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Pair charged with taking part in Syria war

A Sydney man alleged to have organised Australians to fight in Syria’s civil war, and another who was allegedly on his way to the frontline, are now behind bars.

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A four-month operation by the Australian Federal Police and NSW Police snagged the pair on rarely used foreign incursion charges on Tuesday.

The first man, Hamdi Alqudsi, is alleged to be the linchpin in a criminal group recruiting Australian men to fight with terrorist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliates of al-Qaeda.

The 39-year-old allegedly organised travel and overseas contacts for seven Australians, including 23-year-old Amin Mohammed, who was arrested at Brisbane Airport on Tuesday.

Alqudsi, of St Helens Park, will be freed on bail provided he can raise a $10,000 surety, Bankstown Local Court heard.

He is banned from contacting Mohammed and prosecution witnesses, many of whom are overseas, before his next court appearance in February.

Earlier, NSW commissioner of special operations Catherine Burn told reporters his arrest “puts a significant dent” into a network recruiting young Australians for the war.

At Burwood Local Court, Mohammed’s lawyer Peter Allport argued his client had planned to travel to Syria, but there was no evidence to suggest it was to take part in the war.

“They may have been going as humanitarian workers,” he told the court.

Mohammed had planned to travel on to Turkey and Denmark to meet up with a girl as part of a family arranged marriage, he said.

Mr Allport also argued recorded phone conversations should be interpreted liberally given they were in Arabic, which relies on “description, emotion and colour” for effect.

Mohammed was granted bail on conditions including that he surrender his passport, but was unable on Tuesday to raise $5000 a surety.

He will remain behind bars until a February court date.

The AFP says around 100 Australians are suspected of being involved in the Syrian conflict at the moment.

Investigations into others involved in the network are continuing, with more arrests expected.

The men are not involved in any terrorism threat against Australia.

The AFP says Alqudsi and Mohammed are the first Australians to be charged with foreign incursion offences in relation to the Syrian conflict.

Victorian grandfather Gerard Michael Little, 46, was in September sentenced to seven months and six days jail in time already served for the same offence.

Little had pleaded guilty to training to fight in the West Papuan independence movement.

The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 makes it an offence to travel to a foreign state – or assist someone to travel – with the intention to engage in hostile activity, or to train or be trained in hostile activities.

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Slater’s knee concern here to stay: Storm

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is resigned to star fullback Billy Slater having to nurse his knee problem for the rest of his rugby league career.

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Slater overcame a knee injury to be one of standout players in Australia’s World Cup final win over New Zealand in England at the weekend.

He had hurt his left knee a fortnight before the final and only made the decider after intensive treatment.

“When he first hurt it in Origin last year, the medical advice then was that it’s going to be an issue for the rest of his career,” Bellamy said on Tuesday.

“It’s going to take some managing and that’s what it is at the moment.”

But Bellamy said he never had concerns about Slater playing in the final.

“We were very confident that Tim (Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens) and the medical staff wouldn’t let him play unless he was (right),” Bellamy said.

Bellamy also took the chance for a quiet dig at NRL referees ahead of next season.

“It was really good to see he got a couple of penalties as well,” Bellamy said of Slater in the World Cup.

“He was taken without the ball a couple of times and the English referee picked that up.

“Hopefully there’s a couple of signs there that our referees might be able to see the same thing next year.”

But Bellamy was less pleased about the scheduling pressures on the game’s biggest stars like Slater.

He would like to see a shorter World Cup format in future and would prefer no NRL games during the State Of Origin schedule.

The Storm’s World Cup representatives won’t resume training with the club until late January.

“All of us here at club-land are worried about the workload of our elite players,” Bellamy said.

“Us coaches have been going on about that for a while.”

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Barba can expect tough reception: Price

Canterbury legend Steve Price says Ben Barba’s possible first round NRL matchup with the Bulldogs next season could garner a similar reaction to that which Sonny Bill Williams was given in his first game against the blue and whites.

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With the NRL draw to be released on Wednesday, rumours are rife Barba’s Brisbane will meet the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium in the season’s first Friday night fixture as part of a blockbuster opening to the 2014 premiership.

