Jan 28

Bombers defence quells Lion cubs

Mark Thompson hailed his defence – led by the grand old man of the AFL – for saving wobbly Essendon from a Brisbane Lions’ boilover on Saturday night.

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With Lions teenagers James Aish, Marco Paparone and Lewis Taylor enjoying their best games to threaten a Gabba upset, it took some sure and steady hands to ensure a tense eight-point victory.

Dustin Fletcher, now in his 40th year on earth, and his Bombers backline stood tall to repel a surging Brisbane outfit that lifted the gloom on a week where the embattled club’s chief executive Malcolm Holmes fell on his sword.

“If they hadn’t played so well we would have been beaten by 10 goals,” Thompson said.

“It was the best game by a 39-year-old in 100 years.”

Birthday-boy Fletcher was his usual reliable self while Michael Hurley and Cale Hooker, marking Jonathan Brown, deserved the high praise in the 9.11 (65) to 8.9 (57) win.

Brisbane had two more inside 50s and were the better side in the second-half, but they lacked the composure and experience of their rivals after leading by four points at the last change.

As the Bombers’ defensive end held firm, in the scrappy clash featuring seven lead changes, Jackson Merrett and Paddy Ryder kicked the only two goals of the final term to jump into the top eight.

“We got the points so we have to be happy with that,” Thompson said. “But I’m not happy with the way we played.”

Guilty of going missing at vital stages in recent weeks, Essendon did fade badly in the third term when a 20-point lead evaporated.

Wearing a throwback Brisbane Bears guernsey, Aish, Paparone and Taylor were prominent in the turnaround.

Club leaders Jed Adcock and Tom Rockliff were also inspirational for Brisbane, while livewire Josh Green booted a game-high three goals, but the home side failed to find the polish and deliver the finishing touches required.

“I said to the boys that there were two or three boys who had their best games for the club,” Justin Leppitsch said.

“What it shows is our kids have talent, but we’ve still got a lot of games to go.”

With fallout from Jack Viney tribunal visits dominating headlines, two second-term incidents within two minutes of each other ensured more debate about the bump.

Paul Chapman raised his elbow in a collision with Jack Redden just before Andrew Raines’ shoulder collected Brendon Goddard high as they both lunged for the loose ball, and post-match action will be intriguing.

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Jan 28

No worries about Panther halves: Cleary

Penrith NRL coach Ivan Cleary says the Panthers’ failures in attack this season can’t be pinned exclusively on their much-scrutinised halves pairing.

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The mountain men enter Sunday’s clash with Newcastle at Hunter Stadium with the third worst attack in the competition behind the Knights and last-placed Cronulla.

With just 22 tries to their name after eight rounds, the Panthers need to find more points, but Cleary is entirely comfortable with playmaking duo Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace.

Cleary says the pairing have endured a disruptive start to their first season together due to injury, and called on Panthers teammates to lift their performances and help fast-track the success of the Soward and Wallace combination.

“It’s definitely a whole team process,” Cleary told AAP.

“Clearly the halves have got a big part in how you attack and they’re responsible for the direction and they make the big decisions.

“But they need help from others as well. Our team has got a lot of new faces, not just the halves, and we’re still finding our rhythm.

“That’s not going to happen overnight so every member of the team is important in this process and we’re still a work in progress.”

Despite Soward and Wallace’s extensive NRL and representative experience, Cleary said he’s not surprised that they haven’t gelled immediately.

Penrith were disappointed with their last-start loss to the Sharks two weeks ago, but Cleary is refusing to put undue pressure on his generals.

“I’m not concerned at all. Things aren’t going to run perfectly straight away, especially early in the season,” he said.

“They’ve only really been together for the last three or four weeks and we’ve had a bye in between.

“In terms of combination I’ve been really happy with them.

“But without a doubt, we should see the best of their combination as the season progresses.”

Newcastle have just two wins on the board in 2014 and will be desperate to make up for lost time after a horror start to the year.

