Levy not Abbott’s Gillard moment: Pyne

Senior Liberal Christopher Pyne denies the introduction of a deficit levy would be Tony Abbott’s `Julia Gillard moment’, despite a majority of Australians saying it would be a broken promise.

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The coalition frontbencher played down the latest Galaxy poll, which showed 72 per cent believe tax hike would represent a broken promise.

Australians know the government will have to make tough decisions to get the budget back on track, he said.

“They know it won’t be easy and it is important that everyone shares in that burden of repairing the damage Labor did to the economy and to the budget,” Mr Pyne told ABC Television on Sunday.

According to the poll, published by News Corp Australia, the Abbott government is facing a voter backlash over a possible new debt tax on those earning more than $80,000.

Two party-preferred support for the coalition has plunged 5.5 percentage points since the September election, with its vote now 48 per cent compared to Labor’s 52 per cent.

The government has yet to confirm the deficit levy will be included in the May 13 budget.

But the prime minister has said any levy would be temporary, and therefore wouldn’t break an election promise not to increase taxes.

Mr Pyne denied a levy would be Mr Abbott’s `Julia Gillard moment’ – a reference to the former prime minister’s broken promise on the carbon tax.

“There is no easy way out from the debt and deficit disaster that Labor’s left us,” Mr Pyne said.

“But what we do has to be fair to everyone, and it has to be right for the country. That’s the job of government.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would oppose a deficit levy, and urged the prime minister to drop the tax hike before next week’s budget.

“Increasing taxes on working class and middle class Australians is a terrible mistake, and people will not forgive Mr Abbott for breaking this very big promise,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne.

However, the Labor leader did back a clampdown on gold passes that give free travel to retired politicians.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has hinted the life gold pass will be axed, saying his comments about an end to the “age of entitlement” also applied to politicians.

“This gold benefit at the end is a legitimate topic to be identified in the budget,” Mr Shorten said.

“It is appropriate that everyone shares the burden.”

Mr Abbott said the government was paying about $1 billion in interest payments every month, with Labor having left a projected debt of $667 billion.

“That’s dead money that could have been better spent on better services, and if we do nothing it will just get worse,” he said in a statement issued on Sunday.

The budget shouldn’t be about how much Australians had in their pocket, but about the country’s future, he said.

“By all of us chipping in, we can chip away at this legacy of debt,” he said.

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Firebirds beat Tactix for 3rd win in row

Queensland Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke believes a 17-point win over the Mainland Tactix will prove crucial to her team’s trans-Tasman netball championship hopes.

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The 69-52 victory over the cellar-dwelling Tactix may not have been a surprise result but it was the Firebirds’ first game against a New Zealand-based team since round five.

The victory keeps the Firebirds in fourth place with three games to play.

Two of those three matches are against New Zealand teams and Jencke said the experience of playing the Tactix will be a bonus going in to those games against the Pulse and Magic.

“It was a very important game to get,” Jencke said.

“Tactix have beaten Pulse so it’s a good hit out for us definitely.”

Firebirds’ shooter Romelda Aiken was the dominant presence on court, narrowly missing out on her points-scoring record of 58 with a tally of 54 from 57 attempts.

Australian captain Laura Geitz had an impressive battle with Tactix Malawi international Mwai Kumwenda as Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander watched from the stands.

Alexander would also have kept a keen eye on Clare McMeniman, Verity Simmons and Jacinta Messer after all three received call-ups during the week for a national team training camp in Canberra.

Aiken admitted the record she set against the NSW Swifts in 2008 had been on her mind during the game.

“I was thinking about it all week,” she said.

“It’s high concentration to get it up there and unfortunately I fell a little bit short but there’s always room for improvement.”

The defeat means the Christchurch-based Tactix still have just one win for the season.

They play the Pulse at home next Sunday and coach Leigh Gibbs is determined to repeat their round four victory.

“That’ll really test how much we’ve learnt and grown,” Gibbs said.