Barba’s departure from Belmore wasn’t as controversial as Williams’ departure in 2008 but was greeted acrimoniously by certain sections of the Bulldogs Army.

Price said Barba could expect to receive a cool welcome from Bulldogs fans in a backhanded compliment for what he did for the club, similar to what Williams was given when he turned out against his former club in Roosters colours earlier this year.

“Benny was much loved by Bulldogs supporters, I’m sure they were sad to see him go,” Price said.

“Most people I think would understand why he left but they will rip into him.

“But he won’t let it worry him, he will just go out there and play his footy.

“As a player I would rather it was the first game, you get into it and move on.”

The probable Canterbury v Brisbane match on Friday March 7 will likely follow the Thursday night opener between bitter rivals South Sydney and Sydney Roosters at the same venue as the tricolours begin their premiership defence.

Other round one talking points include:

– Sam Tomkins’ first game for the Warriors

– William Hopoate’s first NRL game in over two years for Parramatta

– How Manly will respond to their grand final loss and;

– How Eric Grothe will perform in what will be his first game of NRL after three years of retirement if he turns out for Cronulla in a slated Monday night fixture.

Much focus will be on Jamie Soward’s first game for Penrith and a new-look St George-Illawarra outfit led by under siege coach Steve Price.

Gold Coast mentor John Cartwright will be keen for a good start to the season after a few lean years with former North Queensland coach Neil Henry alongside him in an assistant’s role.

Rookie coach Paul Green will coach the Cowboys in his first NRL game and Ricky Stuart returns to Canberra in a bid to reinvigorate the club with whom he won three premierships.

The ARL Commission has already confirmed the State of Origin dates for next season as 28 May (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane), 18 June (ANZ Stadium, Sydney), and 9 July (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane).

Long road to secure $8b for Roy Hill

It’s been a long road for billionaire Gina Rinehart to secure the money for her $US10 billion Roy Hill iron ore project.

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Almost four years after the crucial rail component of the project was approved, Ms Rinehart has proved her naysayers wrong as she fulfils a long-held dream of running her own mine.

The Hancock Prospecting chairman shored up a massive $8 billion debt funding package in Singapore overnight after months of talking to investment bankers.

Clinching the deal is a massive win for Ms Rinehart, but it has come later than planned.

While construction of the Pilbara mine, rail and port project is now 30 per cent complete, steel-making customers in China, Japan and Korea will still have to wait 18 months until shipments begin arriving.

Back in 2012, when Hancock prospecting sold down a 30 per cent stake in the project, the company was predicting production would begin in 2014.

It now expects to begin shipping 55 million tonnes per year in September 2015.

Still, analysts, industry commentators and the WA government have congratulated Roy Hill on the agreement at a time of lower iron ore prices and warnings about an oversupply in China, the world’s biggest iron ore market.

Some analysts warn that a forecast oversupply of seaborne iron ore, stringent environmental rules affecting steelmaking in China and worries about financing large construction projects could cause further iron ore price weakness.

But Roy Hill’s financiers are banking on China’s continued appetite for the steel making ingredient as high quality, low cost Pilbara iron ore replaces lower quality, high cost Chinese production in the years ahead.

Iron ore prices have fallen from around $US130 per tonne at the start of the year to trade at $US110 per tonne this week.

Some analysts believe the price will fall to around $US80 or $US90 in 2016-18.

Still, Roy Hill Chief executive Barry Fitzgerald has cast aside concerns about medium-term price volatility, saying the company is comfortable with long-run iron ore forecasts.

He said Roy Hill was in a favourable position following a dramatic turnaround in the local labour market.

Shortly after inking the 10-year funding package Ms Rinehart began trumpeting the economic benefits to Australia in the midst of global economic uncertainty.

“We look forward to becoming a major iron ore producer on an international scale,” Ms Rinehart said.

Ms Rinehart says the 2500 people working on the constructing the project will increase to 3600 later this year before 2000 permanent staff are employed during the operations.

