Qld govt keeps Mason Lee report secret

Queensland’s opposition has accused the Labor government of a cover-up after it withheld a full report into the death of Sunshine Coast toddler Mason Jet Lee for at least another year.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday announced the report into Mason’s June 2016 death would only be released publicly after charges against his mother and her former partner had been dealt with.

It came as Queensland Family and Child Commissioner Cheryl Vardon handed down her report into the “post-death” reaction to the 22-month-old’s death, which recommended an overhaul of the way such cases are reviewed by government departments.

In an unprecedented move, the government sought the advice of Director of Public Prosecutions Michael Byrne QC who advised cabinet not to release the more comprehensive Child Death Case Review Panel’s report.

Mr Byrne told cabinet if the contents of the report were made public, it could prejudice the manslaughter and child cruelty trials of Mason’s mother Anne Maree Lee, stepfather William O’Sullivan and teenager Ryan Robert Hodson.

Ms Palaszczuk defended cabinet’s decision and promised to release the panel’s report once the court cases were finalised.

“I will make no comment that will jeopardise justice for Mason. The community wants justice, I want justice,” the premier said.

But the Liberal National Party took aim, with child safety spokesperson Ros Bates alleging a cover-up which “stinks to high heaven”.

“The premier announced last year that she would release all of the findings into Mason Jet Lee’s death. What we see now is a report that tells you nothing,” Ms Bates said.

“The Palaszczuk Labor government has had 10 months to come up with solutions about what happened to Mason Lee and yet today, we are seeing a cover-up.”

Ms Bates pledged to release the report in full if the LNP were elected to government before the court matters are finalised.

The election is scheduled before May next year, which is likely to occur before all three of the accused go to trial.

Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls also criticised the timing of the decision, saying the government cynically wedged it between Cyclone Debbie and Easter.

Mason was found dead in his Caboolture home in June 2016, suffering from horrific injuries, and it was determined he died from a ruptured bowel.

Three Child Safety staff were stood down in November last year over the case, and another nine are facing disciplinary action following a departmental review.

While not making specific comment about any pre-death findings, Ms Vardon said she was “concerned and upset” by what had happened to Mason.

‘In the lead-up to his death he had many eyes on him, but no one truly saw him, or did enough to protect him,” she said.

The government announced it would implement several of Ms Vardon’s recommendations, including $40.8 million over four years to provide more frontline staff to work with families, as well as better co-ordination of health and child protection systems.

No ‘silver bullet’ for housing affordability: Morrison

Scott Morrison has laid out Australia’s housing affordability problems, ranging from young people trying to raise a deposit to older people using their superannuation lump sum to pay off the mortgage.

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The treasurer also used a pre-budget speech in Melbourne to discuss shortages in the rental and community housing markets.

He reiterated a national affordable housing agreement with the states wasn’t working and “just shovelling money out the door” won’t solve the problem.

“Obviously there’s not a single national housing market and affordability is not impacting all Australians the same way or at the same time,” he told an audience at an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute address in Melbourne.

“However, it is worth remembering Sydney and Melbourne are home to forty per cent of Australians and the significant housing challenges faced in Sydney and Melbourne do have national implications.”

Housing affordability is expected to be a key plank of the May 9 federal budget.

Mr Morrison admits there’s no single or easy solution and blamed previous governments for avoiding the issue.

“Failure to confront these issues in the past can be traced back to the problems we face today,” he said.

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Obstacles to housing supply had to be removed. These include planning delays and regulation, infrastructure and services, development costs, taxes and charges and access to sites, including government land.

He’s also made clear the federal government won’t be touching negative gearing, after describing it as a “structural component” of Australia’s housing market.

“Disrupting negative gearing would not come without a cost, especially to renters, let alone the wider economic impacts,” he said.

“Proponents of disruptive negative gearing changes have ignored this fact.”

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government was being “pig-headed” because Labor got in first with it plan to reform negative gearing tax concessions.

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“They would rather play politics and stamp their foot than help young Australians get into their first home,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

However, the Property Council of Australia agreed with the treasurer that it was better to use “a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer” to boost housing affordability.

