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.”

May 07

ASX dives since nudging 6000

Sharemarket investors have been told not to hold their breath for a quick recovery, with the Australian index diving 8.

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3 per cent since soaring to seven-year highs five weeks ago.

Since getting within spitting distance of 6000 points for the first time since 2008, sentiment about the Australian and global economy has dived.

The last week-and-a-half has been torrid, with the ASX200 and All Ordinaries index finishing lower in seven out of eight sessions.

“I am unfortunately but justifiably pessimistic about the ASX at the moment due to the fact that ASX companies appear fairly growthless,” IG market strategist Evan Lucas told AAP.

The big banks have been a key, with all four down 15 per cent and Westpac more than 20 per cent worse, putting it in a bear market.

The run up in bank shares had been relentless and was viewed as having to end eventually, given Australia’s economic growth has been poor.

Still, the speed of the fall had been scary, said Mr Lucas.

Combine weak commodity prices, Australia’s heavily resources-weighted stock market and falls on offshore markets that the ASX was already underperforming and it had been a perfect storm, says Peter Esho, director of investment firm Esho Group.

While mining and energy stocks have struggled for a while, the previously favoured banks, utility, property trust, telco and healthcare have also all lost significant value.

A rush of profit downgrades in different sectors, including food wholesaler Metcash, engineers Qube and poker machine supplier Ainsworth Game in the last week alone, signifies broader problems.

The only companies that are growing their bottom line are doing it through consolidation and takeovers or getting rid of non-performing assets, says Mr Lucas.

“Topline growth is non-existent,” he said.

Mr Esho said he did not see a looming market recovery unless depressed resources stocks started picking up the slack, but there was no indication of iron ore, coal and oil prices jumping to support that.

While the top 30 largest stocks had driven the falls, there had been a flood of money taken out of resources and mining services companies out of the top 200 and a lot of wealth destruction, he said.

This week Australia notched up its highest monthly trade deficit on record, $3.89 billion in April, driven largely by a slump in coal and iron ore exports.

“For the market to turn around, for sentiment to turn around, for interest rates to turn around, the terms of trade to turn around we need to see commodity prices move,” he said.

CMC Markets chief market strategist Michael McCarthy disagrees, saying he would encourage investors to be bravely contrarian and buy resources stocks because they are at low prices.

He sees the market returning to 6000 points by calendar 2015’s end.

Add dividends and franking and the returns equal six per cent for the year.

“I think we are years away from a market boom, all the central bank stimulus has borrowed future growth, but things aren’t that bad either,” he said.

May 07

General elections could shape Turkey for years

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

Voters in Turkey head to the polls on Sunday in what analysts say are critical general elections.

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And as Erdem Koc reports from Istanbul, the result could shape more than the next four years.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

In Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for a rally of what is the wildcard political party in Sunday’s general elections.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, is running for the first time as a party.

In 2011, its MPs were elected as independents because of Turkey’s controversial election threshold — if a party fails to get 10 per cent of the total vote, it cannot enter parliament.

But the party’s chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, says he is confident his party will pass the threshold this time.

He says his main aim is to push the Kurdish peace process.

(Translated)”Let’s bring peace to Turkey. And with the power we gain here, let’s lead the way on peace to the whole of the Middle East and Arab worlds, starting with Syria and Iraq. The day we come to government, peace in this country will be guaranteed.”

Meanwhile, in Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, more than a million Turks gathered in the main square for a rally of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.

The party is Turkey’s oldest, established by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In the last elections in 2011, the CHP won almost 26 per cent of all votes.

Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, says the ruling Justice and Development Party has damaged Turkey’s democracy and it is time for change.

(Translated)”In this country, there is no longer the separation of powers. The legislature, judiciary and executive does not balance each other in a healthy way. The executive has power over everything, including the parliament. It’s because of this the civilized world refers to Turkey’s democracy as a ‘hybrid democracy.'”

In 2011, 43 million out of the country’s 50 million eligible voters waited in long lines to re-elect the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

These elections are being labeled the most critical for the party, which recently parted ways with one of its key supporter bases, the religious Gulen movement.

The AKP’s charismatic founder and prime minister for 11 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now the president of Turkey.

And despite constitutional requirements for the president to be impartial, he has been holding rallies in favour of the party he founded.

President Erdogan is hoping for a so-called super majority following this weekend’s elections, aiming for a two thirds majority of Turkey’s 550-seat parliament.