Hancock Prospecting owns a 70 per cent stake in Roy Hill Holdings and the remaining 30 per cent is controlled by Posco, Japanese trader Marubeni, Taiwan’s China Steel Corporation and Korean Shipper STX.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea could wipe away billions of dollars of Ukrainian debt

It may be cold comfort when enemy tanks are still on its border, but some observers suggest that Kiev should be able to write off at least $5 billion of its debt to Russia because Moscow has effectively stolen Ukrainian territory and energy resources, as well as military hardware and bases.

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“An obvious focal point for the Ukrainian government now that Russia has intervened across its border, and actually seized land/assets is debts owed to Russia,” said Tim Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank Group. “No doubt the lawyers are sharpening their pencils as we speak.”

There are already a few ways in which Russian takeover could end up alleviating Ukraine’s debt, the most pressing of which is probably the $1.8 billion (and counting) that Kiev owes Gazprom for natural-gas shipments over the last year.

News reports suggest that Russia has already appropriated small Ukrainian energy firms operating in and near the Crimean peninsula. Russian troops in helicopters descended on a natural gas terminal just outside Crimea, The New York Times reported Saturday. And Tuesday, Crimean authorities took over a Ukrainian offshore drilling operation, which is expected to be sold to Gazprom, according to the Wall Street Journal. The operation, owned by Kiev’s state-owned energy conglomerate, had just spent $800 million on new equipment, which is now lost.

Then there is the rent from the Sevastopol navy base, which under the 1997 and 2010 bilateral accords was worth $98 million a year in cash to Kiev. It is not clear now, with Crimea formally severed from the rest of Ukraine, if Russia would be under any obligation to continue paying for the base.

Another part of the 2010 Kharkiv Accords, which extended the naval base lease to 2042, was to lock-in a long-term discount on Russian gas sold to Ukraine. However, that gas-for-basing deal had already broken down by the time of last year’s protests. One of the carrots Moscow had offered Kiev to pry Ukraine away from Europe, in fact, was a 33 percent discount on natural gas — essentially, what it had already promised to deliver under the terms of the 2010 accord. That discount is revised quarterly and will come to an end this month.

Russia’s military aggression is also calling into question the validity of the loan Moscow extended to the now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Late last fall, after Yanukovych turned away from a political and trade agreement with the European Union, Russia offered to lend him $15 billion to aid the struggling Ukrainian economy. Only $3 billion of the loan — in the form of bonds due in 2015 — came through before Yanukovych was run out of Kiev.

The question many observers are asking is whether Ukraine should have to pay back that money given Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.

Anna Gelpern, a Georgetown law professor, suggested a creative legal maneuver that might allow Britain, a close ally of the new Ukrainian central government, to invalidate those bonds as part of a sanctions package against Russia. Because the bonds are English law contracts, Gelpern said Britain could refuse to honor them in British courts, making them effectively void and worthless to private buyers.

But Russia still holds the ultimate trump card. While lawyers can calculate the price tag for Russia’s Crimean adventure, Moscow still has the power to shut off the natural gas supply that Ukraine depends on.

French chefs wake up to Aussie cuisine

Australia’s new wave cooking has long been admired in the English-speaking world, and now it seems chefs from the land of haute cuisine are finally waking up to its uninhibited charms.

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Drawn by a no-holds-barred culinary culture that has produced creative East-West blends, French Michelin-starred cooks have been travelling to Australia for stints at kitchens Down Under.

“It made me less hung-up,” said Pascal Barbot, chef at Paris’ L’Astrance restaurant, who has three Michelin stars to his hat.

He spent two years working in a Sydney restaurant experimenting with flavours and creating dishes he said would have been unimaginable in the more conservative French tradition.

It “had a big influence on my cooking,” Barbot admitted.

David Toutain, touted as one of France’s best young chefs, also stopped off in Australia during a world tour in 2013.

“I had heard other chefs talking and I wanted to see what was going on down there,” said the chef, whose eponymous restaurant opened in December in Paris.

It was a “great” decision, he said, saying he came upon “extraordinary” ideas in a country where some chefs are even working with native ingredients that have been used in Aboriginal cooking for some 60,000 years.

