Rio fog strands World Cup fans at Brazil airports on game day

The closures rippled through Brazil’s domestic networks, underscoring the World Cup’s dependence on smooth air travel as fans and teams bounce between 12 host cities sprawled across the world’s fifth-largest country in terms of area.

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The bad weather closed Rio’s Santos Dumont airport for hours in the early morning, cancelling over one-third of departures from the downtown domestic hub and from Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport at the other end of Brazil’s busiest route.

“You can’t blame the organizers for fog, but it really is a letdown,” said U.S. expatriate Michael Hayden. His brother’s flight from Chicago to Rio was also diverted, ruining their chances of catching an afternoon game together.

Santos Dumont reopened as the morning fog burned off, but tight bookings meant 27 of 63 departures had been cancelled by 11 a.m. Foul weather in the southern city of Curitiba also delayed 50 percent of flights, according to Infraero, the state airport operator.

The closures rippled throughout Brazil’s domestic networks, underscoring the World Cup’s dependence on smooth air travel as fans and teams bounce between the 12 host cities sprawled across the world’s fifth-largest country by area.

Airlines have warned a drop in business travel during the month-long tournament may hurt revenue, while the scrutiny of travelling fans could put a harsh spotlight on an industry that already suffers delays under the best of conditions.

“I don’t know who’s going to win the games, but the airlines are going to lose with the World Cup,” said Enrique Cueto, chief executive officer of LATAM Airlines, at an industry event in March.

“If you do things right with operations, you can wind up with a draw,” he said. “You get it wrong, and you don’t get to a game on time and you’ll soon see what you get.”

Outrage was easy to find among the hundreds of travellers who packed waiting areas at Santos Dumont. Sofiane Bekhe, an Algerian stuck in Rio while his team warmed up to play Belgium, seethed at the idea of missing the one match for which he had tickets.

“I paid 6,000 euros (4,790.22 pounds) to come to Brazil and I can’t see the game,” said Bekhe, who lives in Paris. “I’ve been in Brazil three days and I just want to go home.”

President Dilma Rousseff made it a priority to overhaul old and overcrowded airports before the tournament. A handful of concessions attracted millions in private investments, but most airports are still run by Infraero, which finished few of the renovations promised in host cities before the Cup.

No major work was planned at Santos Dumont and Congonhas, both of which are hemmed in by their central locations in Rio and Sao Paulo, at the centre of domestic networks run by Gol Linhas Aereas SA and TAM, the local unit of Latam Airlines Group SA.

(Editing by Todd Benson and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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Belief the buzz word in Kagawa’s psychological battles

Unable to hold up the ball or link with Japan’s central playmaker Keisuke Honda, Kagawa was replaced by Yoichiro Kakitani in the final minutes of the Group C match.

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“If this is the result, this says a lot about me,” he told reporters.

The once unthinkable prospect of Kagawa missing out on the starting lineup for the next match against Greece on Thursday is now a possibility with the player revealing his mental anguish before the Ivory Coast clash.

“I lost a battle with myself,” Kagawa told Kyodo News this week.

“There was pressure and nerves and at the start I made mistakes and I’m taking a good look at myself. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm and was beaten psychologically.

“We went into the match thinking we would be able to do well going forward, but both myself and the team were stiff and couldn’t move well.”

Kagawa was not the only one who struggled in a limp display by the Asian champions after they had taken the lead through a sumptuous strike by Honda in the 16th minute.

CONFIDENCE SHATTERED

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni had called for his talented team to believe in themselves prior to the match, but their confidence shattered and the panic set in as they struggled to keep their powerful attacking opponents at bay.

The Italian coach is known for his loyalty and wholesale changes are unlikely, giving Kagawa another chance to rediscover the dazzling form that helped Borussia Dortmund clinch back-to-back Bundesliga titles.

That form, which also helped Japan clinch a record fourth Asian Cup in 2011, alerted Manchester United and he made the switch to Old Trafford in 2012 but the move has not worked out well.

After being shunted wide left by previous United manager Alex Ferguson and restricted in appearances, former Dortmund boss Juergen Klopp called for more love to be shown to the Japanese.