“It’s why we believe there is scope, as part of broader tax reform, to reduce the capital gains tax discount to 40 per cent (from 50 per cent) in the May budget,” PCA chief of housing and policy Glenn Byres said in a statement.

Industry super fund Cbus CEO David Atkin said funds could play a role in investing to help improve the supply of affordable housing.

But said letting first home buyers dip into their retirement savings for a house deposit was not the answer and “should be ruled immediately”.

Mr Morrison declined to comment on reports the government could provide incentives for older people to downsize to free up housing stock.

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Marcus Leonard at tax consultants BDO said the stamp duty cost of changing residences was now so high it discouraged people from moving.

“While the best option would be to remove stamp duty completely from residential housing, the provision of stamp duty concessions for older persons when they downsize their houses may have some effect in providing some more supply to the system,” he told AAP.

The Treasurer also indicated foreign investors who bought units but kept them empty and out of the market had not escaped his attention.

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‘Disgust, dismay’ as official Kokoda commemoration goes MIA

The prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday visited Kokoda and laid a wreath at the Bomana war cemetery outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, and there will be a ceremony held in Canberra in November.

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Kokoda is considered Australia’s most significant battle of the war in the Pacific, in which the Japanese were for the first time defeated on land.

Veteran George Palmer points to his figure in one of the most famous Kokoda campaign photographs by Damien Parer: of Australian soldiers trudging through the mud.

“I’m the second one, there, now of the six of us there are two still alive, myself and Arnold Forrester, who lives in Townsville,” he said.

The 95-year-old veteran of the 39th Battalion is now fighting another battle, to preserve the memory of Kokoda, and is upset the official Australian commemoration will not be held in PNG.

“It’s wrong, just wrong. You must never forget the sacrifices my mates made,” he said.

Kokoda was fought between July and November 1942 on what was then Australian soil, the territory of Papua.

Historian Patrick Lindsay, the chair of the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF), said he has been asking the government since last year about when the PNG commemoration would be held.

“I’m dismayed and disgusted,” he said.

“It’s the second time we’ve done this to these diggers, they didn’t get the credit they deserved at the time and after the war.”

Kokoda tour operators say they have also been awaiting confirmation since last year and feel they will now have to take up the commemorative task.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrives via an Australian Army helicopter to the Isurava Memorial to lay a wreath at the Kokoda Track, April 8, 2017. (AAP)FAIRFAX POOL

“Yeah, it is disappointing,” said Frank Taylor, who has been running tours to PNG for three decades and is head of the Kokoda Tour Operators Association (KOTA).

“If the historical linkages are failing a little, as perhaps you could argue is being demonstrated with no offshore (Kokoda commemoration in PNG), it looks like a lot of that will pass on to the operators.”

More than 600 Australians died in the Kokoda campaign and there were thousands more casualties in brutal jungle warfare and on the beachheads, including an untold number of Papua New Guineans.

More than 10,000 Japanese and hundreds of US soldiers were also killed.

The 75th anniversary is expected to be the last time the few surviving veterans will see a major commemoration.

“Seventy-five years ago Australia was unprepared to defend itself,” the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Saturday at the Bomana War Cemetery wreath-laying ceremony.

“All of our best soldiers, best trained soldiers were abroad. Militia men, reservists, were sent here to the Kokoda track.

“These men with very little training, rose to the occasion and kept Australia free, in the most horrific conditions.”

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The Governor General is expected in PNG for the only other Australian commemoration – on Anzac Day.

“It’s at least it’s an honour, and the PM should do that, but the real people who should be involved in the commemoration are the surviving veterans and the families of the diggers who laid down their lives there,” said Mr Lindsay

The Department of Veterans Affairs told SBS, “the Australian Government will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the New Guinea Campaign in World War Two with a national commemoration in Canberra on 2 November 2017, including a Last Post service at the Australian War Memorial”.

“For the health and safety of the veterans, the Australian Government made the decision to not continue veterans’ missions after the 70th anniversary.

“Commemorations in Papua New Guinea are a matter for the Papuan (sic) Government, or in some cases services are organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs Post.”

