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.

ASX set to open higher on Monday

The Australian stock market is expected to open higher by 25 points on Monday reversing some Friday’s losses on the back of better global news.

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The main driver is US payroll figures which showed good jobs growth in the world’s biggest economy.

AMP Capital’s chief economist Shane Oliver said Friday night’s figures showed 209,000 jobs were created in the US in July and the unemployment rate was 4.3 per cent.

He said the strong figures and low wages growth, of just 2.5 per cent, will result in the US Federal Reserve continuing its gradual tightening of monetary policy.

“So that combination of good growth but relatively low inflation is something the sharemarket likes, it’s almost like a Goldilocks economy – not too hot, not too cold, but just right,” Dr Oliver said.

“Not so good for workers but it’s good for the companies.”

The rise in the iron ore price is another factor.

It rose 7.8 per cent last week to US $74.10 per tonne on Friday.

It all points to reasonable start to the week for the ASX, but share trading will start slowly due to Monday’s bank holiday in NSW.

During the week, all eyes will be on the start of the profit reporting season.

One to watch is the CBA full-year’s results on Wednesday.

The bank is expected to report another record profit. Its share price fell 3.6 per cent to $80.72 last week after it was revealed on Thursday the federal government’s financial intelligence unit, AUSTRAC, had accused the lender of more than 53,000 breaches of Australia’s money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws.

Other data the market will be watching includes the NAB’s business survey on Tuesday and Westpac Consumer Confidence Index on Wednesday.

Globally, China releases its trade figures on Tuesday.

At the close on Friday the benchmark S&P/ASX200 was down 14.5 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 5,720.6 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index was down 13.5 points, or 0.23 per cent, at 5,773.3 points.

Euthanasia, CFA to dominate Vic MP debate

The winter break is over and Victoria’s parliamentarians are set to return to passionate debate on whether they will give the state’s terminally ill a choice on when they die.

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Legislation on assisted dying is not expected to be introduced when parliament resumes this week, but MPs will no doubt be grilled on their thoughts.

Premier Daniel Andrews hopes to see a vote on the scheme, which he says will be the “safest” in the world, by the end of 2017.

“What we know is many Victorians are not getting the care they need,” he said in July when announcing his government would adopt all 66 recommendations made by an expert panel.

“There is no solution to their unbearable pain and they are taking matters into their own hands (and) that leads to many tragic outcomes, that’s unacceptable to me.”

While the government has endorsed the report, not all Labor MPs will vote for it to become law.

Mr Andrews’ deputy, James Merlino, has long said he does not support euthanasia and reaffirmed his position during the winter break.

A passionate debate is anticipated and already tensions have started to mount thanks to a Right To Life leaflet campaign in nine electorates.

The government will also be bracing itself for a report into its controversial fire service reforms due on the first day back.

The committee has spent the break grilling firefighters, service executives and departments on whether the CFA should become volunteer-only, with paid firefighters to move into a newly formed Fire Rescue Victoria.

Their report is due on Tuesday and will play a pivotal role in whether the reforms, which are tied to the approval of well-supported presumptive cancer compensation rights.

In other parliamentary business, ride-sharing services like Uber will soon be legalised with amended laws returning to the lower house.

The government accepted upper house changes including halving the ride levy to $1 which will replace licence fees and help compensate taxi operators.

Knights can make NRL finals in 2018: Joey

Newcastle legend Andrew Johns believes the Knights’ recent run of good form could be converted into a long-awaited NRL finals appearance as soon as next season.

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Wooden spooners for the past two seasons, the Knights have shown signs of life after following up their upset win of St George Illawarra with a 26-10 walkover of the Warriors on Saturday.

It’s the first time they have recorded back-to-back wins in over 700 days, and it instantly doubled their total win account for the season.

The turnaround based on improving local talent, together with a growing recruitment drive headed by emerging stars Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga, prompted Johns to predict that the finals are a genuine possibility in 2018.

The Knights haven’t played in the post-season since 2012.

Johns hailed the growth of local juniors Daniel Saifiti, Luke Yates, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Brock Lamb and skipper Sione Mata’utia, all under 22 years of age.

“All the young players combining. They all came through the system in the SG Ball and the Jersey Flegg together,” Johns said on The Sunday Footy Show.

“They’re building, the Knights. The players they’ve bought next year with a bit of class, another off-season, I think next year they’ll be around semi-final area, around the eight.”

Johns, who was part of the Knights’ premierships in 1997 and 2001, reserved special praise for the development of Lamb since his nightmare showing against Canterbury in round 18.

