Panthers on the up: Mansour

Penrith may be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon but winger Josh Mansour is adamant general manager Phil Gould’s five-year plan is still on track.

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The Panthers have fallen from grace dramatically this season, going from a top four finish and getting to within one game of the grand final last year to sitting in 15th with one game to play.

Injuries have taken its toll and the Panthers could put together a formidable 13 with players sitting in their rehab unit.

Mansour says while there is no shying away from the fact they are in contention for last spot, things are looking up at the foot of the mountains.

“I don’t think anyone would have predicted it would pan out like the season has panned out,” Mansour said.

“It’s been very tough and it’s taken its toll on all of us.

“It’s hard when you’ve got players missing every week and you’ve got 10 of your main starters out.

“It’s going to take its toll. We can learn a lot from this season, especially the young guys that have got some first grade games under their belt.

“The only way is up.”

Mansour says things at Penrith aren’t as bad as what their position on the ladder suggests and they have a bright future.

When Gould took over at Penrith he launched an audacious plan to make the Panthers a force again and invest heavily in local juniors.

They have a number of top-liners leaving the club at the end of the season including Lewis Brown (Manly), Sika Manu (Hull FC) and Api Koroisau (Manly) while stalwarts David Simmons, Brent Kite and Nigel Plum are retiring.

Coach Ivan Cleary has also been linked with a move back to the Warriors.

But Mansour describes the club as on the up with the likes of Trent Merrin and highly rated New Zealand under-20s half Te Maire Martin arriving next year.

Their injury woes this week have been compounded with playmaker Jamie Soward (concussion) and back-rower Bryce Cartwright (lacerated kidney) at long odds to take the field for Sunday’s wooden-spoon battle with Newcastle.

Soward spent the night in hospital after suffering a head knock but was back at Panthers headquarters on Wednesday consulting with team doctors.

Cartwright, who was urinating blood after the side’s bruising clash with Canberra on Monday night, is still in Canberra Hospital.

“It adds to our injury ward and Jamie is one of our main generals and he controls most of our kicking as well,” Mansour said.

“It’s going to be hard on Chicko (James Segeyaro) and Api (Koroisau) and they’re going to need to really stand up to the challenge.”

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Day’s new fitness regime paying dividends

Jason Day’s charge toward the US PGA Tour playoffs’ $US10 million bonus and world No.

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1 ranking would already be over if he hadn’t transformed his body.

That’s the firm belief of trainer Cornel Driessen, who has overseen a dramatic increase in world No.3 Day’s core strength and stability, while adding 15 pounds of lean muscle and stripping away over six pounds of fat.

The hottest golfer on the planet, Day has won three of his last four tournaments, including his six-shot triumph in the playoffs series opener in New Jersey on Sunday.

But Driessen says the back twinge that forced him out of last week’s pre-tournament pro-am would likely have spelled major trouble if the 27-year-old Australian didn’t have the physical preparation he’s adopted.

“If Jason had the same strength profile that he had last year he would likely be out of the FedEx Cup, that’s my professional opinion,” Driessen told AAP.

“If he did not take the three months off after the Fed Ex Cup last year, which was hard because he wanted to play in Australia especially, and do the work he needed to do, he would not have been as resilient as he is now.

“He would have played through the pain because he’s gutsy like that but in all likelihood he would have injured himself further.

“As it was he wasn’t out of the woods until the weekend so it was a truly remarkable and courageous performance.”

complaint Day suffered in the lead up to the Barclays had he not changed his ways.

Day took on South African Driessen, who also works with the likes of Henrik Stenson and Charl Schwartzel, after last year’s FedEx Cup and the trainer pinpointed core weakness as a huge limiter to his injury prevention routines.

Day bought into the training philosophy and is reaping the benefits.

“Jason is a complete professional and has done everything asked of him when it comes to what his coach Colin (Swatton) wants, to changing his diet, to doing his exercise prescriptions,” Driessen said.

“His lower core and abs are now incredible and they were close to non-existent in comparison a year ago.

“He is showing as much as 800 percent improvement in dynamic core flexion strength and significant improvements across the board.”

Day heads to the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston this week as the FedEx Cup leader with a chance to become world No.1 firmly in his grasp.

He takes confidence from three previous top 10s at the venue including a second and third.

Should he win again, he would likely be the new world No.1 as long as current No.1 and No.2 Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth aren’t right on his tail.

