NQ co-captain Scott a risk: Taumalolo

The coach looked like he had “lost sleep”.

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And Matt Scott was shattered.

But North Queensland enforcer Jason Taumalolo has backed Cowboys mentor Paul Green’s huge call to rule Scott out of Sunday’s NRL grand final 17, admitting fielding the co-captain would be a risk.

Green held a surprise press conference on Monday to declare Test prop Scott would not feature against Melbourne in the season decider unless someone was injured at training this week.

And in a bid to shut down more speculation, Green said injury concerns Coen Hess (knee), Ethan Lowe (cheekbone) and John Asiata (hand) were not in doubt for the club’s second grand final in three years.

Green looked at his intense, focused best at the press conference but Taumalolo described a very different man who told the team the huge news earlier that day.

“I think he lost some sleep over it last night,” Taumalolo said of the Cowboys coach.

“We had a team meeting first and he announced it then.

“I didn’t see him (Scott) for a bit but you could tell he was pretty disappointed.”

However, Taumalolo admitted it would have been a risk to throw their pack leader into his first game in six months with the premiership on the line.

“It’s a big call but there’s a couple of big factors,” he said.

“He hasn’t played football for a while now, obviously match fitness would be a big factor if he played.

“And our younger boys have stepped up over the last two months through that tough period for us.

“It’s good to see them come out of their shell and add to the team.”

Taumalolo could still feel for Scott.

“For him to just be mentioned to be selected is huge,” he said.

“But I feel for Thumper (Scott).

“He has worked hard all year and probably deserves a shot but in saying that so do the boys who have played the last month.”

Taumalolo believed Scott would still play a huge role for the Cowboys as they look to upset runaway favourites the Storm and clinch a second premiership.

“For the guys who haven’t played a grand final before he will calm their nerves and just relax them,” he said.

“He will play his part off the field to help the boys on the field.”

Green said he called the press conference in a bid to “clear the air” after reports Corey Jensen would be replaced in the grand final 17 by Scott.

“Some of the comments last week were blown out of proportion (about Scott),” Green said.

“I think it is important that people don’t perceive that Matt was suggesting he take the place of someone in the 17 who have done the job for us so far.

“With that in mind if nothing happens injury-wise this week the same 17 will play on Sunday.”

Russians accused of airstrike in Syria

US-backed forces in eastern Syria say Russia bombed their positions in a major natural gas field they recently captured from Islamic State militants.

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The Syrian Democratic Forces said a Russian airstrike killed one of its fighters and wounded two others in the Conoco gas field, in Deir el-Zour province. Russia’s Defence Ministry denied the report.

SDF fighters captured Conoco field, Syria’s largest, from IS militants on Saturday.

It was not the first time the SDF has accused Russia of targeting its forces in oil and gas-rich Deir el-Zour, where Russian backed Syrian troops are waging a separate offensive against the extremists.

The two sides are racing to defeat the militants and snap up oil and gas fields, fuelling fears of conflict between the two groups.

Both the US and Russia have embedded special forces with their respective partners and are supporting their advances with aggressive airstrikes.

The Pentagon accused Russian jets of attacking the SDF last week. Russia in turn said its forces were targeted twice from SDF-held territory.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 72 pro-government fighters have been killed in battle with the jihadists since crossing the Euphrates last week.

At least seven Russian soldiers have been killed, and Russia’s Defence Ministry acknowledged that one of its generals was killed in the area on Sunday.

Syria’s largest oil field, the al-Omar, is located on the eastern side of the river.

Elsewhere in Syria, Russian and government warplanes stepped up their airstrikes against rebels as well as al-Qaeda-linked insurgents in different areas, straining a patchwork of cease-fires and “de-escalation” agreements that brought relative calm in recent weeks.

Activists and monitoring groups reported airstrikes in Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, as well as clashes between rebels and pro-government forces in northern Syria and on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

No hard feelings with Storm: NQ’s Lowe

At the time, his coach was so angry he fired off an official complaint.

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But North Queensland backrower Ethan Lowe says he has no beef with Melbourne’s wrestling tactics ahead of Sunday’s NRL grand final despite suffering a career-threatening neck scare against the Storm.