This week, some of Australia’s top chefs came to Paris to cook at the ninth Omnivore festival, an annual event that brings chefs from around the world to show off their stuff in 35-minute “masterclasses”.

Billed as a the culinary world’s Cannes festival, it aims to celebrate new perspectives in food preparation and those who are creating them.

“Australia is in the middle of a culinary boom and, more and more, that food is being seen on the world stage,” said Luc Dubanchet, the festival’s founder.

“It’s a fusion cuisine and it’s inventive. There are no boundaries and they aren’t inhibited by any pre-existing culinary culture,” he said.

For Colin Fassnidge, a chef of Irish origin who has lived in Sydney for more than a decade, Australia’s advantage lies precisely in its lack of a long culinary tradition.

“France and Britain are different – chefs there don’t necessarily want to mess with traditions,” said Fassnidge, who runs the Sydney-based Four in Hand restaurant.

“In Australia, we are creating that tradition,” said the chef, who prepared a suckling pig cooked with shellfish and garnished with sorrel-laced apple sauce for his Omnivore masterclass.

There is no such thing as Australian cuisine, said Darren Robertson from Sydney’s Three Blue Ducks restaurant, which features items such as duck with chilli jam and smoked potato ice-cream on the menu.

Australian chefs have been influenced by food from all over the world. “Greek, Italian, Japanese,” he said, “and especially Asian influences.”

“There is a new generation. They travel a lot, and they share a lot with other chefs.”

Not shy about experimenting, Australian chefs are revisiting locally sourced food rarely seen these days – including the ingredients traditionally used by Aborigines.

“Bush tucker” fare – local fruits, shoots and creatures that also include wallaby, kangaroo and wombat – are now figuring on Australia’s dining tables.

“We try to play with underutilised, or unpopular fish, species that you might not have seen on a menu in 10 years,” said Shannon Debreceny, another chef at Three Blue Ducks.

For Robertson, a key ingredient in the success of Australian chefs is also attitude: keeping cool in a high-stress setting.

“We have a 44-hour working week and we encourage our staff to have a work-life balance, to go surfing, diving and whatever, but above all, to rest,” he said.

“That means they bring a high level of energy back into the kitchen when they are here because they are not tired.”

Area of Vic mine fire declared safe

It’s taken 40 days but the Victorian coalmine fire that smoked out a nearby town is just about over.

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The northern walls of the Hazelwood open-cut mine, the critical area of the fire closest to Morwell, are now safe.

But firefighters warned some hot spots could develop into bigger fires if they weren’t contained.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the northern fire had put most of the smoke and ash over the town.

“This is excellent progress and has been achieved by firefighters working 24 hours a day for over five weeks to finally secure the northern batters,” Mr Lapsley said on Friday.

Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said possible breaches of fire safety laws at the mine would be examined in an independent inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice Bernard Teague.

He will be supported by Professor John Catford, a former Victorian chief health officer, and Sonia Petering, a corporate lawyer and chairwoman of the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria.

Mr Ryan said he expected the board would “extensively” examine mine owner GDF Suez as well as the government’s response to the blaze.

“I think it’s very important we go into this inquiry on a basis that anything and everything ought properly be on the table and those issues I’m sure will be the subject of close examination,” he told reporters on Friday.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the inquiry’s hearings needed to be open to the public so people could have confidence in the final report.

Control of the 1.5km northern area of the mine has been handed back to GDF Suez, but fire services will continue to work on other sections until they are deemed safe.

Firefighters have also checked a fire dubbed “Old Faithful” that’s been smouldering in an area of the mine for years, possibly since 1977.

Mr Lapsley said the “fire scar” will continue to be managed by GDF Suez by using a clay cap to block its oxygen supply.

The Hazelwood mine fire began on February 9 when a deliberately lit fire spotted into the mine.

It was brought under control on March 10.

Salt and obesity ageing link found

Obese teenagers who eat a lot of salty food may be getting old before their time, a study suggests.

