Grand final is bigger than me: Cronk

We’re not going to blow this because of me.

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That was the message from Cooper Cronk as Melbourne brace for a whirlwind of emotion and hype in the lead-up to next Sunday’s NRL grand final.

After disposing of Brisbane 30-0 on Friday night, the minor premiers are 80 minutes away from sending out departing star Cronk with a fairytale title win.

The Storm have dropped just four of 26 matches this year and will head into the season decider as the overwhelming favourites.

Cronk will run out for his seventh grand final at ANZ Stadium, the first to achieve the feat since Brisbane great and Queensland coach Kevin Walters.

So much of the build-up will centre around the Storm, Queensland and Australian halfback, and whether he will retire after the match or play on with a Sydney-based club next year.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Cronk said when asked if he will retire after the grand final.

“The whole point is I’m going to try and do everything for this footy team to have a memorable 2017.

“Once it’s all done and dusted, I’ll be a bit emotional about it all. But at some stage between then and, hopefully, a World Cup, there’ll be a decision made.”

After 323 first-grade games for the Storm, Cronk will be remembered as one of their all-time greats.

With champion fullback Billy Slater also contemplating retirement, the Storm will have no shortage of motivation.

Wary of his teammates getting caught up in the emotion of his last game in a purple jumper, Cronk implored them not to make it about him.

The Storm were pushed all the way by Parramatta in their week-one finals victory and afterwards coach Craig Bellamy said they suffered nerves as skipper Cameron Smith broke Darren Lockyer’s all-time most games record.

Asked if he was worried his final game could affect him and his teammates, Cronk said: “Not at all.

“There’s been a few distractions this year. The one thing that no matter the distraction, no matter the storyline, no matter the subplot to this week, it all comes down to the performance on Sunday night.

“That won’t change no matter the headlines written about me or anyone else. It’s not about the individual, it’s about this team, it’s about this footy club, it’s about how you can be at your best on Sunday night.”

DJ accused of headbutting Abbott says alleged act wasn’t about same-sex marriage

A Hobart DJ accused of headbutting Tony Abbott says the alleged act has nothing to do with marriage equality.

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Astro Labe, 38, was on Friday charged with assaulting the former prime minister as he walked along the Hobart waterside to his hotel on Thursday afternoon.

Labe said he spotted Mr Abbott on the street and went over to shake his hand before leaning in for a headbutt.

0:00 DJ headbutted Abbott, not over SSM Share DJ headbutted Abbott, not over SSM

“I picked up pace and went ‘Tony, Tony, can I shake your hand?’,” he said.

“Apparently he got a fat lip but he didn’t have one this morning.”

0:00 Tony Abbott speaks about the moment he was ‘headbutted’ by man wearing a same-sex marriage badge Share Tony Abbott speaks about the moment he was ‘headbutted’ by man wearing a same-sex marriage badge

Labe said he hated Mr Abbott, telling 7 News: “I saw him across the street and never thought I’d get a chance to headbutt that c*** again.”

Mr Abbott told reporters he suffered minor injuries and was left shocked by the encounter.

Labe said he was wearing a ‘yes’ sticker supporting the same-sex marriage campaign but the attempted headbutt was inspired by a general dislike for Mr Abbott and not one issue in particular.

“Coincidentally, some friend had put a sticker on me,” he said.

Labe is expected to face court in October.

Altitude worries all in our heads: Cheika

Michael Cheika has challenged the Wallabies to produce the mental strength required to smash their hoodoo on South Africa’s Highveld.

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Australia has won just three Test matches in the high-altitude cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein – and only one in the last 54 years.

But Cheika reckons their poor record isn’t down to the physical challenges of playing 1500m above sea level.

“I don’t know, I just think it might be in our head,” Cheika said at Sydney Airport on Saturday as the team departed for next weekend’s clash with the Springboks in Bloemfontein.

“You’ve just got to go there and do your best.

“For us, it’s just about this group of players getting a bit smarter, playing a bit more consistently. Then we’ll see where we land.

“This one in particular … It’s been a while since we’ve won there and, to be honest, we haven’t accumulated a whole lot of wins over there, full stop.

“And if we want to take stepping stones to be a better team, we’ve got to be able to be mentally strong enough.”

The Wallabies sit third in the Rugby Championship and are unbeaten in their last two games, following a 23-23 draw with South Africa in Perth and a 45-20 triumph over Argentina in Canberra.

But they are bracing for a stinging response from the Springboks, who are coming off a 57-0 belting against the All Blacks – the team’s worst defeat in history.

Cheika doesn’t think his counterpart Alister Coetzee will swing the selection axe in response.

“I think they’ll stay solid. I can’t see them making a lot of changes,” he said.

