Jun 06

Emotion-charged Reds eye Chiefs scalp

James Horwill and Will Genia don’t want their Suncorp Stadium farewell on Saturday night to be all about them.

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Queensland Reds captain James Slipper doesn’t care.

“They don’t like to be put up on a pedestal,” Slipper said ahead of Queensland’s Super Rugby clash with the Chiefs, the last in Brisbane for Europe-bound Horwill and Genia.

“In my opinion, they should be.

“They’re club legends, both played over 100 games for the state.

“They deserve whatever they get and hopefully we can get a win for them.”

It is the least the Reds could do for two of the franchise’s all-time greats, who will depart for fresh new adventures at the end of what has been Queensland’s annus horribilis.

While there hasn’t been much focus on the emotional side of Saturday’s match in the backrooms of Ballymore this week – a “player-driven” decision, according to Slipper – there will be no escaping it.

Particularly for Slipper, who has modelled his on-field style and his off-field approach on Horwill, his predecessor as Reds captain.

“He’s pretty much played in every game in my career,” Slipper said.

“He’s been a great help for me. I’ve really looked up to him as a player and as a friend.

“It’s going to be tough seeing him leave but that’s the industry we’re in, everyone’s got to move on at some point.

“Five years down the track I’ll be looking at the same prospect.

“I think the legacy he’s left behind will be forever remembered.”

The Chiefs loom as Queensland’s biggest scalp this season if the unchanged side from last week’s watershed win over the Western Force can back that performance up.

Quade Cooper was at the centre of it all in his first game back from a fractured shoulderblade but he will only be allowed the same sort of influence against the Chiefs if his forwards can lay the playform.

The two-time Super Rugby champions are still without the injured Sonny Bill Williams but have recalled All Blacks forwards Brodie Retallick and Liam Messam.

“They’re a team full of All Blacks and they’re a very professional outfit, very tough for us to beat,” Slipper said.

“But in saying that, we’ve had a really good week of training, we’re starting to build consistency in team selection, which has come at the wrong end of the year.

“If you have that consistency … I feel like you can build momentum and you’re seeing that now.”

Jun 06

Miguel Silva not guilty over shooting

First his sister Jessica Silva stood trial for murdering her estranged boyfriend James Polkinghorne following months of abuse.

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Then Miguel Silva found himself in the dock, this time on trial for allegedly being an accessory to a shooting murder carried out by Polkinghorne just months before Jessica killed him.

The Crown alleged Mr Silva witnessed Polkinghorne shoot Nikolas Argiropoulos from point-blank range twice in the head in a park in Sydney’s inner west in March 2012, when a drug deal went sour.

Mr Silva was accused of fleeing the scene before later driving to pick Polkinghorne up and letting him stay at his smash repairs shop in Marrickville.

But Mr Silva denied this.

His barrister Gregory Scragg told his District Court trial in Sydney last month that there would be an issue as to when his client became aware Polkinghorne had murdered Mr Argiropoulos and whether he had actually assisted him after.

On Friday a jury found Mr Silva not guilty of being an accessory after the fact to murder and for concealing a serious indictable offence.

It comes on the heels of Ms Silva’s trial in which she was accused of murdering Polkinghorne outside her parents’ Marrickville home on Mother’s Day 2012 – just months after Argiropoulos was shot.

The 25-year-old pleaded not guilty to his murder on the basis of self-defence but was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter by a Supreme Court jury and handed a suspended jail term.

Throughout Ms Silva’s trial Polkinghorne’s voice filled the court room with haunting regularity.

Fortuitously, Mr Silva’s phone was being tapped by police who were investigating Polkinghorne over the shooting death of Argiropoulos.

What the recordings revealed was that Polkinghorne was an angry young man increasingly fuelled by the drug “ice”.

The court heard he had been abusive from an early point in their four-year relationship but that this escalated towards the end of 2011 and during 2012.

By the afternoon of his death the verbal abuse was coming in thick and fast.

Although Justice Clifton Hoeben was not satisfied Ms Silva believed Polkinghorne was going to kill her, he found she wanted to protect herself and her family from further violence and that she believed her estranged partner had killed Argiropoulos.

When Polkinghorne showed up outside her parents’ home, a struggle with Mr Silva and her father erupted outside.

Ms Silva went back inside the house, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, returned to the street and stabbed Polkinghorne.

She was handed a two-year suspended sentence after Justice Hoeben found the circumstances surrounding the killing were exceptional.

Her lawyer has said she would be appealing the conviction.

Jun 06

Govt failed to vet siege gunman: Labor

Labor has accused the federal government of raising Australia’s terror threat level without changing the way people like the Sydney siege gunman are vetted by government agencies.

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Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says Attorney-General George Brandis’ failure to provide a letter he received from Man Haron Monis to the joint review into the cafe siege raises questions about how the terror threats are being monitored.

“It’s a very proper question, on this letter, to inquire why no red flag went up, why the letter wasn’t referred to ASIO, and why nobody within the government – despite the raising of the terror threat level – seems to have thought this was a matter sufficiently important to do anything at all about it,” Mr Dreyfus told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

Mr Dreyfus says it’s worrying that the coalition says it followed the same protocols he would have followed as attorney-general in 2013 – because the terror threat level was lower back then.

