Closest start to AFL season since 1994

This is the closest AFL season ever, the competition has never been so even and there are no such thing as easybeats.

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They’re cliches that coaches and players have routinely and repeatedly wheeled out throughout recent years, keen to banish the faintest whiff of complacency.

But they’re now starting to mostly ring true, at least in the context of the modern era, and the league has every right to feel delighted with their recent equalisation measures.

Some 16 premiership points (four wins) and percentage is all that separates ladder-leading Adelaide and 17th-placed Hawthorn after nine rounds.

Not since 1994, when last-placed Brisbane Bears had two wins to their name and first-placed West Coast had six, has there been such a logjam after nine rounds.

To put those 23 years in context, the Bears and Fitzroy have since merged while Fremantle, Port Adelaide, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney have all joined the league.

“Everyone’s loving this season, aren’t they? It’s a credit to our clubs and our players that it’s a season like no other since I’ve been in football,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told reporters.

“Across the weekend there were upsets again, teams coming from 30-odd points down.

“Seventeenth I think is two games out of eighth, the football is incredible … basically everyone can beat everyone.”

The one exception is arguably Brisbane, who are now incredibly short-priced favourites to collect the wooden spoon after recent lopsided losses.

“Brisbane clearly are having a tougher time than others and they’re a little off the pace but they’re rebuilding – a new coach, new head of football,” McLachlan said.

“They’re going to take a couple of years.”

Sydney coach John Longmire noted it wasn’t just the ladder that showed how tight things have been this year.

“You look at the momentum swings in the course of games, and from week to week, they can be huge,” Longmire said ahead of his club’s clash with Hawthorn at the SCG on Friday night.

“This would have to be the most equal and closest season we’ve had for a long time.”

A series of upsets in round nine have created a serious ladder logjam.

The gap between the Crows and 10th-placed Essendon is two wins and percentage. Not since 2007 have the top 10 teams been so close on the table after nine rounds.

It is part of the reason that many believe the Swans can surge into the finals despite a woeful 0-6 start to the year. No club in VFL/AFL history has ever reached the finals from an 0-5 start, let alone 0-6.

“You don’t look too far ahead, it’s just not relevant to us at the moment. It’s more relevant for us to be playing good football this week against Hawthorn,” Longmire said.

“I’ve always looked at what is immediately in front of us.”

Milford caps comeback with Qld selection

This time last year Anthony Milford was banned from State of Origin.

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Now the Brisbane playmaker is being groomed as Queensland star Johnathan Thurston’s heir apparent.

Milford capped a remarkable turnaround when he was named as Maroons five-eighth for the May 31 Origin opener, with the recovering Thurston (shoulder) as 18th man.

Milford, 22, will make his Origin debut if Thurston does not overcome the injury he sustained in the trans-Tasman Test and it seems all is forgiven for Milford after the 2016 Emerging Origin camp debacle, when he was among eight players who broke curfew.

Milford held out Melbourne’s Cameron Munster and North Queensland’s Michael Morgan for the starting pivot role in Thurston’s absence.

“We just felt that at the moment, Anthony’s the right choice,” Queensland coach Kevin Walters said.

“We’ve seen in the last couple of years in the NRL what an exciting player he can be and now he gets an opportunity on the big stage.

“I am excited about what he can produce for us on the night.”

Milford’s Origin call-up caps a dream month for the youngster.

Barely two weeks ago Broncos officially confirmed Milford had signed a new four-year deal, reportedly worth $1 million a season.

Milford has also stepped up in the absence of injured halfback Ben Hunt to help Brisbane move to second spot on the NRL ladder with six straight wins.

“I think the blessing in disguise was having Benny out,” Milford told QRL Media.

“It made me take more control of the team and the lead them around the field more. That has helped my game and made me mature a lot.”

Walters said Thurston was “unlikely” to play game one.

“We’re preparing to play the game without Johnathan Thurston.”

Claim humans may come from Med, not Africa

The birthplace of the human race may be Mediterranean Europe and not Africa, a controversial new discovery suggests.

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Scientists base the claim on an analysis of two very ancient fossils, a tooth and lower jawbone, unearthed in Bulgaria and Greece.

Evidence indicates that the ape-like creature they belonged to was the oldest pre-human known, dating back as far as 7.2 million years.

Graecopithecus freybergi is said to be several hundred thousand years older than the most ancient potential human ancestor discovered in Africa, Sahelanthropus, from Chad.