“They’ve had a good run until last weekend so I can’t believe they’d be making changes too swiftly.”

Adam Coleman (rib) is the only fitness worry in the 32-man Wallabies squad, with Cheika saying the second-row enforcer will be monitored closely.

The team will set up camp in Johannesburg before moving operations to Bloemfontein on Thursday afternoon. The Wallabies complete their two-week tour with a clash with the Pumas in Mendoza in a fortnight.

‘Personal hatred’ inspired Abbott headbutt

A Hobart DJ who headbutted Tony Abbott says he did it because of a “personal hatred” for the former leader, but Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz insists the assault is linked to the ‘yes’ campaign.

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Astro Labe, 38, has been charged with assaulting Mr Abbott as he walked along the Hobart waterside to his hotel on Thursday afternoon.

Labe, a DJ and self-confessed anarchist, was wearing a ‘yes’ sticker when he spotted Mr Abbott on the street and went over to shake his hand before leaning in for a headbutt.

He said he simply wanted to hit Mr Abbott because of a “personal hatred” towards him rather than about the marriage equality debate.

“All it was is I saw Tony Abbott and I’d had half a skinful and I wanted to nut the c*** … That’s just my personal hatred,” he told News Corp Australia.

“Coincidentally, some friend had put a (yes) sticker on me. It had absolutely nothing to do with that.”

However, Mr Abbott, who was left shocked but unscathed after the encounter, claimed it was “ugliness” as part of the same-sex marriage debate.

Gay rights activists and politicians from both major parties condemned the violence.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rang Mr Abbott on Thursday night and later described the attack as disgraceful.

Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said the violence was un-Australian, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten tweeted it was unacceptable.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said the man was not connected with the state’s pro-gay marriage campaign.

“There’s no link between his attacker and the marriage equality campaign over and above a lapel badge,” he told AAP.

But Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz on Saturday said some ‘yes’ campaigners appear to support Labe’s actions on social media.

He said the National Union of Students LGBTI group’s meme of the postal vote survey with the photoshopped question “Should Tony Abbott be headbutted” appear to endorse Labe’s actions.

Labe is expected to face the Hobart Magistrates Court on one count of common assault on October 23.

US city of St Louis sued over police response to protests

Rights activists in St Louis sued the Midwestern US city Friday over the police response to unrest sparked by the acquittal of a white officer in the death of a black suspect.

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The lawsuit, brought on behalf of two protesters by the American Civil Liberties Union, accused police of misconduct during three days of public mayhem last weekend, as protesters broke windows, clashed with officers in riot gear, and vandalized the mayor’s home.

The civil rights group accused police of illegal arrests, improper use of chemical-based weapons such as pepper spray, and of interfering with people video recording officers’ activities.

“While long shifts and being the subject of the protest is understandably challenging for police, that is no excuse for violating the Constitution,” the ACLU’s Tony Rothert said in a statement.

The demonstrations were prompted by the acquittal last Friday of a former police officer, Jason Stockley, who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith following a 2011 car chase. Smith was suspected of drug dealing. 

Prosecutors alleged Stockley had planned to kill Smith and planted a gun in his vehicle to justify his actions. But a judge sided with Stockley, who maintains his innocence, saying there was not enough evidence to convict. 

Police responded with force to the ensuing protests, and demonstrators complained that police at times arrested innocent bystanders and used pepper spray at will, even when not threatened.  

Amid heightening criticism this week, Mayor Lyda Krewson canceled scheduled public meetings and promised abuse claims would be investigated. 

“Intimidation is not conduct that lives up to the standard of behavior expected by City police officers or any City employee,” Krewson said in a statement Tuesday.

‘It’s a drag race’: Voting under way in knife-edge New Zealand election

New Zealand was voting Saturday in a cliffhanger election pitting conservative Prime Minister Bill English against charismatic young rival Jacinda Ardern.

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The campaign has been the most volatile in recent memory, with momentum swinging from English to Ardern and then back again. 

“This election is going to be really close … it’s a drag race between the two big parties,” English said on the hustings Friday, conceding a large undecided vote could prove key.

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No party has claimed a majority government in New Zealand’s 120-seat parliament since proportional voting was adopted in 1996 and this election is unlikely to change that.

Opinion polls show either English’s conservative National Party or Ardern’s centre-left Labour could be in a position to form a government late Saturday.

Another possibility is that there will be no winner on the night with both major parties seeking coalition partners to get them over the line.

If that happens, populist anti-immigration campaigner Winston Peters New Zealand First party looms as a potential kingmaker.

Polling booths opened at 9am local time (2100 GMT Friday) and will close at 7pm (0700 GMT).

