Emotional SBW named world’s best

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Sonny Bill Williams was moved to tears at receiving an impromptu haka performance from his New Zealand teammates after being crowned the world’s best rugby league player.

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And the dual international hopes to repay them by helping the Kiwis defend their World Cup title in Saturday’s final against Australia at Old Trafford.

Williams capped his spectacular return to the code by taking out the Rugby League International Federation player of the year in Manchester on Wednesday night, beating out fellow nominees Kangaroos star Greg Inglis and Scotland playmaker Danny Brough.

Sydney Roosters star Williams felt shocked and emotional when his teammates rose and performed the haka while he was on stage to receive the award.

And he considered it a further sign he’s earning back the respect he lost after controversially walking out on the game at Canterbury in 2008.

“That was definitely by far the best part of the night for me,” Williams said of his teammates’ gesture.

“I can’t remember the last time I cried but I was a little bit teary up there just seeing the brothers get up and show that respect.

“… All I want is respect. I felt like after the way I left the game I lost a lot of respect.

“But this year the way I tried to carry myself, just tried to get across the real me, I felt like I earned a lot of respect.

“The biggest thing for me is earning the respect of my fellow players and coaches. I think that’s why I was a little bit emotional.”

“But I said to them straight way `one more week’ and hopefully I can put in another strong performance and hopefully we can do it for the Kiwis.”

Williams helped the Roosters to the NRL premiership after returning to the code following five years spent in rugby union and boxing, during which he played 19 Tests for the All Blacks.

He has been in devastating form at the World Cup and is crucial to New Zealand’s hopes of upsetting the Kangaroos again.

In taking out the gong, Williams broke an Australian stranglehold on the honour with Billy Slater (2008, 2011), Jarryd Hayne (2009), Todd Carney (2010) and Cameron Smith (2012) previous winners since it was established six years ago.

Williams was one three Kiwis named in the team of the year at a ceremony at The Lowry Hotel in Manchester, along with winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and hooker Issac Luke.

Inglis was named at fullback in the side, while Manly’s Clive Churchill medallist Daly Cherry-Evans was named halfback of the year.

Sea Eagles centre Jamie Lyon and Brisbane veteran Corey Parker were the other Australians in the side.

South Sydney and England front rower George Burgess beat out Sydney Roosters backrower Boyd Cordner to be named rookie of the year while older brother Sam was best prop.

Super League player of the year Brough was the five-eighth of the year.

Trent Robinson was awarded coach of the year after guiding the Roosters to the NRL title in his first season in charge.

Namatjira’s descendants meet the Queen

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Almost 60 years after Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira met the Queen in Canberra two of his grandchildren have had a rare audience with Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace.

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Kevin and Lenie Namatjira, both established watercolour artists in their own right, used the occasion to call for a better deal for indigenous Australia.

They said that while they were treated like royalty in London it was a different story back in the Northern Territory.

The cousins met the Queen and Prince Philip for 15 minutes on Wednesday.

They both presented the monarch with one of their own paintings and also a postcard made by schoolchildren from their community in Hermannsburg west of Alice Springs.

One of Albert Namatjira’s paintings was gifted to the Queen back in 1947 on her 21st birthday.

Seven years later the first indigenous artist to receive international acclaim met Her Majesty in Canberra during her 1954 coronation tour and presented her with another work. Albert died in 1959.

Kevin and Lenie Namatjira are in the UK for the international premier of the play Namatjira which tells their grandfather’s story.

During the London performance the cousins paint a large desert landscape on stage.

Albert’s grandchildren on Wednesday said they were proud to visit the palace but they also wanted people to know they were currently homeless.

Kevin Namatjira, who bought a new suit to visit Her Majesty, said he was being treated like royalty “but at home I’m not royalty”.

“After I come home from seeing the Queen I’ve got no house, no car,” the 54-year-old said in a statement.

“We need a car to get out to see the kids in Hermannsburg and teach them to paint. We need to drive around to do good painting.”

Lenie Namatjira said she was surprised how “wonderful” the palace was.

“We are feeling right to show the story of our grandfather,” the 62-year-old told reporters.

