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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Carlton hold off Pies in Bendigo

Carlton have seen off a late challenge from Collingwood to defeat the Pies by seven points in their AFL clash in Bendigo.


In front of a sellout crowd of 9542 fans on Sunday, the Blues looked set for a blowout victory when they led by 33 points halfway through the first term, but a resurgent Collingwood made them work hard for their 1.9.8 (71) to 1.7.13 (64) win.

However, both teams left the match with injury concerns over their ruckmen.

The Pies’ Brodie Grundy was subbed out with a hip problem at halftime and the Blues’ Robbie Warnock copped a knock to a shoulder early in the third quarter.

He was briefly attended to by club doctors and took no further part in the match, but coach Mick Malthouse later said it was only a precautionary move.

Grundy appeared to be moving with great difficulty, but Nathan Buckley played down the severity of the issue.

“He’s all right – we can make bigger things of what they actually are, but he copped a knock,” Buckley said.

The clash was the first hitout of the NAB Challenge for some star players from both sides.

For the Blues, Chris Judd had an immediate impact and worked hard all match for his 23 disposals, with 10 clearances. Andrew Carrazzo was also impressive with 25 touches.

Bryce Gibbs skippered the side in Marc Murphy’s absence, but he played only one half before being subbed out.

Carlton brought in eight new players to the side defeated by West Coast and, with that many new faces, Malthouse said he had expected fluctuations in the team’s performance.

“We started off very well, but then we started to swim with gumboots and a raincoat – we just had to weather the game,” Malthouse said.

“With players coming in like that they’ll go for it then they’ll need a breather. The best things out of these games are that you get a game into those guys.”

For Collingwood, Scott Pendlebury (16 possessions) showed flashes of his trademark class, Dane Swan (12) was quiet early but got better as the game went on, and Travis Cloke largely struggled to get into the game, finishing with one goal.

The Blues’ Andrejs Everitt started with a bang with three goals, two regulation and one nine-pointer, in the first quarter.

He roamed further afield after that, but he and Liam Jones combined well in a first half, when tall target Levi Casboult had little influence.

The Pies fought back well late in the first term, with Jarryd Blair bagging two goals in his first game of the pre-season series, but the Blues were able to keep them at arm’s length despite their best efforts.

Collingwood got to within two points late in the third quarter, but could never get their noses in front as the Blues hung on for the win.

Carlton’s Chris Yarran was at his eye-catching best off half-back with 21 disposals, while Levi Greenwood was the Pies’ leading possession winner with 17.

Injured Bottas misses Australian GP

The Finn, who had qualified sixth at Albert Park, felt pain during Saturday’s qualifying session and was taken to hospital for scans.


Williams said the scans showed Bottas had suffered a small tear to the annular part of a disc in his lower back.

“Valtteri has since been evaluated by the FIA’s medical team and following a series of tests, the FIA Medical Delegate has deemed Valtteri unfit to take part in this afternoon’s race,” they added.

“The team respect the FIA’s decision and will now work with Valtteri ahead of the Malaysian Grand Prix (on March 29) to ensure he receives the treatment required to get him back to full fitness.”

Bottas enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2014, securing six podium finishes for Williams to claim fourth place in the championship.

The 25-year-old said he was confident he would able to resume driving for the next race.

“I have done a lot of work since the issue with my back came in qualifying to get myself ready, starting treatment immediately, so the news that I couldn’t race today was obviously disappointing but I respect the decision,” Bottas said.

“I now have two weeks until the next race to receive further treatment to ensure I will be back to full fitness and even stronger in Malaysia.

“I’m very eager to get back in the car and race because the FW37 is looking competitive and I’m confident we can fight for podiums.”

Williams do not have a reserve driver at present, with Britain’s Susie Wolff — wife of Mercedes motorsport head Toto — serving as a tester and Alex Lynn as a development driver.

Brazilian Felipe Massa finished fourth for Williams in Sunday’s race after starting third on the grid.

