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Taylor leads NZ recovery in Hamilton

Ross Taylor’s stunning summer with the bat shows no sign of abating after he made an unbeaten 56 to help steer New Zealand to safety after two days of the third Test against the West Indies in Hamilton.

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The former national captain already has a double century and a century to his name in this series and helped steady the ship with the home side replying to the tourists’ first innings of 367.

They were 3-156 at the close of play.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul made an unbeaten 122 after the West Indies resumed on 6-289.

Taylor joined Kane Williamson after both home openers went cheaply on a slow Seddon Park wicket offering some help to the spinners.

The pair added 95 as the hosts, under scoreboard pressure for the first time in the series that they lead 1-0, stumbled early on.

The Black Caps needed the stand after West Indies captain Darren Sammy celebrated his 30th birthday by pulling off two brilliant catches to reduce them to 2-43.

Opening the bowling, he stooped on his follow-through to pick up a low return catch to remove Hamish Rutherford, and then used his sharp reflexes at leg slip to end Peter Fulton’s watchful 91-minute stay.

It was off-spinner Sunil Narine’s third delivery and he posed the biggest threat, occasionally bamboozling both Williamson and Taylor with his variation that turns away from the right-hander.

“He’s very tough to pick. You can see it at times, but he bowls at such a pace that it’s very hard to adjust your shot,” said Williamson.

Narine trapped Williamson lbw for 58 before stumps after a review upheld the decision by umpire Nigel Llong.

Taylor himself survived an early lbw shout that was referred to the third umpire and Brendon McCullum was with him on 11 at the end.

Taylor now has 418 runs against the tourists and has only been dismissed once and sits behind Andrew Jones (513) in terms of runs by a New Zealander in a three-Test series.

Earlier, the tourists added 60 runs for the final two wickets with Chanderpaul to take their score beyond 350.

Veerasammy Permaul and Tino Best both swung lustily with Best adding a record 35-run stand for the final wicket against New Zealand.

The 39-year-old Chanderpaul, who became the sixth highest run-scorer in Test cricket when he reached 98, was there at the end after a six-hour innings.

Tim Southee finished with the best figures of 4-79 and now needs just two more wickets to reach 100 Test victims.

Stolen Generation family loses test case for compensation

The Collards from Western Australia lost their case in Perth’s Supreme Court today.

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They wanted answers and an apology after nine members of the family were taken from their parents.

Donald and Sylvia Collard told NITV News they’re disappointed with the result.

“Honestly, I’m bitter,” Donald says.

“And those who made this judgement, I’ll tell them: when they read this, or see this news, they won’t sleep. The black fella, the Aborigine, won’t allow them. Don’t you worry about that.”

The Collards trial began earlier this year.

They agreed that the WA government, under the existing legislation, could take nine of their children away between 1958 and 1961.

But under the Native Welfare Act, the state had to protect them.

The Collards say the state failed them, and their children suffered emotional and spiritual harm after two of their girls were sexually abused at the Sister Kate’s Children’s Home.

“Why did I pay maintenance to have my kids neglected, abused and all that by the state? There was never anything there. It never came out. They could not give us the answers,” says Donald.

One of the Collard sisters, Glenys, says she still suffers from the trauma.  

But Justice Pritchard ruled the state did not have a case to answer. She ruled the Collard’s did not prove the state had a duty of care over the children.

“The story’s right. The story’s true. There’s nothing wrong with the story,” Dennis Eggington from the WA Aboriginal Legal Service says.

“We’ll be looking at the technicalities of law and looking through that very large transcript to see what we can find.”

The Collards say they may consider an appeal.

Watch: Jim Morrison, the co-convenor of Bringing Them Home WA, reacts to court ruling

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Rio Tinto looking beyond China

Mining giant Rio Tinto is looking beyond China for its future growth, saying it’s well placed to benefit from the industrialisation of South America, Africa and the Middle East.