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing,” the German said last year.

“My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw.”

Life did not get any better under Ferguson’s successor David Moyes last season, with no goals in 18 league starts.

Moyes persisted with Kagawa wide when he did feature and Zaccheroni has been vocal in his preference for Honda, who also struggled badly after his goal against the Ivory Coast, to be his central creator.

Kagawa once bemoaned being forced wide for the Blue Samurai but his priority now is just being on the field to ensure his first World Cup extends to the knockout stages.

“We can’t let it end here,” he said.

“I still think we can play well and hopefully we can fix things. In order to win our second and third games we just have to continue believing in ourselves.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Brasilia, editing by Ed Osmond)

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I want first Origin hit-up, says Woods

Blues prop Aaron Woods wants to make the first hit-up of State of Origin game two, and he’s looking to leave a lasting impression on the Maroons.

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After struggling with his initiation to Origin last season, the Wests Tigers prop is on the verge of cementing his spot in the NSW side for years to come.

Like all big game players he wants the ball in his hands in the crucial moments and the first hit-up is definitely one of those.

“I want that first hit-up. I want it to be mine – that’s what you play footy for,” he told AAP.

“It’s the start of the game, it is your chance to make a statement, to make that first impression and I hope I get the chance to do that.”

Woods has held his spot in the Blues starting lineup for Wednesday night after NSW’s 12-8 game one win last month.

Skipper Paul Gallen has moved up into the frontrow in coach Laurie Daley’s reshuffled side to accommodate Greg Bird, who missed the series opener through suspension.

James Tamou moves onto the bench.

Much like the first ball of an Ashes series, the first hit-up can set the tone for an Origin game.

Tim Grant’s opening hit-up in his debut Origin match in game two of the 2012 series, which sent Queensland great Petero Civoniceva sprawling on the ANZ Stadium turf, is one of the best remembered.

It helped to set up NSW’s 16-12 win and Woods says he hopes to do the same.

“You can get things started there,” he said.

“The first few minutes, the first 10 minutes are so important, you can set the scene there.

“I want the challenge of that, as a frontrower it’s your job to do that.

“It’s a great chance to set the platform right from the start.”

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Rivers ‘resting comfortably’ in hospital

Joan Rivers is resting comfortably in hospital with family by her side, says the comedian’s daughter.

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Rivers was rushed to The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York from a doctor’s office on Thursday after going into cardiac arrest.

In a statement, Melissa Rivers said her mother was “resting comfortably” with family. She did not elaborate on the 81-year-old comedian’s condition.

“We ask that you continue to keep her in your thoughts and prayers,” Melissa Rivers said. She offered thanks for the “overwhelming love and support for my mother”.

Earlier, The Mount Sinai Hospital spokesman Sid Dinsay confirmed that Rivers had been brought there.

New York City police officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she was taken to the hospital just after 9.30am local time on Thursday. It was unclear why she was visiting the doctor’s office.

Rivers’ representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The entertainer has logged a half-century in show business and gave rise to red carpet commentary – and the snarky criticism that often accompanies it. Her signature red carpet query: “Who are you wearing?”

She continues to maintain a busy schedule, and was to perform a show on Friday at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey. That show has now been postponed.

Rivers spoke at an employee event at Time Inc in New York on Wednesday night and appeared healthy, practically jogging when she walked in to take her seat, said Shira Blum, an online project manager.

“She seemed totally healthy,” Blum said. “She was very energetic, hilarious, funny. And it was such a shock, a surprise to hear the news this morning.”

Rivers took questions and said she wakes up every morning and “is thankful that everything works”.

The host of Fashion Police on E! network, Rivers also presides over an online talk show, In Bed With Joan and co-stars with her daughter on the WEtv reality show, Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?

Her latest book, Diary of a Mad Diva, was released this year.

In 2009, Rivers emerged as the winner of The Celebrity Apprentice. A documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, premiered in theatres in 2010.

A native of New York, Rivers originally entered show business with the dream of a theatrical career, but comedy became a way to pay the bills while she auditioned for acting roles.