(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by John O’Brien/Peter Rutherford/Alan Baldwin)

Hamilton wins season-opening Australian GP

Pole-sitter Hamilton started from a grid reduced to 15 cars from a possible 20 and cruised to his 34th race win with a 1.


3-second gap to runner-up team mate Nico Rosberg.

With Mercedes enjoying a Sunday stroll, Sebastian Vettel finished third — 34 seconds behind Hamilton — on his Ferrari debut after winning a battle for the podium with Williams driver Felipe Massa.

Ferrari’s cheer was tempered, however, by two botched tyre changes for Kimi Raikkonen, the second forcing the Finn to retire when fifth late in the race due to his left rear wheel not being properly attached.

Interviewed on the podium by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood ‘Terminator’, Hamilton said it was great to be back on top.

“It is an incredible feeling to continue winning,” he said.

Max Verstappen’s record-setting turn as the youngest ever F1 driver ended on a sour note when the Dutch 17-year-old rolled to a stop near the pit entry after complaining of smoke in the cockpit of his Toro Rosso.

Only 11 cars finished, with both Lotus drivers out before the end of the first lap on an embarrassing day for a series that prides itself on being the pinnacle of motorsport.

McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, standing in for the absent Fernando Alonso, and Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat were unable to start after both suffered failures on their formation laps.

The two Manor Marussia cars were scratched on Saturday after failing to participate in qualifying or any practice sessions, while Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was ruled out of the race with a back injury less than an hour before the start.

After a chaotic start that saw Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado crash into the barrier on turn two after being nudged from behind, Hamilton and Rosberg sped away from the chasing pack.

Opening a 15-second gap to third placed Felipe Massa after the 20th lap, Hamilton successfully kept his team mate Rosberg at arm’s length.

Following a week of legal battles, Sauber were buoyed by a fifth place finish for Brazilian rookie Felipe Nasr, gaining their first points since 2013.

It was the best finish by a Sauber rookie, with Nasr’s team mate Marcus Ericsson and Red Bull’s Carlos Sainz also earning their first points by finishing eighth and ninth respectively.

Local hero Daniel Ricciardo had a terrible start and his Red Bull lacked pace but he battled hard to finish sixth in front of home fans.

It was a dark day for Honda-powered McLaren, however, with Jenson Button finishing last of the 11 cars and lapped twice by Hamilton and the leaders.

Force India driver Sergio Perez had an eventful afternoon, being instructed to drop back two places after over-taking illegally when the safety car was out early.

He then overcame a collision with Button in a battle to avoid the indignity of last place.

(Editing by Alan Baldwin)

Stuart laments basic Raiders errors

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart says just two basic errors just after halftime led to his side’s downfall in their 18-6 NRL loss to the Warriors at GIO Stadium.


Locked at 6-all at the break on Sunday, Raiders forward Paul Vaughan dropped a simple pass from the kick-off to gift the Warriors prime real estate, which they immediately converted into six points through a maiden try to Solomone Kata.

Another mistake minutes later gave the Warriors another solid crack and they soon scored through Ryan Hoffman (172m, 24 tackles), and the opening of the floodgates beckoned.

The New Zealanders had put on 50-plus points against the Raiders in their past three outings, but this time Canberra held strong to put on a performance Stuart aptly described as an “arm wrestle”.

“We’re all disappointed with the loss, but I’ll never be disappointed with their attitude and desire,” Stuart said.

“We were exactly where we wanted to be at halftime.

“But two fundamental errors in the first five minutes of the second half loses the game. And that’s the competition we’re in.”

Stuart backed impressive young forward Vaughan to bounce back from the crucial mistake.

“You probably won’t see him make it again this year,” Stuart said.

Warriors winger Manu Vatuvei continued his strong form against the Raiders by notching up his 13th try against them in six games when he opened the scoring in the 27th minute.

And while the win gets the ball rolling on the Warriors’ 2015 campaign, there are concerns aplenty for them in the week ahead.

Captain Simon Mannering was put on report for a high tackle on Raiders winger Sisa Waqa midway through the first half.

