Lowndes relishing DJR Team Penske test

Craig Lowndes is confident a return to one of his favourite tracks on the Supercars circuit can return him to the podium.

长沙夜网

It’s been 12 races since the well-loved driver tasted champagne after a race win – his driest spell in 13 years on tour.

Only Jamie Whincup (11) has more wins at Symmons Plains than the 42-year-old and Lowndes is hoping he can put his experience to good use in Tasmania.

“We’ve had a great record down here over the last decade,” he said.

“Our expectation is pretty high. We want to be on the podium.

“We learned a lot at the Grand Prix and we come here with a lot of confidence.”

On a windy Friday, Lowndes took his No.888 Commodore to ninth in practice after a late run-off into the gravel.

Reigning champion and early series leader Shane van Gisbergen topped the timing charts with a new lap record of 50.8 seconds.

The Red Bull Holden driver was followed by DJR Team Penske rivals Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin, with teammate Whincup fourth.

The danger for Lowndes – and the rest of the field – is that the emergence of the new Ford challengers makes it tougher to compete at the pointy end.

But he’s welcomed the emergence of a team to challenge Roland Dane’s well-oiled championship-winning machine.

“It’s healthy competition. In any sport if you have one team dominating for too long it becomes boring,” Lowndes said.

“There was no doubt DJR Team Penske would step up this year and they have.

“Their speed is very credible.

“It is a track where they haven’t had good results and so they’ll be motivated.

“The rivalry and the competition is definitely there.”

Lowndes said the key to a successful weekend in Tasmania is qualifying.

“It’s a track that’s very short, only seven corners, but it’s a very technical track.

“There’s a couple of tracks through the year where qualifying is absolutely important and this is one of them.

“Being in the top two rows is important and there’s no doubt it’s attainable.”

Swift response to shocking war crime: PM

The United States has not asked Australia for extra military support after launching a tit for tat missile strike on a Syrian air base following a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians.

长沙夜网

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis advised Defence Minister Marise Payne by phone before the 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched at the government-controlled Shayrat base from destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea late Friday morning (AEST).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists it was “a swift response to a shocking war crime”.

“This was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response,” he told reporters in Sydney.

The targets were aircraft, buildings, petrol tanks and radar installations at an airfield believed to have been used by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces to launch the attack.

It’s the toughest direct US action yet in Syria’s six-year civil war and raises the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran – Assad’s two main military backers.

Mr Turnbull said Australia was not involved in the strike but remained fully committed as a coalition partner to “ongoing military operations in Iraq and Syria” and finding a resolution to the civil war.

“The use of these (chemical) weapons under any circumstance is illegal and abhorrent. It is a violation of international law. It is a war crime. It is a blatant contravention of basic principles of humanity,” he said.

Asked about the prospect of further action, Mr Turnbull said it was a single strike designed to send the strongest possible signal such conduct would not be tolerated.

“We are not at war with the Assad regime and the United States have made it clear that they are not seeking to overthrow the Assad regime,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council is at an impasse over the issue because of Russian support for Assad.

The chemical weapons attack killed at least 80 Syrian people, many of them women and children.

“As a parent, a grandparent, everyone weeps when you see this sort of inhumanity, this cruelty,” Mr Turnbull said.

US President Donald Trump said Assad had “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children”.

“Tonight I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” he in a televised statement.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton expects the refugee situation to deteriorate further and noted 6.5 million people had been displaced by the civil conflict.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said his party supported the strike as “appropriate and proportionate” but added further action was needed by the United Nations.

“We support the US sending a strong signal that these gas attacks should have never occurred – and they should never occur again.”

Greens acting leader Scott Ludlam said the strike would dangerously escalate the violence in Syria.

“The horror of the chemical weapons attack in Syria this week requires a credible, independent investigation, not a random barrage of missiles ordered by a clueless president,” he said.

US strike overdue, says Australian Syrian

The toughest direct US action in Syria’s six-year civil war should have happened sooner, an Australian Syrian activist says.

长沙夜网

Dr Ibrahim Iyoun Alsoud says action should have been taken after a 2013 nerve gas attack that left hundreds dead.

It is time for the free world to say enough is enough, the Victorian said after a US missile strike on a Syrian air base believed to have been used by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to launch this week’s deadly chemical weapons attack.

“It is about time and it is about time for this bloodshed in Syria to stop,” Dr Alsoud told AAP on Friday.

Dr Alsoud, a member of the Australian Syrian Association, said Assad is fighting his own people and Iran and Russia remain his biggest supporters.