After proving herself in comedy clubs, Rivers was a smash on her first booking on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1965.

“God, you’re funny,” Carson told her.

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Serena roars on as Ivanovic stunned at US

Serena Williams has eased past compatriot Vania King 6-1 6-0 to record her 80th US Open win but former world No.

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1 Ana Ivanovic became the second top 10 seed to suffer a shock early exit.

World No.1 Williams, chasing a third successive New York title, her sixth in total and an 18th major, fired 25 winners past King on Thursday and broke serve six times, wrapping up victory on a windswept Arthur Ashe Stadium in just 56 minutes.

It was her second win over an American at the tournament this week after beating teenager Taylor Townsend and next she will face another in Varvara Lepchenko for a place in the last 16.

“It’s so hard to play in the wind but I am happy to get through a solid match with the conditions today,” said the top seed.

“It wasn’t easy, but you have to be able to adjust. I had fun out here, I enjoy playing out on Arthur Ashe court.”

Williams came into the US Open without a major this year but with five tour titles.

One of those came in Cincinnati where she defeated former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic whose Flushing Meadows campaign was ended by Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

Ivanovic, the eighth seed, lost 7-5 6-4 to the 42nd-ranked Pliskova who has reached the third round at a major for the first time.

The Serb followed fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska out of the tournament after the Pole had been beaten by Peng Shuai 24 hours earlier.

Ivanovic came into New York as a potential title contender having captured trophies at Auckland, Monterrey and Birmingham this year while returning to the top ten for the first time in five years.

But the former French Open champion was undone on Thursday by 29 unforced errors while facing 13 break points as she crashed to her earliest exit in New York in six years.

“It’s very disappointing. It’s never easy to finish this early,” said Ivanovic, whose summer build-up had included a runners-up spot behind Serena Williams at Cincinnati.

“I’m definitely going to assess what went wrong and what I can work on. I really felt it wasn’t my game out there today.”

Ivanovic’s fellow former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, the runner-up to Williams for the past two years, made it to third round, winning nine games in succession from 0-3 down to defeat Christine McHale of the United States 6-3 6-2.

“She started really well and was hitting her targets. I was on the back foot but eventually I got my momentum,” said Azarenka.

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Rooney named England captain and fulfils ‘dream’

Rooney, who succeeds Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard, will lead his country in a friendly against Norway on September 3 and their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland on September 8.

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“To be named as England captain is a dream come true for me personally and, of course, for my family,” Rooney, who has scored 40 goals in 95 international appearances, said in a statement.

“It is something I will take massive pride in doing.

“As a kid I always loved the occasion of watching a big England game on the television,” the 28-year-old added. “Back then I had a burning ambition to play for my country. Now to be appointed captain is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Coach Roy Hodgson made the announcement at a media conference at Wembley as he unveiled his squad for the fixtures against Norway and Switzerland.

“I gave it a lot of thought but Wayne is an obvious choice,” Hodgson told reporters.

“He deserves it – his commitment to the cause, his experience. He has captained England in the past and, of course, he has that responsibility at Manchester United now.

“I’ve had a long conversation with him and he’s prepared to accept the pressures that the England captaincy brings. It’s important that the player wants to take on that enormous responsibility.”

Hodgson, under pressure as England coach for the first time after his team’s poor performance at the World Cup, said he believed Rooney was well suited to the role despite lingering question marks over the player’s maturity and temperament.

Rooney, who has had on-field disciplinary problems in his career, was sent off playing for England against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and against Montenegro in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

He was also heavily criticised after mouthing the words “nice to see your home fans boo you” following England’s dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup.

But Hodgson said: “I’ve got to judge him on the two years I’ve been with him.

“It’s not for me to look back too much and whatever misdemeanours the player may have had. In the two years with me I’ve had no reason whatsoever to question anything about his character or desire to play for his country or his wholehearted willingness to offer himself in every situation.

“I’m not concerned about anything else, but he has that baggage with him and he will have to accept that as an added part of the pressure.”