Steven Bowditch (20th) is the only other Australian certain to survive week two of the playoffs with Matt Jones (57th), Marc Leishman (61st) and John Senden (81st) left with work to be done to be in the top 70 for the BMW Championship.

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Martin elected president of Commonwealth Games Federation

Martin beat the incumbent Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia at the Commonwealth Games Federation general assembly in Auckland on Wednesday to head an organisation that has faced pressure to remain relevant in a crowded sporting market.

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The Games have been scrutinised in recent years with cost over-runs and budget blowouts, which have put cities off from bidding for the four-early event.

Only two cities bid for the 2018 Games, which were awarded to Australia’s Gold Coast ahead of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, while Durban will be rubber-stamped later on Wednesday as the only bidder for the 2022 Games.

Many top-class athletes have also skipped the Games, with track and field in particular shorn of several headline names who choose to run in lucrative meetings in Europe that clash with the multi-sport event in the calendar.

Martin, who was the vice-chairperson of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, had pledged to boost the commercial opportunities for the Federation and its members and to ensure the Games attracted elite athletes once more.

“I want to make sure the best athletes in the Commonwealth make the Games the cornerstone of their calendars and that the cities are queuing up to bid for,” she said.

The former Scotland swimmer said the key to ensuring the top athletes did participate was to work more closely with the international sports federations to ensure they recognised the Games as a major international sporting competition.

Financial uncertainty had also restricted Commonwealth nations from developing athletes, she added.

“To achieve everything I want costs money and as we know, our income is under extreme pressure from our expenditure.

“I believe the answer is to open our doors to commercial sponsorship and while it will be difficult I’m convinced that once we sign our first top-tier sponsor, others will follow.”

Prince Imran, who took over from Jamaica’s Mike Fennell in 2011, had traded on his work over the past four years to help implement a new strategic direction for the organisation and had hoped he would be allowed to see it through.

“We have had our ups and downs,” Prince Imran told the delegates in central Auckland.

“It’s been a great four years for me but we have got to this stage where we have a strategic plan going forward.

“I just hope you give me the opportunity to finish what we started. We have finally got on the starting blocks. Please let me finish this race.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

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Cricket umpires risking death, warns Marsh

Australian chairman of selectors Rod Marsh fears it’s a matter of time before an umpire is killed or seriously injured, unless the no-ball rule is changed.

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The former Test wicketkeeper says reverting to the back-foot no-ball rule, which was abandoned in the early 1960s, could save lives.

“It’s only a matter of time before an umpire in an international or first-class match is seriously hurt, if not killed,” warned Marsh while delivering the annual MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord’s.

“This appears most likely to occur in T20 cricket, but looking at the World Cup earlier this year, it could happen at any time.”

Marsh said if he was umpiring he would wear a baseball catcher’s helmet, chest pad and shin guards.

“Maybe we have to make this safety gear for umpires compulsory for all international and first class games,” Marsh said.

Marsh said reverting to the back-foot law would give umpires a chance to stand at least two metres further back.

“I can’t see why we ever went to the front-foot law and just quietly I can reveal there are a few umpires out there beginning to wish it would revert back to the back-foot law,” he said.

“You put yourself in their position when a batsman with a massive weapon runs at the bowler and smashes a straight drive at about chest height.”

Marsh’s comments come after former Israel cricket captain Hillel Oscar died after being struck by a ball hit by a batsman while umpiring a national league game in Israel last year.

Marsh added that cricket should follow the lead of golf and restrict the size of bats at the elite level.

“I’d put a restriction on the width of the edges because I’ll never condone a player being beaten, yet the ball still travelling 70 or 80 metres for a four or a six off the fat edge.”

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Citing God’s authority, clerk defies US Supreme Court on gay marriages

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses to any couples – gay or straight – since the court in June ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the US Constitution.

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On Monday, the same court rejected Davis’ request for an emergency order allowing her to deny marriage licenses to gay couples while she appeals a federal judge’s order requiring her to issue them.

Amid calls for her resignation, death threats and an order that she appear in federal court on Thursday, Davis clung to her religious beliefs.

“I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will,” she said in a statement. “To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s word. It is a matter of religious liberty.”

“It is not a light issue for me. It is a heaven or hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience,” she said.

Outside the building in Morehead, Kentucky, that houses the clerk’s office, large crowds supporting both sides on the issue gathered and chanted slogans.

Those favoring same-sex marriage chanted, “What do we want? Equality,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign.