The Knights are missing Korbin Sims to suspension, but welcome back flying Fijian Akuila Uate on the wing.

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Jan 28

Sharapova ousts Radwanska to claim Madrid final berth

Sharapova, a former world number one now ranked ninth who has had a poor year by her high standards, has shown glimpses of her dominant best on the clay in the Spanish capital this week with the French Open starting in Paris later this month.

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Pole Radwanska, the world number three, struggled to cope with the Russian’s powerful ground strokes as Sharapova, runner-up to Serena Williams in Madrid last year, took a step closer to a 31st career title.

After comfortably winning the opening set and racing into a 3-0 lead in the second, Sharapova had to deal with a spirited Radwanska fightback when she won four games in a row before prevailing to secure a meeting with Halep, the fourth seed.

The 22-year-old Romanian fought back from a set down to oust fifth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2.

Sharapova’s chances of going one better than 2013 were boosted when Williams, the Madrid champion the past two years, withdrew on Friday with a thigh injury.

“I’ve done a really good job of transitioning from the hard to the clay and really improving physically and recovering well from match to match,” Sharapova told a news conference.

“I really challenge myself to improve on clay courts because that was never my favourite surface in the beginning of my career,” added the 27-year-old, French Open champion in 2012.

“I feel really good physically. I put in a lot of matches in the last few weeks but that’s what I want.

“I missed four or five months of the season last year (with a shoulder injury) and I wanted to come in to this year and play as many matches as I can.”

By reaching the final, Halep has already achieved her best result at a WTA premier event as she chases an eighth career title.

A girls singles champion at the French Open in 2008, she also looks to be hitting form on clay ahead of claycourt major.

“I’m very excited that I can play my biggest final tomorrow, I hope that my emotions will be down and I can play,” Halep told a news conference.

“It was a very tough match today, I couldn’t believe that I came back again.

“Tomorrow I expect another very tough match. Maria is a champion and she knows how to manage the finals.”

((Reporting by Iain Rogers))

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Jan 28

Pacers, Thunder go up 2-1 in NBA playoffs

Indiana and Oklahoma City won road games in contrasting styles on Friday to take 2-1 series leads in the second-round NBA playoffs, with the Pacers putting the clamps on Washington and the Thunder running over the Los Angeles Clippers.

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Indiana won 85-63, holding Washington to their lowest playoff score in franchise history.

Paul George had his best game of the series with 23 points and eight rebounds while Roy Hibbert bagged 14 points, five rebounds and three blocks.

Washington made only 24 field goals, another team post-season worst, at less than 33 per cent. That included four of 16 on three-point attempts and 11 of 21 on free throws.

George averaged only 14.5 points and six rebounds in the first two games of the series and started slowly again on Friday before gathering pace.

The score was 17-17 after the first quarter, and Indiana led 34-33 at halftime.

Washington point guard John Wall had 15 points and six assists, while Bradley Beal scored 16 points but shot six for 19. Trevor Ariza had 12 points, but zero in the second half. Marcin Gortat scored just four points after 21 in the previous game.

There was more entertainment in Los Angeles where Oklahoma City won 118-112, with Kevin Durant scoring 36 points and Russell Westbrook adding 23.

“We competed all game. We started out hot,” Durant said. “We just weathered the storm. Every run they made we kept fighting and we were able to make the last run.

“We been together for a while so our experience definitely helps,” said the recently named league MVP. “We just try to take it one possession at a time and we will live with the results.”

Serge Ibaka added 20 points and Westbrook had 13 assists for the Thunder.

Blake Griffin scored 34 points, and Chris Paul added 21 points and 16 assists for the Clippers, whose four-point lead disappeared early in the fourth quarter. Jamal Crawford added 20 points.

Oklahoma shot 56 per cent and controlled the paint and fastbreak points against a Clippers team who never managed to get into their favoured run-and-gun mode.

