Qld teammates called 40 mark early: Smith

The milestone always seemed inconceivable to Cameron Smith.

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But the Queensland captain has revealed some Maroons teammates predicted he would be the first to play 40 State of Origins after just a handful of games.

Smith will make history when he runs out in Wednesday night’s Origin series opener at Suncorp Stadium.

The Maroons hooker never thought the 40 game barrier would be broken, however, he revealed some Queensland teammates called it early.

“I may have played half a dozen games and I remember guys like Petero Civoniceva and Steve Price saying ‘mate you will be the first to play 40 Origins’,” Smith said.

“And I just laughed, shook my head and said ‘no one will ever do that’.

“It’s a really nice achievement to have.”

Not that Smith can truly savour the record on Wednesday night.

“When you are still playing it is hard to sit back and say ‘wow I am about to play 40 games’,” Smith said.

“My mind is thinking about what I need to do to get ready for this game.

“I am not sitting back patting myself on the back.

“But I do understand it is a fairly significant milestone.”

Despite starting his Origin career 14 years ago and being captain since 2008, Smith admitted he would be nervous ahead of the historic game.

“Part of the benefit of the experience of all the games I have is you learn to enjoy the week rather than stress about it,” he said.

“But on game day you get a few butterflies in the belly.

“When I am getting on to the bus on the way to the game, you see all the cars outside, everyone is going mad, that’s when I get a little bit nervous.”

Smith said it wasn’t just the milestone that had him excited about Origin I.

Smith will lead a new look Maroons missing more than 100 Origin games’ worth of experience against a Blues side who have become surprise bookies’ favourites.

Queensland – winner of 10 of the past 11 Origin series – will blood debutants Anthony Milford and Dylan Napa.

“I am really looking forward to this one,” Smith said.

“There is a lot of talk about the outcome of the match and different lineup for our side but I think that has created a lot of interest around the game.

“I think we are in for a pretty special game I reckon.”

Saker can be key to Aust cricket success

John Hastings believes Australia’s bowling coach David Saker’s knowledge of English conditions can be crucial to any potential success in the Champions Trophy.

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Saker worked with England for six years and is credited with transforming Jimmy Anderson from an inconsistent medium-pacer into one of the world’s finest exponents of swing bowling.

He also played a huge role in the development of Stuart Broad before returning home to Melbourne take up a job with Victoria in 2015 and then joining Darren Lehmann’s backroom team last year.

With Australia blessed with their most exciting crop of pace bowlers for years, Hastings said the role of Saker in honing that talent can be a huge advantage in a country where success has been thin on the ground for over a decade.

“Sakes is brilliant,” Hastings said.

“He’s the first to come and tell you what you are doing wrong but also when you are going well.

“There’s also his knowledge of English conditions, and I keep harping on about conditions, but it is really important over here.

“Some days it can be … swinging around, some days the sun can be out and It’s flat and it doesn’t do anything.

“You have to know what to expect and he has been a big part of that.”

Hasting has done well in England during spells with county sides Durham and Worcester but admitted he wasn’t entirely confident of being selected for the Champions Trophy squad.

The 31-year-old was furious at his omission for the New Zealand one-day series last December, despite being the world’s leading one-day wicket-taker in the calendar year.

A fractured kneecap then ended his season and he admitted he thought he might have run his race as an international player.

“Missing out on that New Zealand series was tough to take, no doubt,” he said.

“Then I got injured and missed the rest of the summer. So I was in a pretty flat spot at times during the Big Bash.

“The early diagnosis for my injury was quite bad and I thought that could have been it, no doubt.

“But once they got in there and had a look, it wasn’t so bad.

“Nine to 10 months came down to about four months so that Champions Trophy was well in my mind and I was glad to get through it.”

Disease threatens Sri Lanka flood victims

Thousands of survivors of devastating floods and landslides in Sri Lanka are at risk of potentially fatal diseases such as dengue fever, charities warn as the death toll from the disaster continues to rise.

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Torrential rains over the last four days have sparked widespread flooding and triggered landslides in southwestern parts of the Indian Ocean island.

At least 177 people have died and almost half a million others have had their lives disrupted.

As search and rescue teams look for more than 100 people who remain missing, and Sri Lanka’s military in boats and helicopters struggle to reach marooned villagers with food and clean water, charities are warning of a looming health threat.

“The threat of water-borne diseases is a big concern with over 100,000 people displaced from their homes, many of whom are staying in damp, crowded conditions,” Chris McIvor, head of Save the Children Sri Lanka, said.

“I’m particularly worried we could start seeing even more dengue cases because of the floods, as stagnant water provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. It’s the last thing needed by communities that have already lost so much.”

Outbreaks of diseases such as dengue fever and cholera, and illnesses like diarrhoea and dysentery, are often a threat in the aftermath of floods due to water-logging, say experts.

Dengue is common in South Asia, especially during the monsoon season which runs from June to September, and if untreated, it can kill.

Sri Lanka’s ministry of disaster management says almost 558,000 people from 15 of the country’s 25 districts have been hit by the disaster. Villages and towns have been inundated, thousands of homes damaged and agriculture land swamped.

Around 75,000 people in the worst-affected districts have been relocated to temporary shelters.

The Sri Lanka authorities have called for international assistance to help with search and rescue efforts, and have also appealed for aid ranging from boats, generators and mobile toilets to mosquito nets, clothes and clean drinking water.