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Scientists found evidence the teenagers’ cells were ageing more quickly than those of overweight teens who consumed less salt, or slimmer individuals.

“Lowering sodium intake, especially if you are overweight or obese, may slow down the cellular ageing process that plays an important role in the development of heart disease,” said lead scientist Dr Haidong Zhu, from Georgia Regents University in Augusta, US.

The findings are based on a study of telomeres, protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten as we age.

Telomeres have been compared with the plastic tips that stop shoelaces fraying. When they get too short, cells become inactive or die.

Research has shown that the speed of telomere shortening can vary between individuals, corresponding to different rates of biological ageing.

High levels of body fat were already known to hasten the shortening of telomeres.

The new study found that sodium in salt seemed to work hand-in-hand with obesity to speed the effect up further.

Zhu’s team divided 766 teenagers into different groups according to their reported sodium intake.

Low-intake teens consumed an average of just over two grams of sodium a day, compared with more than four grams for the high-intake group.

Both groups consumed far more than the daily maximum 1.5 grams of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association – equivalent to about two-thirds of a teaspoon of table salt.

The scientists found that among overweight and obese teenagers, those with a high sodium intake had significantly shorter telomeres than those in the low intake category. This was after adjusting for a number of factors that influence telomere length.

“Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease,” Zhu said.

“The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than potato chips for a snack.”

Injury-hit Phoenix eye elusive win

Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick’s improvisation skills are being stretched to the limit as he looks for three more wins and a spot in the A-League play-offs.

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Hit hard in recent weeks by injury and suspension, eighth-placed Wellington desperately need a win on Saturday at Hunter Stadium against the Newcastle Jets, who sit one place and one point above them on the ladder.

Merrick remains confident of securing a top-six spot, although he admits his rapidly diminishing squad have made life challenging in recent weeks.

“Out of last week’s starting 11, there were only five players that completed pre-season which shows you how much we’ve had to improvise,” he said.

A long injury list is largely to blame, with star striker Carlos Hernandez the latest addition in joining Paul Ifill, Louis Fenton, Reece Caira, Albert Riera, Leo Bertos and Josh Brindell-South.

Central defender Ben Sigmund will also miss the Newcastle game, serving out a one-match suspension after receiving two yellow cards in last week’s eventful 2-2 draw with Melbourne Heart.

Luke Adams comes into the match-day squad for Sigmund, and Merrick is unlikely to tinker with his starting 11 too much, although he does have options with Manny Muscat either slotting into the back four or filling a defensive midfield role.

Wellington’s next three games are against the teams immediately above them on the ladder – Newcastle, Adelaide United and Sydney FC, with their final match against second-placed Melbourne Victory.

Merrick says his team’s focus will be on process, rather than worrying about the all-important victory.

“It’s not about must-win games, it’s that we must play individually and collectively, our best football. The outcome looks after itself.”

Wellington downed the Jets 3-2 in round 16 to move into the top six, and Merrick is expecting a tough challenge again, particularly with Emile Heskey back to full fitness.

The Jets, who will be starting Ben Kennedy in goal ahead of Mark Birighitti, have the league’s equal top scorer in striker Adam Taggart and an extra boost of midfield experience in Socceroo David Carney.

“I know they’ve had a tough run, but they’re a good team and there’s a lot of ability there,” Merrick said.

Failed exchange finds 200,000 Bitcoins

Failed Bitcoin exchange MtGox says it has found 200,000 coins worth $US116 million ($A128.

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58 million) in an old “digital wallet”, after it collapsed in February admitting it had lost half a billion dollars in a possible theft.

The Tokyo-based digital currency exchange filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan last month, saying it had lost 850,000 coins worth nearly $US500 million at present prices.

But 200,000 Bitcoins were left in a “wallet” used before June 2011, the company said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

Bitcoin wallets are used for online transactions between currency holders.

The new find would be worth $US116 million, according to the CoinDesk Bitcoin price index. The discovery has been reported to the court overseeing the case, the statement said.

MtGox, which at one time reportedly processed 80 per cent of global Bitcoin transactions, said that the 200,000 Bitcoins – discovered on March 7 – had been moved to an offline wallet.