“We can’t go into that game thinking that because we had a win last time it’ll be easy. The Pulse have got a lot to play for.”

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Solskjaer keen to plot Cardiff’s Premier League return

“I am the manager of Cardiff City football club and I am not going to lay down and feel sorry for myself,” Norwegian Solskjaer, who replaced Malky Mackay as manager in January, told Sky Sports.

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“We will go into the next game showing professional pride and put a good effort in, a good performance and then we will plan for next season.

Cardiff will play their final league match at home against Chelsea next Sunday and Solskjaer admitted it will be difficult to motivate the players for that match.

“My players are obviously very disappointed,” Solskjaer said. “With the effort they put in against Newcastle, they did not deserve to lose. They are a fantastic bunch who have given everything for the cause, but it was not enough.

“It will not be easy to lift them for the final day. We wanted something to play for in the last game apart from our professional pride to give our supporters a good send off for the summer.

“But this is not the time to reflect on the season. We want to go and do ourselves proud against Chelsea next week.”

A win against struggling Newcastle would have been Cardiff’s only realistic chance of avoiding the drop but they failed to convert the numerous chances they created and two late home goals sealed their fate.

“It’s never nice to be relegated but you just got to show you can bounce back up,” the manager added.

“Before this season we have been four seasons at the top of the Championship so it’s a club that’s very used to challenging at the top, challenging for promotion. So now we’ve got to use that experience to our advantage.

“Then we have got to use this season as a learning experience of course.”

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien)

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NZ shares fall in light trading

New Zealand shares have fallen in light trading, led by Auckland International Airport and Vector, with many institutional investors absent from the market for summer holidays.

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The NZX 50 Index fell 15.128 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 5577.201. Within the index, 30 stocks fell, 13 rose and seven were unchanged. Turnover was about $53 million, compared to a daily average $162 million in November.

The index has gained about 18 per cent this year, adding to 2013’s 24 per cent advance.

Auckland Airport fell 2.3 per cent to $4.30 and Vector fell 2.1 per cent to $2.78. Trade Me, the online auction company, fell 1.9 per cent to $3.60 and A2 Milk dropped 1.7 per cent to 57 cents.

“Most institutions have pretty much packed up and headed off for the next week or so – volumes are extremely light,” said Grant Williamson, a director at Hamilton Hindin Greene.

Infratil fell for a second day, down 0.3 per cent to $3, even though its plan to buy Australian retirement village operator RetireAustralia with the New Zealand Superannuation Fund had been well received.

Retirement villages were a sector investors “liked very much, with very good potential for future growth” and Infratil had shown with investments such as Z Energy and Metlifecare that it could generate good returns, Mr Williamson said.

Metlifecare was unchanged at $4.71. Ryman Healthcare rose 1.3 per cent to $8.60 and Summerset Group fell 1.4 per cent to $2.83.

Guinness Peat Group was the biggest gainer, rising 4.7 per cent to 45 cents. Diligent Board member Services gained 3.1 per cent to $5.30.

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Some of the quirkier events of 2014

From advances in the design of women’s lingerie to surgical developments in the treatment of fish, 2014 was another interesting year for humans and other creatures.

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From technology and science to politics and beards,… takes a look at some of the oddest and quirkiest moments of 2014.

Peggy Giakoumelos reports.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The year started with a Japanese lingerie company launching what it called the “True Love Tester” – a bra which the company claims will only unhook when the wearer is really in love.

The product’s designer explains how the bra works.

“A built in sensor reads the woman’s heart rate signal and sends it to a special app via bluetooth for analysis. The app then calculates the truelove rate based on changes in the heart rate over time. When this heart or love rate exceeds a certain value, the bra will unlock automatically.”

In March, a Danish travel company launched a marketing campaign urging Danish couples to “Do it for Denmark”.

That is book a holiday through their travel company as a way of helping raise Denmark’s dwindling birthrate.

It claimed a romantic holiday could be just the thing to raise the birthrate and offered to give away a family friendly holiday for families with babies conceived during a trip booked through its company.

