Delta covid variant has state on edge


Police made two arrests, issued 16 fines and charged one person after anti-lockdown protestors hijacked a gathering to support small business owners outside Flinders Street station.

A 48-year-old man from Caroline Springs was arrested after failing to provide his name and address.

He was charged with three counts of resisting arrest and two counts of breaching the chief health officer’s directions by not wearing a mask and being more than 10 kilometres from his home without a valid reason. The man was bailed to appear in court on October 28.

A 33-year-old man from Mernda was also arrested after failing to provide his name and address but had not been charged with any offences as of Saturday afternoon, pending further inquiries Victoria police said.

Three people were fined for failing to wear a mask, while 11 faced infringements for travelling outside the 10km radius imposed by lockdown restrictions.

More than a hundred people will spend the next 14 days in quarantine after a single covid case – from a mutant strain – triggered a massive public health response.

Two of today’s five new cases were from the Delta strain – a highly infectious variant that spreads twice as fast as other strains.

One of the positive cases is employed by Probuild, a large construction company that runs building sites in the CBD.

The site the cleaner had worked on was locked down last night, with 170 people ordered into isolation.

Probuild released a statement confirming a cleaner for a sub-contractor on its Queen and Collins construction site had tested positive for Covid-19.

It closed the site on Saturday and all workers are required to isolate and get tested.

“Anyone who visited the site between 31st May and 4th June have also been instructed to be tested and isolate immediately,” the statement said.

“Probuild has enacted a deep environmental clean of the complete site and amenities to the cleaning specification of the Department of Health and Human Services in preparation to a return to work when it is safe to do so, and approval has been granted.”

Health authorities have confirmed the Delta strain has been found in nine people in Melbourne — including four children.

Victoria recorded five new locally acquired cases of coronavirus today, with 70 cases now linked to the state’s outbreak, including one recovered case.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said two of today’s cases, both from the same household, were currently unlinked.

The three remaining cases are linked to known outbreaks.

Mr Foley said continuing uptake of vaccines across the state was the “off-ramp” for Victoria’s lockdown.

Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said it was “gratifying” that three of today’s five cases had already been in isolation while testing positive.

The remaining two cases had not been linked yet but they had spent time around the shopping centres in Craigieburn and Epping, two known coronavirus hotspots.

Prof Sutton also addressed the upcoming antivax protests, expected to hit Melbourne today.

“It’s hugely unfortunate that there’s that sentiment in anyone … as an individual you’re free not to get it, which I still find some discomfort in, but it is your choice,” he said.

“But do not get in the way of those Victorians trying to get vaccinated.”

Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said the state was “most concerned” about a new cluster of nine cases – which are all from the Delta strain.

The two new cases today are both Delta cases but Mr Weimar said authorities were “establishing” a ring around the outbreak.

Prof Sutton said, despite contact tracers still not knowing where the Delta outbreak came from, authorities could still have confidence to ease restrictions next week.

“If we only have those downstream cases and nothing else emerges, I am confident that those pillars of public health response, the contact tracing and the rings of control that we put in place, we will manage this,” he said.

“It is a challenge, the transmissibility, the secondary attack rate being 50 per cent greater than the Alpha variant, does mean that you can get a large number of people testing positive, you can get transmissions in other settings more readily. But we can still manage all of that.”

Worrying coronavirus strain around 50 per cent more infectious

B. 1.617.2, otherwise known as the Delta strain, is the same coronavirus strain that has decimated India.

It is also a major cause for concern in the United Kingdom.

US-based epidemiologist Eric Feighl-Ding explained the Delta variant was 50-70 per cent more transmissible and patients were 2.7x more likely to be hospitalised than other variants.

He said about 75 per cent of all cases in the UK were the Delta variant.

An urgent search is now underway to find the source in Melbourne after genetic testing showed the strain had infected at least two people in a family of four who travelled to NSW’s Jervis Bay in late May.

Officials have refused the rule out whether the virus could have originated in NSW or regional Victoria.

“It is a variant of significant concern,” Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Friday.