“Somebody has to say no to Russia and to Syria and Iran as well.”

Australian Syrian Association Victoria spokesperson Dr Said Ajlouni said everyone should support the US action taken by President Donald Trump.

“As far as it is true that they are targeting the Assad air-fighters, they are targeting ISIL, they have all our blessing because we want to stop these airstrikes,” Dr Ajlouni said.

“If such an airstrike can stop the Syrian air-fighters from bombarding their own people, it is a plus, it is well acknowledged and it is good for the Syrian people.”

Dr Ajlouni said the chemical attack was heartbreaking and horrific.

“It is unacceptable and beyond imagination that a regime who will kill his own people using such nerve gas,” he said.

Dr Ajlouni called for international pressure on Russia and Iran to stop supporting Assad.

“If we remove Assad and establish a new democratic government I think that will be the best way to go.

“We want to end this crisis in Syria.”

Sock offers 27 words after Davis Cup loss

American Jack Sock was in no mood to talk after his shock Davis Cup defeat to Jordan Thompson on Friday.

长沙夜网

Thompson confounded expectations and rankings to score an impressive 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win at Brisbane’s Pat Rafter Arena, handing Australia a surprise 1-0 lead in the quarter-final tie.

It clearly stung world No.15 Sock, who offered just 27 words in his post-match press conference.

“Sure, he played well,” Sock said.

Asked if there was any prevailing wind at one end of the court that affected his serve: “It was pretty calm.”

Was he feeling fatigued after his late arrival in Brisbane?

“I don’t know. He played a good match, so deserved to win. Served well, made a lot of balls.”

At least World No.79 Thompson opened up a little more after snaring his third Davis Cup win in as many attempts, after his two straight-sets victories in February’s first round against the Czech Republic.

“100 per cent record – I’ll take that any day,” Thompson said.

It was a see-sawing affair with Sock, one of the form players on the ATP Tour in 2017, dropping in and out of the match.

The American served eight double-faults to four – two of them handing Thompson the first break in the opening set, and another two coming in the crucial third-set tiebreaker.

“It’s huge to play for your country,” Thompson said.

“I don’t really get too nervous, I don’t get wound up too badly.

“There’s a little bit of extra pressure playing for the green and gold and seeing Lleyton on the sideline.

“But he’s there to help. He just said ‘keep going, you’re going well’.

“He told me ‘just stick to your guns, try and keep him out there as long as possible, play to your game style’.”

Thompson beat Spaniard David Ferrer at the same venue earlier this year at the Brisbane International but said this win was probably the biggest of his career.

“Five sets over a guy ranked 15 in the world – that’s up there,” the 22-year-old said.

Dragons to juggle the backs against Manly

Kurt Mann and Jason Nightingale will likely share the fullback role for St George Illawarra in Saturday’s NRL clash with Manly.

长沙夜网

Nightingale has been named at No.1 for the hamstrung Josh Dugan, but coach Paul McGregor suggested on Friday that Mann – who briefly began last year at fullback – could also fill the role.

“Jason is a hardened professional … a tough type of player which is needed,” McGregor said.

“Kurt has only had that one hit-out last week, so we put him in that position where he excelled last year on the left wing.

“But you might see him at times at fullback as well.”

Saturday’s clash at Lottoland is an unlikely battle between second and fifth, despite both teams being tipped by most to finish near the bottom of the ladder.

“By everyone except for the people who knew,” McGregor joked.

The Dragons have suffered only one defeat to Parramatta in round two, while Manly have recovered with three-straight wins after dropping their first two games.

Both poor in attack in 2016, they are now two of the most efficient teams in the league inside the opposition’s 20m zone.

Manly are the third-best in the league in that category, converting on one in every 8.8 plays inside the 20, while the Dragons sit second at an even better rate of 8.4.

“They’re dangerous,” McGregor said of Manly.

“Their change of angle on their running is good.

“They’ve got some quality offloaders in their team and they’ve got some speed.”

Both also know how to defend their own line.

The Sea Eagles have been forced to make more tackles inside their own 20 than any other team this year at an average of 35.4 per game. Again, their nearest rivals are the Saints at 34.6.

But despite that, both teams have conceded less than 80 points this year to be among the league’s best.

“How they defend is how we need to attack,” McGregor said.

“They get line-speed and they’ve got a couple of blokes who like to shoot out and put pressure on you through the middle.”

Meanwhile Manly coach Trent Barrett doesn’t expect Dugan’s short-term absence to cripple the Dragons’ attack, regardless of who plays at the back.