‘HIS TIME’

Hodgson said he would “shy away” from the theory that the captaincy would bring more out of Rooney as a player. But he added: “With his 95 caps, goals and all the things he has done, what we’ve seen is his willingness to take responsibility. All I can hope is that he continues to play well and shoulders the responsibility as well as the captains before him.

“When you name a captain it does go through your head that it will make it a lot harder if I had to drop him.

“I don’t think Wayne would expect me to keep him in the team just because he is captain. I’d like to think if it was necessary I would do (drop him) and I’m pretty convinced he would accept it.

“We’ve got players like Joe Hart and Gary Cahill, in that they are experienced players… and play for big clubs. It would be harsh on them to say Wayne was the only choice. But had I chosen them, it would have been unfair on Wayne Rooney – for most people it was his time and moment.”

Rooney, born in Croxteth in Liverpool, said he would talk about the role with Gerrard, the midfielder who retired from international soccer after England’s disappointing World Cup in Brazil.

“I have played under some fantastic captains at both Manchester United and England and would hope that I have picked up some of their strongest qualities,” Rooney said.

“I intend to speak with Steven about different aspects of the role. We had a great relationship from the moment we played together for our country right up to our final game in Brazil. I am sure if I ever need to seek his advice he will be there to help.”

He added: “I hope I will have the full backing of the fans. I am their type of player once I am on that pitch. My only thought is to win and give everything I have got. Sharing that desire will be the way I want to captain the team.”

Rooney became the then youngest player to play for England when he made his debut against Australia in a friendly in 2003 aged 17 and 111 days.

He has captained England on two previous occasions, and played in five major tournaments, but, like every player of his generation, has not tasted significant success in an England shirt.

His first goal at a World Cup finals did not arrive until this year, when he scored in England’s 2-1 defeat by Uruguay in the group stage.

He is, however, on course to break Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record of 49 England goals. Rooney is currently fourth on the list, behind Charlton, Gary Lineker (48) and Jimmy Greaves (44).

(Writing by Stephen Wood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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Support for Scottish independence up: poll

Support for Scottish independence is increasing three weeks ahead of a referendum, a poll suggests, amid attempts by British Prime Minister David Cameron to make the business case for retaining the union.

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Cameron on Thursday urged Scottish people to reject independence in a rare speech in Glasgow in which he argued the union was a strong economic advantage.

However, the ranks of those who want to end more than 300 years of union with the rest of the United Kingdom appear to be swelling.

A Survation survey published on Friday said 47 per cent of respondents would vote “Yes” to independence, compared with 53 per cent who would vote “No”, excluding people who were undecided.

This was a considerable narrowing of the gap between the two sides in a similar poll three weeks earlier, in which 43 per cent said they would vote “Yes”, versus 57 per cent who would vote to remain in the union.

The poll was commissioned by the Scottish Daily Mail newspaper to assess reaction to the final public debate between the leaders of the pro and anti-independence campaigns.

“Yes” campaign leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was widely seen to have won the debate against “No” campaign leader Alistair Darling.

Cameron said the union between Scotland and England was the “greatest merger in history” as he addressed a conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Glasgow.

His visit came on the day that 200 company heads signed an open letter to say independence was in Scotland’s “best interest” – underlining the polarised views over the issue three weeks from the September 18 referendum.

Questions over whether Scotland’s economy could do well alone have been at the heart of the campaign.

The “Yes” and “No” camps have traded statistics and accusations on everything from whether Scotland could keep using the pound to what share of Britain’s debt it should take on if it broke away.

Cameron had kept a low profile on the campaign trail, due to his Conservative Party’s unpopularity in Scotland.

But he re-entered the fray in his speech on Thursday, saying the UK was “one of the oldest and most successful single markets in the world” and that Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK as the rest of the world put together.

“Our single market is one of our union’s greatest advantages. If we stay together, Scottish businesses have better opportunities, Scottish consumers have more choice and Scottish people have more secure jobs,” Cameron said.

“Why put that great advantage at risk by going into the great unknown?”

Outside the venue for Cameron’s speech, about 120 protesters gathered, chanting and waving the Scottish blue and white flag and banners with slogans such as “Another Scotland is Possible”.