“It’s obviously a concern that it is not linked to other cases, but we are chasing down all those primary case contacts.”

Meanwhile NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard hit back at suggestions that Victoria’s new Covid-19 variant may have originated in his state.

Mr Hazzard said there was no evidence the family picked up the variant in NSW.

“I’ll just say it’s a bit unhelpful to go making any statements that could be either interpreted or could be mistakenly interpreted (in that way),” Mr Hazzard told 2GB.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that this family picked up the variant in NSW.

Professor Sharon Lewin from the Doherty Institute told ABC News this morning that there is existing concern over the “Kappa” variation – which has also emerged in Covid-stricken India.

Professor Lewin said both are about “double as infectious” than the UK variant “Alpha”.

“The Delta variant, this new cluster that was reported yesterday, is the dominant in the UK, and they’ve had a little bit of Kappa virus infection,” Professor Lewin began.

“From that country, the data is really good and the genomic sequencing is frequent. We do know that both of those variants are more infectious than the UK variant, which is now called the Alpha variant,” she explained.

“The estimates are that they’re probably about double as infectious. So, for every person that one person would have infected – two people, previously – they’d perhaps infect double that now.”

She added that the severity of illness was “a lot less clear” at present, and currently based on anecdotal reports.

“You really need some very systematic data collection to prove disease severity, and I’m not sure we’ve seen that yet.”

“But the same measures still will work, meaning – test, trace, isolate, masks – all the usual things that we use to stop transmission will still work here,” Professor Lewin said.

What is the Delta variant?

The Delta variant spread extremely rapidly across India to become the predominant variant in that country.

“Indeed almost the exclusive variant there and in surrounding countries — Nepal, Bangladesh (and) Sri Lanka,” Professor Sutton said.

“All are also affected by a significant uptick in cases related to that variant.

Why should we be concerned?

Very high transmissibility potential is the main concern.

There are some anecdotal reports of greater severity of illness in children, as well as the potential increase in transmissibility among children.

“We’ve got concerns for that reason,” Professor Sutton said.

Stuart Turville, from the immunovirology and pathogenesis program at UNSW Sydney’s Kirby Institute, said the number of Delta cases was increasing globally.

“Like what we have seen with Alpha in early 2021, it just means we will see more Delta cases in quarantine and that if there is a breach, it will be highly probable to be that variant,” he said.

What is the key difference between the Delta and Kappa strains?

Authorities say the Delta strain appears to move more quickly at “casual contact” sites.

“I’m not saying it has magical qualities, but we have noticed five exposure sites where transmission has occurred to seven individuals, I believe, who have had less than that usual prolonged indoor home, work, face-to-face settings, or indeed restaurant settings,” Professor Sutton said.

Dr Turville described the Delta strain as the genetic “cousin” to Kappa.

“The key difference is that it has a fitness gain that enables the virus to bind cells better,” he said.

“In the lab under controlled conditions, we do see Delta to be approximately 1.4 times fitter than Kappa.

“While this is a laboratory observation, the displacement of Kappa by Delta in India does support it to be a fitter variant in populations where vaccine immunity is low.”

How do the viruses get their names?

The World Health Organisation recently decided to simplify the virus names with Greek numerals, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, to avoid stigma.

Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said this was the third attempt.

“One was where they were first being found, the second was a long series of numbers and letters, which was becoming difficult to remember — even for epidemiologists,” he said.

How the variants respond to vaccines?

When asked about the efficacy of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines currently being rolled out in Australia against Delta and Kappa, Professor Lewin said data from the UK suggested there was high protection against both.

“We measure effectiveness against the vaccines in two ways. You can use laboratory tests, or see how the vaccine works in practice,” she explained.

“We know a lot about the Delta strain with the vaccine in practice, again from the UK where, after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, 80 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid and, after the AstraZeneca vaccine, 60 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid.

“They haven’t reported the protection against severe disease but, based on other studies, we expect that the protection would be very high against severe disease, which is what we really worry about.”

She added that data surrounding the Kappa variant was not as robust.

