Mitchell Pearce, flirty text messages, wedding postponed, Newcastle Knights captain


Mitchell Pearce has stepped down as captain of the Newcastle Knights effective immediately following a text message scandal which has rocked the club.

The half-back’s wedding day was called off just days out from the event after alleged inappropriate text messages from Pearce to a young female club employee.

Pearce was scheduled to marry his partner Kristin Scott on Tuesday in front of 150 family and friends, including some of the biggest names in the NRL.

But in a report from The Daily Telegraph which was later confirmed by the SMH, the 31-year-old was “caught sending flirty text messages to a young female employee of the Knights”.

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On Wednesday afternoon, the Newcastle Knights confirmed Pearce had stood down from his leadership position effective immediately.

“Earlier this week, Pearce met with Head Coach Adam O’Brien, CEO Philip Gardner and General Manager of Football Danny Buderus, to address recent events and to apologise for the distraction and inconvenience they have caused during the Christmas leave period,” the statement read.

“Immediately following this meeting, Pearce met with his teammates and football department staff, to advise the group of his decision to relinquish the captaincy.

“Pearce’s decision followed a lengthy review of current issues, last season’s performance and reflection upon the added pressure the captaincy brings to both his on field performance and personal life. The club is fully supportive of his decision.

“The Newcastle Knights are committed to respecting the privacy of their employees, including any discussion of private matters in the public domain. At the conclusion of tomorrow’s media opportunity, no further comment will be made on this matter.”

Pearce is expected to address the media about his decision before returning to training on Thursday morning.

The Knights have not yet determined who his replacement will be.

READ MORE: NRL star back in the doghouse

Newcastle Knights general manager of football Danny Buderus condemned Pearce’s actions on Monday.

“It’s not acceptable, there’s no doubt about that,” Buderus told media.

“It’s something we’re all striving for … culture. Culture for us is very important; what we stand for is highly important and we need those players to adhere to that.

“There are standards in all parts of our organisation and that behaviour is not acceptable.”

Buderus was tight-lipped about whether Pearce would step down as club captain, but did not rule it out.

“Mitchell likes to be captain and if it was to go that way, it would hurt. So it’s one of those things that could happen, but there are a variety of things that could happen,” Buderus said.

“We still need to finalise those decisions which way we’re going to go with the leadership. We’re not going to be rushed.

“I think it definitely needs to be addressed (immediately) when he comes back … otherwise it can fester among the group.

“I think Mitchell would like it that way; anyone who walks into that group needs to understand what they’ve all gone through and the pressure the club has been under in the (past) 12 days.

“Something probably needs to be said to move on.”

Pearce has represented the Knights since 2017, and led the club to a finals series in the 2020 NRL premiership.

— with NCA NewsWire

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Congress set to confirm Biden’s electoral win over Trump


WASHINGTON —
U.S. President Donald Trump’s extraordinary effort to overturn the presidential election is going before Congress as lawmakers convene for a joint session to confirm the Electoral College vote won by Joe Biden.

The typically routine proceeding Wednesday will be anything but, a political confrontation unseen since the aftermath of the Civil War as Trump mounts a desperate effort stay in office. The president’s Republican allies in the House and Senate plan to object to the election results, heeding supporters’ plea to “fight for Trump” as he stages a rally outside the White House. It’s tearing the party apart.

The longshot effort is all but certain to fail, defeated by bipartisan majorities in Congress prepared to accept the results. Biden, who won the Electoral College 306-232, is set to be inaugurated Jan. 20.

“The most important part is that, in the end, democracy will prevail here,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, among those managing the proceedings, said in an interview.

The joint session of Congress, required by law, will convene at 1 p.m. EST under a watchful, restless nation — months after the the Nov. 3 election, two weeks before the inauguration’s traditional peaceful transfer of power and against the backdrop of a surging COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who warned his party off this challenge, is expected to deliver early remarks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, set to gavel proceedings on her side of the Capitol, called it a day of “enormous historic significance.” It is about “guaranteeing trust in our democratic system,” she said in a letter to colleagues.

But it is Vice-President Mike Pence who will be closely watched as he presides over the session.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.

Pence has a largely ceremonial role, opening the sealed envelopes from the states after they are carried in mahogany boxes used for the occasion, and reading the results aloud. But he is under growing pressure from Trump to tip it to the president’s favour, despite having no power to affect the outcome.

While other vice-presidents, including Al Gore and Richard Nixon, also presided over their own defeats, Pence supports those Republican lawmakers mounting challenges to the 2020 outcome.

“I hope that our great vice-president comes through for us,” Trump said at a rally in Georgia this week. “He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

It’s not the first time lawmakers have challenged results. Democrats did in 2017 and 2005. But the intensity of Trump’s challenge is like nothing in modern times, and an outpouring of current and elected GOP officials warn the showdown is sowing distrust in government and eroding Americans’ faith in democracy.