“I’ve got friends and family who go to a food bank every day to get food to feed their kids because the living wage they’ve got is not enough,” said Michael Larkin, 34, an illustrator.

Other protesters criticised the austerity policies of the Conservative party, which has just one MP out of 59 in Scotland, where the opposition Labour party is far more popular.

“David Cameron isn’t welcome in Scotland because Scotland don’t vote Tory (Conservative),” said Samuel Cook, 18, a student.

“I want independence because I want Scotland to make its own decisions. I want to get rid of the Tory party because Scotland has a Tory government we do not vote for,” he said.

The pro-independence campaign argues that the British government’s economic policies are unfairly skewed in favour of London and southeast England.

Think tank Capital Economics added to the debate on Thursday, warning that independence could lead to significant capital flight from Scotland’s giant finance industry.

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Kyrgios wants more ‘impact’ at the US Open

Teenage excitement machine Nick Kyrgios is refusing to place a limit on how far he can go after continuing his captivating grand slam run at the US Open in New York.

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Kyrgios will play Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo on Saturday for a place in the last 16 after sweeping past Andreas Seppi in a second-round serving masterclass at Flushing Meadows.

“If I play like I played today, just do whatever I can to recover and keep having fun, I can make an impact,” the 19-year-old said after his 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 dispatch of the experienced Italian.

Fans flocked to Court 5 to see tennis’s new Kid Dynamite in action, filling every nook and cranny, and he didn’t disappoint, jamming down another 22 aces – taking his tournament tally to 48 in six flawless sets – in the near-two-hour clinic.

Kyrgios didn’t drop serve once and said he was pumped to have followed up his giant-killing quarter-final run at Wimbledon – where he took down Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet – with a last-32 showing in New York.

“It’s always a good feeling to win another match at a grand slam, especially new ground for me,” he said.

“(I’ve) never made it past the first round at the US Open main draw. To have gone to the third round, having beaten some quality opponents, feels good.”

Almost certain to replace Lleyton Hewitt as Australia’s new No.1, Kyrgios said it was easy to stay focused knowing next up is Robredo, the seasoned 14th seed who took out his boyhood idol Roger Federer in the fourth round last year.

“He’s probably one of the most experienced players on tour,” Kyrgios said.

“He’s still playing some really good tennis. I know I can’t get too confident. I’m going to go out there, have fun, just play my game and see how it goes.”

Kyrgios’s victory – and a watershed win for Casey Dellacqua – softened the blow of fellow Australian Samantha Stosur’s shattering defeat to unseeded Kaia Kanepi on Thursday.

Stosur departed Flushing Meadows shell-shocked after blowing two match points and a 4-1 lead in the third-set tiebreaker.

“I’m just really disappointed right now,” said Australia’s 2011 champion.

“It’s one of those matches where you walk off and think `what just happened?'”

Dellacqua, though, lived up to her newfound seeded status to reach the third round for the first time, overcoming a one-set deficit, some dubious umpiring and 40 unforced errors to defeat Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang 4-6 6-4 6-2.

The free-swinging left-hander will play unseeded Karolina Pliskova on Saturday after the Czech upset eighth seed Ana Ivanovic 7-5 6-4.

The other Australian in action on Thursday, Matthew Ebden, was trounced 6-1 6-3 6-4 by No.23 seed Leonardo Mayer from Argentina.

Four Australians remain in the singles, with Bernard Tomic and Sam Groth taking centre stage in feature matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday.

Tomic takes on Spanish fourth seed David Ferrer for a place in the last 32 before Groth and five-times champion Roger Federer clash in a second-round showstopper under lights on Friday night (9am Saturday AEST),

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Stosur left shell-shocked at US Open

Samantha Stosur faces a desperate fight to retain an Australian Open seeding after suffering a shattering second-round defeat at the US Open in New York.

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The 2011 Open champion was left shell-shocked after squandering a one-set lead, then a 4-1 advantage in the rollercoaster third-set tiebreaker and, ultimately, two match points in a gut-wrenching 3-6 6-3 7-6 (10-8) loss to unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi on Thursday.

“I’m just really disappointed right now,” she said.