Backers of Davis included a person dressed as a Revolutionary War patriot.

“These couples, they torment her because of her beliefs,” said Penny Stinnett of nearby Mount Sterling, who came out to support Davis.

‘Under God’s authority’

Four couples filed a federal lawsuit against Davis in July challenging her office’s policy of not issuing marriage licenses.

On Tuesday the couples filed a motion asking US District Judge David Bunning to hold Davis in contempt of court, seeking fines but no jail time for the clerk.

During a call with attorneys for both sides, Bunning ordered Davis and her deputies to appear in federal court in Ashland, Kentucky, on Thursday, said Joe Dunman, an attorney for one of the couples who had sued.

Last month, the judge said Davis had to live up to her responsibilities as county clerk despite her religious convictions.

Lawyers for at least three same-sex couples said they were refused licenses on Tuesday. She said her office would go on denying marriage licenses pending an appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The videotaped exchange between a couple seeking a license and Davis was posted on the Courier-Journal newspaper website.

In the video, David Ermold and David Moore, a same-sex couple, ask Davis under whose authority was she denying them a marriage license. “Under God’s authority,” Davis replies.

While issues related to gay marriage have arisen in courts in several states, the American Civil Liberties Union said the organization was unaware of any other U.S. county clerk refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

“She’s an outlier,” ACLU national spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said of Davis.

Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear said in a statement on Tuesday that he could not remove Davis from her job or relieve her of her statutory duties without a change in state law, something that cannot be done until state legislators convene in four months. He said calling a special session of the general assembly would be too costly.

“The future of the Rowan County clerk is now in the hands of the courts,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said on Monday that his office was reviewing a request for a special prosecutor to determine if Davis committed official misconduct. On Tuesday morning she said a final decision was pending.

Official misconduct is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 365 days in jail, the spokeswoman said.

Rowan County Attorney Cecil Watkins, who requested the special prosecutor after one of the plaintiff couples complained to him, said he expected the attorney general’s office to decide the matter by Thursday.

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NSW prosperity will rely on exports: Foley

NSW Labor leader Luke Foley has called on his federal counterpart Bill Shorten to help secure a free trade deal with China.

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Mr Foley on Wednesday added his voice to those of other state Labor leaders, premiers Jay Weatherill and Daniel Andrews, in urging Mr Shorten to support an agreement that he says will support jobs here at home.

“Our future economic prosperity will be based, above all else, on higher exports – particularly from non-mining goods and services,” Mr Foley told reporters in Sydney.

Mr Foley said Mr Shorten was “right to be examining the detail” but should follow the lead of past Labor greats Gough Whitlam and Neville Wran in forging stronger ties with Beijing.

“Labor should build on that tradition, support trade agreements,” he said.

“Of course we should be discussing the detail; we should be discussing the labour standards, and I hope the federal government and opposition will reach agreement on the detail – that’s in the national interest.”

He said he had not experienced any push-back from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), which has launched an advertising campaign warning the deal will allow Chinese companies to bring in workers at the expense of Australian jobs.

He also dismissed suggestions the union’s campaign was tinged with xenophobia.

“I think the blue-collar unions, particularly in the construction industry, are right to raise concerns on behalf of the workers they represent,” he told reporters.

The CFMEU has form in running China-focused campaigns in NSW.

In the lead-up to the state poll in March, the union backed a series of television ads that questioned whether the Baird government was prepared to hand control of state electricity infrastructure to China’s State Grid Corporation.

Those advertisements were described as xenophobic and “fear-mongering” by Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

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Abbott rejects ship sacking advice given

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected a claim that transport department officials told a cruise line company to move offshore if it wanted to remain competitive in the industry.

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However, North Star Cruises representative Bill Milby – a long-time member of the Liberal Party – insists he was given the advice at two meetings with department officials.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into new shipping laws, Mr Milby said he was told in May and June to consider taking the ship True North off the Australian Shipping Register, re-register it in a suitable foreign country, lay off Australian crew and hire a cheaper foreign crew.

Mr Abbott told reporters in the West Australian seat of Canning on Wednesday: “That is just not true.”

A transport department spokesman on Wednesday also told AAP bluntly: “The department did not provide this advice.”

However, immediately after Mr Abbott’s media conference Mr Milby went on ABC radio to defend his version of events.

Mr Milby said he had initially quizzed Transport Minister Warren Truss at a function in Sydney, who had told him he did not think there would be a problem for the WA company under the government’s new policy.