Such a win would let the AKP change the constitution without calling a referendum.

Mr Erdogan wants to move Turkey to a United States-style presidential system of government, which would give him unprecedented powers.

He says Sunday’s elections are critical to achieving that goal.

(Translated)”On June 7, we need to own the election. We need to be decisive in achieving the highest voter turnout in Turkey’s history. As long as our hearts and souls are united, no one can separate us.”

Analysts say the ruling party appears more divided than ever before, though, as it prepares to enter its 14th year in power.

Various polls suggest the AKP will win the elections, but not with the super majority it hopes.

If the pro-Kurdish HDP party passes the threshold, it could mean the AKP will not have a clear majority.

Both the AKP and HDP have ruled out any coalition plans, although many still believe it is possible.

It is unlikely the AKP would turn to the opposition CHP, but it could reach out to the aptly named Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.

The MHP says it will end all Kurdish peace negotiations should it come to power, saying Kurds need to accept the authority of the Turkish state.

The party’s long time leader, Devlet Bahceli, says it is time to create history through national unity.

(Translated)”We have the opportunity. You have the decision to make. I invite all those who love Turkey, those whose hearts beat for Turkey, to join us on this long journey. I call on everyone who’s sick of infighting, of uncertainty and of war, to help the MHP get into government. Every vote will determine the future of this beautiful country. Every vote will determine the future of your children.”

 

 

 

May 07

Businessman Alan Bond dies

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

High profile Australian businessman Alan Bond has died in a Perth hospital after complications arising from open heart surgery.

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From humble beginnings, the 77-year-old went on to become one of Australia’s wealthiest and most notorious businesmen.

Peggy Giakoumelos looks back at the colourful life of Alan Bond.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Alan Bond has inscribed the pages of Australia’s history books, both as the first non-American to seize the coveted America’s Cup sailing trophy and for his conviction over the country’s biggest ever fraud.

One of Australia’s richest men during the 1980s, Alan Bond’s fall from grace began in 1992 when he declared bankruptcy.

He was jailed in 1997 for a $1.2 billion fraud involving his takeover of Bell Resources.

He served three years before his release in 2000 after a successful High Court appeal against the length of his sentence.

“I don’t have any plans for the future at the present time. I’m just going to spend some time now and try and sort of get my life back together. It’s a little bit emotional to be quite frank. That’s about as much as I can say.”

Migrating with his family from England as a child, Alan Bond had left school at the age of 15, starting his career as a signwriter.

While working, he undertook night studies in accountancy.

Speaking to the ABC’s Four Corners program in 1989, one of his oldest friends, Denis Sowden, said Mr Bond was extremely ambitious, and extremely confident, from a young age.

“He was on the move, you know? He was a bloke who was always having a go. He had a different way of looking at things. He would want to do something, he’d be doing it. You’d wake up in the morning, find Alan was somewhere doing something. Other people would be saying, “Oh, wouldn’t be a bad idea.” If Alan thought it was a good idea he did it. If it wasn’t a good idea, he found out later on.”

In 1983 after making a fortune as a property developer, Alan Bond became an Australian hero when his financial backing helped Australia II claim victory in the America’s Cup yacht race.

It was the first time in 132 years that the New York Yacht club had lost the America’s Cup.

Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke had noted the achievement, saying famously any worker who stayed at home to celebrate should not be punished.

“I tell you any boss sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”

But while he is remembered for one of Australia’s great sporting victories, in the business world he was less simple to characterise.

Speaking to ABC journalist Paul Barry in 1989, merchant banker Mark Burrows described Alan Bond as a driven man with the ability to compartmentalise his life.

“I think he goes to sleep at night. That would be my impression. I can’t say that from any personal experience but I don’t think he worries at night. I think he has that great capacity to turn off. I mean if he didn’t, if he was like 99 per cent of us, he wouldn’t be here, would he? So he is someone who I think probably one of his strengths is that he can actually see himself in a reasonable perspective, he bursts out laughing. It was the Bond pushing that he is famous for. He gets it done.”

Alan Bond’s personal life was just as mercurial as his professional life.

As a child he’d had rheumatic fever, which had led to surgery to replace a valve in his heart in 1992.

It was the same year he and Eileen Hughes divorced after a 37-year marriage.

He had been 17 years old in 1955 when they married, and the union had produced four children.

In 1995 he married theatre producer Diana Bliss.