One hundred years on from the World War I Gallipoli campaign, it is still officially commemorated in Turkey by the Australian government, long after the last veteran has passed

“If we could do that, and we did for the 75th of Gallipoli, why aren’t we doing it for Kokoda?” said Mr Lindsay.

PNG will mark Kododa on November 3, for the so-called “fuzzy wuzzy angels” who served alongside the veterans like George Palmer.

Moses nails golden-point winner for Eels

Mitchell Moses has finally shown why Parramatta fought hard to steal him mid-season, nailing a golden-point field goal in the Eels’ thrilling 13-12 win over Canterbury.

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Moses saved the Eels’ blushes after almost throwing away their top-eight spot with a poor second-half display on Thursday night that allowed the Bulldogs to force the extra period.

But in front of a crowd of 14,061 at ANZ Stadium, Moses piloted a 25m shot to consign the Bulldogs to their sixth defeat in seven games, all but ending their season.

Down 12-2 at half-time, the Bulldogs cut the deficit when Brett Morris took advantage of a defensive brain explosion by Kenny Edwards in the 49th minute.

And although they had a mountain of possession thereafter, that was how the scoreline looked to stay until interchange utility Matt Frawley dummied past Tepai Moeroa to draw level.

But despite losing the golden-point toss, the Eels took advantage of a questionable penalty early in the first set of the third period when Michael Lichaa was penalised for stripping.

“I thought the penalty in the extra time was a pretty tough call, to be honest. I think he got it wrong. But we had other opportunities. It was a tough game,” Bulldogs coach Des Hasler said.

The Eels then needed just three plays before Moses stepped up in the clutch to deliver his best moment in Parramatta colours since moving from the Wests Tigers mid-season.

It was easily Moses’ best performance for the Eels, with him playing a hand in both their tries and coming up with some big defensive plays, including a try-saver on Josh Morris.

Lock Nathan Brown was named man of the match after producing a game-high 228m and 42 tackles in an 82-minute performance.

The signs were ominous early for Canterbury, who were on the backfoot in just the third minute when an errant first-tackle pass from Will Hopoate should have ended in a penalty try.

Instead, winger Marcelo Montoya was sin-binned for preventing a certain four-pointer from Mitchell Moses and Gutherson kicked an early penalty goal.

Down to 12 men, the Bulldogs twice bombed opportunities to take the lead and instead settled for their own two points gifted by Edwards.

However, that was as threatening as the visitors got as the home side took a half-time lead through tries to wing pair Bevan French and Semi Radradra.

Bulldogs captain Aiden Tolman’s matched Brown’s whole-game effort with 147m and a game-high 54 tackles in the defeat.

Eels coach Brad Arthur said there was no excuse for their second-half display.

“Maybe I need to rip into the boys a bit more just before we go out after half-time. They just had some big bodies out there, carried hard and aggressive,” he said.

Bayliss expects tough England decisions

England coach Trevor Bayliss admits he faces the toughest selection meeting of his two-year tenure ahead of next week’s first Test against South Africa.

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Bayliss names his squad on Saturday morning for the series opener at Lord’s while contending with a number of injury concerns in his bowling attack, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad among them.

And the chief cause of anxiety in the batting line-up is the collapse in form endured by opener Haseeb Hameed, who has failed to reach a half century since returning from a successful winter in India.

Bayliss, however, welcomes the number of options available as England prepare to open hostilities against the Proteas next Thursday.

“In the two years I’ve been here it will be the toughest selection meeting that I’ve had. It’s a good problem to have when you’re struggling to know which guys to put in,” Bayliss said.

“It will depend what happens at the top and where we decide to bat Jonny Bairstow. There are a few possibilities.

“Someone like Mark Stoneman has been doing well at the level below. Does Joe Root go back to three and we put an extra middle order player in?

“Where does Jonny Bairstow bat? This is all up for discussion and we’ll come up with an answer.”

Broad is struggling with a bruised left heel but it is hoped the Nottinghamshire seamer will be able to play in Saturday’s One Day Cup final at Lord’s as a warm-up for the first Test.