A year ago Lowe faced an uncertain future when he underwent spinal surgery after suffering the neck injury in the Cowboys’ 2016 qualifying loss to Melbourne.

North Queensland coach Paul Green was livid at the time, firing off an official complaint over the Storm’s tactics after another two Cowboys also suffered neck issues in the game.

But fast forward 12 months and Lowe said he had no problem with the Storm despite finishing last year’s qualifying final against them with little feeling in his feet and hands.

“Not at all. We have played them twice already this season and I got through it unscathed,” he said.

“I didn’t believe their tackling had anything to do with the injury.

“I put it down to it being football and stuff happens.

“We play a physical sport and sometimes things can go wrong.”

Lowe recovered in the pre-season to play every game for the Cowboys this year and be mentioned for Queensland State of Origin selection.

However, Lowe admitted plenty of doubts flashed through his mind as he began the long road to recovery.

“It was definitely hard having a major injury and a major scare – it plays on your mind a little bit,” said Lowe, who has also taken on Cowboys goal-kicking duties.

“And I think it played on my mind at the start of the season too but I worked my way through it and I am back where I need to be.”

Asked if he was a little wary taking on the the Storm wrestle again, Lowe said: “They’re playing to the whistle and if the refs don’t blow the whistle then it’s play on.

“I leave it to the refs to adjudicate and go from there.”

The lanky backrower’s main concern appears to the huge shiner on his right eye ahead of the grand final.

Not surprisingly, the player who came back from a career threatening neck injury didn’t seem concerned by a black eye.

“The eye is fine. It’s a bruise and a black eye – nothing too bad,” he said.

“I will be fine. I am not too worried.

“It looks a lot worse than it is.”

Hardwick hails Martin as total AFL star

Dustin Martin could make history this Saturday as the first AFL Brownlow winner to also take out the Norm Smith Medal in the same season.

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But Richmond coach Damien Hardwick says his star midfielder could not care less about being judged best afield in the grand final against Adelaide .

“There’s only one medal he’s interested in and that’s a premiership medallion,” Hardwick said.

“He loves winning, this kid, just loves it.”

It is that determination that has turned Martin into one of the AFL’s top midfielders.

“He improved, again – it’s been a privilege to coach him for, I think, eight seasons now and every season, he’s improved a facet of his game,” Hardwick said of Martin’s year.

Hardwick said Martin has turned himself into a complete player, who can win the ball inside and outside, as well as go forward and kick goals.

“For a coach, he’s an oustanding chess piece, like a queen – you can put in the midfield, put him up forward, just wherever you need the game to be won,” he said.

“That’s the mark of a good player.

“What he’s really brought to his game this year, his unselfishness has risen to a new level – his ability to make his teammates better.”

Last year, Patrick Dangerfield broke the Brownlow record for a season with 35 votes and on Monday night, Martin polled 36.

Dangerfield, who was ineligible for suspension this time, led the count for much of the night before Martin beat him by two.

Martin said it would have felt awkward had the Geelong star finished with a higher tally.

“For me, I”m still more disappointed about (losing) Friday night,” Dangerfield said.

“Dusty was very much a worthy winner,.

“He’s had a phenomenal season and followed on from where he left off last year.

“There are bigger things to come for him this week as well – he’s been very good.”

In his acceptance speech, Martin thanked long-time manager Ralph Carr, who has secured him a monster seven-year deal with the Tigers..

But several years ago, Carr and Martin’s father Shane said if he did not behave better off the field, they would stop supporting him.

“It’s been a long six years and I’m absolutely thrilled he’s come this far,” Carr said.

Smoke in womb linked to obesity

Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to be overweight than those who did not, according to researchers.

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A study by Aberdeen University compared the Body Mass Index (BMI) of siblings at five-years-old whose mothers smoked in-between pregnancies.

It found those exposed to smoke in the womb had a higher BMI than the older sibling who had not.

Dr Steve Turner, who led the research, said: “This study looked at the relationship between maternal smoking and childhood obesity.

“Previous studies have identified a link between the two but saying that one causes the other is problematic because there are lots of other factors that might explain this relationship, for example people from a poor communities are known to smoke more than those in more affluent communities.