It also encouraged same sex and older Danish couples who might not be in the baby-making game – to just do it anyway.

On the Australian political front, 2014 introduced Australia to the Palmer United Party.

Media interview walkouts and large packages characterised the more quirky moments of the party.

The party’s head Clive Palmer and former P-U-P Senator and now Independent Jacqui Lambie, bucked the current trend of politicians scripting every soundbite.

Ms Lambie got all personal during an interview with Heart FM in Hobart, outlining her requirements for a mail partner.

“Let’s find love now. They’ve got to have heaps of cash and a package of between their legs, let’s be honest. And they don’t need to speak. I don’t even need them to speak.”

While Mr Palmer walked out of two ABC Interviews, frustrated with the line of questioning.

“PALMER: I’m not answering in more from you so goodbye. We will see you later.

ALBERICI: You’re a public figure Mr. Palmer, the audience has a right to know, what’s happening in legal cases against you.

PALMER: Sorry goodnight. I don’t want to talk to you any more. See you later.”

The world of science and medicine in 2014 saw just how far humans have progressed.

In September, a goldfish called George underwent “high risk” brain surgery to remove a large tumour in Melbourne.

The owner of the 10-year-old fish decided to have it operated on rather than having it put to sleep.

Dr Tristan Rich was the vet who performed the surgery and told Radio 3AW that George did well after the operation.

He also explained how the fish was kept alive during the surgery.

“Basically we set up three buckets of water. You’ve got to make sure it’s pond water or tank water. You don’t want any shock from the tap water and using anaesthetic, different concentrations of anaesthetic, the first bucket being more concentrated too put him to sleep. The second bucket medium strength and that ws syphoned through a tube through the fishes mouth and that’s what kept him asleep and the water itself was oxygenated.”

The Australian Science Media Centre’s list of the weirdest stories for 2014, included the discovery in Spain of 50,000-year-old fossilised human faeces, the oldest sample ever found.

The faeces showed that this particular human wasn’t living off fast food like many of his or her modern day descendants.

Rather he or she had enjoyed a meal of berries, nuts and vegetables along with some meat.

Male facial hair also emerged as a force to be reckoned with in western culture at least – but only certain types of beards.

Not everyone though, especially these women who spoke to the BBC, was impressed.

Vox 1: Just the amount of beards needs to go. It just seems like it’s trending.

Vox: 2: It’s a bit like tattoos. If there’s too many they just become common.

Vox 3: I’m not a really big fan of beards, so just feel like it’s really hiding the face. So I’m always like if the guy’s going to shave is he going to be ugly or not.”?

The Australian Science Media Centre said Australian researchers found that beards were only attractive to women if they were a rarity.

The researchers said their findings reflect patterns seen in other animals – females tend to find rare features attractive in potential mates.

 

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Injury-hit Kruse never lost sight of Asian Cup goal

The 26-year-old tore his anterior cruciate ligament in January and was forced to watch from afar as the Socceroos lost to Spain, Netherlands and Chile in Brazil.

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Kruse acknowledged nothing would make up for missing out on a first World Cup but added the carrot of competing at a home Asian Cup kept him going as he battled back to full fitness.

“My rehab went for about seven or eight months… this tournament I was working towards the whole time,” Kruse told reporters on Tuesday.

“I was at rehab for seven, eight hours a day and I’ve never had to work that long in my life.

“I can’t right the wrong of not being able to go to the World Cup. You go through so many emotions when you miss out on a big tournament like a World Cup and I’m thankful that this has come around just six months later.

“Hopefully this Asian Cup I can really stamp my authority on the competition.”

Kruse made his debut for the Socceroos prior to the 2011 Asian Cup and scored the final goal in a 6-0 rout of Uzbekistan in the semi-finals of the tournament in Qatar where Australia finished as runners-up to Japan.

Kruse went on to establish himself as a regular under former coach Holger Osieck, who was axed shortly before the World Cup following back-to-back 6-0 friendly defeats by Brazil and France.