Lamb had arguably the best game of his career against the Warriors, setting up two tries and three line breaks to go with his own try.

“Some of the biggest lessons we learn are the toughest ones. He’s had to learn some tough lessons, he’s come into a side that’s struggling at a young age,” Johns said.

“But in the last couple of weeks, you can see how well he sees the game, and his control. He understands space, he understands when to run and when to pass.”

UK prepared to pay €40 billion Brexit bill: report

It is the first time the British side has put a figure on its so-called Brexit bill – although the sum falls well short of the €100 billion sum discussed in Brussels.

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The newspaper report, based on unnamed government sources, said Britain would pay this only if the EU agrees to negotiate the settlement as part of a deal on future relations, including trade.

Brussels has said progress must be made on the divorce bill, as well as the rights of European citizens living in Britain and the Irish border issue, before any talks can start on a free trade agreement.

British officials are looking at proposing a transition deal where Britain would continue to make net payments to the EU of €10 billion a year for up to three years after it leaves in March 2019, the Telegraph said.

This money, paid in return for continued access to Europe’s single market, would be a “partial down-payment” on the final bill.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has declined to publicly name a sum for Britain’s divorce bill, which includes its share of EU spending projects already agreed, as well as pension contributions of staff, among other expenses.

But he said the “methodology” for determining how much Britain must pay should be worked out during the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, which is due to end in October.

A number of senior EU officials have confirmed to AFP the estimate of €100 billion.

Officials have previously said there is scope for paying the bill in instalments, and that the total figure may eventually come down because of jointly-held assets that the EU must reimburse Britain for.

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US suspends search for missing Marines after crash off Queensland coast

The US Navy and Marine Corps has suspended search and rescue efforts for three US Marines missing after their aircraft crashed into the sea off Australia’s east coast.

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The Marine Corps said they have shifted their operations to recovery efforts in coordination with the Australian Defence Force, which could last several months, and notified the next-of-kin for the three missing Marines.

Twenty-three other personnel aboard the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had been rescued, the III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan, said in a statement early Sunday.

The plane crashed about 4pm on Saturday off the central Queensland coast at Shoalwater Bay.

It had taken off from the USS Bonhomme Richard and was on regularly scheduled operations when it hit the water in a “mishap”, a statement from the US military says.

Small boats and aircraft from the Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship, immediately swung into action.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit MV-22 Osprey [email protected] @PacificCommand @PacificMarines @USPacificFleet @AFNPacificNow pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/6dJX7Ke8w5

— III MEF Marines (@IIIMEF) August 5, 2017

US President Donald Trump, who has just begun a 17-day “working vacation” at his New Jersey golf club, has been briefed on the incident by his new chief of staff John Kelly, a White House official told reporters.

Minister for Defence Marise Payne confirmed in a statement late on Saturday night that no Australian Defence Force personnel were on board the aircraft.

The search and rescue operation is being conducted by the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unite and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, which are on deployment in the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

“The United States are leading the search and recovery effort,” Senator Payne said.

She had also briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and spoken with US Defense Secretary James Mattis to offer Australia’s support.

I have offered our support to the US following the MV-22 incident today & confirm no ADF personnel were on board: 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/VtPkLt3Qlc

— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) August 5, 2017

“Our thoughts are with the crew and families affected,” she said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk offered her government’s support to the search and rescue efforts.

“In recent weeks, many Queenslanders have had the opportunity to meet US servicemen and servicewoman visiting as they prepare for the joint military exercise Talisman Sabre in central Queensland.

“On behalf of all Queenslanders, our prayers are with those US military personnel involved in the incident,” she said in a statement.

The Osprey aircraft, a tilt rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like an aeroplane, was in Australia for Operation Talisman Sabre, a biennial training exercise involving the defence forces of both countries, at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area. The exercises concluded at the end of July.

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Venezuela slammed for firing dissenting attorney general

A new assembly loyal to President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday fired the country’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega, one of his most vociferous critics, triggering a firestorm of condemnation from the US and Latin American nations.

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“The United States condemns (the) illegal removal” of Ortega, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert tweeted, adding the move was aimed at tightening the “authoritarian dictatorship of (the) Maduro regime.” 

We applaud Mercosur Foreign Ministers for suspending #Venezuela from the trade bloc for rupture of the democratic order. 2/2

— Heather Nauert (@statedeptspox) August 5, 2017

Colombia, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and Peru equally slammed the decision, made by the Constituent Assembly as its very first order of business a week after it was elected in a vote marred by violence and fraud allegations. 