– with NCANewsWire

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Little budget cheer, as wages edge up



Annual wage growth was 1.5 per cent as of March, at least half the rate the Reserve Bank needs to see to return inflation to normality.

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Researchers edge closer to better flu vaccine for Indigenous people across the world


The research, published in peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications, was a collaboration between the Doherty Institute, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, the Menzies School of Health Research and CQUniversity.

Professor Katherine Kedzierska, laboratory head from the Doherty Institute, said “we know some populations are at high risk from severe influenza disease and this includes Indigenous people globally”.

The research focused on killer T cells and proteins called HLAs — which vary across individuals and ethnicities – which determine immune responses to different pathogens.

A specific HLA protein that is highly prevalent in Indigenous populations — including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia — can be linked to severe outcomes from influenza.

Researchers identified small fragments of influenza that were then screened to see which of the fragments formed protective targets for killer T cells.

Dr Luca Hensen, research officer at the Doherty Institute, proposed that a universal influenza vaccine could be developed using those targets — which would provoke an “optimal” response from the T cells.

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Scotland’s future on a ‘knife edge’: Nicola Sturgeon admits SNP hopes of majority will go down to wire as Boris Johnson blasts her plan for new independence referendum as ‘irresponsible and reckless’



Nicola Sturgeon was today aiming to push ahead with plans for a second Scottish independence referendum as Boris Johnson set himself on course for a dramatic constitutional clash with her in his defence of the Union as the tight election count resumed in Scotland today. 

The tense parliamentary contest looked on track for a record turnout, despite fears that the pandemic and poor weather would dent voter numbers – with the Scottish National Party leader admitting her hopes of a majority were on a ‘knife edge’, but it is ‘almost certain’ the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.

Ms Sturgeon said ‘when the time is right’ she will offer Scots ‘the choice of a better future’ in a second referendum on independence – but Mr Johnson hit back, insisting he would not back the ‘irresponsible’ move, and senior minister George Eustice warned it was the wrong time to be considering another plebiscite.

Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory in Scotland could make it harder for the PM to refuse, but if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority for a referendum with the help of the Greens.

With 49 of the 73 constituency results declared in Scotland by noon today, the SNP had 40 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two. 

The SNP made it to 40 seats this morning as they held Aberdeenshire East in the only result declared so far on Saturday. Gillian Martin retained her seat with 18,307 votes, with Conservative candidate Stewart Whyte taking second place on 16,418 votes. The Liberal Democrats won 3,396 votes and Labour 2,900.

Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results of 56 regional MSPs will also be declared. Traditional overnight counts were abandoned after Thursday’s election due to Covid-19. 

Ms Sturgeon, who comfortably defeated Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to claim Glasgow Southside yesterday, said afterwards: ‘My focus, if we are re-elected as the government, is to get back to work to steer the country through the crisis and into recovery.

‘That remains the case. But once the crisis is over, and if there is a majority in the parliament for an independence referendum, people should have the right to choose our future. Scotland’s future should always be in Scotland’s hands.’

Speaking about the prospect of winning an overall majority, the SNP leader said: ‘It’s certainly not impossible, but nor is it guaranteed.

‘That was always going to be on a knife edge, it comes down to a small number of votes in a small number of seats, so at this midway point it is certainly still there as a possibility, but I have never taken that for granted.

‘It is a long shot, to say the least, in a PR (proportional representation) system, to win a majority – you effectively have to break the system. I would like to do it, but I have never been complacent about that.’

It comes as Labour this morning blamed the pandemic for ‘restricting’ the opportunities’ for its politicians to campaign across Britain after the Conservatives racked up a string of stunning poll victories in the local elections.

Labour will hope for better results today after a bruising Friday. With results in from 84 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of seven authorities and 173 seats, while Labour had a net loss of four councils and 164 seats.

In London’s mayoral contest, Labour’s Sadiq Khan goes into today with a lead of 24,267 first preference votes over Tory rival Shaun Bailey after the first seven constituencies declared, a closer contest than many had predicted.