“We’ll know more tonight (Thursday) before our selection meeting in the morning,” Bayliss said.

“He’s been training the last couple of days when we’ve been putting him through more of a test and if he comes through that he’ll play in the one-day final as a test for the Test match.”

While Hameed is struggling, England can take comfort in the rampant form of Alastair Cook, who has struck three centuries since relinquishing the captaincy to Joe Root.

“It’s great that after giving away the captaincy he’s still got that hunger for runs and it was great to see him making another hundred yesterday (Wednesday),” Bayliss said.

“I’m sure he’s looking forward to this Test series. I’m sure that as an ex-England captain it will be bit of a juggling act for him in terms of how much he gets involved.

“I know that he and Joe Root get on really well. Cook is very well respected in the team and I’m sure if he feels something needs to be said, he will.”

Attack’s aim to disrupt, not profit: NCSC

The cyber attack that struck businesses around the world earlier this week was designed to disrupt rather than earn money, Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said.

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The attack, which affected major organisations including advertising firm WPP and European bank BNP Paribas, was originally thought to be a type of ransomware, which blocks access to files and demands a ransom be paid to unlock them.

The virus, which has been referred to by several names including ExPetr, also affected parts of the Ukrainian government’s computer systems.

However, the NCSC said in statement it now believes the motive of the attack may have been solely to cause disruption.

“Earlier this week, we were made aware of a global cyber incident that was reported to be ransomware,” the organisation said.

“While managing the impact to the UK, the NCSC’s experts have found evidence that questions initial judgements that the intention was to collect a ransom.

“We are investigating with the NCA and industry whether the intent was to disrupt rather than for any financial gain.”

The theory has been supported by security experts, including Anton Ivanov and Orkhan Mamedov from cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab, who claim that the malicious software has been designed to destroy files, rather than earn money.

“After an analysis of the encryption routine of the malware used in the Petya/ExPetr attacks, we have thought that the threat actor cannot decrypt victims’ disk, even if a payment was made,” the pair wrote on SecureList.

“This supports the theory that this malware campaign was not designed as a ransomware attack for financial gain. Instead, it appears it was designed as a wiper pretending to be ransomware.”

The security experts said this was the “worst-case news for victims” because even paying the ransom would not return data to their control.

“This reinforces the theory that the main goal of the ExPetr attack was not financially motivated, but destructive,” they said.

Merkel avoids backing diesel as hits out at emissions cheats

In an interview with the Wirtschaftswoche magazine published on Thursday, Merkel did not give a clear commitment to the diesel technology that her government has promoted to help cut carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change.

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“What is important is that the newest and best technology is used,” she was quoted as saying. “We are in a transformation phase away from the combustion engine.”

Merkel’s comments – almost two years after the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke – come as her government faces growing pressure ahead of national elections on Sept. 24 to reduce diesel pollution or see cities impose driving bans.

Sales of diesel cars have been falling since the VW scandal, but have dropped faster since cities, including Stuttgart and Munich, have considered banning some diesel vehicles, blaming emissions for a rise in respiratory disease.

On Tuesday, German ministers announced they would establish a national “diesel forum” to find ways to cut pollution and set up a new organisation to test vehicles.

On Wednesday, German carmakers BMW, Audi and truck manufacturer MAN agreed with the regional government in Bavaria to cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel engines, a likely precursor to the national plan.

Foreign carmakers have not yet committed to cutting emissions but will likely do so by the Aug. 2 meeting of the government’s “diesel forum” on Aug. 2, the German auto importers’ association VDIK said on Thursday.

Germany’s ADAC car club, Europe’s largest and most influential, has warned consumers to push back planned purchases of diesel cars until cleaner Euro-6D technology becomes available in new models this autumn.

Merkel said how fast the shift away from combustion engines took place had to be negotiated, with efficient combustion engines likely to still have a long future, perhaps combined with electric motors in hybrid cars.

Last month, she admitted Germany was likely to miss the government’s target of bringing 1 million electric cars onto the roads by the end of the decade, but added the breakthrough could come very abruptly, as with the smartphone.

