Merrin still finding his feet at Penrith

He’s the NRL big name signed on big money, but Trent Merrin has yet to bring his big game.

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The NSW State of Origin and Kangaroos star believes he has yet to reach the levels at his new club Penrith that controversially drew him away from St George Illawarra over the summer.

“I’m getting there, most definitely,” Merrin said on Thursday.

The 26-year-old was trumpeted as a major signing over last season, a key piece to Panthers supremo Phil Gould’s puzzle that would help transform Penrith from NRL lightweights to heavyweights.

But with the mountain men sitting 10th on the ladder almost a third of the way through the season, Merrin concedes he’s still trying to find his feet at the new digs.

“It’s tough coming to a new club and trying to adjust and getting the rhythm of things,” he said.

“But I’ve adjusted really quick. It’s been great having these sort of players around me to feed off.

“I think I’ve scored more tries in the first opening rounds than what I’ve ever done – so that’s a positive.”

Merrin is content with his current output, averaging 140 metres from 15 runs, together with 25 tackles, in 58 minutes a game.

But it’s still a far cry from when he would easily clock 80 minutes at the peak of his powers.

“I feel like I’m doing my job for the team – that’s the main thing,” he said.

“I just wanted to lead by example in the middle and come to a new club and do the best I can.”

The Panthers meet the third-placed Sharks, who Merrin believes have yet to be really tested through the opening matches of the season.

“I don’t think a team’s really challenged Cronulla like that and put them into a really grinding game … our main focus is just excelling in what we’ve been doing the last few weeks,” he said.

No more ‘drama’ over executions: Indonesia

The “drama” and “commotion” that surrounded the executions of drug traffickers, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, in Indonesia last year should not happen again, the country’s security minister says.

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Attorney-General HM Prasetyo flagged earlier this month that executions in the country were likely to resume this year following a brief suspension because of economic reasons.

While not making any announcement as to when this will occur, Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan told reporters on Thursday that “there shall be no more ‘sinetron'” – referring to a soap opera or drama – when executions resume.

“In my opinion, that’s not proper … In my opinion, don’t make it a commotion,” he said.

Last year, Indonesia executed 14 people by firing squad – six in January and eight others in April, including Chan and Sukumaran.

In the lead up to the Australians’ executions, there was intense foreign media attention and diplomatic pressure on Indonesia, as well as strident international appeals and pleas from family members.

Their executions were initially announced in February and as the day grew closer two months later, there was speculation as to when the punishment would actually occur.

Luhut said this year he would like to see “less talking”, and noted the law stipulated Indonesia only needed to give three days’ notice as to when an execution was going to take place.

Drug use remains a scourge in Indonesia and perhaps presents more of a challenge than terrorism, Luhut told reporters.

Demand for the drug ice increased 280 per cent last year, he added.

Asked whether executions were therefore effective in reducing drug use, he said: “We like to evaluate from time to time what is the best for Indonesia. We will see maybe in two or three years what is the result.”

The attorney-general’s office has previously said it has the budget to execute 14 prisoners in 2016.

Stokes says competitive battles get his ‘juices flowing’

“I’m always thinking about the private battle, even in the field.

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I’m always trying to be better than the other person I’m against,” the 24-year-old told the Times newspaper on Thursday.

“There are guys that you look at and you want to really bowl at them or bat against them, certain guys who really get your juices flowing. They tend to be similar characters to me: (Australia batsman) David Warner, for example.

“I love playing against these guys who have the same attitude to the game that I have. It’s always been there, that competitive instinct… I just want to win.”

By claiming four wickets and five catches at the World Twenty20 in India, Stokes played a crucial role in England’s run to the final in Kolkata on April 3, especially with his bowling at the death.

However, in the last over against the West Indies, who needed 19 runs to clinch their second T20 World Cup, Stokes was hit for four successive sixes by Carlos Brathwaite, ending England’s own hopes of a second triumph in disastrous fashion.

While Stokes admitted he was “devastated”, he also claimed his growing maturity as a player helped him deal with the situation with a better frame of mind.