Labour was thrashed in the Hartlepool by-election, with Jill Mortimer securing a majority of almost 7,000, while Tory Ben Houchen won a second term as mayor of Tees Valley with a whopping 73 per cent share of the vote.

And the Tories gained control of a series of councils, including Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Dudley, Harlow and Nuneaton and Bedworth – reversing the mid-term slump often suffered by governing parties.

With the Conservatives also winning seats across the West Midlands, senior figures were confident that the region’s mayor Andy Street will secure a second term in office when returns there are announced today. 

Meanwhile counting began of the 714,745 votes cast in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral elections this morning, with incumbent Andy Burnham widely expected to win the poll. Burnham won 63.4 per cent of the votes cast in 2017 and turnout is up around 5 per cent on the last election, to 34.7 per cent.

The outcome of the first round of voting is expected around 3pm, although with Mr Burnham running for a second term and nine candidates in all, the election could go to a second round, with second preference votes also then counted to decide the winner.

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Wright move: Why captain O’Connor can give Reds the edge in decider


There is another consideration. The Reds went into the Force match with five back-rowers in their pack – with converted blindside flankers Angus Scott-Young and Lukhan Salakai-Loto forming the locking pair along with regular back-rowers Wright, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson – and were badly exposed. Far from running the Force pack ragged, the Reds were massively outworked in the tight by the likes of Jeremy Thrush and Sitaleki Timani.

The lesson was clear. The Reds can get by with one converted back-rower in the second row but they also need a hard-working Thorn clone in tandem with Salakai-Loto. A Ryan Smith, perhaps, which would leave Scott-Young vying with Wright for the No.6 jersey.

Frankly, as exceptional as Wright is at the breakdown, his injury has left him a long way short of matching Scott-Young’s peerless contribution this season. And it would set up an irresistible contest at blindside flanker: Scott-Young against the Brumbies’ implacable Rob Valetini.

There is talk of a 50,000 crowd on Saturday night, which would be wonderful news for everyone, the Brumbies included. They insisted they wanted to play in front of a huge crowd, though they might now be questioning what it is they wished for. Still, it indicates what I have been saying for some time – that there is a significant “sleeper” rugby audience out there just waiting to be activated. The challenge now for Rugby Australia is to awaken the whole country.

What is happening should act as a real spur to NSW in particular. There was a time, seemingly only a short while back, when the team the Reds and Brumbies most wanted to beat was the Waratahs. For the moment, those days have gone. A Queensland-ACT rivalry has arisen in its place, and its ferocity is a thing to behold. It may not be quite at State of Origin intensity at present, but it is gaining ground and momentum rapidly.

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Like most Origin contests, seemingly minor errors will determine the outcome. It has been like that all the way through a season of unexpected tension, with 10 of the 20 regular-season Super Rugby AU fixtures being decided by three points or less. In the case of the Reds and the Brumbies, it has been less, with Queensland winning both matches by two points: 40-38 and 24-22.

Small margins.

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ASX set to edge higher; Wall Street braces for more earnings


Wall Street closed out a choppy week of trading with a broad rally, though the gains were not enough to keep the S&P 500 from its first weekly loss in the last five.

The benchmark index rose 1.1 per cent on Friday (US time), clawing back all of its losses from a day earlier. It posted a 0.1 per cent loss for the week. The gains were shared broadly by nearly every sector in the index. Technology companies accounted for a big slice of the rally, along with banks, communication stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending.

The ASX is set to edge higher at the open on Monday. Credit:Louie Douvis

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7 per cent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq climbed 1.4 per cent.

The Australian sharemarket is set to inch higher at the open on Monday, with futures pointing to a gain of 4 points, or 0.1 per cent.

In the US, corporate earnings have been mostly positive, but investors are weighing economic growth against threats from the pandemic and worries about changes in tax policy.

“Earnings are very good,” said Chris Gaffney, president of TIAA Bank World Markets. “That’s going to support higher stock prices along with the low interest rate environment we’re seeing.”

Wall Street has been in rally mode in recent weeks as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, the massive support from the US government and Federal Reserve, and a string of encouraging economic data fuel expectations for a stronger economy and solid corporate profit growth this year.