Merkel, who has been criticised by environmental and consumer groups for defending the diesel industry since the VW scandal, hit out at manufacturers that cheat emissions tests.

“There is nothing that can justify the fraudulent methods used to limit test values in the diesel area of some manufacturers that has damaged the whole diesel business,” she said.

“For many years we have appreciated diesel because it helped save fuel and CO2,” she said, adding some things had to be re-evaluated.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson and Ilona Wissenbach; Editing by Mark Potter)

Post-Brexit UK must try to influence EU car rules, McLaren Automotive says

McLaren Automotive CEO Mike Flewitt also told Reuters he was looking to boost the company’s graduate recruitment schemes in case the free movement of EU citizens is restricted, a sign of how firms are seeking to mitigate the risks of a “hard” Brexit.

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Formula One’s McLaren set up the separate McLaren Automotive in 2010 to rival the likes of Ferrari, with the firm posting record sales and profits on Thursday.

But the UK car industry is increasingly worried about the shape of a Brexit deal with its top export market, warning a loss of access to the EU’s single market and customs union would add tariffs and trade barriers, putting plants at risk.

Flewitt told Reuters Britain needed to maintain its influence on EU emissions rules, and differing vehicle standards between Britain and the bloc would make building vehicles pricier for no good reason.

“Right now all of the EU has one homologation standard and you can use the UK authorities to homologate and it is recognised across the whole of Europe,” he said in an interview at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in southern England.

“It would add cost and it would add complexity if they start diverging slightly,” he said.

McLaren, alongside the likes of Aston Martin, is one of several small British carmakers to benefit from special EU rules that recognise they cannot meet the same emissions standards across their range of cars as larger manufacturers.

Many are worried that without Britain at the table deciding on future standards, those advantages could be taken away, as Prime Minister Theresa May’s government begins two-year talks on how to extricate Britain from its biggest trading partner.

Flewitt said his chief financial officer had already begun preparing for Brexit and was looking at how to mitigate any restrictions on immigration, which drove many Britons to back leaving the EU.

“We are looking at extending our graduate programmes, our apprenticeship programmes to develop more people internally in case there is any restriction on the mobility of skilled labour,” he said, echoing initiatives underway at a variety of British companies.

As the young McLaren Automotive expands, there has been growing speculation about its future ownership.

Last year, Flewitt told Reuters the company’s shareholders – which include Bahraini investment fund Mumtalakat and TAG, a company led by Saudi-born businessman Mansour Ojjeh – had turned down bids from prospective buyers.

On Thursday, he said it made sense for the sports carmaker to float on the stock market, but not until at least 2020.

“I do think we will do something like an IPO,” Flewitt said.

“If I give a time frame, I’d say three to five years.”

(Editing by Mark Potter)

Pendles can reach 350 games says Buckley

Collingwood skipper Scott Pendlebury could add another 100 games to his tally before he hangs up his boots according to his coach Nathan Buckley.

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The champion midfielder will reach the 250 game milestone in Sunday’s huge clash with Hawthorn at the MCG.

In reaching that mark, Pendlebury will join Lou Richards and Peter Daicos as equal-11th on the Collingwood games record list.

But Buckley says with Pendlebury still at the peak of his powers, the 29-year-old could play on to 350 to equal Footscray great Doug Hawkins.

“It’s possible,” Buckley said of the mark.

“When your’e prepared to go to the lengths that he (Pendlebury) does in preparation you wouldn’t ever suggest that he’s not capable of anything that he puts up.

“We think it’s a bit of a gag at the moment but I reckon that somewhere in the back of his head at the moment, he’s thinking, ‘That’s what I’m going to do’ and he probably will.”

Buckley said he continued to be impressed by Pendlebury’s consistency and that in his fourth season as captain, his leadership continued to grow.

He felt he was a great role model for young players.

“His greatest strength is his understanding of himself, the game, the professionalism to keep finding a better way.

“He’s never satisfied with where he’s at and that’s a great example to our young players and also a fair reason why he’s been able to stay current in the game and be an elite performer for so long.