“Whether Kurt Mann goes back to fullback or Nightingale, they’re all strong carriers of the ball,” Barrett said.

“Their back five have been really good for them and it gives them a good start to their sets.”

STATS THAT MATTER:

* The Dragons haven’t scored above eight in any of their past four visits to Manly

* Both sides average 10 errors per match this year – the equal-least in the NRL

* The Dragons have the highest completion rate in the league, at 79.7 per cent.

Source: Fox Sports Stats

Dockers’ Lyon unfazed by outside criticism

Fremantle Dockers coach Ross Lyon insists he won’t let critics get to him, saying the club’s rebuild remains on track despite their disastrous start to the AFL season.

长沙夜网

Lyon has copped widespread criticism for fielding too many veterans in the club’s opening two losses.

The Dockers were made to pay for sloppy turnovers in their 42-point loss to Geelong in round one, and worse was to come a week later when they copped an 89-point thumping at the hands of Port Adelaide.

Lyon reacted to that round-two loss by making six changes for Saturday’s clash with the Western Bulldogs in Perth.

Veteran trio Zac Dawson, Danyle Pearce, and Jon Griffin were among the axings, with their futures at Fremantle looking bleak.

Cameron Sutcliffe, Darcy Tucker, and Nick Suban were also cut.

Talkback radio in Perth was abuzz with disgruntled Fremantle fans this week, with some even claiming the game has bypassed Lyon, and it was time for the 50-year-old coach to move on.

Lyon is contracted until the end of 2020 and he has no plans of putting up the white flag.

“I haven’t listened to it,” Lyon said of the backlash from fans.

“I didn’t listen to it when we were going in to grand finals, and prelims, and playing good footy.

“I don’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. It doesn’t interest me.

“And talkback radio is the one per cent. I’ve never validated myself by outside sources, and I don’t intend to do it now.

“I challenge myself and I look to grow.”

The Dockers have handed debuts to key defender Griffin Logue and midfielder Harley Balic, while Brady Grey, Ethan Hughes, Tom Sheridan, and Hayden Crozer earned recalls.

The Bulldogs have brought in Toby McLean to replace injured forward Stewart Crameri (hip).

The Dockers fielded the third oldest team in round two.

But their six changes this week will mean they’ll enter their round-three encounter against with one of the youngest teams.

Lyon was criticised for playing so many older players in the opening two rounds when the club was meant to be at the start of a four-year rebuild.

Lyon said everything was still on track.

“The enthusiasm of youth will be fantastic,” Lyon said.

“This is nothing new. It’s just continuing on the time line.”

Fremantle’s sloppy skills haunted them all of last season and it’s been a similar theme in 2017.

But Lyon has noticed other problem areas as well.

“We’d like to get our tackle pressure back,” Lyon said.

“We’re the lowest tackling team in the AFL and we’ve been losing the ground ball.

“They’ve always been the staples of our game.

“We’d like to get that back.”

Tigers up for tough Eagles test in AFL

Richmond are reaping the benefits of an off-season game plan tweak, but the rejuvenated Tigers will face their sternest test yet when they host West Coast at the MCG.

长沙夜网

Damien Hardwick’s men will be aiming to start a season with three wins for just the second time since 1995 when they take on the unbeaten Eagles on Saturday.

The Tigers are playing a more daring and direct style this season and have ratcheted up their pressure on the opposition.

Hardwick’s side is ranked last in the competition in disposals and second overall for tackles, but assistant coach Ben Rutten says it’s not all about the stats.

“We don’t necessarily talk about what numbers our game style is going to produce but hopefully it’s well-suited to the players that we’ve got,” Rutten told AAP.

“The way that we play is constantly evolving, like all teams, and by no means do we think we’re perfect or are we completely satisfied with the way that we’re playing.

“But we’re heading in the right direction. We’re pleased with some of the growth and improvement that we’ve shown.

“We learnt a lot from our first two games. We were disappointed with last year so to get a bit of confidence and momentum early was good.”

Richmond made two forced changes for the clash, bringing in Kamdyn McIntosh and Todd Elton for Shane Edwards (hip) and Ben Griffiths (concussion).

Dustin Martin suffered a fractured cheekbone in the win over the Pies but has received medical clearance to play.

“Dusty’s a pretty tough sort of bloke … it takes a bit to keep him down,” Rutten said.

“He’s important to the way that we’re playing so it will be good to have him out there.”

The Eagles made one change, bringing in Lewis Jetta at the expense of Dom Sheed.