About a quarter of S&P 500 companies have reported quarterly results so far this earnings season. Of these, 84 per cent have delivered earnings that topped Wall Street’s estimates, according to FactSet. Earnings are also blowing away analysts’ forecasts by a wider margin than average, coming in 23.6 per cent above above the estimates, versus the 5-year average of 8.9 per cent, according to FactSet.

This week will be another busy period for earnings, with 181 S&P 500 companies, including Tesla, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon.com, set to report results.

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Travellers on edge ahead of Easter after new COVID cases reported in QueenslandSupermarkets impose product limits amid Brisbane panic buyingGreater Brisbane enters snap lockdown amid growing clusterSA tightens border restrictions amid Brisbane outbreakStates slam borders shut as Queensland’s COVID-19 outbreak worsensWA introduces 'soft border' restrictions with QueenslandNew case of community transmission in Queensland Travellers on edge ahead of Easter after new COVID cases reported in QueenslandConcerns for footy fixture amid new COVID caseQueenslanders to isolate upon arrival in WAOne new coronavirus case in QueenslandConcern Australia vaccination rollout is falling behind other countriesAlerts after Queensland COVID-19 case linked to UK variantWorld-first trial of anti-cancer treatment



Travellers on edge ahead of Easter after new COVID cases reported in QueenslandSupermarkets impose product limits amid Brisbane panic buyingGreater Brisbane enters snap lockdown amid growing clusterSA tightens border restrictions amid Brisbane outbreakStates slam borders shut as Queensland’s COVID-19 outbreak worsensWA introduces 'soft border' restrictions with QueenslandNew case of community transmission in Queensland Travellers on edge ahead of Easter after new COVID cases reported in QueenslandConcerns for footy fixture amid new COVID caseQueenslanders to isolate upon arrival in WAOne new coronavirus case in QueenslandConcern Australia vaccination rollout is falling behind other countriesAlerts after Queensland COVID-19 case linked to UK variantWorld-first trial of anti-cancer treatment

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Hawks come from 40 down to edge Bombers with late goal


But in a reversal of what transpired when these sides met late last season at Adelaide Oval, Hawthorn surged back in the third quarter. Remarkably despite being shaded in the inside-50 count for the term (16-15) the Hawks kicked 8.0 to 1.4 to trim the margin back to within a goal with a quarter to play.

The ground opened up for the Hawks, who repeatedly swarmed from half-back and took full toll inside 50, with Jarman Impey, Blake Hardwick and Will Day all central to the comeback and Dylan Moore having the quarter of his life up forward.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarskon said after the match that his half-time message had been relatively simple.

“It was just ‘get our hands on the footy’ really. Essendon to their absolute credit were dominating possession of the footy and control of the ball in the first half. We were able to turn it around in the second half, it’s nearly as simple as that, to the credit of O’Meara and Mitchell, Shiels, our rucks in [Jon] Ceglar and [Ben] McEvoy,” Clarkson said.

“In the end, Essendon are stiff to lose, we’re lucky to win. Close games like that it’s just a flip of the coin.”

Rutten was circumspect in defeat.

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“Certainly a game of two halves, that’s for sure. I think the pleasing thing from our point of view and why our players are so disappointed is because we showed some really good footy in that first half,” Rutten said.

“I think our work rate [really dropped off]. We tried to be a bit cute, too precise, shallow entries and then Hawthorn were able to rebound the whole length of the ground a number of times, which is a good contrast to that second quarter.”

He was non-committal as to whether Jake Stringer would return next week against Port Adelaide after getting through more than a half in a VFL practice match on Saturday.

By golly, Ollie

Essendon debutant Nik Cox is one out of the box as a 200-centimetre wingman. The trouble at that height is that it’s a long way down to the ground. A clumsy attempt from the first-gamer to win a ground ball against 181-centimetre Hawk Ollie Hanrahan ended with the umpire taking Cox’s number for a high hit on Hanrahan. Fortunately, Hanrahan was OK but it was still a dangerous incident that will draw attention from match review officer Michael Christian. Hanrahan duly converted a set shot from the resultant 50-metre penalty.