“We came from Australia to bring this story to everybody so all the nations can see what’s happened.

“We are battling to get a new arts centre back in Australia so our children can come and we all work together. We would like government funding to help us.”

Namatjira producer Sophia Marinos said backing arts centres in Alice Springs would help the painters support their wider families.

“They are living in very difficult circumstances and yet they’ve been invited to meet the Queen and to tell this story on an international stage,” Ms Marinos told reporters.

“There’s a real discrepancy between how they are honoured and their actual living circumstances.”

When the cousins met the Queen and Prince Philip an Albert Namatjira painting owned by the royals was on display.

So too were two artworks by his son Oscar Namatjira (Lenie’s father) and one by Rex Battarbee who taught Albert to paint.

The Queen spent time looking at the paintings and talking about their history.

Works by Kevin and Lenie Namatjira are being shown in London this week as part of the Living Watercolours exhibition which is running alongside Big hART’s production of Namatjira.

Villas-Boas under scrutiny as Spurs host Man Utd

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Back-to-back games against Manchester’s finest always looked like a yardstick for Tottenham’s progress in the wake of the world record sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and a raft of expensive new signings in the close season with the proceeds.

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But few would have predicted the Portuguese would find himself as the bookmakers’ favourite to get the sack.

“It all looked good for AVB at the end of October but in a month Tottenham have turned from title contenders into a team clinging on to the top 10,” said a spokesman for betting firm Paddy Power, which slashed odds on his exit to 10-11 on.

“Common sense should prevail and the young manager should be given time but this is the bonkers world of Premier League.”

Last Sunday’s 6-0 drubbing at City was Tottenham’s worst defeat since 1996 and while they are only two points off the top four there is growing frustration at the time it is taking Villas-Boas to get his new-look side to click.

“I have the confidence of the board and players and I have to move on to do a proper job,” the Portuguese told a news conference.

“I am immune (to criticism) right now. I used to read a lot into situations like this, into pressure points when I was at Chelsea, but not any more. I am very indifferent.”

After being axed by Chelsea, Villas-Boas resurfaced at White Hart Lane last term and earned plaudits as Tottenham came fifth with 72 points – the club’s highest Premier League total – but just failed to earn a Champions League spot.

This season, despite the additions of Brazil midfielder Paulinho, Spain striker Roberto Soldado, record signing Erik Lamela of Argentina and Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen, Spurs have managed only nine goals in 12 league matches.

A mean defence has kept them in and around the top four but things unravelled in spectacular fashion at City.

WOEFUL RECORD

United may not have been setting the world alight either under new manager David Moyes but they are unbeaten in six league games and have not lost at Tottenham since 2001.

Wednesday’s qualification for the Champions League last 16 after a 5-0 away thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen has also boosted confidence.

Spurs did win at Old Trafford last term for the first time since 1989 – a result that proved the springboard for Villas-Boas’s encouraging first season at the club – but their record against United in recent years is woeful.

Tottenham’s cause is hardly helped by Thursday’s trip to the Arctic Circle to face Tromso in the Europa League, while United have an extra day to prepare.

Spurs have lost two of their last three home league games and only beat Hull City with a questionable penalty.

Former Tottenham midfielder Graham Roberts believes Villas-Boas must decide quickly on his strongest side.

“I wish he wouldn’t swap the team around so much,” Roberts told radio station Talk Sport. “We haven’t had the same team two games running.

“If you are going to get players knowing how they play with each other, to get that connectivity, you need to play your best team but he doesn’t seem to know what it is.”

Tottenham’s Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen said facing United could work in their favour.

“We can solve the problem. We will talk and bounce back on Sunday against Manchester United,” he said this week.

“It is a good thing we play United next at home. I know we have the support of our crowd and we can win that game.”

SOARING ARSENAL

While Spurs toil, neighbours Arsenal go from strength to strength with Jack Wilshere scoring twice in a midweek win over Olympique Marseille that put the Gunners on the brink of reaching the last 16 in the Champions League.

Arsenal can go seven points clear of the Premier League pack with victory at Cardiff City on Saturday, a fixture that will see in-from Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey return to the club where he began his career.