JJ Redick, who made a hot start in game two, was held to five points on one-of-six shooting. DeAndre Jordan was never a factor for the Clippers, with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half, when the lead changed 14 times and there were seven ties.

LA were still in the contest at 108-107 but Westbrook hit a three and Durant followed with a turnaround jump shot with 1:23 left to put the Thunder up by six.

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Jan 28

Defoe waits to see if MLS adventure will end World Cup bid

The goalscorer left Tottenham Hotspur for Toronto in January to follow a path to Major League Soccer (MLS) previously paved by the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Defoe’s former Spurs strike partner Robbie Keane.

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Defoe grabbed both goals in a 2-1 win over Seattle Sounders on his debut in March and a week later netted again in a 1-0 victory over DC United.

Toronto’s fans were impressed but the striker hopes it is not a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for England manager Roy Hodgson who announces a 23-man group plus standby players on Monday before his eventual World Cup squad is finalised by June 2.

“It’s down to the manager,” Defoe told reporters of his England prospects.

“I’m sure he knows what every player can do, even before he was the England manager he probably knew all the players anyway.

As players you just concentrate on playing for your club and then … you wait for the call.”

The 31-year-old Defoe’s decision to quit one of English football’s top six clubs was viewed by many European observers as a dead-end move into semi-retirement, albeit a handsomely comfortable one at $8 million a season.

Not only did he say farewell to the Premier League but he also risked waving goodbye to his hopes of an England place at next month’s World Cup in Brazil to close out his career in a football backwater with struggling Toronto.

Defoe’s credentials as a leading striker for club and country are impeccable.

The diminutive forward left White Hart Lane as Tottenham’s fifth-highest scorer with 143 goals, having netted more times for the club in Europe than any other player.

PREDATORY INSTINCTS

Defoe has also scored 19 goals for England in 55 games, having represented his country at the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.

His predatory instincts and quick-fire shooting prompted Toronto owners Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) to pursue Defoe.

The striker was eventually lured to North America with an eye-popping, four-year $32 million deal that even MLSE chief Tim Leiweke, the man who orchestrated Beckham’s move to the Los Angeles Galaxy, conceded made no financial sense.

Still, it is an investment that is producing instant dividends on the pitch.

One thing seems certain – Defoe will not be sitting around this weekend waiting anxiously for his phone to ring.

Speaking as a supremely confident sportsman with nothing to prove, Defoe said he had no regrets about moving to MLS and if he is not called up, England’s loss will be Toronto’s gain.

Unlike most other leagues around the world, the MLS does not shut down for the World Cup and if the forward is not in England’s plans he will still be playing, albeit far removed from the spotlight he once commanded.

Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen, who captained New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup, had some advice for Hodgson, saying he would include his former Spurs team mate if he was picking England’s World Cup squad.

“For Toronto FC I’d love him to stay obviously because he’s a quality player,” said Nelsen. “But for Jermain, if I was the England manager I probably would pick him because you know what you’re going to get with him.”

Defoe’s role in Brazil would likely be a supporting one, with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney guaranteed places in the squad.

Rooney’s team mate Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert of Southampton are also options while West Ham United’s Andy Carroll has returned from injury to stake a late claim.

While Defoe does not provide the same physical presence, he is quick and a natural goalscorer who could provide a spark off the bench.

Hodgson may decide to take a young striker as an investment in England’s future but in the cauldron of a World Cup, Nelsen believes his striker’s experience and calmness in front of goal are valuable commodities.

Defoe certainly gave the England manager something to think about when he scored and set up U.S. captain Michael Bradley for the winner in Toronto’s 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday in his final match before Hodgson names his squad.

“The other young guys that are coming through, the names that have been thrown about, there are a few ifs on that stage and under that pressure,” said Nelsen.

“Probably the Brazil and the England national team are the hardest teams in world sport to play for in terms of expectation and pressure. You know Jermain can handle that.

“On the world’s biggest stage you want to kind off knock out the variables and I think Jermain does that.”