“Also, children in those communities tend to be more obese so it may be that the relationship between smoking and obesity is actually explained by socioeconomic status.”

The relationship between pregnant mothers who smoke and childhood obesity has been identified in previous studies, but on this occasion it compared the effect of maternal smoking on siblings.

The results, published in the journal Paediatric and Paediatric Epidemiology, found if the mother started smoking between pregnancies, the younger child had increased BMI compared to their older unexposed brother or sister.

“This study adds to the huge body of evidence that maternal smoking in pregnancy is harmful and the harm isn’t just limited to the pregnancy itself – it lasts well-beyond the pregnancy,” Dr Turner said.

Castagna backs form for Tigers’ AFL GF

Jason Castagna is hopeful he’s done enough to hold his place in Richmond’s AFL grand final team.

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The second-year forward hit a lean patch of form just at the wrong stage of the Tigers’ premiership campaign.

He failed to kick a goal in the last four games of the home-and-away season and averaged six possessions a match over that period.

He was quiet again in the qualifying final win over Geelong, even though he kicked a goal, then had 18 touches and booted a major in the stunning preliminary final win over Greater Western Sydney.

Castagna’s defensive pressure-based role isn’t all about possessions and goals, but he admits his tapering form had started to play on his mind.

“I was pretty worried about my spot at times, but Dimma (Damien Hardwick) has been really good in keeping the faith in me,” Castagna told AAP.

“When you’re in a bit of a form slump as I have been recently you can get pretty down.

“We’ve all had times during the year when we’ve had a bit of a form slump but we just base our game around that pressure and if we keep bringing that it’s something we can work back from.”

Hardwick has made just one change to his line-up this finals series, bringing in a fit-again Josh Caddy for the qualifying final at the expense of Oleg Markov.

The coach hasn’t ruled out tinkering with his team this week, but also said he is more likely to stick with the winning preliminary final combination.

Castagna is confident his improved showing against the Cats is a sign of things to come.

“Some weeks I might not touch the ball as much or kick as many goals … from the outside people can say that you aren’t playing your role or you aren’t going that well,” he said.

“But inside we really focus on the pressure that helps our teammates.

“We’re not always going to get those touches, but we share it around and it evens out over the season.”

Unions go to court over penalty rate cuts

Unions representing hospitality and retail workers are about to challenge the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut Sunday penalty rates during a Federal Court hearing.

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In June the Fair Work Commission decided Sunday rates would drop by five percentage points for workers in the fast food, hospitality, retail and pharmacy sectors, starting July 1.

Hospitality union United Voice launched Federal Court action to keep workers’ penalty rates the same for Sundays and public holidays.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) also launched a Federal Court case.

In July, Justice Mordecai Bromberg decided both cases would be heard together.

The parties are due to appear before a full bench of the Federal Court in Melbourne on Tuesday for the start of a three-day hearing.

Employer and business groups including the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Hotels Association, and the NSW Business Chamber will argue the cuts should be respected.

Under the Fair Work Commission’s decision, the first cut to penalty rates will be five percentage points, with more significant cuts in 2018 and 2019 for fast food and hospitality workers.

Retail and pharmacy workers will have cuts to their rates phased in through until 2020.

United Voice says the cuts will hit lowest paid workers the most.

The ACTU has backed United Voice’s case, with president Ged Kearney arguing that if the law did not protect lowest paid workers, then the law was broken.

PLAYERS IN THE PENALTY RATES FEDERAL COURT CASE:

Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA)

Australian Business Industrial

NSW Business Chamber

Restaurant & Catering Industrial

Australian Retailers Association

National Retail Association

Master Grocers Australia

Pharmacy Guild of Australia

Fair Work Commission

Accommodation Association of Australia

Restaurant & Catering Industrial

Australian Business Industrial

United Voice

Australian Hotels Association.

Martin just another Tiger to tame: Crows

The Adelaide Crows intend to treat Brownlow medallist Dustin Martin as just another Richmond jumper in Saturday’s AFL grand final.

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The Crows say they’ll have plans for medallist Martin – but won’t ignore the other Tiger threats in Saturday’s premiership decider.