Mr Milby later sought out an official from the department, who had advised him that shipping was an international marketplace.

“She said, `Well maybe you should consider taking the ship off the Australian registry, reflagging it in a different country and then hiring a foreign crew’,” he said.

“I was gobsmacked.”

Mr Milby said he had asked to continue the conversation in Canberra and met with the same official and another manager from the department three weeks later.

“We virtually continued on from where we left off,” he said.

The legislation before parliament will no longer require foreign ships to pay Australian wages between domestic ports for their first 183 days operating in local waters.

Mr Milby said the government should take a fresh look at the legislation.

“They are taking a machete to something they should be doing with a scalpel,” he said.

Mr Abbott insisted his government was trying to restore the previous shipping regime, saying costs jumped after Labor changed rules for the industry.

“Labor were absolutely catastrophic for coastal shipping and for jobs in coastal shipping,” he said.

Opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said it was “disgraceful and unacceptable” that the government openly advised businesses to sack workers.

Mr Albanese says there’s no way the Australian industry can survive.

“The bureaucrats in the department have responded pretty honestly by saying the only option you have is to get rid of the Australian flag, put a white flag (up) when it comes to Australian jobs and go offshore,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.

“No Australian industry can expect to compete with a foreign competitor if they’re allowed to pay foreign wages.”

In its submission to the inquiry, the department insists foreign ships that engage in more than 183 days of coastal trading will be required to employ an Australian master or chief mate and a chief engineer.

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Man City flex muscles as English clubs break spending record

 

With Europe’s other major countries closing for transfer business on Monday, the English top flight hogged the limelight for an extra day, with City’s rivals Manchester United completing the biggest and most eyebrow-raising late deal.

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The capture of Anthony Martial from Monaco for 36 million pounds ($55.12 million), labelled a panic-buy by sections of the British media, ensured Premier League clubs racked up a record spend of more than 860 million pounds.

That comfortably surpassed last season’s record by more than 25 million pounds and reinforced the competition’s status as the leading league in terms of transfer spending in the window.

City, who have won their first four league games this season, led the way with an outlay of 150 million pounds, including the 50 million-pound capture of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg, and forward Raheem Sterling from Liverpool in a deal that could reach 49 million pounds.

City were followed in the spending stakes by United who took their outlay past 100 million with Tuesday’s deal for 19-year-old French striker Martial, who followed Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlinit’s and Bastian Schweinsteiger into Old Trafford.

Liverpool were not far behind in the spending stakes, splashing out almost 80 million pounds, mainly on Christian Benteke from Aston Villa for 32.5 million and Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino for 28.5, offset by Sterling’s move to City.

 

ENGLISH DOMINATION

Fuelled by the money from the Premier League’s increasingly lucrative broadcast deals, English clubs made six of the biggest seven signings in the window.

Only Qatari-backed Paris St Germain punctuated the list of the biggest deals with the 63 million euros ($71.26 million) signing of Argentina winger Angel Di Maria from Manchester United.

Some of Europe’s traditional powerhouses had quieter windows than many might have expected.

Arturo Vidal’s 37 million euros move to Bayern Munich from Juventus was the high point of the Bundesliga champions’ spending while there was no ‘galactico’ signing for Real Madrid, seeking to wrestle the La Liga crown back from Barcelona.

Madrid, under new coach Rafa Benitez, brought in Croatia midfielder Mateo Kovacic from Inter Milan for 30 million euros in their biggest deal but failed to sign Manchester United’s Spain goalkeeper David De Gea before the window slammed shut.

That failure, with the two clubs blaming each other for the administrative snarl up, will have likely handed a psychological fillip to Real’s bitter rivals Barcelona.

The catalan club managed to pull off deals for attacking Turkey midfielder Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid and winger Spaniard Aleix Vidal from Sevilla despite being prevented from registering new players until January, meaning ths pair will have to kick their heels for some months.

In Italy, champions Juventus replaced the outgoing Carlos Tevez with another Argentine following the capture of forward Paulo Dybala from Palermo for 32 million euros.

 

SOME RESTRAINT

Yet as cash flowed freely between clubs there was also some restraint shown by some of Europe’s biggest teams.

Chelsea, traditionally among the game’s biggest spenders, tightened the purse strings with their biggest outlay being on Spanish forward Pedro from Barcelona for 30 million euros.