“We’ve created a fantastic opportunity for ourselves in the early part of this season and hopefully we can continue that,” Ramsey, who has scored 11 goals this term, told Walesonline.

Arsenal will be wary of the Welsh side, however, after they beat Manchester City and drew 2-2 with United last week.

Second-placed Liverpool visit Hull on Sunday when stuttering Chelsea, who are third, host fifth-placed Southampton.

Swansea City will travel to Manchester City with a fair degree of trepidation on Sunday.

Manuel Pellegrini’s City side have scored 13 goals without reply in their last two home games and have a 100 percent record there in the league this season, scoring 26 goals in six games.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)

Brazil stadium death may force delay

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The fatal accident at a Brazilian World Cup stadium could mean it misses a December 31 deadline for completion, authorities say.

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Two workers died after a crane toppled at Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao Stadium on Wednesday, the venue for the opening match of the 2014 World Cup finals.

Football’s world governing body FIFA has said all along all 12 arenas hosting games for the first World Cup to be held in Brazil since 1950 must be ready by the end of the year.

And although lead contractor Odebrecht insisted on Wednesday the accident had not “compromised” the stadium’s structural integrity, others insisted safety now had to come before deadlines.

Andres Sanchez, former chairman of Corinthians club, which owns the stadium, said the work could now face a delay.

“I don’t want to know about (FIFA), or anything else,” Sanchez said.

“We are worried about the families” of the victims, said Sanchez in response to reporters’ questions on whether the works completion calendar would be affected.

An AFP photographer at the scene saw the extent of the damage after a crane hoisting a 500-tonne metallic piece to the top of the roof collapsed on part of the stand and a huge LED panel.

Civil defence officials said work on 30 per cent of the site would be stopped, throwing the completion date into doubt at a site which Odebrecht said earlier this month was 94 per cent complete.

The Sao Paulo state prosecutor opened an investigation which it prefaced by saying work would be halted “if technical elements indicate it is necessary to suspend them”.

FIFA has said maintained the December 31 World Cup deadline is non-negotiable.

The Sintrapav construction workers union called for an immediate halt to work pending the outcome of the investigation.

“This is the third accident in the past few months things have gone too far. It cannot be tolerated,” union chairman Antonio Bekeredjian told AFP.

In June 2012 a 21-year-old stadium worker fell to his death at the new arena in the capital Brasilia and last March another death occurred at the Amazonas Arena in Manaus in the north.

Murray to lead America’s Cup challenge

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The man in charge of this year’s America’s Cup, Iain Murray, has been chosen to head up Australia’s challenge in the 35th edition of sailing’s most celebrated contest.

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Murray was on Thursday named chief executive of Hamilton Island Yacht Club’s Team Australia, who are also representing all challengers in dealings with the defender Oracle Team USA of Golden Gate Yacht Club, San Francisco for the next race.

Murray most recently held the dual role of CEO and regatta director of the last America’s Cup sailed on San Francisco Bay which ended in September.

The 55-year-old New South Welshman has accumulated vast experience on and off the water in a career which included competing in three America’s Cup, in 1983, 1987 and 1992.

The 55-year-old will be responsible for helping determine the rules, venue and boats used in the next race.

Winemaker Bob Oatley, backer of Australia’s fledgling tilt, said Murray was the only man for the job.

“Iain knows what it takes to win an America’s Cup,” Oatley said in a statement.

“We’ve had the great pleasure of being able to work closely with him over the last three decades, and have found him to be a consummate professional and also now a dear friend.

“I have a huge amount of respect for him and we’re overjoyed to be able to officially announce his appointment as leader of our great challenge.”

Murray said he had long been an avid supporter of Oatley and said there was “only ever going to be one answer” when asked to lead the first Australian challenge since 2000.

He said he has already had preliminary talks with Oracle Team USA boss Sir Russell Coutts and they were working towards firming up protocol and equipment for the next America’s Cup.

“I’m looking forward to working closely with the defender and on behalf of the Challengers to mould the 35th Cup into another magnificent sporting spectacle,” he added.