What do you do on #nzelection day if you can’t talk to voters? @jacindaardern: paint the front fence. @pmbillenglish: coffeeshop photo op. pic南京夜生活,/b0jfk5M0yS

— Nastasya Tay (@NastasyaTay) September 23, 2017

There are 3.2 million registered voters, more than a million of whom cast their ballots early.

Ardern is hoping a high youth vote will counter her recent dip in the polls and has visited universities across the country encouraging students to cast their ballots.

“This is going to come down to whether or not people turn out and vote,” she said Friday.

Candidates do not publicly comment on election day Saturday because of strict Electoral Commission rules banning publication of political material while polling booths are open.

The blackout restricts media reporting to how and where to vote and means there are no exit polls to give the country a gauge of how the election is progressing.

0:00 National Party ahead of Labour before poll Share National Party ahead of Labour before poll

‘Jacinda-mania’

English’s National Party was in the driving seat to win a fourth term until Ardern took over the Labour Party last month.

The 37-year-old galvanised support for the ailing centre-left party, giving it a 20-point popularity boost to bring it level with National.

Arden accuses the government of inertia, saying that after three terms it has run out of ideas on issues such as housing affordability and protecting the environment. 

Her policy platform includes free tertiary education and slashing immigration to reduce pressure on housing and infrastructure. 

Ardern is bidding to become New Zealand’s youngest leader since 1856 and only the third woman to lead the South Pacific nation of 4.6 million people. 

But the “Jacinda-mania” phenomenon waned as English attacked her financial credibility while pointing to his economic record over the past nine years.

The 55-year-old ex-farmer and father-of-six, who took over as prime minister when John Key stepped down last December, argues only National can maintain strong economic growth.

English also wants to make amends for his last leadership foray in 2002, when National slumped to a record defeat and won barely 20 percent of the vote. 

0:00 Jacinda vs Bill: The race for New Zealand Share Jacinda vs Bill: The race for New Zealand

While tipping a close race, he is confident National can win a fourth term, a feat no New Zealand government has achieved in more than 50 years. 

The wildcard for both English and Ardern is Peters, whose party could decide the outcome of the election if it is as tight as polls predict. 

The 72-year-old political veteran has shown in the past that he will back either side if the right offer is made.

In 1996, he helped instal a National-led government in return for being made deputy prime minister, then in 2005 he joined a Labour coalition after being given the job of foreign minister. 

He has been coy about who he would support in this election, adding another layer of uncertainty to a white-knuckle vote.

0:00 Up to the voters now: Ardern Share Up to the voters now: Ardern

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Oil the key to North Korea crisis: Bishop

The “game changer” in the sanctions effort to force North Korea to the negotiating table and deter its nuclear ambitions is China reducing oil exports to the rogue regime, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says.

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Ms Bishop, at an Asia Society event hosted by former political rival and prime minister Kevin Rudd in New York on Friday, said China, North Korea’s most important trading partner, was “engaged in very serious dialogue” with the US on finding a solution to the crisis.

“I actually believe oil is the game changer in the sanctions regime,” Ms Bishop said.

“China is clearly open to using its undoubted leverage – economic leverage.

“I’m not suggesting diplomatic, but economic leverage over North Korea and from my discussions with the US administration I’m confident the US and China are engaged in very serious dialogue about how they are going to bring North Korea to the negotiating table.”

Ms Bishop has been in New York the past week representing Australia at the United Nations General Assembly.

She has had discussions with US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Ms Bishop praised Mr Trump for persuading China to become involved in the effort to force North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to end his nuclear and missile program.

“It’s worth noting up until the Trump administration’s inauguration China was of the view that this was not their problem,” Ms Bishop said.

“This was an issue between Pyongyang and Washington.

“I think China has now become part of the group working on the solution.”

On September 11 the UN Security Council, including permanent member China, approved stringent sanctions on North Korea including reducing about 30 per cent of oil provided to North Korea.

China is the main supplier of oil to North Korea.

“I think economic sanctions will get tougher,” Ms Bishop said.

“The United States has announced they will do more.

“I believe China will do more and we need Russia to be inside the tent and Australia of course will play its part.”

We can pick India’s ODI spinners: Warner

David Warner has rejected suggestions Australia’s batsmen can’t pick India’s spinners ahead of Sunday’s must-win one-day international.

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Australia are reeling at 0-2 after another batting collapse had scotched any hope of levelling the series in Kolkata.

Spin has claimed 10 of the 19 Australian wickets to fall in the first two games and India will be full of confidence ahead of Sunday’s third match in Indore where India could clinch the series.

Left-armer Kuldeep Yadav, who became the third Indian bowler to snare a hat-trick in Thursday’s match in Kolkata, believes he has the wood on Warner.