“There is no constitutionally viable means for the Congress to overturn an election,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., announcing his refusal to join the effort on the eve of the session.

Still, more than a dozen Republican senators led by Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with as many as 100 House Republicans, are pressing ahead to raise objections to the state results of Biden’s win.

Under the rules of the joint session, any objection to a state’s electoral tally needs to be submitted in writing by at least one member of the House and one of the Senate to be considered. Each objection will force two hours of deliberations in the House and Senate, ensuring a long day.

House Republican lawmakers are signing on to objections to the electoral votes in six states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Arizona will likely the be the first to be disputed as the state tallies are announced in alphabetical order, and Cruz has said he will join House Republicans in objecting to that state.

Hawley has said he will object to the election results from Pennsylvania, almost ensuring a second two-hour debate despite resistance from the state’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, who said the tally of Biden’s win is accurate.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler may challenge the results in her state of Georgia. But it’s unclear if any of the other senators will object to any other state, as lawmakers were still devising a strategy.

Democrats have the majority in the House and the Republican-led Senate is divided over the issue. Bipartisan majorities in both chambers are expected to soundly reject the objections.

The group led by Cruz is vowing to object unless Congress agreed to form a commission to investigate the election, but that seems unlikely.

Those with Cruz are Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

Trump has vowed to “fight like hell” to stay in office. He said at a rally in Georgia the electors voting for Biden are “not gonna take this White House!”

Many of the Republicans challenging the results said they are trying to give voice to voters back home who don’t trust the outcome of the election and want to see the lawmakers fighting for Trump.

Hawley defended his role saying his constituents have been “loud and clear” about their distrust of the election. “It is my responsibility as a senator to raise their concerns,” he wrote to colleagues.

As criticism mounted, Cruz insisted his aim was “not to set aside the election” but to investigate the claims of voting problems. He has produced no new evidence.

Both Hawley and Cruz are potential 2024 presidential contenders, vying for Trump’s base of supporters.

Lawmakers are being told by Capitol officials to arrive early, due to safety precautions with protesters in Washington. Visitors, who typically fill the galleries to watch landmark proceedings, will not be allowed under COVID-19 restrictions.

——

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Dalton, Ga., and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Bird flu: India to cull poultry amid fears of virus



Avian flu was has so far been detected in wild geese, crows and ducks in various parts of the country.

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NBL season opener to take place in warehouse as schedule adjusted for COVID-19 state border closures


With its launch already significantly delayed, the NBL has been forced to again adjust its fixtures for the upcoming season in light of state border closures.

While the Cairns Convention Centre is being renovated, the Illawarra Hawks will play the season opener against the Taipans on January 15 at the Cairns team’s new pop-up home court inside a specially modified former Bunnings Warehouse.

“I can’t get up there with the team, but they’ve got the floor down and the stadium up.

“I think there will be spectators and all season games are live, so we’ll be able to see the Hawks play on live TV and I’m very excited to see what our team can do.”

The temporary Cairns venue will have 2,000 seats, temporary change facilities, air conditioning, large fans and catering.

The site has also been fitted out to allow for broadcast lighting, video scoreboards and a PA system to ensure it meets FIBA broadcast standards.

The opening game will be followed by Perth Wildcats v Melbourne United in Perth later that night.

Cairns Taipans will play their home games in a pop-up court inside an old Bunnings Warehouse this season.(Facebook: Cairns Taipans)

Teams scattered away from home across Australia

As it stands, more than half the league’s teams are living and training away from their home base.

The New Zealand Breakers and South East Melbourne Phoenix are in Hobart, the Sydney Kings and Hawks are in Albury and Melbourne United are in Cairns.

“It’s a revolving door at the moment, but it’s exciting we’ve got a start date and some clarity around the start of the season,” Mr Kordahi said.

“Now we’re playing Cairns, we’ll depart this Sunday in preparation for our two opening games against them.”

Dorry Kordahi sits and talks in front of a Hawks media wall, wearing a blue button up shirt.
Hawks owner Dorry Kordahi said his team is happy to be ‘fluid’ and adapt to ongoing changes to the upcoming NBL season.(ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale)

All home games expected to be played before season concludes in June

The NBL’s focus during the pre-season has been shifting teams away from coronavirus hotspots, meaning teams like the Hawks are likely to play a significant consecutive period of time on the road, followed by a potential run of home games at the end of the season.

“We’re still aiming for 14 home games and the league is doing everything it can to deliver that to the teams,” Mr Kordahi said.

“It could be a home game overload.”

With the delayed start to the season, the NBL said games need to start soon with a view to being finished by June.

“We will wait and see how things progress around the country over the coming weeks before we finalise the schedule for the following three rounds leading into the NBL Cup in the Melbourne NBL Hub,” NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said.

