Broncos can still win title: Bennett

A worrying stat may suggest otherwise but Wayne Bennett insists Brisbane can still win the NRL premiership ahead of Thursday night’s crunch clash with North Queensland.

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Bennett claimed the Broncos had moved on from last round’s shock 52-34 loss to Parramatta and believed they were “in as good a position as anyone” to claim the 2017 title.

Brisbane are guaranteed a top four spot and can finish as high as second with victory over a desperate North Queensland in Townsville.

However, their premiership credentials took a major hit from the Parramatta juggernaut last round.

It was just the second time in Broncos club history they had conceded 50 points at Suncorp Stadium.

But a much more concerning stat was expected to trouble Bennett ahead of the NRL finals – no team has conceded 50 points in a game and gone on to win the title in the same season.

Yet Bennett believed Brisbane were still on track for title No.7.

“We are in as good a position as anyone else,” Bennett said of claiming the title.

“A lot of teams aren’t going to be playing next week.

“All of our critics didn’t think we would make the eight so who knows what we can do from here.”

Bennett reacted to last round’s rout by calling in defensive specialist and ex-Broncos hardman Peter Ryan for a morning of brutal tackling drills on Monday.

However, Bennett claimed he was so convinced that last round’s loss was an aberration that he reckoned he did not sit his team down to address the thumping.

“To be honest with you I haven’t actually,” he said.

“And if they had been doing that all season it wouldn’t matter.

“But they haven’t been doing that all season – 21 out of 22 games ain’t bad.

“The team is not built on one defensive display good, bad or indifferent.

“We do it pretty well most weeks. We just had a bad day.”

Another key injury also could not waver Bennett’s faith in his side.

Brisbane received a blow when they lost form prop Korbin Sims (broken arm) for the season against the Eels.

He joins hooker Andrew McCullough (knee) who went down five weeks ago.

Sam Thaiday initially helped fill in for McCullough at rake but will now slot into the front row for Sims with Ben Hunt the starting No.9.

“I have been pretty pleased with how we have covered them (injuries) – I think we are in pretty good shape,” Bennett said.

“We are not overachieving by any means, but there is a lot of upside to this team.”

Bennett confirmed form backrower Alex Glenn would play despite missing Wednesday training with a groin complaint.

UN harshly criticises latest North Korean launch

North Korea’s latest missile test has prompted an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting and drawn sharp criticism from key representatives at the meeting.

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The missile, launched near the North Korean capital Pyongyang, flew 2,700 kilometres before breaking up and falling into the sea off the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

The test came as United States and South Korean forces conducted annual military exercises on the Korean Peninsula, which the North sees as preparation for an invasion.

North Korea has conducted dozens of missile tests under leader Kim Jong-un in defiance of UN sanctions, but firing projectiles over mainland Japan is rare.

Britain’s deputy UN ambassador, Jonathan Alllen, says the world is united in condemning North Korea’s actions.

“The act by North Korea is a reckless provocation. It is an illegal test. It is against international law and against the resolutions that the Security Council has passed unanimously. So we condemn it completely. We call on North Korea to heed the unanimous position of the international community.”

British prime minister Theresa May is due to visit Japan this week, where she says she will discuss missile-testing with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, says more and tougher action must be taken against North Korea.

“What happened yesterday is absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible. We are going to talk about what else is left to do to North Korea. No country should have missiles flying over them like those 130 million people in Japan. It’s unacceptable. They have violated every single UN Security Council resolution that we’ve had. And so I think something serious has to happen. So with all of our partners, what we hope is that China and Russia continue to work with us like they have in the past on North Korea. But I think enough is enough.”

US president Donald Trump has again warned “all options are on the table” as the country considers its response.

Mr Trump says the world has received North Korea’s latest message “loud and clear.”

Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Koro Bessho, says his country values President Trump’s backing.

“We appreciate the very strong support that President Trump is showing to Japan, and we appreciate the fact that he said everything, every option, is on the table. But what the United States does is for the United States to decide.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insists North Korea’s missile program must abide by UN resolutions.

He says Russia fully supports Security Council orders.

“We are all committed to UN Security Council resolutions and insist our North Korean neighbours observe them in full.”

Chinese officials say they feel the United States and South Korea are baiting the North by holding their military exercises in the area, though.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has called for all parties to move towards peace talks.

“In the present situation, China urges all relevant sides not to do anything more to irritate each other or worsen regional tensions. We hope all sides can exercise restraint and jointly protect peace and stability on the Peninsula.”

 

Afghan refugee footballers look for help to keep going

On a football pitch east of Melbourne, the players of Afghan Victory FC greet each other with hugs and handshakes, but it is not long before the business of training gets underway.

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It is a football club for Afghan refugees, established to give purpose and direction to those emerging from chaos.

The man who started it, Zakarya Shojaie, found his players on the streets of suburban Dandenong.

“Teenage boys with no parents, they don’t have any hope for their life. So someone should support them and show them the right way. And I took that responsibility.”

Most of the players are teenage refugees who had lost their homes, their parents and their identities.

Using his own money, Shojaie created a new place for them to belong.