In five innings facing the 22-year-old, Warner has been out to him four times.

While he didn’t face Kuldeep in game two, Warner misread a wrong’un in Chennai before nicking a slider to the keeper.

That’s the exception rather than the rule, according to the powerful opener.

“I find that the players can read them and there’s the odd one or two that you probably can’t see the seam and then the players react off the wicket,” Warner said.

“If you get off to a good start and the spinners come on, it’s a different game.”

Much has been made of Australia’s deficiencies against spin on the subcontinent.

But Warner isn’t making excuses for the senior contingent who are no strangers to Indian conditions.

“You should know the conditions very well,” Warner said.

“In saying that, when you’re out there, it’s totally different. You become tentative.

“The game situation dictates. If you lose a couple of wickets, what do you do? Do you use your feet? Do you play with one stride?

“They’re the things that you have to work out and adapt when you’re here.”

Aaron Finch is in the mix to partner Warner in the third ODI after training strongly on Saturday.

He could force Hilton Cartwright out of the side, while Peter Handscomb might also be considered, with a flat wicket and short boundaries at the Holkar Stadium.

Thousands in UK sign ‘save uber’ petition

Save Your Uber in London was set up on the Change.

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org website after it was announced the firm would not have its licence renewed when it expires on September 30.

The petition had gained more than 400,000 signatures by Friday evening, just hours after being launched.

TfL said Uber was “not fit and proper” to operate in the capital and that it took the decision on the grounds of “public safety and security implications”.

But Uber, which is used by 3.5 million people and 40,000 drivers in London, hit back, saying it would appeal and claiming the move “would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies”.

A union representing Uber drivers said its members face going bust as they rely on money from fares to pay for their cars.

Uber enables users to book cars using their smartphones and is available in more than 40 towns and cities across the UK.

Despite its popularity there had been growing speculation the app could be banned in the city.

Opponents of the firm claim it causes gridlocked roads and does not do enough to regulate drivers.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he wants London to be “at the forefront of innovation and new technology” but insisted that companies must “play by the rules”.

He went on: “Providing an innovative service must not be at the expense of customer safety and security.

“I fully support TfL’s decision – it would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety and security.

“Any operator of private hire services in London needs to play by the rules.”

Uber’s general manager in London Tom Elvidge claimed users of its app “will be astounded by this decision”.

He said: “By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice.

“If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport.

Last month, Uber was accused by police of allowing a driver who sexually assaulted a passenger to strike again by not reporting the attack, along with other serious crimes.

Moody’s downgrades UK’s rating on Brexit

Ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded Britain’s credit rating, saying the government’s plans to bring down its heavy debt load had been knocked off course and Brexit would weigh on the economy.

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A few hours after Prime Minister Theresa May set out plans on Friday for new ties with the European Union, Moody’s cut the rating by a further notch to Aa2, underscoring the economic risks that leaving the bloc poses for the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

Britain has worked down its budget deficit from about 10 per cent of economic output in 2010, shortly after the global financial crisis hammered the country, to 2.3 per cent.

But Moody’s – which stripped Britain of its top-notch AAA rating in 2013 – said the outlook for public finances had weakened significantly as May’s government softened the austerity drive of former prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne.

The government hit back, saying Moody’s assessment of the Brexit hit to the economy was “outdated” and that May had set out an “ambitious vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU” in her speech on Friday.

But a Moody’s official said the speech made no difference to the agency’s gloomy long-term view for Britain’s economy.

“Having looked at Theresa May’s speech, I don’t think there is anything in there which would in any way make us change our assessment,” Alastair Wilson, managing director of global sovereign risk at Moody’s, told BBC radio on Saturday.

“Over the next few years, we have a lot less confidence that the UK’s government is going to be able to fulfil its plans to bring the debt load back down, and this is an extremely high debt load that the UK has, or to be able to achieve some form of agreement with the EU which retains a substantial share of the rights that membership of the EU grants,” he said.

Moody’s verdict will be grim reading for May and her finance minister Philip Hammond, who is under pressure to spend more in his budget plan, due in November.

After seven years of austerity, a recent relaxation of a tight public sector pay cap for police and prison workers was likely to be broadened, Moody’s said.

“Overall, Moody’s expects spending to be significantly higher than under the government’s current budgetary plans,” Moody’s said.

Moody’s said it was no longer confident that Britain would secure a replacement free trade agreement with the EU which substantially mitigated the Brexit hit.

The sheer workload of Brexit in the coming years meant the government would struggle to fix Britain’s weak productivity growth, the Achilles heel of the economy, it said.

Britain’s government said Moody’s move brought it into line with the other major credit ratings agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.