Meanwhile, Pendlebury returned the compliment with a glowing endorsement of Buckley’s coaching style.

Pendlebury said the entire Collingwood playing group wanted Buckley to coach next year.

“Absolutely I would. I’m really keen for him to stay on and he’s got the whole group behind him,” Pendlebury told radio station SEN.

“We’re doing a lot right we just haven’t got a few results and I’m a big fan of the way he coaches and I think for him to leave at the end of the year, he’d be leaving right as he’s got this group ready to make a real crack at it.”

Fensom out to show Canberra what they lost

Bad blood has simmered to the surface ahead of Shaun Fensom’s first game against former club Canberra after the North Queensland claimed the no-frills forward had a “point to prove”.

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Fensom signed for the Cowboys in February after the Raiders released the 28-year-old with a season left on his deal due to salary cap pressures.

The call to abruptly ended the local junior’s eight-year stint in the nation’s capital was described by Ricky Stuart as: “the hardest thing I have had to do as Raiders coach”.

Fensom has remained tight-lipped about his exit, but Cowboys assistant Todd Payten revealed the workaholic back-rower would be out to prove Stuart wrong on Saturday in his 150th NRL game.

“I think he was rightfully disappointed with the way it was handled,” Payten said of Fensom’s Raiders departure.

“He has a point to prove on Saturday.

“I am looking forward to him proving some people wrong down there.”

Fensom missed a chance to run out against his former club in round one, not making his Cowboys debut until the third week.

But Payten said nothing would stop him running out against the Raiders on Saturday night.

“I am pretty excited to see Fenno go up against his old team,” he said.

“He’s been excited about that all week.

“He copped a fair knock last week and came off.

“I asked him post game whether he was sweet for this week and he said ‘I’d play with one arm against my old team’.

“That’s where his head is at the moment.”

Fensom is averaging 85m and 20 tackles a game off the bench for North Queensland this year.

“He’s been invaluable for us this year,” Payten said.

“He came in the week leading into round one – he had to learn very quickly.

“We have had injuries go against us and he has had to play big minutes at certain times and he has really handled his end.”

Fensom will be desperate to help inflict more pain on Canberra with a Cowboys win.

Pre-season title favourites the Raiders need to win six of their remaining nine games to remain in the finals hunt after three straight losses.

“Look at where they were last year and where they are now – I think they would concede they are underperforming,” Payten said of Canberra.

Arthur hails Moses after Eels’ victory

Mitchell Moses may have kicked the game-winning field goal, but Parramatta coach Brad Arthur was just as delighted with his five-eighth’s defence in Thursday’s win over Canterbury.

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Moses turned in easily his best performance for the Eels since his dramatic mid-season exit from the Wests Tigers, including a clutch 25-metre field goal in golden point.

However, he also came up big in defence, with his 15 from 17 tackle count his best effort since he completed 16 of 17 in his club debut almost two months ago.

In his six games so far, Moses has missed a total 21 tackles.

But the former Tigers star came up with a trysaver to deny Bulldogs centre Josh Morris when the game was on a knife edge midway through the second half.

“He got his body in front and made his tackles. He was nice and committed. He needs to do that for us every single week,” Arthur said.

The Eels mentor was also proud of the way Moses delivered when it mattered after what had been a turbulent period in his career.

The win means Moses has now won four of his six games since switching camps.

“It’s nice for Mitchy to do that. It’s a big moment and he nailed it. He was nice and calm going into golden point, spoke really well to the players,” Arthur said.

“He’s had four wins from six games – I don’t know the last time he’s done that. And he’s had to fit into a new style of football, defensive systems, and how many coaches he’s had in the past.

“He’s just had to adapt, and he’s adapted really well.”

The win consolidates the Eels’ spot in the top eight with just two months remaining, however Arthur urged his team not to get caught in the excitement of the finals race.

“They want to play finals, but we’re still a long way off being there come September,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. What’s really important for us is how we travel next week to Melbourne and play against a team that doesn’t give you much.”