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“Beyond China none of us should forget there’s India, there’s the Asian nations, there’s the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, South America and Africa,” Chief executive Sam Walsh told a British Chamber of Commerce lunch in Perth on Friday.

“All of these in their time, at different rates, are going to go through the same urbanisation and industrialisation process and they’re going to need the types of commodities that we in the mining industry supply for that growth.”

But the company still expects China to remain a key driver of demand for iron ore, with Mr Walsh saying economic growth in the world’s second largest economy could be a touch stronger than the company’s previously forecast 7.5 per per cent.

“If you look at China, the growth is going to continue to be there – I’m very optimistic about that,” he said.

Steel mills in China would continue to increase production as the urbanisation process in China continued, Mr Walsh said.

He is confident that 80 million tonnes of excess capacity will be reduced, as smaller, inefficient and higher polluting mills are closed.

“They also happen to be the mills that we don’t supply to – we supply to the larger mills,” Mr Walsh said.

Mr Walsh also expects the Chinese to focus on a higher grade ore product to improve the environmental performance of mills.

Earlier this month Rio Tinto announced it will cut its capital spending almost in half and shelve projects as it tries to bring down costs and win back the confidence of its shareholders.

The company plans to cut its capital spending to $US8 billion by 2015, below the $14 million it spent this year and well below last year’s $17.6 billion peak.

Stocks to watch at noon on Monday

Stocks to watch on the Australian stock exchange at noon on Monday:

AAD – ARDENT LEISURE – up 3.

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5 cents, or 1.69 per cent, at $2.105

Theme park and health club operator Ardent Leisure Group’s half year profit has risen five per cent as its American family entertainment business grows.

ALZ – AUSTRALAND – up 3.00 cents, or 0.77 per cent, at $3.94

Australand Property Group has suffered a 25 per cent slide in full year profit to $135 million.

ANN – ANSELL – down 96 cents, or 4.98 per cent, at $18.33

Condom and protective clothing maker Ansell has lifted its first half profit almost 15 per cent, thanks to stronger sales of its medical, industrial and specialty products.

AZJ – AURIZON HOLDINGS – up 10.5 cents, or 2.06 per cent, at $5.205

Freight rail operator Aurizon has suffered a 39 per cent slide in first half profit due to asset writedowns and redundancy costs.

BEN – BENDIGO BANK – up 15 cents, or 1.28 per cent, at $11.87

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has lifted its first half cash profit almost 10 per cent after lower funding costs helped improve its margins.

BSL – BLUESCOPE STEEL – down 3.00 cents, or 0.51 per cent, at $5.90

A union representing workers at a south Auckland steel mill sold to Australian steelmaker BlueScope Steel says more than 70 jobs will be lost when it closes in 2015.

FXJ – FAIRFAX MEDIA – up 0.25 cents, or 0.35 per cent, at 72.25 cents

Fairfax Media’s weekend newspapers will move to the compact format already used for weekday editions within weeks.

UGL – UGL – down 43 cents, or 6.07 per cent, at $6.65

Engineering and property services group UGL has increased its half year profit by 13.5 per cent with its diverse revenue base helping it weather challenging conditions in the local mining sector.

Bubba Bolts to Riviera glory

Bubba Watson has produced a spectacular weekend of golf to snatch victory in the US PGA Tour event at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

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Sitting in a tie for 40th and eight shots off the pace at the halfway mark on Friday, 2012 Masters champion Watson closed with two blistering, bogey-free seven-under-par 64s on Saturday and Sunday to finish at 15-under and win by two strokes.

“I went into the weekend just trying to just play solid golf, just build on it, build on the future,” Watson said.

“To win around here, what an honour, what a privilege, what a blessing with the history behind this golf tournament and some of the great names as champions.”

Watson collected his fifth US tour title as he won from Dustin Johnson, who carded a closing 66.

Monday qualifier Jason Allred (68), who won more money ($US388,600) in one go then he has in his 12 years since his tour debut in 2003, and Brian Harman (68) shared third at 12-under while another Masters winner, South African Charl Schwartzel (68) was fifth at 11-under.