Kruse returned to action following the length injury lay off in October with Leverkusen but has been used infrequently since.

Despite that, he was named in Ange Postecoglou’s 23-man Asian Cup squad and is likely to feature regularly along with central striker Tim Cahill when the Socceroos take on South Korea, Kuwait and Oman in Group A matches.

However, nothing will be taken for granted.

“Learning how to walk and contract your muscles again, it’s quite taxing. You miss out on so many things and you start to appreciate how good of a life you have as a footballer,” he said.

“Sometimes I used to get annoyed at having to train all the time but now I’m just happy to be able to run on the field.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Borrowers seeking help despite low rates

More home borrowers are seeking help from welfare services despite record low interest rates.

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Some economists are expecting the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to cut interest rates next year, as unemployment rises.

Official interest rates have been at a record low of 2.5 per cent since August 2013, but the peak body for the homeless welfare sector says this has done little to help low-income earners pay off a mortgage.

“More and more people who are actually home owners are starting to come to homelessness services for support,” Homelessness Australia chief executive Glenda Stevens told AAP.

“If you’re a low income earner, a mortgage is still quite a large percentage of your income even if interest rates are low.”

Unemployment is expected to rise next year, as the economy slows, which would also strain welfare service providers, who help the needy with shelter and food.

Charity donors, however, continue to see sick children and medical research as more worthy causes than homelessness, says Philanthropy Australia, a group which helps wealthy individuals channel their donations.

“Something like homelessness is unfortunately not as sexy a charity or area to give to,” the group’s chief executive Louise Walsh said.

Ms Walsh said many wealthy Australians also were yet to discover the joy of giving to charity.

“Maybe there is this phenomenon that the more they have of everything, the more they want of those same things whether it’s cars, boats, houses, holidays,” she said.

The jobless rate hit a 12-year high of 6.3 per cent in November.

National Australia Bank is forecasting the unemployment rate touching 6.75 per cent in late 2015, which could lead to rate cuts in March, with another to follow a few months later.

“The economy, generally, is going to struggle through all of next year,” the bank’s global head of research Peter Jolly said.

“With an unemployment rate that high, and with inflation being super benign, there’s really no reason to stop the RBA cutting rates again.”

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F1 young gun Kvyat not scared by Ricciardo

Formula One youngster Daniil Kvyat is not interested in watching new teammate Daniel Ricciardo do well next season – he wants to be the one winning.

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Ricciardo outperformed four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in their first year together at Red Bull in 2014, finishing third overall with three grand prix victories.

With Vettel off to Ferrari in 2015, 20-year-old Kvyat step ups from sister outfit Toro Rosso.

But he’s not intimidated by Ricciardo or matching his achievements in only his second season in F1.

“He proved to be a driver of an extremely high level this year,” Russian Kvyat told Autosport.

“I will be at Red Bull not to watch him do well, but to do my best and be in front of him and everybody; that’s how it’s going to be.

“I wouldn’t go there if I was scared.

“I know what he can do, but I will also do my best and my best isn’t that bad.

“People outside will look at one thing and draw comparisons, but I am only looking at what makes me go faster.

“I feel absolutely ready. It’s a challenge, but it’s an opportunity as well.”

Kvyat’s best finish in 2014 was ninth, but he also never finished lower than 15th, excluding retirements.

Despite his lack of experience at the front of the field, he is unfazed by the prospect of racing against established drivers for a championship-winning team.

“I have been wheel-to-wheel with some of them this year as it’s been an up and down season for everyone, but next year is an opportunity to fight at a high level,” said Kvyat.

“It’s never going to be easy for anyone and I am aware of this, but everyone started from where I started.

“I have to have confidence as there is no point doing it otherwise.”

The 2015 season begins with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15.

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US spyware ‘on USB stick of Merkel aide’

Regin, an advanced spyware program widely believed to have been developed by US and British intelligence agencies, was found on a USB stick belonging to an official in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, Berlin sources say.