“It’s one of those matches where you walk off and think `what just happened?'”

The loss came four years after Kanepi, the 2012 Brisbane International winner, ambushed Stosur in the first round at Wimbledon and consigned the one-time world No.4 to another disappointing early exit from the New York major.

The Queenslander bombed out in the opening round last year at Flushing Meadows, falling to 17-year-old world No.296 Victoria Duval.

But with no time to mope, Stosur accepted she must quickly pick up the pieces and try to defend a truckload of rankings points accrued from last year’s late-season Asian swing.

Now ranked 21st, Stosur finished 2014 with three straight finals appearances, including a title win in Osaka, and needs to maintain a place in the top 32 to secure a seeding at her slam in January.

“So I’ve just got to really knuckle down and try to learn from what happened today,” Stosur said.

Despite her premature departure from the final slam of the season, the two-time grand slam finalist said success over Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard last week and a strong showing against Serena Williams earlier this month had her feeling upbeat.

“I do feel like I’ve started to play a lot better, so that’s a good thing,” Stosur said.

“I know what I did at the end of last year, but I certainly can’t go into these events at the end of the year thinking `geez, I’ve got to defend a final here or a I won this tournament’.

“That’s never the way I’ve tried to go about events.

“There’s still a couple of big points in China where I went out early (last year), so there’s still lots of upsides to the next four weeks playing in Asia.”

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Quiet man Norman thriving at Parramatta

Parramatta five-eighth Corey Norman is revelling in life out of the Brisbane spotlight and happy to take a back seat to Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow as the Eels plot their path towards the NRL finals.

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Norman burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old with the Broncos in 2010 with a scintillating debut in the season opener against North Queensland at fullback.

Almost instantly he was talked up as the long-term successor to Darren Lockyer in the No.6 jumper.

But he never quite recaptured those heights again as the Broncos tried to work out what was his best position.

Norman played a full year at five-eighth in 2012, helping the team to the finals, but a season later was moved to fullback by coach Anthony Griffin.

Frustrated at not being able to play in his favoured position, his form dipped and he was axed from the team following a loss to Cronulla just as it was announced he was joining Parramatta in 2014.

But his form for the Eels this year has been excellent and the manner in which he has dovetailed with Sandow in the halves won praise from Hayne, who recently credited Norman with helping him reach the heights of his epic 2009 campaign.

But the 23-year-old has played down his role in the Eels’ revival and says he is happy for Hayne and Sandow to take all the plaudits and remain in the background – a luxury he wasn’t afforded at the Broncos.

“I just had to come in here and do my role in the team and that is to steer the boys around,” Norman said.

“We’ve got Chrissy and Haynesy, who’ve been outstanding, and our back-line is sharp and they’re getting the job done for us, which is good.”

Norman admits it was a huge risk moving to Sydney to join a club that had struggled at the wrong end of the table for five years, but said it’s worked out better than he could have hoped.

“I definitely thought they would go better than the last couple of years, but probably not finals,” Norman said.

“It was a big risk coming here, but I knew they’d recruited well with Nathan Peats and Will Hopoate.

“A lot of credit has to go to Brad Arthur as well. He has turned this club around.”

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Milford, Cornish ready for Tigers pack

Canberra captain Jarrod Croker admits his side’s small rookie halves pairing of Mitch Cornish and Anthony Milford are set for some extra special attention from the Wests Tigers’ pack on Saturday.

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With the wooden spoon firmly in the grasp of Cronulla, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart will hand Cornish his first NRL start at Canberra’s GIO Stadium alongside Brisbane-bound five-eighth Milford to prepare for 2015.

But with the duo losing 20kg to usual halves Terry Campese and Josh McCrone, Croker says the Raiders’ forward pack will have to lift to ensure representative forward Aaron Woods and his Tigers teammates don’t get a roll on at the youngsters’ expense.

“They’re a lot smaller than guys like Campo and Josh, so for them it’s just about getting their body in front and doing their best,” said Croker, who will captain the Raiders for the first time.

“Most halves get (targeted). It doesn’t matter who you are.