“I just sat there with a towel on my head, utterly devastated. I didn’t want to walk out there slumped and beaten and looking like I felt inside,” Stokes said.

“A few years ago, I would have really tortured myself about that final over. I used to find it so hard to let go, but I’m a lot better now.

“You can never beat your own mind when it plays tricks on you. I’m learning to cope a lot better with the bad times now.”

(Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by John O’Brien)

Bennett, Maguire want golden point gone

Wayne Bennett doesn’t want to see another grand final won, or lost, in the same manner as the 2015 decider, calling for the NRL to scrap the extra-time approach for this season’s playoffs.

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The Brisbane coach has been a long-term critic of golden point.

He restated that opposition in the immediate aftermath of the 2015 grand final, in which Johnathan Thurston nailed the title-winning field goal shortly after Ben Hunt knocked the ball on from the start of the golden-point period.

“We have to address it. One point and one set can’t lose a major game in the playoffs or the grand final – it can’t happen,” Bennett said on Thursday at Broncos training at Red Hill.

The decision will be discussed at a meeting next month as momentum grows for golden point to be punted from the playoffs. It could still remain as part of the regular season, though.

“The regular season is a whole lot different to the playoffs. There is a huge amount at stake in the playoffs; you want to be fair as you can with both teams,” Bennett said.

“The 1989 grand final was the last time they probably used extra-time and that was a great game of football, a great spectacle,

“Everyone’s playing extra-time in all codes across the world now. No one is relying on one moment and, all of a sudden, you have won the game.

“I realise the game has to be finished that night. We have to find a way to finish it fairly to all involved.”

Souths coach Michael Maguire, who replaced Bennett on the NRL’s competition committee earlier this year, also wants golden point eradicated from the playoffs.

“I haven’t spoken to (NRL CEO) Todd (Greenberg) and those guys on the committee but, around the finals, I do agree with what a lot of the coaches are saying. It is a game you want to play out to work out who wins rather than having it determined by that one point,” Maguire said.

Ten hails Foxtel deal as revenue rises

Ten Network’s partnership with Foxtel has helped cut the free-to-air broadcaster’s underlying half year loss by 21 per cent.

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Ten’s revenue rose eight per cent in the six months to February 29 to $350 million, due mainly to its new relationship with Foxtel advertiser MCN.

That trimmed Ten’s underlying loss to $10.4 million, from the previous year’s $13.2 million.

With the sale of Ten’s US outdoor advertising business included, the company made a half year net profit of $13.4 million, a massive improvement on the previous year’s $264 million half year loss.

Chief executive Paul Anderson said Ten achieved its strongest first half revenue performance since 2012 due to the sale of TV, catch-up and digital advertising through MCN, in which Ten bought a 25 per cent stake in 2015.

“February 2016 marked the 12th consecutive month in which Ten had increased its revenue and revenue share year-on-year,” he said.

“Our relationship with MCN is innovative and it is changing the way advertising is bought and sold in Australia.”

Ten said its share of television revenue rose 2.5 percentage points between September and February, almost exactly accounting for a combined 2.4 point decline for rivals Seven and Nine.

Despite soft conditions in the capital city free-to-air TV market, Ten expects its ad revenue to rise by about eight per cent in March and April.

Ten said its net debt has been cut to $20.2 million following the capital injection it received from Foxtel taking a 14.99 stake in October.

The company’s loss in the same period a year earlier was caused mainly by a big writedown in the value of its broadcast licence, and Mr Anderson has once again urged the government to slash or scrap the licence fee.

“Without a meaningful reduction in this budget, the free-to-air television industry will be forced to look at reducing costs further, which will mean cuts to Australian programming and, inevitably, job losses at Australian television production companies,” he said.

“That would be a terrible outcome for everyone, particularly Australian viewers.”

Shares in Ten closed down 0.5 cents at $1.005.

TEN BACK IN BLACK AS REVENUE IMPROVES

* Net profit of $13.4m, compared to $264.4m loss

* Revenue up 7.8pct to $349.6m

* No interim dividend, unchanged

Brown’s NRL woes are strategy: Bennett

Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has accused his Newcastle counterpart Nathan Brown of making allegations over other NRL’s clubs’ manipulation of the concussion rule to cover up his own strategic shortcomings.