John Senden (70) and Aaron Baddeley (71) shared top Australian honours at seven-under in a tie for 18th.

Both Australians were left to rue a lack of momentum at critical times but took positives out of the week.

“I made a good birdie on one today but then failed to take some chances over the next several holes and that was the key,” Baddeley, who had a share of the lead early in round three, said.

“If I make a few of those I’m three-under on the round, I’m away, I’m seeing putts go in, I have momentum and it’s a different ball-game.

“But I just couldn’t get any momentum all weekend and it wasn’t to be.

“But it was great to be back in the mix, to feel the final group feelings and to once again know I’m not far away.

“Now I’m excited for the break from tournament golf to get back into the grind and fix a few little things in practice and really take things to the next level going forward.”

Senden carded three birdies in his first 11 holes to get within striking distance but the Queenslander three-putted the 12th hole for bogey before making a mess of the 13th with a double bogey.

“Holes 12 and 13 stopped my scoring run which was a shame but it didn’t really affect how I was feeling with my swing so that was pleasing,” Senden said.

“Momentum is something you need so I certainly lost it there but I was able to hang tough from that point, get a sneaky birdie late and play the last well to give me good feelings heading to Florida.

“It was my best ever result here and we got some good work done so it should set me up for the rest of the year.”

Robert Allenby (69) and Geoff Ogilvy (69) finished at four-under in a tie for 29th and Stuart Appleby (73) was the only other Australian under par for the week in a tie for 45th at one-under.

Marc Leishman (71) and Matt Jones (75) finished tied for 59th at one-over.

Jobs to go after Pacific Steel sold abroad

A union representing workers at a south Auckland steel mill sold to Australian steelmaker BlueScope Steel says more than 70 jobs will be lost when it closes in 2015.

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Fletcher Building has announced it has sold Pacific Steel to BlueScope Steel, Australia’s largest steelmaker, in a $NZ120 million ($A112.16 million) deal.

The deal will mean Fletcher’s steel mill at Otahuhu will shut its doors by the end of 2015.

The Australian company will build a billet caster at its Glenbrook mill south of Auckland operated by its NZ Steel unit, spending about $NZ50 million on the new plant, it said.

Until then, Fletcher will continue to operate the Otahuhu mill and supply BlueScope with billet on commercial terms, Fletcher said.

“These are tiny plants on a world scale and this is how you allow manufacturing to survive here,” Philip King, Fletcher’s investor relations manager, told BusinessDesk on Monday.

“The competition comes from imports.”

The rolling mill and wire mill at Otahuhu will remain open with the steel mill closing.

Fletcher chief executive Mark Adamson said most of the Pacific Steel rolling mill and wire drawing workers would be offered work by BlueScope.

But the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says that more than 70 jobs will be lost.

“These are high-value, skilled jobs, and it’s a blow to our members and their community to lose them,” said Bill Newson, EPMU national secretary, on Monday.

He said there may be retraining opportunities for workers and the union would work with Fletcher to explore options.

The job losses were an indictment of the government’s failure to support jobs and manufacturing in New Zealand, he said.

Under the deal, Melbourne-based BlueScope will pay $NZ60 million for Pacific Steel’s long-products rolling and marketing operations and pay about $NZ60 million for its working capital.

BlueScope will pay half the $NZ60 million price of the assets upfront and the remainder once it has commissioned its new billet caster.

The deal doesn’t affect ownership of Fletcher’s steel distribution business, Fletcher Easysteel, or its reinforcing business, Fletcher Reinforcing.

Augusta National loses Eisenhower Tree

Augusta National will have a different look for Adam Scott’s Masters title defence after the famous Eisenhower Tree was removed.

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Situated on the left side of the 17th fairway, the large pine is a huge part of Masters folklore, but it’s been pulled down after it suffered irreparable damage in a recent ice storm.