Having missed out on defensive target John Stones from Everton, the English champions recouped the vast majority of their transfer outlay through sales and loan fees.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is renowned for keeping his powder dry but, after spending big on Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in the last two summer windows, his only spending was the 10 million pounds he paid for Chelsea keeper Petr Cech.

 

 

(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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US Open retirements hit record numbers

Australian tennis great Todd Woodbridge has declared the US Open the most physically demanding grand slam, as brutal heat and humidity contributed to a record 12 first-round retirements at Flushing Meadows.

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Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis became one of 10 men and two women to retire during matches on Monday and Tuesday – the most in a single round at any major in the 45-year professional era.

The previous record of nine was reached at the 2011 US Open, the second round of 2013 Wimbledon and the opening round of last year’s Australian Open.

Players’ resolve were sorely tested as the mercury shot up past 32C in New York on Tuesday.

Though heat has not officially been blamed for any of the withdrawals, cramps and dehydration were clearly taking their toll on competitors and compounding injury woes.

Kokkinakis suffered severe cramps during his clash with Wimbledon semi-finalist Richard Gasquet on Tuesday.

Despite threatening a major upset the 19-year-old was reduced to under-arm serving before finally calling it quits after falling behind 2-0 in the deciding fifth set, when the chair umpire advise him to consider his health.

Woodbridge said he felt for the teenage ace, recalling how he had suffered his own crippling cramps at the same tournament in the past.

The former doubles champion described the conditions as worse than at the Australian Open in Melbourne, where temperatures regularly hover in the 30s and in 2014 exceeded an inhumane 40 degrees Celsius for four days.

“@usopen most physically demanding of slams due to combo of heat/humidity even more than the 43c days @AustralianOpen,” Woodbridge tweeted.

“Sympathise with @TKokkinakis I full body cramped 1 year @usopen thank heavens for the intravenous drip!”

US OPEN FIRST-ROUND RETIREMENTS:

Men:

Gael Monfils (FRA) retired to Illya Marchenko (UKR)

Yen-Hsun Lu (TPE) retired to Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ)

Florian Mayer (GER) retired to Martin Klizan (SVK)

Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR) retired to Samuel Groth (AUS)

Radek Stepanek (CZE) retired to Marsel Ilhan (TUR)

Aleksandr Nedovyesov (KAZ) retired to Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)

Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) retired to Richard Gasquet (FRA)

Marcos Baghdatis (CYP) retired to Steve Darcis (BEL)

Ernests Gulbis (LAT) retired to Aljaz Bedene (GBR)

Pablo Andujar (ESP) retired to Teymuraz Gabashvili (RUS)

Women:

Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS) retired to Serena Williams (USA)

Marina Erakovic (NZL) retired to Simona Halep (ROU)

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Fund faces difficult times ahead: Costello

Future Fund chair Peter Costello says “prudent, patient” investing has seen the fund almost double in nine years, but warns more difficult times are ahead.

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The fund set up to meet commonwealth superannuation liabilities posted a return of 15.4 per cent for the 2014/15 financial year, generating $15.6 billion.

The result lifted the total value of the fund to a massive $117.2 billion, compared to the initial $60.5 billion cash injection made by the former Howard government.

The mandate of the fund, set up in 2006 by Mr Costello when he was Liberal treasurer, is to make returns of CPI plus 4.5 per cent.

“It’s in excess of that objective as of the moment, which is good because we are going into more difficult conditions,” Mr Costello told a briefing presenting the fund’s latest portfolio update on Wednesday.

The enormous stimulatory policy measures being pursued by central banks in recent years, which have helped to drive strong rises in asset prices, could not be sustained indefinitely.

“It seems likely that generally returns in the future will be lower than in recent years,” Mr Costello said.

The fund’s managing director David Neal said while the 2014/15 result was pleasing, he was conscious of a somewhat mixed global economic and market outlook.

The fund had taken the opportunity to moderately reduce its portfolio risk by cutting its equities exposure.

It also took a long term view of markets, rather than trying to predict short-term market moves.

Mr Neal conceded that in a somewhat fragile environment, any news could “spook” markets.

At the moment markets were worried about the slowdown in China, a month ago they were worried about structural issues in Europe, and at the same time being a bit nervous about when the US Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.

But Mr Costello dismissed the suggestion Chinese authorities had “lost the plot” in trying to manage its economy.

The Chinese government was doing everything it thought was necessary to keep stability in its markets.

“We do see it as quite a concerted response from a government which has many instruments of intervention and very deep pockets,” Mr Costello said.

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