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Sources said the incident occurred months ago and said that the hackers involved could not be identified.

Merkel’s spokeswoman declined to confirm that a cyber-attack had occurred.

The malware was discovered after a mid-level official in the European policy section of the chancellery reportedly took home a document on her USB flash drive to read on her private laptop computer.

When she later inserted the USB drive into her chancellery computer, an anti-virus alert came up.

Merkel’s staff are not supposed to use their private computers for work for fear of transferring a virus this way.

“I cannot confirm this mode of attack,” spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz told reporters, fending off questions about whether such a breach had in fact occurred or if anyone had been disciplined.

“The information technology system of the chancellery has not been infected,” she insisted, declaring that such threats were on the government’s radar and no fundamental review of precautions was required.

Sources said the incident happened in the first half of this year and cautioned that there was nothing to link such a Trojan attack with the United States, since anyone could have copied Regin and adapted it for their own ends, as hackers normally do.

Regin’s existence became public last month, when virus-hunters surmised that it had originally been devised by the US National Security Agency and its British counterpart GCHQ for international espionage.

Merkel personally phoned US President Barack Obama in October 2013 to protest at revelations that US intelligence had monitored her mobile phone.

The sources said it was impossible to establish if any documents were taken by whoever planted the flash-drive virus.

Virus hunters say Regin can gather snapshots of a computer screen, observe passwords as they are typed and restore deleted documents.

The mass-circulation newspaper Bild said the document taken home by the woman was the manuscript of a planned Merkel speech on European Union strategy, not a major secret since the chancellor was going to give the talk in public.

Bild said all of the 200 high-security laptops used in Merkel’s office were inspected after the incident, but Germany’s cybersecurity agency, the BSI, which often advises the German public on how to fight snoopers, could not find any other affected machine.

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Qld tanners, smokers affected by changes

Smoking and using tanning beds in Queensland are two unhealthy habits worth giving up on New Year’s Day as new restrictions come into play.

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More than 30 licensed salons have already disposed of tanning beds since the Queensland government flagged a state-wide ban on solariums. The ban begin from January 1, 2015.

“Queensland already has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and there is no question there’s a direct link between regular sunbed use and the incidence of malignant melanoma,” acting Health Minister Mark McArdle said.

The health department has been arranging for the collection and disposal of unwanted commercial machines.

Smokers also face tougher restrictions from January 1 when it will become illegal to light up within five metres of school and hospital grounds.

Those who break the law will risk on-the-spot fines of at least $227.

The legislation will apply to all public hospitals and healthcare facilities, private hospitals and day hospitals.

On the roads, the state government has already implemented a two-year trial of minimum passing distances between cyclists and vehicles but a number of other changes will affect bike riders.

Cyclists will be allowed to ride across zebra or children’s crossings, provided they come to a complete stop before doing so.

They will also have the freedom to shun bike lanes and ride on any part of single-lane roundabouts.

Within the field of education, principals will be handed stronger powers to deal with “hostile persons”.

They will be able to ban a person from school grounds for 24 hours via an oral rather than written warning.

Year seven will also be defined as part of secondary education from 2015.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines has introduced changes to outline new competency requirements for drilling rig workers under petroleum and gas regulations.

Provisions to enable 34 of Queensland’s indigenous communities that own their land communally to convert to ordinary freehold land ownership will also become active.

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Senior Japan players defend under-fire coach Aguirre

The Mexican was among 41 people named by Spain’s anti-corruption prosecutor in court this month following a probe into Real Zaragoza’s 2-1 win at Levante on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign.

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The victory ensured Zaragoza, coached by Aguirre, avoided relegation.

It led to suspicions the Japanese Football Association might remove Aguirre but they stuck by the coach they appointed in July and said he would lead them at the Jan. 9-31 Asian Cup despite the ongoing investigation.

The JFA stance has failed to quell the questions from outside the camp for Aguirre as he prepares his side for Group D matches against Palestine, Iraq and Jordan.