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The assembly also said Ortega would face trial for “irregularities” from her time in office and was forbidden from leaving the country.

Ortega, who was barred by dozens of soldiers from entering her offices, refused to recognize her sacking, or the assembly’s swearing in of Tarek William Saab, the national ombudsman, in her place.

“I am not giving up, Venezuela is not giving up and will not give up against barbarity, illegality, hunger, darkness and death,” she said.

Ortega has been a thorn in Maduro’s side for months, breaking ranks with him over the legality of the Constituent Assembly.

One of the assembly’s most prominent members, Diosdado Cabello, said of the firing: “This is not a personal, political lynching, just carrying out the law.” 

Ortega’s sacking had been widely expected. But its swiftness — and the fact it was a unanimous vote — stirred wide unease.

Mercosur suspension

Maduro and his Socialist party have “completely taken hostage” Venezuela’s institutions through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial,” the leader of the opposition-controlled legislature, Julio Borges, told reporters.

As Ortega’s firing was announced, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil declared Venezuela was indefinitely suspended from the South American trading bloc Mercosur for its “rupture of the democratic order.”

The United States and the office of the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almargo, endorsed the suspension.

“The countries of the region… must continue to tell the Venezuelan regime that in the Americas, there is no place for dictatorships or for the tyrants that lead them,” it said in a statement.

The international onslaught added to US sanctions imposed on Maduro after the Constituent Assembly’s election.

Maduro responded in an interview with an Argentine radio station that “Venezuela will not be taken out of Mercosur – never!”

He accused his Argentine counterpart, Mauricio Macri, of trying to impose a “blockade” on Venezuela and US President Donald Trump of wanting to grab the country’s vast oil reserves.

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Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, this week ruled out foreign military intervention and said Washington did not want to give Maduro a pretext for blaming the US for his mounting woes.

The United States, the European Union and major Latin American nations have all rejected the Constituent Assembly.

The body’s legitimacy was struck a hard blow this week when a British-based firm that supplied the voting technology, Smartmatic, said the turnout figure was “tampered with” and greatly exaggerated.

Supreme powers

The principal task of the Constituent Assembly is to rewrite the constitution, something Maduro promised will resolve Venezuela’s troubles.

“We are going to win back peace,” the president said.

While working on its mission, the assembly holds supreme powers over all other branches of government.

Initial suggestions were that it would need only six months to complete its work.

But it announced on Saturday that it would stay in place for up to two years – beyond the end of Maduro’s term, due to end in 2019.

Its 545 members, all Maduro allies, include the president’s wife and son. It is led by Maduro’s fiercely loyal former foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez.

0:00 Clashes break out between opposition and Venzuelan security forces Share Clashes break out between opposition and Venzuelan security forces

The opposition has vowed to maintain street protests against the assembly. 

Four months of demonstrations violently matched by security forces have left at least 125 people dead. 

But the rallies grew more muted this week as the assembly took its seats and vowed to go after those seen as inciting street action.

Maduro has around 20 percent public support, according to surveys by the Datanalisis polling firm.

Ordinary Venezuelans are struggling, with food, essentials and medicine scarce, the currency rapidly depreciating, and inflation soaring. Thousands have sought shelter in neighboring countries, particularly Colombia and Brazil.

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Neil Young announces online archive

Neil Young has announced that he will launch an online archive that will include “every single, recorded track or album I have produced” since his first recording session in 1963.

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A technological evolution of his sprawling Archives boxed set – the first volume of which was released in 2009 – the archive will display as a timeline where fans can click on songs or albums and view loads of information around each release.

“View all albums currently released and see albums still unreleased and in production just by using the controls to zoom through the years,” Young wrote in a detailed letter announcing the archive.

“Unreleased album art is simply pencilled in so you can see where unreleased albums will appear on the timeline, once they are completed.”

Ever the exacting audiophile, Young also promises that the music will be streamed via Xstream Music, a streaming service that “are always pure uncompressed masters.”

A rep for Young said the project has been in the works for many years and has no release date, and longtime fans will know not to hold their collective breath.

More than any other artist except perhaps Prince and Frank Zappa, Young is both wildly prolific and a meticulous curator of his own career, with seemingly boundless patience to wait until he deems the moment right for his creations to be shared with the world. Songs and entire albums sit unreleased for years or even decades after their creation, if at all – the latest example, coming on September 8, is Hitchhiker, a stunning solo acoustic album containing early versions of songs like Pocahontas, Captain Kennedy and the title track, that has sat in his vault for some 41 years.