Adelaide ruckman Sam Jacobs says his midfielders have been asked a similar question throughout the finals: how do they stop their star on-ball opponents?

“Every week we have copped it, whether it’s (Geelong’s Patrick) Dangerfield or (Joel) Selwood or someone like that,” Jacobs said.

“Every team has got some really good players and Richmond are no different.

“Dusty is obviously the head act at the moment.

“Respectfully, they they have got a lot of fantastic players and they’re good players in their own right.”

Adelaide deployed robust 30-gamer Riley Knight on Cat captain Joel Selwood in their preliminary final win, with the 22-year-old a candidate for Martin if the Crows opt for a hard tag.

But Jacobs said it would take a total team effort to dim the influence of the Richmond star.

“He’s like every other player, you just pressure him and make him make a decision,” he said.

“We obviously see that he’s really strong and breaks a lot of tackles and we have got to make sure we’re on top of that.

“But they have got a lot of good players and we will focus on all of them.

“It’s no different to any other midfielder they have got, Cotchin and these types have been fantastic.

“Last week it was Selwood and Danger. We will back our guys in to get the job done. We have got a lot of good midfielders in really strong form.”

Nerve stimulation helps vegetative man

A 35-year-old man who has been in a vegetative state for 15 years is showing signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering treatment based on nerve stimulation.

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In the month since a vagus nerve stimulator was put into his chest, the man, who was injured in a car accident, has begun responding to simple orders that had been impossible before.

The findings reported in Current Biology may help to show that by stimulating the vagus nerve “it is possible to improve a patient’s presence in the world”, according to lead researcher Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France.

The researchers say it may challenge the view that a vegetative state which lasts for more than 12 months is irreversible.

“Other scientists have hailed it as “a potentially very exciting finding” but have also urged caution.

After treatment, it was reported the patient could follow an object with his eyes, turn his head on request and his mother said there was an improved ability to stay awake when listening to his therapist reading a book.

The vagus nerve connects the brain to many other parts of the body, including the gut.

It is known to be important in waking, alertness, and many other essential functions.

The patient, who was picked because he had been lying in a vegetative state for more than a decade with no sign of improvement, also appeared to react to a “threat”.

Researchers spotted that he reacted with surprise by opening his eyes wide when the examiner’s head suddenly approached his face.

Changes in brain activity may show that he had shifted from being in a vegetative state to being a state of minimal consciousness.

The researchers are now planning a large collaborative study.

Dr Tom Manly of Cambridge University’s MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, described it as a “potentially very exciting finding”.

“It is very important to take into account that the patient moved from a vegetative to a minimally conscious state. That is, consciousness remains severely altered but, in contrast to the vegetative state, there is minimal but definite behavioural evidence of self or environmental awareness,” he said.

“In my view it would be fair to say that this treatment could potentially restore consciousness in some patients in a vegetative state, rather than that it can.”

Weiner sentenced in teen ‘sexting’ case

Former US Representative Anthony Weiner has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for sending sexually explicit messages to a 15-year-old girl, setting off a scandal that played a role in the 2016 US presidential election.

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Weiner, 53, started to cry as the sentence was announced by US District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan. His wife Huma Abedin, an aide to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was not in the courtroom and has filed for divorce.

He pleaded guilty in May to transferring obscene material to a minor, and agreed he would not appeal any sentence of 27 months or less.

“I was a very sick man for a very long time, but I’m also responsible for the damage I have done,” Weiner read from a statement in court before he was sentenced. He said he was being treated, and asked Cote to spare him prison and sentence him to probation so he could continue treatment.

Weiner’s lawyer, Arlo Devlin-Brown, said that while Weiner exchanged sexually explicit messages with many women, all of the others were adults.

Cote said she believed Weiner was suffering from an addiction, and was serious about being treated. However, she said it was important to deter others from committing similar crimes.

The investigation into Weiner’s exchanges with a North Carolina high school student roiled the 2016 US presidential campaign in its final days, when authorities found emails on Weiner’s laptop from his wife.

The discovery of the emails prompted James Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to announce in late October that the agency was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was US secretary of state.

Clinton has said the announcement contributed to her upset loss to Republican Donald Trump, who had accused her of endangering national security by using the private server.