Broncos confident of covering Oates injury

The thought of losing Corey Oates should sound alarm bells for Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett ahead of Friday night’s NRL clash with leaders Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium.

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But Bennett is confident the third placed Broncos will avoid a repeat of last year’s 48-6 loss to the Storm without Oates if the Broncos winger succumbs to a mystery illness ahead of kick-off.

In the corresponding match last year, Brisbane lost Oates early to concussion and hat-trick hero Suliasi Vunivalu ran amok in the Brisbane winger’s absence as Melbourne romped to the record win.

Oates is again in doubt for the Suncorp Stadium re-match after pulling up sore from an unknown virus and failing to train on Thursday.

Oates will be given until kick-off to prove his fitness but he is expected to be replaced by young flyer Jonus Pearson.

Bennett didn’t expect history to repeat on the scoreboard if Oates was ruled out.

“Oatesy got himself knocked out and our best repalcement was (pint sized bench utility) Kodi Nikorima and they exposed our vulnerability there,” Bennett said of last year’s blowout.

“It was just one of those nights but we are in good shape here.”

Bennett backed Pearson to step up to the Vunivalu challenge if required.

“He’s a wonderful talent,” Bennett said of Pearson, who has played five NRL games.

“He won’t let anyone down against Melbourne.

“He was pretty raw when he first came into the NRL squad last year, he’s matured a lot.”

The Broncos have not beaten Melbourne in Brisbane since 2009.

But Bennett hinted at a drought breaking win, saying Brisbane were in the best shape in years ahead of their blockbuster clash.

Brisbane are sitting pretty on third after winning eight of their last 10 games despite negotiating their way through the demanding State of Origin period.

They will also welcome back playmaker Anthony Milford (shoulder) and skipper Darius Boyd (thumb) as soon as a fortnight.

“We are in a really good position this time of year,” Bennett said.

“We are nearly through the toughest of our program.

“We are winning games and winning constantly – you can’t ask for much more at this time.

“But it doesn’t get really serious until three weeks when everyone gets back from Origin.”

Lions can halt SBW without Te’o: Gatland

The British and Irish Lions insist they haven’t gifted All Black Sonny Bill Williams a saloon passage over the gain line by dropping Ben Te’o for the second Test.

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Lions coach Warren Gatland delivered a major tactical statement for Saturday’s Test in Wellington by demoting Kiwi-born hard man Te’o to the reserves bench and starting with twin pivots.

Ireland first five-eighth Johnny Sexton pushes Owen Farrell out a spot, with both boasting kicking and tactical skills to attack the All Blacks in a multi-faceted way.

Moments after announcing his team, Gatland raised eyebrows with his assessment of Williams, who waged a tough advantage line with his former NRL sparring partner Te’o.

“We’ll have to do a job defensively on Sonny Bill Williams. He came pretty direct against us and got a couple of offloads,” he said, unprompted.

Gatland’s remark attracted criticism his backline now lacked the muscle to cope with the cross-code star.

The coach said a change in methods and attitude would make an important difference to last week’s rearguard against Williams in the 30-15 first Test loss in Auckland.

“We allowed him too much time on the ball,” Gatland said.

“We have to make sure our line speed in terms of stopping that”

Restored captain Sam Warburton said the Lions were guilty of letting the All Blacks get over the advantage line in the first two or three phases of their attacks, making it hard to then slow possession or win turnovers.

“It is a collision game. We have to make our first tackles count because if you can slow the ball for those first 2-3 phases, it makes the rest of the game so much easier.

“When New Zealand are so efficient and they play so quickly, you’re tired and it’s hard to get off the line to put those collisions in.”

On the subject of Te’o’s absence, All Blacks Centre Anton Lienert-Brown said Ngani Laumape’s power running for the Hurricanes against the midweek Lions hadn’t gone unnoticed.

Laumape rampaged down inside channels relentlessly, earning the uncapped midfield back a Test bench spot.

“You can learn a lot from that. Obviously that’s the strength of Ngani’s game and I guess that was in the Hurricanes’ game plan to run down that 10 channel,” Lienert-Brown said.

“With two 10s there, that’s something we could look to expose.”