Luck learns lessons from Masters winner

Australia’s Curtis Luck says a lesson in never backing down from reigning Masters champion Danny Willett has prepared him to fight for round two of the Masters on Friday (Saturday AEST).

长沙夜网

Amateur world No.1 Luck had an opening round to forget on his Masters debut with a six-over-par 78 to be a whopping 13 shots back of red-hot leader Charley Hoffman (65).

The 40-year-old Hoffman will start round two four shots ahead of William McGirt (69),with Englishman Lee Westwood (70) a shot back in third at two under.

Perth-product Luck’s 2016 US Amateur win secured his ticket to Augusta and ensured the 20-year-old was paired in the traditional grouping with defending Masters champion Willett.

On Thursday, gutsy Englishman Willett began his green jacket defence with a double bogey on the first and dropped another shot on the second, but fought his way back to a 73.

Also in the group was American veteran Matt Kuchar, who similarly dropped three shots in as many opening holes but forced a solid round of 72.

“(Willett and Kuchar) stuck it tough when it didn’t start the way they wanted,” said Luck.

“They were able to put themselves in positions to play good golf. They just played a lot better than I did.”

Luck, who beat a field of professionals to win the Western Australian Open last year, says he feels comfortable on golf’s biggest stage.

“It’s a different stage, a lot more crowd to deal with but it’s exciting too to be out there; it’s a cool place to be,” said Luck.

“I felt pretty comfortable, I wasn’t too nervous. I was nervous on the first tee, but that’s a good thing. I just didn’t hit it good enough.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to wake on the right side of the bed and get the job done in order to be there on the weekend.”

Suns coach backs Ablett’s commitment

Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade has hit back at criticism about Gary Ablett and says the two-time Brownlow Medal winner is committed to helping the Suns improve.

长沙夜网

The inaugural Suns captain has been lambasted after his lacklustre performance against Greater Western Sydney last week but Eade says the criticism is due to Ablett’s reputation as a great of the game.

“As I said after the game, which wasn’t reported, he wasn’t the only one that didn’t play very well; he’s a victim of his own standards,” Eade said on Friday.

“Unfortunately when you become a great player everyone expects those standards week in and week out, and he happened to have an off game.

“I’ve spoken to Gary and he’s very keen to play well. He’s got a lot of pride and he’s a great player and he played very well the first week (against Brisbane).

“He has one bad game and unfortunately he gets labelled as something.”

Rumours about Ablett’s future at the Gold Coast began last year and the 32-year-old requested a trade in the off-season to return to his former club Geelong, due to personal reasons.

His commitment to the Suns has since been questioned and prompted comments saying he looked uninterested against the Giants.

Eade says all of the debate after last week’s 102-point loss should not be dumped on the two-time premiership winner.

“You could probably aim that (looking uninterested) at a few other players as well,” Eade said.

“Sometimes looks can be deceiving when things outside footy can be distracting to your mindset and game.”

Despite his off-field concerns, Ablett remains devoted to his teammates.

“Off the field he’s been very engaged,” Eade said.

“He cares about his teammates, he’s spending a lot of time with younger players on the track, helping (co-captains Steven) May and (Tom) Lynch as well.”

Leishman at home in brutal Masters wind

Marc Leishman is relishing the challenge of brutal winds forecast for round two of the Masters, believing his career-best form and tolerance for breezes are an advantage at Augusta National.

长沙夜网

The 33-year-old Leishman braved gusts of more than 40km/h during a solid opening round of one-over-par 73 at the year’s first major.

The Victorian native is the leading Australian, eight shots back of leader Charley Hoffman, who fired a scintillating round of 65 to climb to seven under.

The 40-year-old Hoffman will start round two four shots ahead of William McGirt (69),with Englishman Lee Westwood (70) a shot back in third at two under.

Arriving at the Masters as the most in-form Australian, world No.27 Leishman is buoyed by his recent US PGA Tour win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well as another two top-10s this season.

“I’m feeling good, in a good spot off the course, game is probably the best it has ever been coming in to the Masters,” said Leishman.

“I am enjoying my golf and that is a big part of playing well.”

Leishman, who mastered his craft in the coastal winds of Warrnambool, Victoria, welcomed the 35km/h gusts predicted for Friday as he looks to better a best finish of fourth place at the 2013 Masters.

“You can only play in the conditions you are given and I enjoy playing in the wind, I really enjoyed it today,” said Leishman.

“I like the fact that if you play well, even par and one-over are good scores.

“We get used to shooting low numbers a lot (on Tour), not playing in too much wind over here, so this is great, I am enjoying it.”