“Taking into account the existence of the 200,000 BTC, the total number of Bitcoins which have disappeared is therefore estimated to be approximately 650,000 BTC,” the statement said.

The company filed for protection under US bankruptcy law earlier this month, 10 days after doing the same in Japan after a huge loss of the digital currency.

MtGox’s lawyer said 750,000 Bitcoins belonging to customers had gone, along with MtGox’s own store of the currency, which she said was around 100,000 units.

Japanese officials have said they were closely monitoring MtGox’s bankruptcy proceedings, as they try to get a handle on how and why the exchange imploded.

The global virtual currency community was shaken by the shuttering of MtGox, which froze withdrawals in early February because of what the firm said was a bug in the software underpinning Bitcoin that allowed hackers to pilfer them.

Unlike traditional currencies backed by central banks, Bitcoin is generated by complex chains of interactions among a huge network of computers around the planet.

After trading for cents per Bitcoin for the first two years of its existence, it began a frenzied climb in 2011 that took it to $US40 a coin in late 2012 and $US1,100 last year, before falling off to the current $580 level.

Its relative anonymity and lack of regulation has been attacked by critics who fear it could be used to finance organised crime or terrorism.

Stockwatch Week to March 21

A round-up of some of the key stock movements on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) in the trading week to Friday, March 21, 2014:

DJS – DAVID JONES – down 18 cents, or 5.

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45 per cent, at $3.12

David Jones says a lower Australian dollar has helped it to pinch customers back from international online rivals.

Chief executive Paul Zahra also says Myer’s $3 billion merger proposal doesn’t make sense for his company in its current form.

LEI – LEIGHTON HOLDINGS – down 33 cents, or 1.54 per cent, at $21.04

Hochtief has flagged widespread job cuts to construction group Leighton Holdings’ 56,000-strong global workforce as shareholders consider a $1.2 billion bid to increase its stake in the company.

MYR – MYER – down 24 cents, or 8.86 per cent at $2.47

Myer chief Bernie Brookes is adamant better times are ahead for the retailer, but shareholders will have to wait until at least 2015 to see sales and profit improve.

MTS – METCASH – down 30 cents, or 9.5 per cent, at $2.85

Grocery wholesaler Metcash has announced a $480 million overhaul of its business after earlier downgrading its 2014 earnings guidance.

NUF – NUFARM – up 27 cents, or 6.89 per cent, at $4.19

Agricultural chemicals and seeds supplier Nufarm will cut 105 jobs as part of a cost-cutting restructure of its Australian operations.

ORG – ORIGIN ENERGY – up 10 cents, or 0.7 per cent, at $14.43

Origin Energy has restarted drilling on five of 12 southeast Queensland rigs where operations were suspended due to asbestos contamination.

SGP – STOCKLAND – down 12 cents, or 3.13 per cent, at $3.72

ALZ – AUSTRALAND – up 26 cents, or 6.72 per cent, at $4.13

Property developer Stockland has bought a major stake in fellow developer Australand, as its former major stakeholder offloads its shares.

Australia open to hosting Maori side

Maori sides affiliated to New Zealand’s first class teams are preparing to play two matches in Taupo on Sunday which organisers are hoping could lead to the re-establishment of a team to play internationally.

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“I think we have previously tried to have a triangular or quad series with a Maori side involved,” Cricket Australia executive general manager of game market development Andrew Ingleton told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“It’s certainly not out of the question,” he added when asked if they would consider inviting a New Zealand Maori team to participate in the future.

“We would certainly consider that.”

Unlike other sporting codes, such as rugby, softball and rugby league, Maori have had little exposure in New Zealand’s cricket team with wicketkeeper Adam Parore widely considered the first Maori to play test cricket in 1990.

The clash between Northern Districts and Wellington Maori on Sunday is seen by organiser Graeme Stewart as an opportunity to increase the number of Maori playing cricket and provide a pathway to the higher echelons of the game.

Stewart is keen to try and emulate Australia’s Imparja Cup competition, which involves indigenous teams from the elite state level down to community level at a tournament in Alice Springs each February.

