Just give me the ball: Jack Bird

Jack Bird has made no secret of his desire to play at fullback or five-eighth and it shapes as a potential key to wrenching the young superstar away from premiers Cronulla.

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Off contract at season’s end, the NSW representative is one of the hottest commodities on the open market and is believed to have attracted attention from at least five rival clubs.

Newcastle have made no secret of their desire to get him on their books as they look to rebuild after a lean couple of years.

The Sharks want to lock him up but have a juggling act on their hands with a host of stars looking to renew their deals at the end of 2017 including skipper-in-waiting Wade Graham.

Bird demonstrated his value with a starring performance at No.1 in last week’s rout of Canberra.

He has made no secret of his desire to move from centre – a position he once called “boring” – closer to the action.

He played five-eighth in 2015 – winning the Dally M rookie of the year award – before being moved into the three-quarter line during the Shark’s premiership winning campaign last year.

Bird said he was simply happiest with ball in hand and felt reinvigorated after his stint at fullback on the weekend.

“I knew it’s a position that’s going to be around the ball, I like to be around the ball and that’s where I play my best football,” Bird said.

“On the weekend I started enjoying myself again and I felt alive out there.”

Asked if where he is offered a spot will affect his contract negotiations, he said: “As long as I’m in the 17 it doesn’t really matter.

“But obviously you want to play a position you’re happy in. And if you’re not, you’re not going to play your best football.”

Bird has been named in the No.1 jersey for Sunday’s local derby against St George Illawarra but could be shunted out to the centres to make way for a returning Valentine Holmes.

Holmes hinted that, regardless of the number on Bird’s back, the side would look to go to him more often this year.

“You need to get him around the ball more,” Holmes said.

“You give him the ball and good things happen. He plays well and the team plays well.

“Obviously coming off the back of that win (against Canberra), it was the biggest win they’ve had down there. It’s not like it was a fluke – he’s a good player.

“You’ve just got to try and get him the ball as much as you can, whether he is playing centre or not.”

Hansen insists Jones praise was genuine

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen insists his praise of England was genuine in response to being compared to fairytale predator the Big Bad Wolf by Eddie Jones.

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Hansen congratulated Jones and his players after they retained their Six Nations title with a 61-21 rout of Scotland, equalling the All Blacks’ record winning sequence of 18 successive Tests in the process.

Jones was wary of the approval, however, likening it to Little Red Riding Hood being deceived by the wolf.

But Hansen told Radio Sport NZ: “Eddie is obviously not used to getting compliments so he’s got to try and brush it off, I suppose.

“It’s not about playing the game, in this case I and the team genuinely believe they should be complimented.

“They’ve done a tremendous job, they’ve equalled the record and could go on and break it this weekend.

“Sport is about paying due when it’s due. They’ve done a good job and well done.

“For a long time England have been the quiet underachiever but now they’ve stepped up and said ‘we want to be part of the big boys’, and what they’re doing is putting together a record that should be commended.

“It doesn’t come easy, doing that. A lot of hard work goes in. We shouldn’t find it hard to say ‘well done’.

“If you can be gracious whilst you’re winning, you’ve got to be gracious when someone else is winning as well. That’s a big part of sport.”

However, Hansen appeared to be making mischief when suggesting he was unaware that the sport’s top two teams are due to meet in a mouth-watering showdown in November 2018.

The Rugby Football Union has confirmed the teams will clash in the autumn series at Twickenham next year in a match that has generated reports of a behind-the-scenes dispute over money.

“I don’t care when we play, but we’re not scheduled to play them, so if we are going to play them we’re going to have to find a way to do that, and give us half their stadium or something. That would be good,” Hansen said.

Copper up on China demand optimism

Copper prices have climbed as funds bought on growing expectations of stronger demand from top consumer China, but a higher US dollar ahead of Wednesday’s decision on US interest rates by the Federal Reserve caps gains.

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The benchmark copper contract on the London Metal Exchange ended up 0.4 per cent at $US5,820 a tonne, nearly 3 per cent above the two-month low at $US5,652 hit last week.

Traders said buying after the New York open helped copper to reverse early losses.

China issued data on Tuesday showing the economy got off to a strong start this year, supported by bank lending, infrastructure spending and a much-needed resurgence in private investment.

China accounts for just under half of global copper demand, which is estimated at around 23 million tonnes this year.

“A lot will depend on what the Fed does, but the demand signals from China are improving, the data was positive,” Citi analyst David Wilson said.