“The loss of the Eisenhower Tree is difficult news to accept. We obtained opinions from the best arborists available and, unfortunately, were advised that no recovery was possible,” said Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman.

Without the pine, the 17th takes on a completely different look and becomes a much easier proposition from the tee, so it is likely to be replaced.

The tree was named after former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a golfing nut and club member from 1948 until his death in 1969.

He reputedly hit into the tree so often that he campaigned for it to be removed, only to have Augusta National’s founding chairman Clifford Roberts rule the motion out of order and promptly adjourn the club’s 1956 governors’ meeting.

The pine has been known as Eisenhower’s Tree ever since.

“We have begun deliberations of the best way to address the future of the 17th hole and to pay tribute to this iconic symbol of our history – rest assured, we will do both appropriately,” Payne said.

“I can report that the golf course sustained no major damage otherwise. We are now open for member play and we will be unaffected in our preparations for the 2014 Masters tournament.”

Australia’s world No.11 Australian Jason Day, who has runner-up and third place finishes on his Masters resume, was disappointed to hear of the famous tree’s demise.

“That’s a shame and it would look really different without it,” Day said.

“No doubt they will replace it in a timely and impressive manner and it will probably look like it has been there for 100 years. They always do it right at Augusta.”

The tree has played a role in the outcome of many Masters through the years including for Jose Maria Olazabal after he famously punched a five-iron onto the green from under it to preserve his victory over Greg Norman in 1999.

Most recently it impacted Tiger Woods in 2012 when the tree snagged his drive and he injured his Achilles tendon hitting his recovery shot from an awkward stance in the pine straw underneath low-hanging branches.

Watson storms home to seal two-shot win at Riviera

Four strokes off the pace going into the final round, the American left-hander seized control with five birdies in the first eight holes on the way to a flawless seven-under-par 64 at a sun-splashed Riviera Country Club.

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Watson, who has long relished playing at the revered venue despite never having posted a top-10 finish in seven previous starts, capped his round in style, rolling in a 14-foot birdie putt at the last to post a 15-under total of 269.

“I am hitting the ball really well … and it worked out this week,” an elated Watson told CBS Sports after clinching his fifth PGA Tour title and the winner’s cheque for $1.206 million.

“Things are great right now,” said the American, who went bogey-free at Riviera over the weekend as he fired successive 64s.

Watson’s final round was the lowest by a champion at Riviera since Doug Tewell’s 63 in 1986 sealed a seven-shot victory.

He came into the tournament having recorded two top-10s in his first four starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, his best finish a tie for second at the Phoenix Open earlier this month.

“Today, I got hot early, holed a bunker shot on six to really get it going and went bogey-free in the last round,” said Watson.

“I was looking at: ‘There’s a number out there and I’m going to shoot it. I have to shoot it and I have to go out there and play good golf’.

“You’re always looking at trying to beat the golf course first, so that was my goal,” said the American, who was embraced after the round by his wife Angie and their son Caleb, who will celebrate his second birthday in two weeks’ time.

Long-hitting American Dustin Johnson, one of four players who held at least a share of the lead during Sunday’s final round at Riviera, closed with a five-birdie 66 to finish alone in second.

Monday qualifier Jason Allred and fellow American Brian Harman signed off with 68s to share third place at 12-under, a stroke better than 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who also carded a 68.

MAINTAINED ADVANTAGE

American journeyman William McGirt, bidding for his first PGA Tour victory, began the last day with a two-shot lead but slid back with a 73 to finish five strokes behind Watson.

McGirt had maintained his overnight advantage with a comfortable two-putt birdie at the par-five first, the easiest hole on the course.

However, he stumbled with a bogey at the tricky par-four second, where his approach ended up just short of the green before he ran his first putt nine feet past the hole.

On a course running fast and firm under a dazzling sun, several of McGirt’s closest pursuers began to pile on the heat and, for a while, four players were tied at the top at 12-under: McGirt, Watson, Harman and Schwartzel.