McEvoy on the mic

New Hawthorn skipper McEvoy has a dry, country sense of humour and it came through during the third quarter. Pinged by field umpire Rob Findlay for a throw, veteran ruckman McEvoy, protested, citing his profession to show he was hard done by. “I literally tap it for a living,” McEvoy said in an exchange that was caught on the Channel Seven broadcast.

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ASX set to edge higher on back of soft Wall Street lead


Stocks were mixed in afternoon trading on Monday (US time) as Wall Street continues to eye the bond market, where yields pulled back a bit from Friday’s sharp increase.

The S&P 500 index was down less than 0.1 per cent in early afternoon trade as rising technology and consumer discretionary shares were offset by declines in banks and energy stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 0.1 per cent higher while the Nasdaq Composite has added 0.2 per cent.

Rising interest rates continue to be a key concern for investors following the sudden jump over the last month in bond yields.Credit:AP

It sets up the Australian sharemarket to edge higher this morning, with futures at 5.03pm pointing to a gain of 9 points, or 0.1 per cent, at the open.

Investors’ focus remains on the recovery of the US and global economies from the coronavirus pandemic. The $US1.9 trillion ($2.5 trillion) aid package for the US economy has lifted investors’ confidence in a strong recovery from the pandemic in the second half of the year, but also raised concerns about a potential jump in inflation.

President Joe Biden also laid out a plan, in a prime-time speech last Thursday, to expand vaccine eligibility to all Americans by May 1, which should also translate into faster economic growth.

Rising interest rates continue to be a key concern for investors following the sudden jump over the last month in bond yields. Rates are not yet at a concerning level, and both the markets and economy can easily digest them, said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management.

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“The question ultimately becomes how well markets can digest and stay the course on the idea that these increases are temporary,” he said. “As well as coming to terms with the idea that temporary might be three or four quarters.”

Bond yields ticked mildly lower on Monday, with the 10-year US Treasury note falling to 1.61 per cent from 1.62 per cent on Friday. The mild drop in yields was impacting bank stocks the most, where investors have placed big bets that higher yields would translate into banks charging borrowers higher rates. Bank of America was down 1.2 per cent, Wells Fargo was down 1.2 per cent and Citigroup fell 1.6 per cent.

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Marlion Pickett on selection edge for Richmond Tigers’ round one clash v Carlton Blues


Having memorably made his AFL debut in the 2019 grand final, Pickett was dropped early last season but bounced back to play 19 senior games for the season and claim a second AFL premiership medallion.

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While Richmond are fighting fit, the Blues will need Jack Newnes (ankle), Levi Casboult (knee) and Harry McKay (ankle) to prove their readiness for the clash. Eddie Betts (calf) is available after missing last year’s season-opener. Zac Williams (suspension), Tom De Koning (back), Brodie Kemp (foot), Caleb Marchbank (calf), Nic Newman (knee) and Charlie Curnow (knee) are all set to miss Thursday night’s game at a half-full ’G. Mitch McGovern (back) is all but certain to miss too.

Meanwhile, Tigers captain Trent Cotchin says it is too early to judge how much of an impact the new man on the mark rule will have in 2021.

“We probably haven’t played with it enough to know how it’s going to impact,” Cotchin said.

As for the rotation limit being reduced to 75, Cotchin was optimistic the Tigers would benefit.

“It’s different for every club. I think we’ve got a pretty good endurance team, notwithstanding that I’m not one of those.”

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Cotchin added that three-time Coleman medallist Jack Riewoldt remained a force to be reckoned with despite entering the twilight of his career, having turned 32 a week after the grand final.

“What I’ve loved about Jack’s game is moreso the little things that he’s doing and the way he’s getting the best out of our younger players as well. It probably isn’t spoken about from a holistic point of view, but the tap-ons, the contests, they’re all things that we value in a side. He’s doing a great job for us,” Cotchin said.

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