The competition began in 1994 with a game between teams from Alice Springs and Tennant Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory, Ingleton said, and grew from there with the governing body increasingly involved from 2001.

“It does fit into our overall framework to try and ensure that cricket is a game for everybody,” Ingleton said.

“We do appreciate that cricket can’t rely on the sons of former cricketers to sustain themselves.

“As Australia grows and becomes increasingly diverse we have to make sure that clubs are really engaged in the community they operate in so that everyone can turn up to a club and feel safe and included and comfortable.

“As part of that overall determination, growing indigenous cricket is important because we want to recognise that the first Australians are represented within the game.”

ALTERNATIVE PATHWAY

More than 40 teams, both men and women’s sides, competed at the latest tournament with Queensland winning the men’s elite title while New South Wales clinched the women’s competition.

Ingleton said the Imparja Cup was an alternative pathway for indigenous players, with a national indigenous development side selected at the end of the tournament.

The side toured England in 2009, India two years ago and was likely to tour the subcontinent again next year. It had also played Papua New Guinea in the past, Ingleton added.

Aside from the Imparja Cup, Cricket Australia were heavily involved in grassroots development programmes and were taking them into indigenous schools and helping subsidise the cost of not only the programmes but equipment.

“The first Australian team to go overseas and play was an indigenous team,” he said. “Cricket was very popular within the indigenous community but its popularity has waned so we have a concerted effort to ensure that it’s a game they play.”

Ingleton said the indigenous cricket programmes were supposed to complement the high performance pathways already in existence and those indigenous players good enough, like left-arm pace bowler Josh Lalor, were already in the system.

Lalor has played for New South Wales already and appeared for the Australian Chairman’s XI against England at Alice Springs in a tour match late last year.

“I had a conversation this year at the Imparja Cup and they asked ‘how long before we see an indigenous player in a baggy green cap?'” he said.

“There have been a couple over the years,” he added in reference to all-rounder Dan Christian and pace bowler Jason Gillespie, who have Aboriginal heritage.

“But the pathway is the same for every player who is trying to break into the elite level of the sport.

“It’s tough and you have to perform.”

(The story corrects to remove reference to Imparja Cup in headline/lead.)

(Editing by John O’Brien and Nick Mulvenney)

‘Hell yeah’ to Blanchett’s Oscar speech

Emma Stone was blown away by Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech.

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In Sydney promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with her onscreen/offscreen beau Andrew Garfield (who plays Spidey), Stone enthused about female roles on film.

Movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Blue Jasmine and perhaps soon, the new adaptation Divergent, are not just hitting screens but storming the box office.

Stone says Hollywood seems to be waking up to the fact that movies with strong female roles can actually make money.

“I would hope so. Remember Cate Blanchett’s Oscar speech? How great was that. Hell yeah!” she says.

“There’s a lot of the population that wants to see movies with a female lead and it’s exciting to be around in a time where that is kind of at the forefront of people’s attention.”

In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Stone plays Gwen Stacy, the brainy girlfriend of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man.

And she’d like to clear up just how much of a part she played in making sure Gwen was more than simply `the girlfriend’.

“The whole thing,” she jokes.

“I’ll just take credit for the whole thing. I wrote it, I directed it.

“(No) they were very clear about Gwen being her own woman and a really strong and independent character which is incredibly important,” she adds.

Stone says the writers even penned the script after watching the first film so it would suit her personal style of banter this time around.

Whether Gwen returns in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is yet to be seen, especially with Shailene Woodley (who coincidentally stars in Divergent) cast as Parker’s other main love interest Mary Jane.

Woodley actually filmed a couple of small scenes for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but they were cut, because director Marc Webb wanted to make sure the film was really Gwen and Peter’s movie.

As to whether Stone has any advice for a future girlfriend of Spidey, Stone laughs.

“Shailene does not need any advice. She is a badass,” she says.

“She is doing just fine. I seek advice from HER often.”

* The Amazing Spider-Man 2 releases in Australian cinemas on April 17