Watson, who had holed out from a greenside bunker to birdie the sixth, broke the deadlock by draining a 16-footer to birdie the par-four eighth before reaching the turn in a blistering five-under 30.

The American left-hander, who made the cut by just two shots after scores of 70 and 71 before charging up the leaderboard with a sizzling 64 in the third round, then forged two strokes clear with a birdie at the par-five 11th.

Watson did well to par the treacherous 12th, where he sank an eight-foot putt, before Johnson trimmed his lead to just one with a birdie at the 15th.

Watson refused to buckle and held on to secure victory with pars on the next five holes before collecting his seventh birdie of the day at the par-four 18th.

“He must be hitting the ball great and be in great control of his golf ball because the golf course, the greens, are really firm,” Schwartzel said of Watson’s performance. “It’s difficult. You need to hit good shots here.”

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Ian Ransom)

Why they put puppy photos on toilet paper

If you’ve ever wondered why the supermarket toilet paper aisle features more puppies and kittens than a pet shop, it’s because of people like Simon Preece and the ancient, reptilian part of your brain.

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You know that the puppies and kittens are supposed to make you buy the products – and you think you’re not falling for it.

Simon knows how to make sure you do.

Mr Preece is a brand consultant – his title is “head of effectiveness stuff” at multi-award winning UK brand design consultancy Elmwood.

His job is to design product packages that make people want to buy them.

To do this, Mr Preece and his team use pioneering tools that employ how the human brain works at its most basic emotional level.

The tools are called biomotive triggers, and they are the latest development in the field of sensory marketing.

Biomotive triggers use understanding of the brain’s primal responses – like fight-or-flight and the nurturing instinct – to create a product that makes consumers respond, whether they know it or not.

Those puppy eyes gazing out from the eight-pack of toilet paper aren’t just a cute picture: everything from the size of the eyes to the angle of the dog’s head and how it sits, a little mournfully, in the bottom corner of the pack is calculated to send a message of “take me home”.

“As long as you are a human being you will respond to certain stimulus in a given way,” Mr Preece says.

“They are subconscious and they generate emotion and action without the conscious side of the brain clicking in – so what we basically appeal to is the reptilian part of the brain.”

Biomotive triggers were developed from the work of an Australian musician and scientist, Manfred Clynes, who created a theory of “sentic triggers” in the 1970s.

The triggers are expressed in pairs, such as cusps and curves, slender and chunky, agitation and calm.

Cusps – curved points – signal fear and danger, Mr Preece says – think claws and shark’s teeth, while curves represent safety and softness.

Cusps grab attention, curves encourage interaction. Each has a purpose for a story a brand wants to tell.

“When we come into this world we’re delivered onto our mothers’ stomachs, we nuzzle in for our first breastfeed and we’re surrounded by curved shapes,” Mr Preece says.

“Heavy metal bands write their names in cusps – it says `we’re aggressive, we’re dangerous’.”

Olive oil is an example of slender-chunky: regular oil is in a thick, chunky bottle, while pricey extra virgin is in a tall, slim bottle that says ” premium product – pay more”.

Enormous amounts of money and creativity are expended on the appearance of products but Mr Preece says a lot of marketing misses something.

“We analyse the consumer like a laboratory rat but we actually forget that at one level we are just human beings,” he says.

“We get information overload, so the consumer now is world-class at screening out marketing communication.

“If you are going to cut through you have to be amazing.”

Elmwood’s biomotive approach has delivered results: in the UK, six years of declining sales for Andrex toilet paper were turned around by rethought packaging that felt and looked classier and used a redesigned puppy photo.

Sales of an own-brand baby moisturising cream jumped 70 per cent after a nondescript bottle was reshaped with curves and a cute cleft to suggest a bub’s bottom.

In Australia a packaging redesign for Carman’s muesli and bars delivered a big boost in supermarket sales.

Elmwood counts some of the world’s biggest brands among its clients, including Nestle, Walmart and Procter and Gamble, while supermarket giant Coles is among the Australian clients.

