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Bird rubbed out of Origin by judiciary

A crestfallen Greg Bird has been rubbed out of the entire State of Origin series after copping an eight-game ban at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.


After deliberating for just nine minutes the judiciary panel of Chris McKenna, Bronson Harrison and Mal Cochrane upheld Bird’s grade two dangerous throw charge for his tackle on Kiwi winger Jason Nightingale in the Kangaroos’ Test loss on Sunday.

The NSW enforcer will not be available until the Gold Coast’s round 19 fixture against Newcastle.

Bird declined to comment after the verdict was handed out. Instead Titans coach Neil Henry made a brief statement to waiting media.

“Obviously we are very disappointed in the outcome,” Henry said.

“We thought we made a strong case for a downgrade – grade two to grade one – and we thought we had evidence to prove that.

“Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with the judiciary.

“As a club we are very disappointed to lose the services of Greg for an extended period of time.”

Bird’s defence counsel Jim Hall unsuccessfully argued that Australian back-rower Corey Parker held the greater responsibility for Nightingale ending up in a dangerous position.

“There was low force from player Bird (but) the force from player Parker was high or moderate,” Hall said.

“The three players (including Australian winger Alex Johnston) played a part in the tackle going wrong.

“Player Parker took control of the tackle and pulled the player down.”

Bird had pleaded guilty to a dangerous throw but had sought a downgrade from a grade one to a grade two.

However judiciary prosecutor Peter McGrath successfully argued that “the danger or the potential of danger is what makes the grading appropriate.

“There is nothing trivial about it.”

Through numerous angles of the tackle McGrath said that Bird had “re-gripped” or made a “second effort” in tackling Nightingale and then lifting the St George Illawarra star into a dangerous position.

McGrath said that not Parke nor Johnston had contributed to the position Nightingale was placed in.

“Player Parker really lessens the force or impetus,” McGrath said.

In giving evidence Bird conceded it was “an awkward tackle” but said: “I’m suggesting it wasn’t a lifting movement, I wasn’t in control”.

Trent Merrin shapes as the most likely replacement for Bird in NSW’s back-row with Boyd Cordner and Josh Jackson among the other possibilities.

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Wiggins wants to put Hour record beyond reach

A few weeks after fellow Briton Alex Dowsett set a new world record of 52.


937 kilometres in Manchester, Olympic time trial champion Wiggins says it is not a matter of “if” he can better that distance, but by how much.

“It sounds a bit horrible to say, but I think I could break the record tomorrow,” the 35-year-old Wiggins, who recently left Team Sky to return to the track, said in an interview in The Times on Wednesday.

“But I don’t just want to break it, I want to put it right up there, as far out of reach as I can.”

The seven-times Olympic medallist who left his track roots to become the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012, believes he can add two kilometres to Dowsett’s mark.

“I’ve got 55km in my head and I believe that’s realistic,” he said. “And I think if I do that it will stand for 20 years.”

Wiggins is not downplaying the iconic challenge which has seen four riders break the record in the last eight months, but believes riding around 220 laps of the velodrome at virtually full bore is no worse than anything he faced on the road.

“I don’t see it as being any harder than climbing the Ventoux to save fourth place in the Tour de France,” he said.

“I can’t see it being any harder than keeping concentration for three weeks to win the Tour, or riding around Hampton Court with the weight of expectation to win Olympic gold.

“I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations, I know what I can do.”

“The challenge is dealing with the heat, the crowd, pacing yourself early when the crowd is egging you on,” he added.

Once he has completed his Hour attempt, his focus will return to Rio 2016 where Wiggins is eyeing a fifth Olympic gold medal and a British record-extending eighth in all.

“Whatever happens, that’ll be it after Rio,” he said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Proxy votes back BHP Billiton spin-off

The non-core parts of BHP Billiton look almost certain to be spun off into a new entity, with proxy votes backing the South32 demerger as expected.


At the conclusion of a general meeting in Perth, it was revealed 97.2 per cent of BHP Billiton Ltd’s shareholders and 98.1 per cent of BHP Billiton Plc investors had voted in favour of the proposal.

The final count will not be known until late on Wednesday, but the proxy votes represent the majority of the mining giant’s investors.

BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser earlier told the meeting the company had considered all options before settling on South32, which bundles together aluminium, base metals, silver, manganese and coal assets.

“We believe the demerger is likely to create more value than other alternatives, including asset sales,” Mr Nasser said.

“It means we will have a greater focus on operating our core businesses.

“South32 will have a strong balance sheet, giving it the ability to pursue its own growth and investment opportunities … that may not be pursued if its assets remain within BHP Billiton.”

He conceded the upfront costs were high at about $730 million, but insisted the long-term benefits would be worth it, with South32 chief executive Graham Kerr targeting some $4 billion in savings through productivity improvements.

“The payback on what we’re doing will be substantial,” Mr Nasser said.

During the meeting, shareholders expressed concern about the tax implications of the spin-off, while one investor suggested it was effectively unwinding the historic merger of BHP and Billiton in 2001, which Mr Nasser rejected.

BHP Billiton has divested more than $6.5 billion worth of assets over the past three years.