The Fed’s two-day meeting is expected to conclude on Wednesday with a rate rise, which could boost the US currency, making dollar-denominated metals more expensive for non-US firms and potentially weaken demand.

However, copper has been supported for some time by disruptions to output in Chile and Peru due to strikes and in Indonesia, where the government has halted exports of copper concentrate from Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine.

“Supply-side issues should continue to support metal prices; however investors are likely to remain cautious leading into the FOMC (Fed) meeting and other key economic releases,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

The three-month nickel price gained 0.7 per cent to $US10,230 a tonne, underpinned by the prospects of a full-scale mining ban in the Philippines, the world’s top exporter of nickel ore.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accused some miners of funding efforts to destabilise his government and he talked about a possible plan to impose a ban on mining given the environmental damage producers have caused.

Aluminium fell 1.2 per cent to $US1,860, zinc rose 0.2 per cent to $US2,749.5, lead slid 2.2 per cent to $US2,223.5 and tin gained 2.7 per cent to $US19,970.

AFL ladder leaders Adelaide thrash Port

Port Adelaide were left embarrassed after copping a record 84-point hiding from arch rivals Adelaide, Power coach Ken Hinkley has said.

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The Crows skipped six points clear at the top of the AFL ladder with Sunday’s crushing 18.22 (130) to 7.4 (46) victory — their biggest win against Port.

Adelaide’s utter dominance shocked Hinkley.

The Crows recorded 81 inside 50 entries to 31, won the contested ball count by 46, and had 100 more disposals and 29 more scoring shots than his side.

“We got bashed up,” Hinkley said.

“I find it unexcusable (sic) to play that poorly in a game of football.”

Adelaide’s winning margin bettered their 83-point triumph against Port in a 2005 semi-final.

“We got what we deserved, a smacking,” Hinkley said.

“They (Port players) would feel embarrassed by it, and we should collectively as a club feel embarrassed by our performance.”

The Power are in a mid top-eight ruck, holding fifth spot by percentage and six points shy of fourth-placed Geelong.

But Adelaide appear a lock for a top-two finish and the associated home first final and double chance.

Mercurial Crows forward Eddie Betts kicked four goals — including two more boundary-liners for his highlight reel — just 14 days after having his appendix removed and teammate Josh Jenkins also booted four.

Captain Taylor Walker was imposing with three goals and 23 disposals, while Sam Jacobs kicked two goals and ruled his ruck duel with Paddy Ryder.

Jacobs joined Adelaide legend Mark Ricciuto and Port’s Josh Francou in claiming the Showdown medal for a third time.

He provided silver service for an Adelaide midfield headlined by Rory Sloane (30 disposals, one goal), Matt Crouch (34 disposals), his brother Brad (29 touches, one goal) and Richard Douglas (24 possessions).

And even some extreme rain and tricky winds couldn’t halt Adelaide’s scoring power, though Crows coach Don Pyke warned the best was yet to come.

“We can play better,” Pyke said.

“Self-satisfaction doesn’t lead to progress.”

With three games remaining, the Crows are in the box seat to retain their top billing.

“We’re in a position where tonight we have secured top four,” Pyke said.

“There’s no reason to suggest we shouldn’t be shooting to finish top two and give ourselves the best opportunity come finals.

“We have been able to create that opportunity, now it’s about maximising it.”

ASEAN, China discuss South China Sea

Foreign ministers of Southeast Asia and China have adopted a negotiating framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea, a move they hailed as progress but seen by critics as tactic to buy China time to consolidate its maritime power.

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The framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven manmade islands in disputed waters, three of which are equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars.

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All parties say the framework is only an outline for how the code will be established but critics say the failure to outline as an initial objective the need to make the code legally binding and enforceable, or have a dispute resolution mechanism, raises doubts about how effective the pact will be.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the adoption of the framework created a solid foundation for negotiations that could start this year, if “the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and on the premise that there is no major interference from outside parties.”

He told reporters on Sunday there had been “really tangible progress” so there was “a need to cherish momentum on the South China Sea”.

Signing China up to a legally binding and enforceable code for the strategic waterway has long been a goal for claimant members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), some of which have sparred for years over what they see as China’s disregard for their sovereign rights and its blocking of fishermen and energy exploration efforts.

Beijing insists its activities are for defence purposes, in areas it considers its waters. Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, however, all claim some or all of the South China Sea and its myriad shoals, reefs and islands.