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Jan 28

Walker shines, Bunnies blitz Titans in NRL

South Sydney youngster Dylan Walker delivered an early Mother’s Day present with a four-try display on Saturday against Gold Coast.

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The Rabbitohs’ centre, who revealed last weekend the main goal at the moment in his NRL career was looking after his mother Judy, was the star man as Souths blew away the Titans 40-18 at Robina.

Walker scored two as the Rabbitohs ran in four unanswered tries in the opening 20 minutes, crossed for two more in the second half and had another effort ruled out by the video referee.

It was a career-best effort for the 19-year-old which Souths coach Michael Maguire believed had a lot to do with his experience playing for City against Country in last weekend’s representative fixture in Dubbo.

“He brought that back into camp and he showed that tonight with his tries,” Maguire said.

“It’s the experience they gain from it. I was lucky enough a few years to be part of the Country team. You see players come into those rep teams and they learn more about themselves because they’re seeing what other players are doing and how they can grow.”

Souths’ fifth win from as many matches against the Titans was set up with their remarkable start.

The Titans simply had no answer as the visitors raced to a 22-0 lead before the hosts had managed to complete four sets.

Titans’ co-captain Nate Myles said there was simply no stopping the Rabbitohs, who were easily the best team he’d faced this season.

“The first 20 was awful on our part,” Myles said.

“We did do a little bit there to get back into the game but, once they started running through our middle, it was hard to hang on.”

Titans back-rower Greg Bird will face a nervous wait ahead of the NSW State of Origin team being named after he was placed on report for a lifting tackle on Souths’ Bryson Goodwin in the 60th minute.

Souths forward Luke Burgess was also put on report for a shoulder charge on Titans veteran Ashley Harrison late in the match.

Harrison left the field groggy after the challenge and Titans coach John Cartwright said the ex-Queensland lock would undergo scans after injuring his neck in the collision.

The Titans will also be sweating on the fitness of Ryan James ahead of next weekend’s derby with Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, with the prop aggravating a shoulder injury against Souths.

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Jan 28

Newly married Scott makes Players cut on the number

The Australian world number two, for several years regarded as one of the most eligible bachelors in global sport, rebounded from a dismal opening 77 to fire a five-under-par 67 in the second round at the TPC Sawgrass.

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That left him at level-par 144, and flirting with the projected cutline which was established well after he had left the course.

“I don’t think I played that much better to be honest,” Scott told reporters after totalling seven birdies, including three in his last four holes. “My putting is not that great. My feel is just way off at the moment.

“Anything outside 10 feet or even closer, six feet, I just don’t have a good chance. So I’ve got to hit a few good shots here and there.

“My pace putting has been poor, and it’s a big momentum killer. Even today, I was four under through eight holes and 30 feet away on 18 and I three-putt. All of a sudden I’m putting it in reverse again.”

Scott, one of four players competing at the TPC Sawgrass who could dislodge Tiger Woods from the top spot after Sunday’s final round, knows he will have to battle hard on Saturday to give himself an outside chance.

“Just grind no matter what,” said the 33-year-old from Adelaide. “You know, two rounds like today … could go a very long way.

“You never know what conditions will be like and what this course can do. Usually a low weekend around quality golf courses like this goes a long, long way, so I’ll be grinding very hard.”

PUTTING NEEDS SHARPENING

Scott totalled 33 putts in Thursday’s opening round and just 26 on Friday, but felt he still needed to sharpen up his touch on the greens.

“That’s the only thing that I’m going to be really critical on my game,” he said. “Everything else is kind of falling into place where I want it and is up to par, but I’d like to get my (putting) feel back.”

Scott sparked a great deal of chatter on the social media networks when he disclosed earlier in the day that he had married his girlfriend, Swede Marie Kojzar, on April 17 during an intimate ceremony in the Bahamas.

“It’s official. I am a settled down man and very happy,” Scott told Australian Associated Press after finishing his second round. “We just decided to get on with it, we’ve known each other long enough, let’s go and jump right in the deep end.