“Sometimes I’m making a joke with them, and I tell them, ‘You are my son,’ because I help them a lot. That’s the good thing for their life.”

Since 2013, Shojaie says, Afghan Victory FC has improved over 50 young lives.

One of those is Mahdi Mahmoodi.

Arriving in Australia four years ago, with no family and no friends, he says the team has given him the life he always hoped for.

“It’s like my second home, especially me, I don’t have anyone here, no family here. But this is my family. We support each other in each way. We help each other.”

Assistant coach Ali Jaan says the team has given the players something to work for every week.

And he says being occupied with training and competing has not only given them something to strive for, but also helped them avoid falling into crime and drug use.

“You know, you don’t get the time to hang around or do something stupid. So this is not just sports, but they’re using their time for a good thing. And we really need support for them.”

A local law firm has provided support with uniforms.

Abode Migration Lawyers know the history of the Afghan refugees better than most.

Lawyer Gerard Gleeson says the firm is doing what it can to support the club.

“Most of these people arrived by boats from Indonesia. Most of these people have had members of their family murdered by the Taliban. They’ve got nowhere to go. They need a help up.”

Much more help is needed.

For four years, Zakarya Shojaie has invested over one-third of his own earnings to fund the Afghan Victory football club, but, a month ago, he was retrenched.

Shojaie has set up a crowdfunding website to raise enough money to stay in operation for at least another year, but, without a major sponsor, the club faces an uncertain future.

Captain Ahmed Hassani says it would be devastating if they could no longer continue, because none of the players could afford to join mainstream clubs.

“If the club were to close, it would be a shame, because it’s not only a club, it’s like a family. And we’d like to continue.”

As Zakarya Shojaie sees it, it is a family with big dreams of glory.

“One of the special things, these kids are playing and trying, and they hope one day a few of them play for the Socceroos, for the Australia national team. It’s their wish.”

 

Missile defence flagged over Korea threats

The federal government is considering upgrading the Navy’s new air warfare destroyers to include missile defence shields after “very irregular behaviour” by North Korea, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne says.

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Following the rogue nation’s latest missile launch, Mr Pyne says Australia may modify the $1.3 billion defence system announced in June to be seaborne rather than land-borne.

“In the defence white paper, and the integrated investment plan, upgrades of the warfare destroyer capabilities have been already flagged,” he told reporters in Adelaide on Wednesday.

But he said a weapon similar to the United States’ land-based missile defence shield could take as long as 10 years to build and cost at least $10 billion.

Protection from intercontinental ballistic missiles will also be considered for the nine frigates being built in Adelaide.

The highly lethal submarines, also being built in Adelaide, would give Australia a “path to sovereignty” and become the regional power in the South Pacific, Mr Pyne said.

French contractor Naval Group will construct those warships and announced at their headquarters’ launch on Wednesday they have enlisted three local companies.

Mr Pyne said a recognised definition of a local build was 60 per cent but a major priority of the project would be to maximise local involvement.

Australian industry inclusion is expected to add about 2800 jobs annually – 1100 of those directly employed and 1700 in the supply chain.

Premier Jay Weatherill said the South Australian and federal governments were on the same page on this issue.

“There are just so many jobs that are going to flow from the future submarines, future frigates and future patrol boats program,” he said.

“The challenge for us is to make sure we have the people with the skills, the businesses with the capabilities to take advantage of these contracts.”

Coffey Services Australia, Andrew Symonds and Precision Hydrographic Services will assist with surveying and are the first of many companies to benefit from the $50 billion project, Mr Pyne says.

“This announcement today is worth approximately $1 million for these three businesses and will support 26 jobs here in Adelaide,” he said.

$158m spent on govt overseas air travel

Almost $158 million of taxpayer money was spent on international flights across Australian government departments and agencies last financial year.

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Defence was the biggest spender in 2016-17, accounting for nearly a third of the total bill with $58.6 million going on overseas air travel.

It was followed by Foreign Affairs and Trade and its agencies ($30.3 million) and Immigration and Border Protection ($18 million).

Immigration spent nearly $1.8 million alone on flights with Air Niugini – the national airline of Papua New Guinea, home to Manus Island detention centre.

Qantas bagged the lion’s share of the travel spend, getting paid about $57.6 million, ahead of ahead of Virgin Australia ($16.5 million).

Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines both received almost $12 million each.

The figures were released by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in response to a question from Labor senator Jenny Macallister earlier this month.

TOP 5 PORTFOLIO AGENCIES

Defence – $58,583,831

Foreign Affairs and Trade – $30,373,758

Immigration and Border Protection – $17,993,889

Industry, Innovation and Science – $11,699,107

Attorney-General’s Department – $10,529,212

TOP 10 AIRLINES

Qantas Airways – $57,616,265

Virgin Australia – $16,510,433

Etihad Airways – $11,981,092

Singapore Airlines – $11,935,776

Emirates Airlines – $9,915,816

British Airways – $4,531,307

Qatar Airways – $4,114,310

Air Niugini – $2,993,159

Cathay Pacific Airways – $2,632,748

Air New Zealand – $2,184,522