Sensory design and marketing might sound like elaborate trickery but Mr Preece says that is not the case because if a product is no good, no amount of emotion will help.

“What you can’t do is force people to do something against their will,” Mr Preece says.

“People will have an emotional relationship with brands – we do it all the time – but what we’re working on is help build and design in the feelings that the brands want to communicate.

“At the end of the day consumer has all the power. All you can do is try to engage them.”

Brazilian host city scraps Fan Fest

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke has criticised the decision of a Brazilian host city to cancel its Fan Fest, saying the event, which allows thousands of fans to watch games for free on large screens, is an important part of the World Cup.

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Valcke made his comment on Sunday after the northeastern city of Recife said it will not spend public money on a Fan Fest, which lets fans without tickets watch matches in public areas.

“Not having a Fan Fest is a mistake, to make it very clear,” Valcke said.

While Recife was the first city to officially cancel the event, others among the 12 host cities have expressed concerns about whether it is worth spending public money on events which usually combine football with musical and cultural attractions. Local vendors are not allowed in the Fan Fest and only official World Cup sponsors can sell products inside the Fan Fest area.

Valcke dismissed the idea that FIFA profits from such events, saying they are something “for the city” and the local fans.

“A Fan Fest is a big part of the organisation of the World Cup,” Valcke said. “If you don’t have a Fan Fest, you are missing something … (the) kind of communion of people playing a game, playing a part of what a World Cup is for a country.”

Fan Fests first became part of the official FIFA program in Germany in 2006, following the huge success of unofficial public viewing events in South Korea in 2002. In 2010, the idea was expanded so that not only did South African host cities stage Fan Fests, but six other international venues also held events.

Valcke is in Brazil for an inspection tour of three host cities. His stop on Sunday was in the jungle city of Manaus, which has confirmed a Fan Fest for about 35,000 people on match days next June.

The secretary general arrives as the country continues to struggle to finish its World Cup preparations. With less than four months before the opener, five stadiums remain under construction, and there are still doubts whether the southern city of Curitiba will remain in the tournament amid significant delays in stadium construction.

The Socceroos are set to play Spain on June 23 at Curitiba.

Valcke will visit the capital Brasilia on Monday and then goes to the southern city of Porto Alegre, where another problem awaits him. Local officials are continuing to fight over who will pay the nearly $13 million needed to build the temporary facilities required by FIFA outside the venue.

Hooker impressed by vault world record

Steve Hooker would love to have been the man to finally consign one of pole vault supremo Sergey Bubka’s world records to the history books.

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Five years ago, as the reigning world and Olympic champion, the Australian looked the athlete most likely to challenge Bubka’s legendary outdoor and indoor world marks, which had stood unchallenged since the early 1990s.

Hooker’s life has since taken a different tack, the Australian now a husband and proud father, budding TV star and club-level sprinter.

The 31-year-old still hasn’t ruled out a return to vaulting.

But right now, it’s on the backburner, with family the No.1 priority and his Russian wife Katya Kostetskaya eyeing a return to the track in the 800m for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

After high-profile disappointments at the 2011 world titles and the London Olympics, Hooker split with long-time coach Alex Parnov and spent time past year in the US with the squad of Dan Pfaff, the coach of 1996 Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey.

“I’m not retired but I’m just doing the sport to enjoy it right now,” Hooker told AAP.

“The last few years of pole vaulting were not a lot of fun for me.

“But I had a really positive experience going to Arizona and training with Dan.

“I haven’t jumped since July last year but I am still in shape.

“I feel like I’m running fast enough, I’m strong enough and fit enough that if I wanted to have another go at it, I could.

“It’s a more complicated decision than people understand and I want to take my time with that decision.”

Bubka’s indoor world mark of 6.15m and outdoor best of 6.14m had both stood for 20 years before Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie soared over 6.16m indoors in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Saturday.