Some critics and diplomats believe China’s sudden interest in the code after 15 years of delays is to drag out the negotiating process to buy time to complete its strategic objectives in the South China Sea, through which more than $US3 billion ($A3.8 billion) of ship-borne trade passes annually.

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Myanmar rejects human rights abuse claims

Myanmar has rejected allegations of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing during a crackdown against Rohingya Muslims last year, accusing the United Nations of making exaggerated claims in its report on the issue.

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Rohingya militants killed nine border guards in October, sparking a response in which the army was accused of raping Rohingya women, shooting villagers on sight and burning down homes, sending an estimated 75,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.

A UN report in February said security forces instigated a campaign that “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing. This led to the establishment of a UN probe which is being blocked by Myanmar.

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The country’s own 13-member investigation team – led by former head of military intelligence and now Vice President, Myint Swe – has been dismissed by human rights monitors as lacking independence to produce a credible report.

Speaking to reporters gathered on Sunday in Yangon to conclude its eight-month-long probe, Myint Swe said the UN report exaggerated the claims and created misunderstanding for the international community.

“There is no possibility of crimes against humanity, no evidence of ethnic cleansing, as per UN accusations,” said Myint Swe.

He added that, “some people from abroad have fabricated news claiming genocide had occurred, but we haven’t found any evidence.”

The panel said that the UN report did not take into consideration “violent acts” committed by the insurgents, instead focusing on the activities of the security forces.

The UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Myanmar commission had received 21 reports from villagers of incidents of murder, rape, arson and torture by the security forces, but, unable to verify their veracity, it referred them to the authorities.

The commission blamed the violence on the insurgents, accusing them of links to organisations abroad, “set up to destabilise and harm Myanmar”.

The treatment of the roughly one million Muslim Rohingya has emerged as majority Buddhist Myanmar’s most contentious rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of harsh military rule.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite claiming roots in the region that go back centuries, with communities marginalised and occasionally subjected to communal violence.

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AFL flag is anyone’s, claims Clarkson

After seeing an impressive Richmond side end his own side’s AFL finals hopes, Hawthorn boss Alastair Clarkson says the Tigers can win the flag.

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And so can Melbourne. Or West Coast. Or Essendon. Or Western Bulldogs.

Or any of the other sides still in finals contention.

But that list no longer includes the Hawks after their 29-point loss to the Tigers on Sunday at the MCG.

Clarkson – who has steered Hawthorn to four of the last 10 premierships – sees a wide open premiership race.

“There’s 11 or 12 sides that could win it,” he said.

“We saw that last year. It’s an unbelievably even season.

“(Richmond) are doing everything right at the present time but they need to do that in September.

“That’s what the Bulldogs were able to do. They won it from seventh for goodness sake.

“Dare I say it, if we were able to sneak in I reckon we would be able to give it a shake as well.

“The team that can get it together in the last four weeks of the season is going to be lifting silverware.”

Clarkson was full of praise for Damien Hardwick’s Tigers, who he said were “harder and ore polished” than his own side.

He said Hardwick – and the Richmond executives who agonised over whether to axe him after failing to win a final in his first seven seasons – deserved credit for sticking at the task.

“Coaching is a tough caper … it takes some soul searching,” he said.

“They’ve been able to change some things around and that’s a credit to Dimma and the whole club.

“When the drums start beating … it’s really easy to make a change but continuity and stability are the two buzzwords in footy. If you’ve got that you’ve got some sort of chance.

“They’re a good side. They’re in the top four for a reason.”

Clarkson said his sidelined senior players – with the exception of Paul Puopolo – were unlikely to return this year.

Injured recruit Jaeger O’Meara is touch-and-go to play senior football in 2017.

“We’re really eager for him to get back and play some footy and then get back, have some rest before pre-season,” he said.

“Jaeger will hopefully play in the next week or two. Maybe even next week. That’s really encouraging but it’s unlikely to be at a senior level.”

Aussie billionaire confident of energy fix

Aussie billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes who helped spark a social media debate about solving South Australia’s energy woes wasn’t expecting his conversation with Tesla to snowball.

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But the co-founder of software firm Atlassian says there is a good chance of getting funding and a political commitment for a 100 day plan for large-scale battery storage, hatched by Tesla boss Elon Musk over Twitter.