The spin-off will slash its portfolio from 41 to 19 projects, with the focus being petroleum, iron ore, copper, potash and coal.

Both companies are involved in thermal and metallurgical coal, but the projects have been divided up, with those less likely to compete for capital within BHP Billiton going to South32.

The South32 coal assets also happen to be in South Africa and Australia, so can be administered from Perth and Johannesburg under the company’s regional model.

The leaner BHP Billiton is adamant about keeping its weight off, with chief executive Andrew Mackenzie saying few projects would meet the mining giant’s acquisition criteria.

“They’re not going to fall off backs of lorries very quickly,” Mr Mackenzie told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting.

“We’re not really interested in buying back complexity.”

The company would rather invest further in its pared back, existing portfolio, he said.

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Porte primed for Giro assault

Lifestyle changes have Richie Porte feeling his best days are arriving as he prepares his assault on the Giro d’Italia starting on Saturday.


The 30-year-old Tasmanian has been in career-best form and is rated a big chance to become Australia’s first grand tour winner since Cadel Evans’ breakthrough at the 2011 Tour de France.

With stage race wins at Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino already this season, Porte will lead a powerful nine-man Team Sky outfit announced on Tuesday with strong climbing support for the crucial mountains stages in the three-week race.

His bid to become the first Australian to win the Giro comes a year after illness forced him to miss the race and ultimately cut his season short.

In a revealing interview with cyclingnews广西桑拿,, Porte indicates he’s gone to another level this year because of lessons learned from his miserable 2014.

Already an elite general classification rider, he has lost about five kilograms after changing his diet and cutting his alcohol intake.

Away from cycling, getting engaged brought more perspective.

“Last season was tough in lots of ways but it was a blessing in disguise,” Porte told Cyclingnews.

“One of our team doctors said to me at the time ‘There’s obviously something not right with your health but you’re not living the lifestyle of a professional bike rider.’

“For me that was a big kick up the backside and the one I needed the most.”

“…I think I’ve really turned the corner in my career and this Giro d’Italia is a big opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it.”

He added: “You have a limited time to be a professional but I think I’m coming into my heyday now and I’m certainly going to make the most of it.”

While many riders prefer to focus their season around the Tour de France in July, the Giro has great resonance for Porte.

The former triathlete raced in Tuscany as an amateur for three seasons before starting out on his pro career.

And he really made his name in the 2010 Giro, wearing the leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa, for three days and winning the young rider classification after finishing seventh overall in his grand tour debut.

Porte’s team includes key climbing allies in Spaniard Mikel Nieve, Kanstantsin Siutsou of Belarus, exciting 21-year-old Colombian Sebastian Henao and Czech newcomer Leopold Koenig.

Also in the line up are seasoned road captain Bernhard Eisel, Belarussia’s Vasil Kiryienka, who won mountain stage victories 2008 and 2011, and Italians Salvatore Puccio and Elia Viviani.

Last year’s winner Nairo Quintana and Tour de France champion Vicenzo Nibali are notable absentees from the race.

However, Porte can expect major challenges from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Astana’s Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

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Alonso back in the Spanish spotlight

Bookmakers were last week offering better odds, before the birth, on Britain’s latest royal baby being named Macbeth than on Fernando Alonso’s McLaren team winning at the Circuit de Catalunya.


They are now a more reasonable 250-1 on the Spaniard, winner in Barcelona with Ferrari in 2013 and Renault in 2006, and team mate Jenson Button although just getting into the points for the first time this year will be a big step up for the ex-champions.

Alonso, who will attend an FIA news conference on Thursday, will be very much in the spotlight however on his return to the circuit where he crashed heavily in pre-season testing.

That accident ruled him out of the opening race in Australia and triggered all kinds of conspiracy theories about his condition and what had ‘really’ caused the crash.

Neither McLaren nor Alonso made any mention of the incident in their pre-race preview, preferring to focus on improvements they expect to see in the first race of the European season.

“I’m incredibly happy to be heading back to Europe, to my home country and racing in front of the loyal Spanish fans,” said Alonso.

“We are seeing improvements race by race, and I want to ensure that we maintain this consistency throughout this weekend.

“Although we won’t be fighting for victory in Barcelona, I know I can count on the support of the fans to bring even more motivation during the whole weekend, which will be very special.”


After a three week gap, the fifth round of the season will be closely watched for signs of any shift in the pecking order with teams bringing upgrades to their cars now they have had time back at the factory.

The battle at the front, however, is still likely to be between Mercedes, with double world champion Hamilton in commanding form, and resurgent Ferrari.

The Briton, who posted on Instagram a photograph of himself ringside at last weekend’s Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquaio welterweight unification bout in Las Vegas, is up for another fight.

“Having tasted success there (Barcelona) for the first time last year, I want to do it in even better style this time,” said 2014 winner Hamilton, who has a 27 point lead over team mate Nico Rosberg.

Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff added: “Lewis is in the zone right now, probably driving as well as he has ever done, and Nico showed his teeth in Bahrain with some forceful overtaking and a strong, aggressive race.

“We’re expecting more of the same in Spain.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)

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