say they will seek answers from the NRL, while Newcastle legend Andrew Johns said the “bashing” of Thurston was one of the biggest problems facing the game.

“There’s about 10 guys in the competition who do this continually every week,” Johns said on the Sunday Footy Show on the Nine Network.

“The ball player goes to the line and passes and they wait for a second or two, probably a second … when they relax and they hit them in the kidneys and they hit them in the ribs when they’re not expecting it.

“It’s a cheap shot as far as I’m concerned.”

Reigning champions South Sydney firmed as premiership favourites when they came from behind to defeat arch-rivals the Sydney Roosters 34-26 in a blockbuster that lived up to the hype at ANZ Stadium.

The Rabbitohs hit the front with 11 minutes to go after Joel Reddy scored before Issac Luke capped a great performance with a four-pointer.

It was a seesawing encounter, with Souths grabbing an early lead before Sydney Roosters put on three tries, while Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds was up the tunnel being tested for a concussion, only for the premiers to come home stronger.

Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire paid tribute to the character of his side as they battled back after conceding 22 unanswered points to maintain their strong start to the season.

“The fight in the boys was definitely shown,” Maguire said. “It was needed today. The boys were able to dig deep and find something towards the end.”

New Zealand recorded their first win of the year with a 18-6 win over Canberra at GIO Stadium thanks to a three-minute scoring spurt to start the second half.

After Paul Vaughan knocked on from the restart, the Warriors put on tries through Solomon Kata and Ryan Hoffman in quick succession and never gave up the lead.

Daly Cherry-Evans erased doubts about his commitment to Manly when he blew Melbourne off the park in an eight-minute burst just before halftime, laying on three tries in his side’s 24-22 win.

The Queensland and Test playmaker, who’ll play for the Gold Coast next season, starred as Manly provided an emphatic reply to suggestions they were a spent force.

Penrith fullback Matt Moylan gave NSW coach Laurie Daley food for thought in a starring display in the Panthers’ 40-0 win over Gold Coast in Bathurst on Saturday.

Moylan set up three tries as he put his hand up to inherit Jarryd Hayne’s No.1 Blues jersey while Jamal Idris returned to his blockbusting best with three tries.

There were further woes for Parramatta, with Semi Radradra (knee), Chris Sandow (ankle), Beau Champion (knee), Anthony Watmough (knee), Tepai Moeroa (shoulder) injured in the Eels’ 32-12 loss to Canterbury.

Radradra is expected to be out for a month after damaging his medial ligament, while Champion could be out for the season with an ACL problem.

The pressure on Cronulla five-eighth Ben Barba intensified after the Sharks failed to score a try in their 10-2 loss to Brisbane on Friday.

Ballantyne injury a concern for Freo

Fremantle small forward Hayden Ballantyne could be in danger of missing the Dockers’ opening match of the AFL season after suffering a calf injury in their nine-point NAB Challenge loss to Sydney.

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The Swans hung on to post a 1.7.14 (65) to 1.6.11 (56) victory at Sydney’s Drummoyne Oval on Sunday after leading by 39 points early in the last quarter.

It was a well-contested scrap in difficult conditions on a small suburban ground, buffeted throughout by strong winds and lashed by driving rain in the final minutes.

The main concern arising out of the game for Fremantle coach Ross Lyon was what he believed was a calf injury to Ballantyne.

“If it is, he’ll probably miss round one,” Lyon told reporters after the game.

There was a concern of a different kind for Freo’s other celebrated small forward Michael Walters, who was reported for a third-quarter rough conduct incident involving Craig Bird, Sydney’s only multiple goalkicker.

Lyon expected Tendai Mzungu to be OK despite a hamstring issue.

Sydney reported just a couple of minor corks to Bird and Rhyce Shaw.

Assistant coach Henry Playfair, who was in charge for the day, was happy with the way Sydney improved in a couple of key areas after their disappointing first-up loss to Brisbane last week.

“To win the tackles by 25 and win the contested ball by 26, to get that hit was really important for us,” Playfair said.

The wind and rain and small ground made it hard for any of the high-profile key forwards to make an impact.

Matthew Pavlich had just five touches and two marks and went goalless, Lance Franklin had six possessions, one mark and one goal, and Adam Goodes had nine disposals, two marks and no scoring shots.

Playfair said Franklin and Goodes competed well in limited space in their first inter-club hitout of the year.

He said rookie Isaac Heeney was in the selection mix for round one after a second solid performance in as many weeks.

Josh Kennedy logged 33 touches for Sydney, who notched 84 more disposals.

With the breeze at their backs, Sydney slammed on three goals in three minutes to lead 24-3 at the first break and were 13 up at halftime.

Sydney scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter and Tom Mitchell’s goal a minute into the last quarter appeared to have put them out of sight.

Consecutive majors to Matt de Boer and Nat Fyfe followed by a super goal to Zac Clarke and a major to Chris Mayne got Fremantle tantalisingly close as the game ended in driving rain.

Fyfe and de Boer each finished with two goals and Lachie Neale tallied 33 touches, while Alex Silvagni did well down back.

“We fought it out and exposed some of our younger players,” said Lyon, who described youngster Connor Blakely as clean, brave and smart.