“It’s been extremely surprising I have to say to me, the number of people who have reached out,” Mr Cannon-Brookes told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Mr Cannon-Brookes has already been approached by individuals, crowd-funding programs and superannuation funds interested in getting involved in the battery plan.

He is on the hunt for an economic model that will help South Australia and could deliver similar projects nationwide.

The billionaire believes Australian politicians are interested in solving the problem, after talking to more in the past week than in the previous year.

“I’m just trying to change the conversation so we talk about something other than coal and gas as a potential solution going forward for the country,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

“It’s a little embarrassing as to how fast and how far it has gone.”

Mr Musk has pledged to have a 100MW solar and battery system up and running within 100 days of signing a contract, or provide it for free.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spent an hour over the weekend talking to Mr Musk about the proposal.

Mr Cannon-Brookes said the Tesla boss had almost halved the price in what he described as a “very bold offer”.

There’s an urgent need for a SA solution with fears of more summer blackouts unless something is done.

“We have about six or seven months to get something solved,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said.

Major energy company AGL has offered Tesla a “one hundred day ready” site in South Australia where it was already considering installing battery storage.

“AGL welcomes ideas from all participants in the energy industry to help deliver solutions for our future energy mix,” chief executive Andy Vesey tweeted.

AGL is also testing a virtual power plant in SA, which uses residential batteries on 1000 homes to effectively create a 5MW power generator.

“While batteries will play a role it’s important to know what’s needed is an integrated national solution, which also considers other renewables and peaking plants in the energy generation mix.”

Trump seeks to host China’s Xi in April

US President Donald Trump is planning to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at a two-day summit next month at his Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, according to media reports.

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The two-day meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 6-7, US online media outlet Axios reported on Monday, citing officials familiar with the plans.

CNN also reported the planned summit, citing an unnamed administration official. It added the plan was tentative and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was expected to finalise plans during a trip this week to Asia, which includes a stop in China.

A US administration official, who asked not to be named because no official announcement has been made about the meeting, said the summit was possible but was not confirmed.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The reported summit would follow a string of other recent US-China meetings and conversations seeking to smooth ties after aggressive criticism of China by Trump during his election campaign.

Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who outranks his country’s foreign minister, visited Washington last month to discuss the two countries’ economic ties and security interests, including meetings with Trump and Tillerson.

During his campaign, Trump accused China of unfair trade policies, criticised its island-building in the strategic South China Sea claimed by several countries, and accused it of doing too little to constrain its neighbour, North Korea.

After his election, Trump incensed Beijing in December by taking a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and later saying the United States did not have to stick to the so-called “one China” policy.

Under that policy, Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is a part.

Trump later agreed in a phone call with Xi last month to honour the policy.

He has also written to Xi since taking office, seeking “constructive ties”.

England’s Jones wary of All Blacks praise

Eddie Jones compares the praise England have received from New Zealand coach Steve Hansen to the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood being deceived by the wolf.

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Hansen congratulated the RBS 6 Nations champions for retaining their title by overwhelming Scotland 61-21, despite seeing the All Blacks’ record of 18 successive Test wins equalled at Twickenham on Saturday.

The mastermind of the 2015 World Cup triumph insisted England are finally fulfilling their potential, playing the “sort of rugby people want to see”, and offered Jones the message of “well done, champ. It’s thoroughly deserved, well done”.

In a frustrating quirk of the international fixture list, the game’s top two teams are being kept apart until autumn 2018 when a seismic showdown is to be staged at Twickenham.

Jones is wary of Hansen’s approval, however, as the rival coaches exchange words for the first time since England’s rise as a genuine threat to New Zealand’s global dominance.

“It’s a bit like red riding hood and the wolf when the wolf comes dressed up as the grandmother…..” Jones said.

“You always have to be careful when All Black coaches compliment you, you always have to be careful.”

If Ireland are toppled in Dublin on Saturday, as well eclipsing the All Blacks’ 18-Test milestone Dylan Hartley’s men will become only the sixth team to complete back-to-back Grand Slams.

The seven-try scattering of Scotland – the best attacking display under Jones – has powered England towards the finishing line, but it took a “cleansing” discussion involving the entire squad and coaches a fortnight ago to reignite the champions after an unconvincing first half of the tournament.

“We had a bit of a cleansing meeting when we were in camp in Oxford,” Jones said. “It was about accepting that we’ve been successful. To me the English are quite reserved and they actually struggle quite a bit with success.

“As an Australian I think the English are very polite and reserved. And they struggle to actually carry that success around.