Golden Boot holder Shaun Johnson also played through obvious discomfort after hurting his wrist in the 22nd minute, and fullback Sam Tomkins twisted his ankle in the second half.

“Shaun was certainly in a bit of pain, but I think he’ll be OK,” he said.

“Hopefully, they can back up next week.”

Meanwhile, Raiders winger Jeremy Hawkins (dangerous tackle) and forward Luke Bateman (crusher tackle) were placed on report.

The first half was full of brilliant end-to-end footy, but both sides were guilty of impatience in good field position to enter the break at 6-all.

“The ball was in play for a good 10 to 15 minutes in the first half and both sides were fatigued,” Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.

“To come out on top of those little exchanges is really important for us.

“There’s a perception around that we can’t play the full 80 minutes. But it was a tough win tonight.”

New winger Sisa Waqa has so far proved a great buy for the Raiders, getting them back to level pegging with some brilliant aerial skills from a Mitch Cornish kick.

Vanuatu aid effort kicks in after cyclone

Relief supplies have begun arriving in cyclone-devastated Vanuatu as the Pacific nation declared a state of emergency amid reports entire villages were “blown away” when a monster storm swept through.


Late on Sunday the official death toll in the capital Port Vila stood at six, although aid workers said this was likely just a fraction of the fatalities nationwide.

Communications were down across most of the archipelago’s 80 islands, although the airport in Port Vila reopened with limited facilities, allowing much-needed aid in.

Two Australian air force planes landed with supplies of food, shelter, and medicine while a New Zealand military aircraft also arrived loaded with eight tonnes of tarpaulins, water containers, chainsaw packs, generators and water.

Commercial flights were scheduled to resume on Monday.

The government said it was still trying to assess the scale of the disaster unleashed when Super Cyclone Pam, a maximum category five system, vented its fury on Friday night, with winds reaching 320km/h an hour.

The UN had unconfirmed reports the cyclone had killed 44 people in one province alone and Oxfam said the destruction in Port Vila was massive, with 90 per cent of homes damaged.

“This is likely to be one of the worst disasters ever seen in the Pacific, the scale of humanitarian need will be enormous … entire communities have been blown away,” said Oxfam’s Vanuatu director Colin Collet van Rooyen.

Pictures from the city showed streets littered with debris, cars crushed by trees, buildings blown to pieces and yachts washed inland.

Vanuatu police commissioner Colonel Job Esau said some areas of the capital – such as shopping districts and the waterfront – had been put off limits in a bid to stop looting as darkness approached.

“Facilities, installations, private sectors, and also from the yachts that have been washed away by the cyclone,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“Those are the only areas we have been targeting at the moment, and also some other very affected locations in and around Port Vila.”

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale described the storm as “a monster that has devastated our country”, his voice breaking as he described Port Vila’s devastation.

“Most of the buildings have been destroyed, many houses have been destroyed, school, health facilities have been destroyed,” he told the BBC from Japan, where he was attending a disaster management conference.

Aid workers described scenes of devastation following what UNICEF spokeswoman Alice Clements said was “15-30 minutes of absolute terror” as the cyclone barrelled into the island.

“People have no water, they have no power, this is a really desperate situation right now. People need help,” she told AFP.

Clements said most of the dwellings on Port Vila’s outskirts, largely tin shacks, stood no chance.

World Vision spokeswoman Chloe Morrison said the situation appeared grim for the outlying islands in the nation of around 270,000.

“We’re seeing whole villages and houses blown away,” she said.

Save the Children’s head of humanitarian response Nichola Krey raised fears of food shortages in the subsistence economy and said conditions in evacuation centres were challenging.

“Many of the evacuation centres have lots of women and young children sleeping cheek-by-jowl, so health and protection will by key in the coming weeks,” she said.

Other Pacific nations were also struggling to cope. The Solomon Islands and Kiribati were both battered by the storm, although not to the extent of their neighbour.

NGOs have launched public appeals while governments around the globe pledged relief funding, including Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the European Union.