Slater can’t leave Origin behind to retire

Billy Slater has given his strongest indication that he won’t join Johnathan Thurston in farewelling State of Origin at Suncorp Stadium next month.

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And NSW will have Wednesday night’s second-half collapse against Queensland to blame for another year of having to face the Slater magic.

Playing in his first Origin in 735 days at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday night, the Melbourne fullback offered another reminder of why he is arguably the greatest player to wear the No.1 jersey for the Maroons.

The 34-year-old is yet to confirm his plans for next season, but if he was to retire from the NRL or the representative arena, it would leave a massive hole in the Maroons’ generational shift in 2018.

Queensland are already set to be without Thurston next season upon his representative retirement, while his halves partner Cooper Cronk’s future is also uncertain.

But after having a hand in the match-winning Dane Gagai try in game two, Slater said he was looking less and less likely to give it away at the end of the season.

“There’s more chance than not that I’ll play on next year,” Slater said.

“At the moment, I’m feeling really good, the body is in a really healthy spot and I’m enjoying my football.

“I really enjoy playing for Queensland, so I’d like to think that if I did play on next year, I’d play for Queensland again.”

Slater has scored 12 tries in 28 matches for Queensland, contributing to seven series wins since his Origin debut in 2004.

He has also played in 17 victories, however few were as special as Wednesday night’s come-from-behind 18-16 success to keep hopes of an 11th series win in 12 years alive.

Slater was in tears after the match, capping off a return from back-to-back career-threatening shoulder surgeries.

And he admitted that reminder of the Origin emotion was helping convince him to play on another year.

“This is certainly a great feeling after what I’ve been through to come out and be involved in this,” Slater said.

“I honestly didn’t know if I was going to play another game of football, let alone be at ANZ Stadium in front of a packed house and be involved in an Origin match like that.”

Wallabies need to find motivation within

The Wallabies have absorbed a week of supporter fury and are ready to let it out on an inexperienced Italy in Saturday’s Test, captain Stephen Moore says.

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But, the veteran hooker warned Australia needed to find their motivation from within – not from external sources like Jack Quigley’s now-infamous viral Facebook rant.

The Lismore rugby fanatic struck a chord with a frustrated domestic support base as more than 50,000 people endorsed his lengthy open letter to Michael Cheika, which prompted a return phone call from the coach on Monday as he dealt with the issue.

Cheika printed it out and posted it on the walls of the team’s training base this week in Brisbane to ensure they received the message after last weekend’s horror loss to Scotland.

Moore, who has been named for his first start of the season against the Azzurri after two Tests on the bench, said it had been received.

“Cheik handled that pretty well early in the week and was probably talking to all the fans when he was speaking to that person,” Moore said on Thursday.

“I was just staggered that he had 18 beers – that was a lot, I probably wouldn’t have that many in a couple of weeks.

“It’s about the sentiment that’s generally out there and, if that’s the case, if we’re not conveying how we want to play to our fans and supporters, that’s our issue to deal with.

“For me, that’s a big part of playing for your country – you’re representing everybody.

“There’s a lot of people who want us to do well and we feel the frustration when it doesn’t go well.

“It’s a big week, no doubt, particularly after last week. The game can’t come quick enough for everyone.”

However, Moore said it was dangerous to let results – much less social media posts – dictate how they behaved.

“Sure, we certainly feel how the fans feel as well and we take that all on board… (but) we want to be consistent,” he said.

“At the end of the day, you need your own motivation and it’s got to be something that comes from within.

“If you’re looking for external motivation, that’s a little bit shallow.”

Moore will become the 10th most-capped international player in Test history on Saturday, surpassing Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni and England’s Jason Leonard in making his 120th appearance.

CIMIC, John Holland win harbour tunnel bid

Work is set to commence on the first rail tunnel under Sydney Harbour after the NSW government awarded a $2.

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81 billion contract for its construction to a consortium led by CIMIC Group and John Holland.

The twin-tunnel rail line will run more than 15 kilometres under the harbour and CBD, and revolutionise travel in Sydney, according to engineering giant John Holland.

The state government confirmed CIMIC, John Holland and Ghella as the successful tenderers for the project after NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet’s Tuesday state budget promised to deliver $73 billion of infrastructure investment over four years.

Preparation work will begin immediately to get the first of five tunnel boring machines in the ground by the end of 2018, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday.

“The scale of this project and what it will do for the ease and speed of travelling across Sydney is hard to comprehend,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The twin rail tunnels will be completed by mid-2021, and are part of Australia’s biggest public transport project – a 66 kilometre line that will link Sydney’s northwest to the southwest, via the city, due to be operational in 2024.

John Holland chief executive Joe Barr said the new rail tunnels will revolutionise Sydney’s public transport.