“They’ll get help from inside and out, so I’m sure they’ll do fine.”

However, what Cornish and Milford lack in size they’ll make up for in attack, Croker says.

“They’re both exciting players and obviously they had a fair bit of time together in their 20s and junior ranks,” Croker said.

“Mitchy will organise and lead the team around, and Milford’s got that spark and X factor.”

Milford starred in the Raiders’ 22-12 win over Cronulla last week with two second-half tries and two assists.

His hot form hasn’t gone unnoticed by Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter, who admitted that the 20-year-old young gun caused his side headaches during their 19-18 win over the Raiders in round 16.

“Milford is probably the big concern for us. He’s lively and hard to get a hold of and gets underneath you,” Potter said.

Meanwhile, the Tigers will be without young gun halfback Luke Brooks, forcing Potter to shift Blake Austin into the halves from centre, while Pat Richards returns from injury to the wing.

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Abbott slams Russia on Ukraine ‘invasion’

Tony Abbott has branded Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine an invasion and says it’s “completely, absolutely and utterly unacceptable”.

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But the prime minister says Australia cannot make a unilateral decision to exclude Russian President Vladimir Putin from the G20 leaders’ summit in Brisbane in November.

NATO says at least 1000 Russian troops have crossed the Ukraine border and are now helping pro-Kremlin separatists who have been fighting against Kiev’s rule since April.

“If, as seems to have been the case, Russian armed forces have simply moved across the border, that is an invasion,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

“And it is utterly reprehensible.

“It is an absolutely clear-cut case of a larger country bullying a smaller country and this should have no place in our world.”

Russia’s latest actions are likely to intensify calls that Mr Putin be excluded from the G20 talks.

But Mr Abbott says he is still weighing his options.

“It’s not a decision which Australia really has a right to make unilaterally,” he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop should now be talking to other G20 nations about the possibility of excluding Mr Putin.

“I think most Australians have grave reservations about welcoming Mr Putin to Australia,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

The government should also consider ratcheting up its sanctions against Russia, Mr Shorten said.

He echoed Mr Abbott’s comments that Russia’s latest actions were “reprehensible” and amounted to an invasion.

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Storm ready for Roosters hurdle

Steering the Melbourne Storm to all but one NRL finals series since 2005, coach Craig Bellamy knows a thing or two about tapering his team.

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With two rounds remaining, including Saturday night’s clash with defending champion Sydney Roosters in Sydney, Bellamy feels things are falling into place.

“When you’re really prepared everything at this time of year comes easy in terms of your preparation and there’s no distraction,” said Bellamy, with the club only missing the 2010 finals when stripped of points for salary cap cheating.

“Your planning and training goes smoothly and when you’ve got good preparation you’ve usually got a good performance and we’re in that mode at the moment.”

Currently fifth, the Storm have the chance to draw level on 32 points alongside the third-placed Roosters and Penrith, who take on second-placed Manly on Sunday.

In their last meeting in Melbourne in round 13 the Roosters rolled the Storm 32-12, although the home side was missing superstars Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater.

“Last time we were outmuscled by them but we’ve got a bigger, more mature team this time so hopefully we can handle them a bit better,” Bellamy said.

“Their outside backs are also very strong and can get their sets off to a good start so that’s one area we need to defend well.”

While plenty was riding on their final two games Bellamy said that crowded competition ladder meant if ever a team outside the top four was to win, this was the season.

“This competition is so close if it’s going to be a year when teams could do it from the bottom of the top eight, this year could be the year.”

If Melbourne do secure a top four finals berth they feel they’ve earned it, with the Roosters match their fifth away game in the last six weeks.

It’s also the team’s second five-day turnaround in that period after playing against the Panthers in Sydney on Monday night.

Bellamy felt the scheduling was almost laughable.

“I don’t know if ridiculous is the right word,” Bellamy said.

“We always talk about the care and welfare of our players but to put us through that, it’s wrong.

“To have a five-day turnaround between away games is real tough but to have two of those in a month, or two in five games, is ultra tough.

“Hopefully it will be something that will be looked at in the pre-season and mightn’t happen again.”

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