While in jail in 1997 for his involvement in the takeover of Bell Resources, Alan Bond was stripped of his Officer of the Order of Australia honour awarded in 1984 after winning the America’s Cup.

His daughter Susanne was found dead aged 41 in 2000 after a prescription drug overdose, while second wife Diana Bliss took her own life in 2012.

 

 

 

 

May 07

Ailing Williams set for more Paris glory

Only illness can seemingly stop Serena Williams from becoming the oldest French Open champion in almost half a century after the ageless warrior pulled off yet another Houdini act in Paris.

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Williams overcame sapping flu symptoms and apparent heat distress to battle back from a set and a service break down and secure a spot on Saturday’s title match against Lucie Safarova with a dramatic semi-final triumph over Swiss underdog Timea Bacsinszky.

Looking lethargic throughout, Williams appeared close to quitting the match on several occasions before roaring to life to reel off the last 10 games in a 4-6 6-3 6-0 victory on a scorching Thursday in Paris.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this sick. I didn’t expect to win that and I can’t believe I won,” the American said.

“I got the flu after my third-round match and I haven’t been getting better.

“Hopefully this is the worst and I’ll get better.”

Unable to face the press following her two-hour ordeal, Williams issued a statement saying she needed to instead consult the tournament doctor.

“I am proud to be back in the final here at Roland Garros, in a city that means so much to me, and am determined to be 100 per cent ready for the final,” she said.

Swiss journalists privately slammed Williams’ comeback – and conduct – as “ridiculous” gamesmanship, while others questioned her on-court theatrics.

But the top seed’s vanquished opponent was gracious in defeat.

“She’s the only one who knows how she was feeling,” Bacsinszky said.

“I have no idea how fit she was or not. I knew on court it would be a difficult match. I never forgot that.

“She pulled out a great match because I think I was playing quite well.

“She deserved to win today. It happens. It’s only a tennis match.”

After a fourth successful fightback from a set down, Williams is now only one match away from landing a third French Open crown at almost 34.

The American has won all eight previous encounters with Safarova, a 7-5 7-5 victor over Serbia’s 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic in Thursday’s other semi-final, and will be a raging favourite to inflict another defeat on the first Czech finalist since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.

Victory would edge Williams to within two grand slam titles of Steffi Graf’s open-era record 22 career majors.

To do so, the world No.1 will need to achieve a feat not even she’s managed before – and complete the Australian-French Open double in the same season.

It is a rare double not accomplished in women’s tennis since Jennifer Capriati emerged from the sporting wilderness to claim the first two of her three slams in Melbourne and Paris in 2001.

The veteran also stared down the barrel in the third round against dual Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka and in a similarly desperate last-16 struggle against US compatriot Sloane Stephens.

Williams entered Thursday’s match with a 23-from-26 record in grand slam semi-finals, her only losses coming against older sister Venus at Wimbledon in 2000 and to Belgium’s fellow former world No.1s Justine Henin in Paris in 2003 and Kim Clijsters at the 2009 US Open.

Bacsinszky, who was washing dishes two years ago and cleaning rooms at a Swiss chalet after accepting an apprenticeship in hotel management while disillusioned with tennis, threatened to pull off a huge upset on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The tournament’s 23rd seed had never progressed beyond the third round in 20 previous grand slam appearances, but was three games away from setting up one of the most unlikely finals of all-time.

But Williams once again has tennis history at her mercy instead as she tries to add a third Roland Garros trophy to her collection, a record 13 years after landing her first.

HOW SERENA WILLIAMS AND LUCIE SAFAROVA MATCH UP AHEAD OF SATURDAY’S FRENCH OPEN FINAL (PREFIX DENOTES SEEDING):

1-SERENA WILLIAMS (USA) leads 13-LUCIE SAFAROVA (CZE) 8-0

2014 Beijing, hard, R16, Williams 6-1 1-6 6-2

2014 Montreal, hard, R16, Williams 7-5 6-4

2013 Charleston, clay, QF, Williams 6-4 6-1

2012 Charleston, clay, F, Williams 6-0 6-1

2011 Toronto, hard, QF, Williams 4-6 6-3 6-2

2009 Toronto, hard, QF, Williams 6-3 6-2

2007 Miami, hard, R32, Williams 6-3 6-4

2007 Hobart, hard, R16, Williams 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5)

SERENA WILLIAMS

Age: 33

Born: Saginaw, Michigan, USA

Lives: Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA

Height: 175cm

Weight: 70kg

Ranking: 1

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US67,527,669 ($A86.76 million)