However, the former Atletico Madrid manager said his 23-man Japan squad were only interested in winning a record-extending fifth Asian Cup after they met up for training.

“He has said he didn’t do it, so he didn’t do it,” Japan’s most capped player Yasuhito Endo was quoted as saying by Kyodo News on Monday.

Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa echoed the sentiment.

“We have just got to concentrate on defending the Asian Cup. We have to believe what the coach has told us and follow his lead,” the former Manchester United player added.

On Saturday, Aguirre told reporters in Tokyo that he was innocent.

“I worked in Spain for 12 years and have never done anything unethical or unprofessional,” he said. “The only way to win matches is through effort.

“I have never been given gifts by anybody and never expected them. I will cooperate with authorities and defend myself until the end.”

Aguirre said he offered the same explanation to his squad and gave them opportunity to ask any questions about the matter.

Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said he was happy to continue working with the Mexican.

“The coach spoke directly to us and because of that his words will stick in our minds,” he said on Monday.

“It is important that the players and the coach have mutual trust. The coach loves soccer and that is the same for all of us and he said he would never betray soccer. We love soccer too, so those words got through to us.”

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Turkish bus driver fined after filmed dancing while driving bus

The video shows driver Metin Kandemir occasionally getting off his seat to dance the “horon,” a traditional group dance from the Black Sea region, while the passengers in the moving vehicle groove to the song amid shouts and cheers.

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At one point one of the passengers joins the overly enthusiastic driver to the fast-paced dance as the minibus thunders along the highway in the Sultanbeyli district on the European side of the city.

When he returns to his seat, Kandemir lets go of the steering wheel, flailing his arms everywhere, wildly wiggling and belting out a song with a grin on his face.

The video, shot by one of the passengers, became an instant hit on social media and prompted the Turkish police to take action.

The driver was briefly taken into custody and had his driving licence revoked. He was also fined 160 Turkish liras ($80 or 55 euros).

Kandemir, who appears to be in his early 30s, said he had been a minibus driver for 10 years and apologised for the dance.

“It was a mistake. I apologise to everyone. I will not repeat it. The road was empty at the time. This is the first time I did it,” Kandemir was quoted as saying by Dogan news agency.

Dogan said he has been fined on more than 32 counts of traffic offences including reckless driving.

Istanbul’s chaotic and traffic-clogged roads are notorious for the sometimes dangerous and eccentric behaviour of drivers.

An Istanbul bus driver was sacked in July after video footage showed him immersed in a book while travelling at high speed on a busy street in the Turkish metropolis.

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Hohaia moves on from Super League GF

Lance Hohaia has spoken of his regret and disappointment over his Super League grand final clash with Ben Flower but insists he has put the incident to bed.

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Flower, the Wigan and Wales forward, became the first player to be sent off in a Super League decider and was subsequently banned for six months for striking the St Helens half twice on the head in the opening minutes of October’s Old Trafford showpiece.

Former NRL player Hohaia’s grand final contribution was restricted to less than two minutes as he was taken off with concussion and he was later given a one-match ban for provoking his Wigan opponent with illegal use of his forearm but went on to collect a winners’ ring.

“I was disappointed with what occurred in the grand final,” Hohaia told his club’s website 南宁夜网saintsrlfc广西桑拿,.

“It was a big game and we’d had a tough year. It was a chance for me to step up, lead the team around the pitch and to be the half we needed.

“I was disappointed I didn’t get to play a bigger role but we got the trophy in the end so I was pretty happy about that.

“I spoke to the media afterwards and said once I walked off the field that was the end of the incident for me. I put it to bed then and I don’t see any reason to discuss it further.”

While Flower will miss the first three months of the new season due to his suspension, Hohaia will be available for the start of St Helens’ title defence against Catalan Dragons on February 6 after serving his one-match ban in pre-season.

The 31-year-old former New Zealand international, who has made 73 appearances for Saints, is set for a new role in his fourth season at the club following the signing of Australian five-eighth Travis Burns from Hull KR.

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