Hooker, who still sits third on the alltime indoor world list with 6.06m, estimates he had half a dozen cracks at Bubka’s marks throughout his career.

“I got to the point where I had my head around jumping the height and it was just a matter of putting it into practice on a particular day,” he said.

“But you don’t get many opportunities.

“There have only been four or five guys in the last 20 years who have got to a point in a competition where they have put the bar up to that mark and probably only two or three of them were actually realistic chances of jumping it.

“You’ve got to have had a season and a number of years in a row where you have got to a level mentally where you can jump at the height.

“And in that competition you need to have retained enough energy and be at that optimal point when you’re attempting the world record.”

Hooker is satisfying his competitive urge by contesting the sprints for his club Box Hill and will have a crack at the 200m at the upcoming Victorian titles.

Man City on guard for Barcelona in ECL

Barcelona appear to have hit form with ominous timing for Champions League knockout-phase debutants Manchester City ahead of Tuesday’s last-16 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

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After one win in four Spanish league games, Barcelona have won their past two matches emphatically, scoring 10 goals in the process.

Following a 4-1 success at Sevilla, Saturday’s 6-0 demolition of Rayo Vallecano strengthened their position on top of the table on goal difference from Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

The game featured a goal-scoring return from injury for Neymar.

“Now the best part of the season, where all the games are important, is upon us,” captain Carles Puyol said.

“We are facing a very good team with great players, but Barcelona always believe in their own chances. We are in good form and it will be a very even tie.”

City could scarcely have asked for more daunting opposition in what will be their first knockout game in the post-1992 Champions League era, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side can also take heart from their weekend result.

After two games without victory, the 2012 English champions beat Chelsea 2-0 in the FA Cup fifth round.

Samir Nasri believes it was ideal preparation for Barcelona’s visit.

“It is a massive game,” said the French midfielder, back from a five-week injury layoff.

“Every player wants to play those kind of games – Champions League, last 16, against Barcelona. The good thing is we are really strong. We have our confidence back.

“I think they are weaker than they were two years ago.”

With James Milner suspended and Fernandinho a doubt with injury, Javi Garcia is in line to partner Yaya Toure in midfield, while top scorer Sergio Aguero is expected to miss out with a knee problem.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has the rare luxury of a fully-fit squad to choose from.

Despite demonstrating his fitness, Brazilian superstar Neymar is expected to be on the bench, but Xavi is likely to come back in after being rested on Saturday.

With Lionel Messi scoring 10 goals in 11 games since his return to fitness, Pellegrini feels that reports of Barca’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

“Any coach would love to have the roster that Barca has.

“Barca have 12 wonderful players. Messi, Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta, Neymar, Cesc (Fabregas), Pedro – they are full of great players.

Taxes remain a drag on small business

A leading business group believes small firms have suffered more under a carbon pricing regime than their larger counterparts.

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The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s latest small business survey for the December quarter shows firms continue to face difficult conditions and are less upbeat than larger companies.

Profits, sales and employment remain weak and as a result investment continues to struggle.

Business taxes and government charges are seen as the number one constraint on small business investment for a 12th successive quarter, which the chamber says demonstrates the need for tax reform as a priority.

Its acting chief economist Burchell Wilson said the government’s focus on repealing the carbon tax was appropriate, adding the impost was a key factor undermining small businesses.

Energy-intensive, trade exposed industries and households were provided with compensation when the carbon tax was introduced, he said.

“Small businesses on the other hand were provided with absolutely no compensation … largely on the assumption that they would be able to pass this cost on to consumers,” he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“There wasn’t a lot of evidence to support that assumption.”

The latest survey showed the small business conditions index rising to 43.2 points for the final three months of 2013 from 42.5 points in the September quarter but remaining below the 50-mark that separates contraction from expansion.

Sales revenue remained in contraction, recording the longest period below 50 in the 18-year history of the survey, while the profits index was a limp 36.2 points.

The one positive was a second consecutive rise above 50 points for expected economic conditions.