Career titles: 66

Career win-loss record: 715-121

Grand slam titles: 19 (Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015; French Open 2002, 2013; Wimbledon 2002-03, 2009-10, 2012; US Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012-2014)

Grand slam win-loss record: 183-28

French Open win-loss record: 53-11

Best French Open performances: champion 2002, 2013

Road to final

1st rd: bt Andrea Hlavackova (CZE) 6-2 6-3

2nd rd: bt Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER) 5-7 6-3 6-3

3rd rd: bt 27-Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 3-6 6-4 6-2

4th rd: bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 1-6 7-5 6-3

QF: bt 17-Sara Errani (ITA) 6-1 6-3

SF: bt 23-Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) 4-6 6-3 6-0

LUCIE SAFAROVA (CZE)

Age: 28

Born: Brno, Czech Republic

Lives: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Height: 177cm

Weight: 62kg

Ranking: 13

Plays: left-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US6,399,222 ($A8.22 million)

Career titles: 6

Career win-loss record: 376-259

Grand slam titles: 0

Grand slam win-loss record: 48-39

French Open win-loss record: 19-11

Best French Open performance: finalist 2015

Road to final

1st rd: bt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (11-9)

2nd rd: bt Kurumi Nara (JPN) 6-2 6-0

3rd rd: bt 20-Sabine Lisicki (GE) 6-3 7-6 (7-2)

4th rd: bt 2-Maria Sharapova (RUS) 7-6 (7-3) 6-4

QF: bt 21-Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3

SF: bt 7-Ana Ivanovic (SRB) 7-5 7-5

Apr 07

Austin in Knights’ sights in must-win game

When Newcastle attempt to restore their pride this Saturday they’ll have one eye on Canberra’s burly forwards – and the other fixated firmly on Blake Austin.

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Seven losses in the last eight rounds ensures the under-pressure Knights will have desperation on their side when they host the Raiders at Hunter Stadium.

Having slipped to an unenviable 12th spot on the NRL ladder, coach Rick Stone’s men need a win before the bye if they fancy getting their finals aspirations back on track.

But returning skipper Kurt Gidley says that won’t happen if they can’t contain the Raiders’ five-eighth Austin.

“He’s a really good runner of the footy and he’s confident at the moment too, so he’s backing himself to take the line on,” Gidley said.

“He’s one that we watched some video on this morning and we’ll need to be aware of when he has the ball, where he is and make sure we don’t fall for any dummies.”

The Knights looked to have turned a corner in form in last week’s four-point loss to the Warriors.

They were missing a host of veterans then, as well as overcoming the loss of halfback Tyrone Roberts to an ankle injury just three minutes in.

Roberts will be out for at least a month, but his teammates will benefit from the presence of replacement Gidley at No.7 and returning forward Kade Snowden (neck), with fullback Dane Gagai (calf) also expected to play.

This week it’ll be a case of the same game plan, against a bigger pack.

“They always have a pretty big forward pack so in the middle of the field, we’ll need to do a pretty good job there,” Gidley said.

“Obviously the past number of games we’ve been inconsistent.

“Any time we’ve played well we’ve defended really well.

“But we’ve been leaking too many points at different stages of our games and we’ve been inconsistent defensively.”

They’ve at least leaked less than Canberra.

The Raiders have conceded the most points (281) of any NRL team this season despite also having scored the most (275).

Their recent slump of three defeats has seen them slip from top-four contenders to 10th and equal on points with Newcastle.

Raiders forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala admitted the majority of their conceded tries have been let in on the edges, saying the key will be marking the Knights’ dangerous outside backs including Sione Mata’utia, and Akuila Uate.

“They’re the ones who start the sets for their team, so we’ve got to control that and make sure we stop that,” Nuuausala said.

“Then it will be pretty hard for them to get out of their own yard.”

KEY STATS:

*Last week was the first time in six matches that less than 50 total points were scored in a Canberra game.

*The Raiders have let in almost 40 per cent of their tries this season through their right edge.

*Newcastle are conceding the equal-fewest penalties this season (5.3 per game). After losing the penalty count in their opening three matches they have now won every one since.

*The Knights are busting the most tackles (28.3 per game) and making the second-most linebreaks (5.7 per game).