But aid workers say reaching survivors remains a challenge. Entire communities remain marooned, living out in the open as their homes have been destroyed, with roads submerged under water or blocked by landslides.

“Getting in to these communities is of the highest priority right now so we can find out exactly what the needs are and respond,” said McIvor.

“At the same time more rains are predicted since we are only at the start of the south west monsoon season, so the situation could worsen even more over the coming days and weeks.”

Trudeau invites Pope to indigenous apology

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Pope Francis to visit Canada to apologise to indigenous peoples for the Catholic Church’s treatment of aboriginal children in schools it ran there.

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Starting in the late 19th century, about 30 per cent of children of Canada’s native peoples, or about 150,000 children, were placed in what were known as “residential schools” in a government attempt to strip them of their traditional cultures and ancestral languages.

For over a century, the schools were government-funded but many were administered by Christian Churches, the majority by Roman Catholics.

“I told him how important it is for Canadians to move forward on real reconciliation with the indigenous peoples and I highlighted how he could help by issuing an apology,” Trudeau told reporters after meeting the Pope on Monday.

He said he had invited the Argentine-born pontiff to make the apology in Canada.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in a 2015 report that the practice, which kept children from the First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples far from their parents, amounted to “cultural genocide”.

Many children were physically and sexually abused.

The commission made 94 recommendations, including that the Pope issue a formal apology in Canada to survivors and their descendents for the Church’s “role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse” of the children.

Trudeau said that in their private talks, the Pope “reminded me that his entire life has been dedicated to supporting marginalised people in the world, fighting for them, and that he looks forward to working with me and with the Canadian bishops to figure out a path forward together”.

Canadian bishops have said the Pope might visit next year.

Trudeau said he and the Pope also discussed climate change. Unlike US President Donald Trump, who met the Pope last week, Trudeau and Francis agree that climate change is caused by human activity.

“We talked about how important it is to highlight the scientific basis of protecting our planet and the moral and ethical obligations to lead, to build a better future for all people on this earth,” Trudeau said.

At last week’s Group of Seven (G7) summit in Sicily, Trump refused to back a landmark international agreement reached in Paris in 2015 to reduce global warming.

Trump said he would decide this week on whether to pull out of the accord, which was backed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Trudeau, who is Catholic, said he had “a deeply personal and wide-ranging, thoughtful conversation with the leader of my own faith”.

Macron, Putin hold ‘frank’ talks on Syria, Ukraine

France’s President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday vowed to improve the strained relations between their countries, while admitting to disagreements during talks at Versailles palace described by Macron as “extremely frank”.

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Their first meeting since Macron took office provided another test of the Frenchman’s diplomatic skills after his memorable first encounter last week with US President Donald Trump that Macron sealed with a vice-like handshake.

This time the handshake was warmer but the tone guarded after an hour of talks on the 300th anniversary of a visit to Versailles by tsar Peter the Great.

Putin admitted to some differences of opinion in the talks which covered issues including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, but insisted that Franco-Russian ties withstood “all points of friction”.

“We disagree on a number of things but at least we discussed them,” Macron said.

“Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism and the eradication of terrorist groups and Daesh in particular,” he said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group that has claimed several deadly attacks in France.

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The newly elected French leader called for a stronger partnership with Russia on Syria, one of the sticking points in relations between the West and Moscow which backs the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Macron advocated “a democratic transition that preserves the Syrian state”, warning that “failed states” in the Middle East were a threat to the West.

But in an apparent warning to Assad and Russia, he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” for his presidency and would draw an “immediate response” from France.

The pair discussed the Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its military involvement in Ukraine as well as allegations of Russian meddling in France’s election campaign.

Putin declared that the sanctions were “in no way” helping to end the fighting between government forces and Kremlin-backed rebels in Ukraine’s east.

The Russian strongman, who hosted Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen for talks during the election race, also shrugged off allegations that Russian hackers infiltrated Macron’s campaign.

“Maybe they were Russian hackers, maybe they were not,” he said, dismissing the claims as unsubstantiated.

Macron, for his part, expressed anger at reports by pro-Kremlin media during the election questioning his sexuality and links to high finance.

He took aim at the Russia Today broadcaster and Sputnik agency, calling them “organs of influence and propaganda”.

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‘No concessions’

Putin’s visit comes after the 39-year-old French centrist made a successful debut on the world stage last week, holding his own against Trump at a NATO summit in Brussels and at a G7 summit in Italy.

Ahead of the visit, Macron told a French weekly that he was not “bothered” by leaders who “think in terms of power dynamics”.

He said he would make “not a single concession” to Russia on the long-running conflict in Ukraine, with he and his G7 counterparts saying they were prepared to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.

Macron said he, Putin and the leaders of Germany and Ukraine would meet soon for talks, “which will allow us to make a complete evaluation of the situation”.

Modernising tsar

Western powers charge Russia with failing to honour its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the violence in Ukraine.

France helped spearhead the sanctions, which have seriously dented EU-Russia trade. 

Putin moved quickly after the French election to try to smooth things over, congratulating Macron and urging him to work to overcome their countries’ “mutual distrust”.

Monday’s visit comes seven months after Putin cancelled a trip to Paris amid a row over Syria with Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande, who had said Russia’s bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.

In Versailles, he and Macron inaugurated an exhibition marking the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.

The fervently pro-Europe Macron said his invitation to Putin aimed to showcase “a Russia which is open to Europe”.

Putin was also later to visit a new Orthodox cathedral complex in central Paris.

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