“We are also very hopeful of the New Zealand Breakers being able to play some home games in front of their fans in New Zealand later in the season.”

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Result on a knife-edge as Pence urged to block Biden win – latest news


Georgia officials have started counting ballots as polls close across the state in two critical races.

Here’s what you need to know.

What are these votes for?

There are two Senate run-off elections being held. The votes are leftovers from the November general election, when none of the candidates hit the 50 per cent threshold.

Why are they important?

Democrats need to win both of the votes to seize the Senate majority – and, with it, control of the new Congress when Biden takes office in two weeks.

Who are the candidates?

In one contest, Republican Kelly Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s governor, faces Democrat Raphael Warnock, 51, who serves as the senior pastor of the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr grew up and preached.

The other election pits 71-year-old former business executive David Perdue, a Republican who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Democrat Jon Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Mr Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member.

When will we get the results?

We could know the winners late on Tuesday evening in the US (early Wednesday in the UK).



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GOOD BOY: Officer Yogi sniffed out offenders during paw patrol


POLICE Dog Yogi showed his prowess in tracking down alleged offenders and helped to keep the Northern Rivers safe once again.

Officers from Richmond Police District will allege that shortly after midnight on Monday, January 4, a number of young persons had gained access to a property on Stapleton Ave, Casino, where they stole personal items, including car keys belonging to the 91-year-old male occupant.

 

Richmond Police District canine officer Yogi.

The youths aged 13 and 16 allegedly stole the occupants vehicle and left it unattended in Summerland Way, Casino.

Police located the vehicle a short time later where they established a perimeter and called for the assistance of the Police Dog Unit.

Police Dog Yogi picked up the scent and took his handler on an extensive track which led straight to the young persons.

The young persons were arrested and taken to Casino Police Station to be charged.

The 16-year-old was charged with offences including aggravated enter dwelling, Take and Drive conveyance without consent of owner, Possess housebreaking implements, Never licensed person drive vehicle on road, and larceny.

He has been Bail refused and set to appear before Casino Children’s Court on January 13, 2021.

The 13-year-old was charged with Aggravated enter dwelling, Larceny, and Be carried in conveyance taken without consent of owner.

He was granted conditional bail and set to appear again before Casino Children’s Court on the January 20.

Officers thanked Police Dog Yogi for his invaluable assistance.



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Treloar, Dunkley a welcome sight at Dogs


The Western Bulldogs officially welcomed Adam Treloar into the fold as Josh Dunkley returned to Whitten Oval for pre-season training after having his AFL trade request go unfulfilled.

Dunkley wanted out in November, citing a desire for more midfield time, but was denied a move to Essendon when the clubs could not reach an agreement.

Treloar’s high-profile switch from Collingwood during the trade period only served to increase pressure for spots alongside Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore, Jack Macrae and Bailey Smith in a stacked Bulldogs on-ball division for 2021.

“There’s certainly a lot of depth there, but competition for spots is good,” Dogs defender Hayden Crozier told reporters on Wednesday, adding the players consider Dunkley’s trade wish as water under the bridge.

“A lot of those guys in the midfield can play different positions, as well, and a bit of flexibility in the team is nice.

“Bevo (coach Luke Beveridge) enjoys having guys who can play multiple positions.

“I’m sure the boys aren’t too fussed what positions they’re going to be playing, they just want to be playing.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it goes over the next couple of months in the match sim and all that kind of stuff, but we’re confident the group we put out in round one will be good.”

Treloar made a brief training appearance with the Bulldogs’ first to fourth-year players in December and has had an instant impact on his new teammates, with the majority back on the track on Wednesday.

“He’s vocal, he’s been really good,” Crozier said.

“Adam’s someone that the club looked at last year and thought that he’d fit the bill really well.

“He’s the ultimate professional. I’ve caught up with him a couple of times, he’s got a great footy brain, is a great fella and will add a lot to this group going forward.”

Smith and Tim English were standouts for the Bulldogs on their return to training, with the third-year midfielder winning the MAS (maximal aerobic speed) running test.

Mobile ruckman English has added more muscle to his previously lanky 205cm frame.

Crozier is fit again after post-season toe surgery kept him sidelined for seven weeks and Toby McLean had his first AlterG running session since an anterior cruciate ligament rupture four months ago.





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Next Eyes Arcadia As Shares Jump 8% On Flat Holiday Sales


U.K. fashion-to-home chain Next plc is looking at the spoils of the Arcadia collapse at a time when the apparel retailer’s performance has been robust in the lead-up to Christmas—despite lockdowns closing non-essential retail in different regions of Britain.

Next CEO Simon Wolfson told Reuters on Tuesday that the company was part of a consortium bidding for some of Arcadia’s well-known store brands. Wolfson did not mention which ones but the pickings include Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Miss Selfridge.