“That in itself demonstrates the government is not paying sufficient attention to the national security issues that are raised here,” he said.

Australia’s terrorism threat level was changed from medium to high in September last year. The level for police was raised to high in January.

Senator Brandis’ office received a letter from Monis that mentions Islamic State on October 7, 2014 and a response was sent on November 5 – six weeks before the siege.

Mr Dreyfus says it seems no changes have been made to internal protocols despite the government’s increased focus on the “death cult”.

Labor want to recall a parliamentary committee after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop admitted an “administrative error” meant Monis’ letter was not given to a review by the heads of the prime minister’s department and NSW Premier Mike Baird’s office.

Mr Dreyfus needs support from three committee members to recall a Senate estimates hearing.

Jun 06

Medibank Private shares come back to earth

Seven months after investors scrambled for a piece of Medibank Private, the health insurer’s share price has come back to earth as concern grows about its outlook.

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Having hit a high of $2.59 in February, Medibank shares have been in retreat for the past three months and are currently trading around $2.06 per share.

That’s still slightly ahead of the $2 per share retail investors paid in the company’s initial public offering though those who bought in soon after its listing are currently underwater, as are the institutional investors who paid $2.15 per share in the float.

Fat Prophets chief executive Angus Geddes said the market appeared to have soured on the company’s short term prospects due to concerns tough competition among health insurers was hurting profit margins.

“What’s happened is that the market is getting a little bit concerned about the growth prospects for the company and concerned also about a bit of margin pressure that’s coming through,” he said.

“The feeling I’m getting is that the numbers aren’t going to be quite as good as what everyone thought five or six months ago.”

At the time of the float, analysts were talking up the prospect of stronger profit margins from Medibank as the transition from government owned enterprise to a public company allowed it to strip out costs and become more efficient.

But Mr Geddes said there were doubts about the ability of long-standing chief executive George Savvides to carry out the necessary cost cutting and lift the business’s performance.

He said Mr Savvides would need to deliver a solid full year result to fend off doubters.

“Over the next six months, if the company misses the prospectus forecasts by a significant margin I’d probably be advocating for a change in management,” he said.

“He’s been there for 13 years and I just think you’ve got to keep things fresh – you need new blood.”

But Mr Geddes said the company was likely to be a good investment over the longer term.

“If you take a medium to longer term view we will probably look back and see this as a bit of a blip,” he said.

“They’ve got a great brand, they are well positioned, medical insurance is defensive – people have to have it and I think the stock looks pretty attractive at these levels.”

Medibank in February said it was on track to achieve its $250 million prospectus profit target for 2014/15.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said Medibank’s share price was unlikely to fall substantially from here and would likely be very attractive to buyers under $2 per share.

“I would anticipate some support from the market very very soon, if it finds itself at a price below $2 I think institutions and retail investors would support the stock,” he said.

“I would expect its going to plod along and be a reasonable investment case.”

Jun 06

Hird asks Bombers for AFL lift-off

It’s only round 10 but the words “must-win” were exceptionally close to James Hird’s lips when considering the AFL date with Geelong on Saturday night.

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The Bombers, who will be without captain Jobe Watson and Dustin Fletcher, share a 4-5 win-loss record with the Cats.

Hird said the time to improve that was now.

“The next two or three weeks are really important for our club in terms of this season,” he said.

“If you’ve got aspirations of making the finals and being successful in those finals, this is a game we need to play well at and hopefully win.”

Considering the other matches in that three-game bracket are West Coast in Perth and premiers Hawthorn, their Etihad date with the Cats looms as increasingly important.

It’s unfortunate timing then that Watson will be sidelined with a groin niggle.

Hird said he opted against risking his skipper after he incurred a similar pre-season injury.

“If we really wanted to push him we could play him but I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.

“Obviously he’s our captain, our best midfielder, best player and has been for a long time.

“But the guys last year won a number of games without him in there.”

Watson’s absence also continues an unwanted streak held since his debut in round 13, 2003 against the Cats.

In 12 years, the 2012 Brownlow medallist hasn’t been part of a Bombers side to beat Geelong.

With Watson sidelined, Hird is looking to ruckman Tom Bellchambers to help the side increase their clearance output.

Only opponents Geelong have fewer clearances this season and Hird called on the ruckman to play his part.

“Tom would admit to himself he’s not playing as well as he would like, or as well as the team would like,” he said.

“We’re hoping for a big performance from him (on Saturday night) and we need one.

“We don’t expect him to have 20 possessions and kick five goals every week but we do expect him to impact the contest and give our midfielders first use of the ball.”

Hird was more generous on misfiring forward Jake Carlisle, who kicked one goal from six shots in the Bombers’ 13-point loss to Richmond last Saturday.

“If he had converted last week we would have been raving,” he said.

“He’s a young footballer that’s played a lot of football down back … he might be a 15-game AFL forward-line player.

“People underestimate how long it takes for the bigger guys to come along.”