“This iconic project will build the first ever rail tunnels under Sydney Harbour – a crucial transport connection to meet the ever growing needs of our global city,” Mr Barr said.

Roman Garrido, the managing director of CIMIC’s CPB Contractors, said construction of the twin rail tunnels will deliver jobs and opportunities for local workers and businesses, as part of a “sustainable and socially-inclusive” procurement strategy.

The project also includes the creation of six new underground metro stations.

John Holland and CIMIC, formerly known as Leighton Holdings, are also responsible for the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro Northwest project.

CIMIC shares gained 65 cents, or 1.7 per cent, to $39.13.

SA budget: The key points

SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S BUDGET:

* The budget surplus to be $72 million in 2017/18, rising to $132m in 2018/19, $193m in 2019/20 and $462m in 2020/21.

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* The state economy to grow by 2.25 per cent in 2017/18 and by the same amount across the forward estimates.

* Employment growth to be flat at one per cent across the forward estimates, below the national average.

* A $200 million future jobs fund to focus on creating jobs in the defence, renewable energy, mining, tourism, health and IT sectors. There are also payroll tax cuts for small businesses and incentives for companies to take on apprentices or trainees.

* The government will raise $370 million over four years with a levy on the major banks along with legislation to prevent them passing it on to customers.

* The government to spend $1 billion on hospitals including $528 million on a new women’s hospital and $250 million to upgrade the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

* The government has reaffirmed its $550 million energy plan to provide security of electricity supplies. Includes money for a new gas-fired power station and for a battery to store renewable energy.

* Two new schools to be built in Adelaide’s south and north to each cater for 1500 students.They will be built using funds from the private sector.

* A $48.8 million slug (over four years) on foreign buyers of residential properties who will have to pay a four per cent surcharge from January next year.

* The government has found $31 million for upgrades to the courts, including funds for an extra Supreme Court judge and an extra deputy coroner after calls for more resources from the judiciary.

RBA chief sees ‘half-glass full’ outlook

It doesn’t look like Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe and the central bank board are about to push for another interest rate cut.

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Lowe told a conference this week he was a ‘half glass full’ kind of guy and that there’s a lot to be positive about when it comes to the economic outlook.

The global economy is in a better position than it has been for some time and the “animal spirits” of the business world – missing for “quite a while” – might be on the comeback.

The pick-up was helping Australia, which will likely see economic growth a bit stronger than recent times.

However, there are potential headwinds that the central bank is watching carefully.

In particular, Lowe told the Australian National University’s Crawford Australian Leadership Forum wage growth was “unusually low”, average working hours had declined, household debt was rising and house prices were high in the largest cities.

All up, financial markets see no change in the RBA cash interest rate this year, and possibly a rate hike towards the end of 2018.

While some economists, like those at JP Morgan, believe there’s still a chance of another cut in the rate – which has been at a record low 1.5 per cent since August – the general view is monetary policy is on hold for the foreseeable future.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude retail banks from independently increasing their lending rates for commercial reasons in the interim.

However, the big four banks are under the scrutiny of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as part of the Turnbull government’s major bank levy, which cleared parliament this week.

From July 1, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac, along with the nation’s largest investment bank Macquarie, will pay the six basis point levy, raising $6.2 billion over the next four years that will go to budget repair.

Treasurer Scott Morrison insists the banks can absorb the levy, in the same way small business and families have to absorb increased costs.

“Implementation of the levy is not an excuse for applicable banks to increase costs for customers,” Morrison says.

The consumer watchdog has been directed to undertake an inquiry into residential mortgage pricing to make sure the levy is not being used as an excuse to lift rates.

However, few believe the levy won’t be passed on to customers and shareholders.

Even Treasury, Morrison’s own department, conceded to a Senate hearing its modelling assumed some “pass through” to customers and shareholders.

Complicating matters, global ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service downgraded 12 Australian banks, including the big four, this week.

The downgrade suggests bank funding could be slightly more expensive when raising money overseas, a factor that has forced higher independent interest rate increases in the past.

Moody’s vice president Frank Mirenzi insists the downgrade had nothing to do with the bank levy, saying the majors should be able to cope through repricing some of their products or passing some of it onto their shareholders.

Rather, Moody’s believes there is an elevated risk from increased household sector indebtedness.

“The action we’re taking is about the way households might respond if there is a change in their financial circumstances – that it makes them harder to repay their mortgage debts,” Mirenzi says.

Which brings us back to wages growth, which Lowe believes is at crisis levels in many countries.

Because people feel there is more competition in the labour market, they are less inclined to ask for a wage rise.

However, Lowe thinks the labour market has become quite tight in a number of countries.

“At some point, one imagines that’s going to lead to workers being prepared to ask for large wage rises,” he says.

“If that were to happen, it would be a good thing.”

And we can all raise our half-full glasses to that.