Venezuela removes chief prosecutor

A newly installed constitutional assembly has ousted Venezuela’s defiant chief prosecutor, a sign that President Nicolas Maduro’s embattled government intends to move swiftly against critics and consolidate power amid a fast-moving political crisis.

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Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted from the stately, neo-classical salon where 545 pro-government delegates voted unanimously to remove Luisa Ortega from her post as the nation’s top law enforcement official and replace her with a staunch government supporter.

They said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and froze her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega, a longtime loyalist who broke with the socialist government in April, refused to recognise the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

Earlier on Saturday, Ortega was pushed and barred from entering her office by dozens of national guardsmen in riot gear who took control of the entrance to the building.

Late on Saturday, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned home after being taken into custody in the middle of the night on Tuesday. Lopez was released from prison last month and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies.

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, which fear that it will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Yunupingu’s death preventable: doctor

The loss of Australia’s most prominent indigenous musician Dr G Yunupingu to kidney disease has shone a light on the “largely preventable” renal health nightmare afflicting remote communities, his doctor says.

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The 46-year-old blind Yolngu singer died last month in Darwin while undergoing dialysis treatment, as there were no services available in his Galiwink’u community on Elcho Island.

His specialist, Dr Paul Lawton told Garma Festival that many indigenous Australians have to travel hundreds of kilometres for end-stage renal therapy, which he describes as a “nightmare” akin to purgatory.

“You’re neither alive nor dead,” he said.

A similar diagnosis forced Yirrkala woman Gundimulk Wanambi to live 700km away from her coastal Arnhem Land community to access dialysis services.

“We want to come back home to our own country, our family … so we can enjoy ourselves, go hunting and get our own food … and feel healthy again,” she said.

“Darwin is not my home.”

Aboriginal people are up to seven times more likely to need treatment for the chronic illness than their non-indigenous Australians.

This inequity is even worse for kidney transplants, Dr Lawton says.

“Compared to a non-indigenous patient in Surry Hills in Sydney, an indigenous patient with the same age and illness in Redfern right next door has a third of the chance of a kidney transplant,” he said.

“An indigenous patient from east Arnhem… has a 10th of the chance of transplantation of a non-indigenous person from east Arnhem.”

Last year, four Arnhem Land Aboriginal community organisations raised $680,000 to expand on-country dialysis support in the region, and are calling on the Northern Territory and federal governments to match that funding.

“Sadly, the rollout of this life-saving service across Arnhem Land will come too late for our beloved singer, the late Dr G YunupiNGu, but we have a chance to make a difference for hundreds of other people now,” Miwatj Health Chief Health Officer Dr Lucas de Toca said.

Kokkinakis beaten in maiden ATP Tour final

Thanasi Kokkinakis will rocket more than 200 places up the rankings despite falling just short of winning his maiden ATP Tour final in Los Cabos, Mexico.

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Kokkinakis went down to world No.24 Querrey 6-3 3-6 6-2, the Australian showing more positive signs after a long layoff from the sport.

Playing his sixth tournament since missing 18 months due to a litany of injuries, 21-year-old Kokkinakis is expected to jump from No.454 in the world to No.225 after his big week in Mexico.

In-form Querrey, a Wimbledon semi-finalist and winner of the Mexican Open in March, was a little too polished for Kokkinakis when it mattered most.

A low first service percentage proved Kokkinakis’s undoing in the first set and the American needed just one break to lock it away.

The South Australian improved his delivery in the second and made inroads on Querrey’s serve to level the match.

A sloppy first service game in the final set then cost Kokkinakis dearly and he quickly found himself 3-0 down in the decider.

He had two opportunities to break back at 2-4 but failed to capitalise as the second seed held and won the next game to take the match.

“For me this has been unbelievable,” an emotional Kokkinakis said.

“In two years I have missed so much time.

“I was sitting on the couch doing nothing for two years and now to come back and play at this level and have such a great tournament; what better place to do it than Los Cabos.”

Kokkinakis had defeated top seed and world No.14 Tomas Berdych to make the final.

That came after a solid grass court campaign where he beat world No.9 Milos Raonic at Queen’s and pushed Juan Martin del Potro at Wimbledon.

His strong form is timely with the US Open starting at the end of the month and a Davis Cup semi-final against Belgium in Brussels on clay from September 15.

If fit Nick Kyrgios would take one singles position for Australia with Kokkinakis likely to battle it out with Jordan Thompson for the other slot.