“What we said, and we had a great discussion, is that we have to acknowledge we’ve been successful and it’s how much we want to be great now.”

Big ticket computer projects queried

The federal government is weighing up whether 10-year, multi-million-dollar computer projects are value for taxpayers’ money.

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More than $6 billion a year is spent on government information and communications technology, and recent failures within the Australian Tax Office and Census have brought to light how IT problems can affect businesses and households.

A Senate committee heard on Tuesday the government’s Digital Transformation Agency is working on advice for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, due mid-year, in relation to all ICT projects over $10 million.

The advice would consider costs, timing and risks of projects.

DCT interim chief executive Nerida O’Loughlin told senators her agency was also looking at “significant ICT bids coming through the budget process”.

The agency was assessing how the departments and agencies planned to take projects to market, what technologies are being used and how the proposals are structured.

“The agency is very keen to make sure that the sort of ‘waterfall approach’ that has been taken on ICT projects, where it’s a big 10-year multi-million-dollar project, is that the best way of delivering some of these projects,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“Are we not better to chunk it down, do smaller parcels out to market, prototype test, very much in line with the agile methodologies we use in the DTA?”

The ICT committee of cabinet, chaired by Mr Turnbull, met last week to look at some of the proposals being brought forward before the May budget.

The hearing was also told a committee comprising the heads of the biggest government departments is working on a “secure cloud” strategy.

Cloud computer involves using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server.

Parenthood the key to living longer: study

Being a parent to a young child may sometimes feel like it’s sending you to an early grave but your children could be the key to living longer, new research suggests.

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A Swedish study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found parenthood is associated with a longer life than childlessness, particularly in older age, when health and capacity start to decline.

The difference in life expectancy may be as much as two years.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm tracked the life span of more than 1.4 million men and women over 60 living in Sweden and born between 1911-1925.

Not unexpectedly, the risk of death rose with increasing age, irrespective of whether the individuals were parents or not.

But after taking account of influential factors, such as educational attainment, the risk of death was lower among those who had had at least one child compared to childless men and women.

At 60, the difference in life expectancy between those with children and those without was almost two years for men and 1.5 years for women.

Sixty-year-old men with children could expect to live for another 20.2 years, whereas men without children could expect a further 18.4 years – an almost two-year difference.

Meanwhile, women aged 60 with children could expect to live a further 24.6 years, whereas those without could expect another 23.1 years – a difference of 1.5 years.

At the age of 80, men with children could expect to live a further 7.7 years, while those without could live seven years.

For women aged 80 with children, they could expect a further 9.5 years, while those without could live a further 8.9 years.

Both married and non-married couples benefited from having children, though unmarried people – and particularly men- seemed to enjoy a stronger benefit, the research also showed.

This may suggest that unmarried people rely on their children more for support, whereas married couples are supported by their partner.

The researchers, led by Dr Karin Modig, say the findings highlight a need for greater support for older people without children.

“Our finding that the association grew stronger when parents became older is further in agreement with research suggesting that childless people face support deficits only towards the end of life,” the authors said.

Broncos toast comeback man Slater

Instead of putting a target on Billy Slater’s back, Brisbane sound more likely to give it a pat when the Melbourne veteran makes his long-awaited NRL return on Thursday night.

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The Broncos have toasted Slater ahead of his comeback clash from a two-year battle with shoulder dramas, dismissing talk that the Storm fullback will be “fair game”.

“It’s good to see Billy playing footy again if he is back this week,” Brisbane lock Josh McGuire said.

“I’ve always seen Billy as the ultimate professional so I’m sure he’ll be ready.

“He’s not the type of person to come into a match underdone.

“And he won’t have to worry about me targeting him because I can’t catch him – he’s too quick for me.”

Slater will end a year-long wait for his latest return after being limited to just eight games in the past two seasons by shoulder issues.

Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough baulked when asked if they would target the wily No.1’s troublesome shoulder.

“I wouldn’t say he is fair game,” he said. “Billy is Billy. He’s a professional. He will slot straight into the team. He has had a couple of tough years.

“When he goes out there he will be ready to go – no doubt they won’t be risking him.

Slater received even more praise from Brisbane bench forward Jai Arrow, who was just eight when the Melbourne fullback made his NRL debut in 2003.

“I grew up watching him,” he said.

“He’s been a part of the game for a long time so it will be surreal to take him on down in Melbourne.

“It will be another learning curve playing against someone of that calibre.”