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Brown says rorting of the NRL’s concussion policy across the game is rife as coaches seek an unfair advantage in exploiting the rule.

Brisbane thumped Newcastle 53-0 last weekend in a match in which the Knights lost a number of players to the concussion rule.

However, Bennett said coaches could not blame the rules when they lost.

“I know there are a couple of clubs under investigation at the moment. I think it is a great rule and I respect it,” Bennett said on Thursday.

“But Nathan found himself under the pump by having four hit-up forwards sitting there (on the bench). If you lose a back and you’ve got four hit-up forwards, it is not going to work for you. That’s the risk you take. If you take that risk and you have a bad night, you can’t blame the rules for that.”

Souths mentor Michael Maguire said he didn’t believe there was a widespread flouting of the rules among the coaching fraternity.

“No, I haven’t seen that,” Maguire said.

When pressed further on whether Brown might be misinterpreting things, Maguire said: “that is his opinion”.

However, Melbourne, Queensland and Australian skipper Cameron Smith said he was concerned some sides could be taking advantage of the concussion rule.

“It does seem that there is an increase of players getting taken off the field with concussion or a trainer saying that there is concussion now and they are finding themselves coming back on the field within the 15 minute time frame,” Smith said.

Storm on guard for Warriors fullback

Melbourne don’t have to worry about injured Warriors fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck running around them; instead they have to stop his replacement Tuimoala Lolohea running over them.

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Test star Tuivasa-Sheck will miss their Anzac Day NRL clash at AAMI Park on Monday night, ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

But the Storm skipper says Lolohea presents a sizable problem himself.

“He’s a big kid, and he’s an aggressive kid. He’s hard to handle, so while they lose Tuivasa-Sheck’s speed and ability to beat defenders one-on-one, Lolohea doesn’t worry about running around blokes, he just runs over the top of blokes,” Smith said.

The Melbourne hooker was impressed by Lolohea’s performance at five-eighth last round, rating it as the Warriors’ best attacking show of the season.

The teams met in round three, with Smith saying their stern defence was key to their 21-14 win.

But with New Zealand hooker Issac Luke and burly winger Manu Vatuvei back in the Warriors line-up, he’s expecting an even tougher contest.

“They are playing more consistent football now so it’s going to be an even bigger challenge for us,” Smith said.

The teams have met on Anzac Day six times, with the Storm leading the head to head 3-2, with one draw.

Smith said the match was worth more than just a win.

“I think for the teams that are lucky enough to play on this day, it is a little bit more then just the two points,” Smith said.

The sides also square off for the Michael Moore trophy, named in honour of the Storm’s inaugural football manager who died in Auckland on the night of the opening round clash in 2000.

“When we speak to anyone that was at the club during his time, they say he represents something of an Anzac,” Smith said.

“He always looked out for his mates, and whenever things got hard he performed at his best, so this match is important to us on many levels.”

Australia’s first national newspaper for kids launched in Sydney

Australia’s youngest newspaper has officially launched.

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Crinkling News, a national newspaper for young Australians, unveiled its inaugural issue yesterday, vowing it “was time for kids to have a place at the country’s table of ideas.”  

The brainchild of journalist Saffron Howden, Crinkling News is a weekly 16-page newspaper and aims to give students aged seven to 14 all the news that’s fit to print, “without the boring or scary bits.”

Speaking at the launch at the Australian Museum in Sydney, Ms Howden said the publication will tell the news in a kid-friendly way, from the latest scientific discoveries to natural disasters, and even federal elections.

“We want to bring children into the national conversation,” Ms Howden said.

“That’s why all our opinion pieces are written by kids, and that’s why all our book, movie, game and arts reviews are written by kids.”

Crinkling News’ first edition also features exclusive interviews with Australia’s political leaders by budding teenage journalists

Madeline Murphy, 15, and Diya Mehta, 14, travelled to Canberra for Crinkling News and between them sat down with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

The young reporters covered Question Time and grilled the politicians about issues including mental health, renewable energy and their favourite book characters.