“It was just our family and a few friends and obviously there are a lot of people we would have liked to have had there who weren’t but we decided to have a very low key affair.”

Kojzar, a Swedish architect who dated Scott long term in the early-to-mid 2000s before a split of a few years, reunited with the Australian shortly before he won his first major title at the 2013 Masters.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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Jan 28

Abbott govt facing budget backlash

The Abbott government has taken another hit in the polls as support for the coalition continues to evaporate amid a voter backlash over key measures in the federal budget and a sustained attack from Labor over new taxes.

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A ReachTel poll in Fairfax newspapers shows Labor on a potentially election winning 54 per cent, against 46 per cent for the coalition.

It gives Labor a primary vote of 39.8 per cent, coalition 37.8 per cent, Greens 10.5 per cent and Palmer United Party seven per cent.

More than two-thirds are opposed the proposal to lift the pension age from 65 to 70. Opposition was strongest among those aged over 65.

The results of the ReachTel survey follow a similar trend to other polls published over the past week.

The Abbott government’s slide in the polls comes as Labor maintains its attack over plans to introduce a $7.50 co-payment for each visit to the doctor.

Shadow health minister Catherine King on Saturday said despite warnings from every informed health sector stakeholder, Prime Minister Tony Abbott was determined to introduce a tax that would spell the end of Medicare.

“A tax of $7.50 will dissuade unwell Australians from seeing their doctor and potentially ending up much sicker, ultimately costing the health system a lot more,” Ms King said in a statement.

The government is also tipped to impose new conditions for those on the disability support pension (DSP), requiring under-35s to undergo a review of work capacity.

Moves to tighten the DSP were foreshadowed in the Commission of Audit which said it was costing $15.8 billion a year.

It said new assessment criteria introduced in 2012 only applied to new entrants, creating inequalities with existing DSP recipients which should be addressed.

Liberal MP Alan Tudge, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, said the DSP was growing rapidly, with more than 800,000 recipients and tens of thousands more each year.

“What we would like to do is to ensure that those who are able to work are encouraged to do so,” he told Sky News.

Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite said Labor government reforms aimed to ensure support for those who wanted to work and the necessary home support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

“The Commission of Audit recommendations are to slow down the rollout of the NDIS,” he said.

“That’s not the way we should be supporting people with disabilities, particularly encouraging them into work.”

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Jan 28

Barca don’t owe me apology over Luis Enrique meet – Martino

The meeting, which apparently took place at Luis Enrique’s home, prompted speculation Barca were preparing to appoint the former Spain midfielder to replace Martino, who has had a disappointing first season in charge at the Nou Camp.

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“Nobody needs to ask my forgiveness,” Martino, who has contract until the end of next term, told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s La Liga game at Elche.

“Nothing the club has done is inappropriate,” added the Argentine. “They did not make any error. Either now or in the 10 months I have been here.”

At the start of last month, Barca were on course to repeat their historic treble from 2009 when they won the Champions League, La Liga and the King’s Cup under Pep Guardiola, becoming the only Spanish club to achieve the feat.

However, they faltered in key games, losing narrowly to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition and Real Madrid in the Cup final.

Their bid for a fifth domestic league title in six years also appeared to be over but Atletico’s defeat at Levante last weekend and consecutive draws for Real reignited their campaign.

With two games left, Atletico are top on 88 points, Barca have 85 in second and Real 84 in third and the top two meet at Barca’s Nou Camp stadium on the final day of the season next weekend.

If Barca win their remaining two fixtures they will be champions.

“We are happy to have been mistaken in giving the league up for lost,” Martino said.

“Anyone would have done the same but we are pleased to have a chance again.

“If we are in this situation it is because we deserve to be, just like the other teams who are in the mix.

“The ups and downs of the league this season were not a surprise because that’s football and anything can happen.”

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Justin Palmer)

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