The same day, Next released its full-price sales for the nine weeks to December 26. They fell by 1.1% versus the same period last year, sending the company’s share price soaring by 8% to a five-year high. Shoppers stayed away from perceived ‘busy’ shopping streets due to Covid-19 fears, but stores located in out-of-town retail parks benefited, doing around 15% better than those in city centers and shopping malls.

The flat (-1.1%) performance in the run-up to Christmas was a lot better than the October guidance of an 8% slide, which came as a relief to the market. Next said in a trading statement: “Online business compensated for almost all (that was) lost in retail stores.”

The company has forecast full-year profit before tax will be £342 million ($465 million), and that year-end net debt will be substantially slashed by £487 million to £625 million ($660 million to $850 million). Looking ahead to FY2021/22, Next’s guidance—taking into account closed stores in February and March due to the U.K’s third national lockdown—is for profit before tax of £670 million ($912 million).

An upside-down swan

At savings and investment group Hargreaves Lansdown, Steve Clayton, a fund manager with positions in the fashion chain, commented: “Next looks like an upside-down swan right now. Normally swans glide serenely along the surface, feet paddling furiously beneath. The pandemic has flipped the swan upside-down and it is those feet we are looking at.

“Their frantic activity disguises how effectively Next has managed the pandemic so far. Business in stores has been pretty awful, with lockdowns impacting their ability to trade—a problem Next sees lasting through March. But online has stepped up, growing by 38% in the nine weeks to Boxing Day.”

The pandemic has turned Next into a predominantly online retailer in 2020 and as such it is well prepared for further store disruption, unlike many of its retail rivals. “We like Next both for its online strength, but also its focus on cash flow, which is set to see debts fall by over £400 million in the current year. We see the retailer as well positioned to take advantage,” said Clayton.

Richard Lim, CEO at independent research consultancy Retail Economics, added: “Next leveraged its slick online channel during this vital trading period. The retailer is benefiting from years of investment in online and has proved once again its versatility in dealing with the pandemic. These results are likely to set the tone for a polarized view of the retail sector which separates those having impressive online capabilities from those that do not.”

As for the to-the-wire Brexit agreement, Next said it had not experienced any disruption—with new systems implemented and now operational. The company added: “We do not anticipate that Brexit will have a material impact on our ability to import and export stock in the year ahead. Following the announcement of the free trade deal between the U.K. and EU, we do not anticipate any increase in customs duty costs.”

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Rapper Dr Dre says he’s ‘doing great’ after treatment for brain aneurysm | Ents & Arts News


Rapper and producer Dr Dre is in hospital in LA being treated for a reported brain aneurysm.

The music mogul said he would hopefully be “back home soon” after receiving medical treatment at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

He took to Instagram to post a message of thanks from his bed at the intensive care unit.

“I’m doing great and getting excellent care from my medical team,” he said. “I will be out of the hospital and back home soon.

“Shout out to all the great medical professionals at Cedars. One Love!!”

Image:
The star thanked staff at the Cedars-Sinai hospital

Celebrities including Missy Elliot and Snoop Dogg posted their get well messages to the 55-year old on social media.

Missy Elliot wrote: “Prayers up for Dr Dre and his family for healing and strength over his mind & body.”

Ice Cube added a plea to fans to “send your love and prayers to the homie Dr Dre.”

And Snoop Dogg said: “Get well Dr Dre. We need you cuz.”

Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, has produced hits for Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and more and won seven Grammys.

Born in Compton, he broke out on the music scene as a co-founding member of N.W.A., producing some of the group’s groundbreaking 1988 debut album, “Straight Outta Compton.”

Dre has been locked in a bitter divorce battle since the summer.

His estranged wife Nicole Young is asking for half of the rapper’s estimated $1 billion (£730 million) fortune. The pair have three children.

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The angry and the powerless. How the opposition protests in Belarus became a guerilla movement. Liliya Yapparova reports from Minsk.




In the summer and fall of 2020, protest marches drew tens and even hundreds of thousands of people to the main streets of cities in Belarus. The authorities responded by deliberately beating up protesters and arresting them en masse. With the onset of winter, there are no longer large-scale demonstrations, but the people of Minsk continue to attend rallies that increasingly rely on guerilla tactics. At night, street artists paint politically-charged graffiti on the walls of buildings; city residents protest in small, neighborhood groups, emerging from nowhere and disappearing just as quickly; opposition supporters deploy lookouts around their apartment complexes and alert each other when law enforcement officers are on their way; and musicians organize spontaneous, open-air concerts that end with them running from the police. In December, Meduza special correspondent Liliya Yapparova went to Minsk, to get a firsthand look at how the Belarusian opposition protests have changed and speak to the artists and activists keeping the movement alive heading into 2021.

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