Ms Mehta said her interview with Malcolm Turnbull initially caused her to have “an internal freak-out” but that quickly gave way to “a strange sort of calm” once she realised all politicians are “just human.”

“Another thing: he talks a lot,” she told the audience.

“His answers are a novella of a thing, with reminiscences and personal stories woven together.”

National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell, who officially launched Crinkling News, said the newspaper was a vital addition to the media landscape.

“It gives kids the opportunity to realise their right to a voice by sharing their news, their ideas and their concerns,” she said.

“By getting involved … kids can set their own agenda and talk about the things that matter to them. They can exchange ideas with both each other and with adults – who, after all, are just children who have gone past their use-by date.”

Ms Howden said she isn’t fazed about launching a newspaper at a time when print publications face strong headwinds from digital media and social networks.

“Crinkling News is first and foremost a newspaper,” she said, adding: “I think kids know better than us the pleasure in that tactile newspaper experience – they’re lapping it up the world over.”

UK newspaper First News, on which Crinkling News is based, has more than two million readers a week according to its website, and there are similar publications in France, Germany, Austria, Norway and India.

Crinkling News is available via subscription here.

Woodside upbeat on Myanmar and overseas

Woodside Petroleum is upbeat about its growth prospects in Myanmar as it looks to snap up assets amid low oil prices.

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The energy giant has made two gas discoveries in the Rakhine Basin in Myanmar over the past six months, and chief executive Peter Coleman said more detail on the company’s plans to generate revenue there would be provided soon.

“The investor day in May will give a better line of sight to where we think commerciality in Myanmar will come from,” he told reporters after the company’s annual general meeting.

Shareholders delivered a so-called first strike during the meeting, with more than 27 per cent of votes going against Woodside’s pay for senior executives.

A no vote of 25 per cent or more at next year’s AGM could lead to the Woodside board being spilled and all directors needing to be re-elected.

Mr Coleman’s remuneration totalled $US7.55 million in 2015, down from $US8.46 million in 2014, while the company’s net profit plunged 99 per cent to $US26 million.

He said the company would examine its remuneration policies in the coming months.

“We will work with the board and go through a very thoughtful process,” he said after the meeting.

“The current structure is driving the right behaviours. I don’t feel it’s doing anything other than focusing on long term shareholder value.”

Mr Coleman also expressed confidence in the company’s governance processes, in the wake of recent allegations that energy services company UNAOIL has corrupted the global oil industry by delivering millions in bribes on behalf of well-known multinationals.

Some Woodside staff have left the company in the past for violating the company’s code of ethics, he acknowledged.

“That’s a testament to the seriousness in which we take our code of ethics,” Mr Coleman said.

“The controls and processes we have in place to discover unethical acts is industry-leading in many ways.”

US queries China’s SCS intentions

US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken has questioned China’s intentions with its massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea during a visit to Vietnam.

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“The United States and Vietnam share the interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region. So do China. But its massive land reclamation project in the South China Sea and increasing militarisation of these outposts fuel regional tension and raise serious questions about China’s intentions,” Blinken said during a speech to several hundred students at Vietnam’s National University in Hanoi.

China claims the entire South China sea, a water area believed to be rich in oil and gas and is one of the world’s busiest maritime lines.

The territorial claim is disputed by other countries in the region, including Vietnam and the Philippines.

“The United States will defend our national interest and support our allies and partners in the region. We are not looking for bases, but we will continue to sail, to fly, to operate anywhere that international laws allow,” he said.

Blinken said the United States welcomes China’s peaceful rise and that he hoped China will “act in accordance with international norms and rules and laws”, because that not only benefits China but also other countries.

He said ignoring those rules and the laws would alienate many countries and over time diminish and not expand China’s power.

Blinken’s trip comes ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama to Hanoi in late May, when he is expected to discuss a range of issues, including the South china Sea and human rights, with Vietnam’s leaders.

Blinken said the Vietnamese government should release all political prisoners it is holding and stop arresting those who are “exercising their internationally recognised rights”.