The implication is that humans split from their ape cousins not in Africa, as has been widely assumed, but Europe.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” PhD student Jochen Fuss, a member of the international research team from the University of Tubingen in Germany, said.

For more than 40 years, the “cradle of humanity” has been firmly located in East Africa, where hundreds of fossils of humans and pre-humans were discovered in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Graecopithecus fossils, described in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, were found to have dental traits seen in modern humans, early humans and pre-humans, but not great apes.

CT scans were used to visualise the internal structure of the tooth and jawbone.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans including Ardipithecus and Australopithecus,” lead researcher Professor Madelaine Bohme, also from the University of Tubingen, said.

The lower jaw, nicknamed El Graeco by the scientists, had additional dental features suggesting a pre-human lineage.

Both the Greek and Bulgarian fossils were roughly 7.2 million years old, dating them to a time when the Mediterranean region was covered in Africa-like savannah grassland and home to giraffes, gazelles, and rhinos.

UN’s North Korea sanctions monitors hit by ‘sustained’ cyber attack

The hackers eventually breached the computer of one of the experts on May 8, the chair of the panel of experts wrote in an email to UN.

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officials and the UN Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee, known as the 1718 committee.

“The zip file was sent with a highly personalized message which shows the hackers have very detailed insight into the panel’s current investigations structure and working methods,” read the email, which was sent on May 8.

“As a number of 1718 committee members were targeted in a similar fashion in 2016, I am writing to you all to alert you to this heightened risk,” the chair of the panel of experts wrote, describing the attack as part of a “sustained cyber campaign.”

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A spokesman for the Italian mission to the United Nations, which chairs the 1718 sanctions committee, said on Friday that a member of the panel of experts had been hacked.

No further details who might be responsible were immediately available.

North Korea’s deputy United Nations envoy said on Friday “it is ridiculous” to link Pyongyang with the hacking of the UN panel of experts or the WannaCry “ransomware” cyber attack that started to sweep around the globe more than a week ago.

Cyber security researchers have found technical evidence they said could link North Korea with the WannaCry attack.

Reuters reported on Sunday that North Korea’s main spy agency has a special cell called Unit 180 that is likely to have launched some of its most daring and successful cyber attacks, according to defectors, officials and internet security experts.

The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006 and has strengthened the measures in response to the country’s five nuclear bomb tests and two long-range rocket launches. Pyongyang is threatening a sixth nuclear test.

A second email by the UN sanctions committee secretary to the 15 Security Council members on May 10 said the U.N. Office of Information and Communications Technology was “conducting an analysis of the affected hard drive.”

“Increased vigilance relating to 1718 Committee-related correspondence is therefore advised until data analysis and related investigations are completed,” the email read.

Rouhani hopes Europe won’t follow Trump

Iran welcomes cooperation at all levels to bring stability to the Middle East, President Hassan Rouhani has told his French counterpart hours after US President Donald Trump lambasted Tehran again as he tours the region.

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In a telephone call, Rouhani told France’s new president Emmanuel Macron he was hopeful that Europe would not copy Trump’s stance against the Islamic Republic.

Visiting Iran’s arch-foe Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Trump singled out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups in the Middle East, sending a tough message to Tehran the day after Rouhani won a second presidential term.

He said on Monday in Jerusalem that shared concern about Iran was driving Israel and many Arab states closer, calling Tehran a real threat in the region.

“The Islamic Republic is ready for cooperation in all levels with other countries, including France, to fight against terrorism and to resolve the Syrian crisis,” Rouhani was quoted saying to Macron by Iran’s state news agency IRNA.

The French leader had called to congratulate him on being re-elected in Friday’s presidential vote.

“We should bring peace and stability back to the region. We hope Europe does not fall into the trap of countries that promote their wrong interpretations of the region,” Rouhani was also quoted as saying.

Paris, which is at odds with Iran over the crisis in Syria, took one of the hardest lines against Tehran during negotiations between Iran and major powers in 2015, but has been quick to restore trade ties.

French carmakers PSA and Renault are taking advantage of their lack of US operations by piling into a resurgent Iranian market that is still off-limits to rivals fearful that Trump’s administration will impose sanctions.

France has said it backs Trump’s call to strengthen the monitoring of the deal, but that it is committed to implementing it, including the lifting of sanctions.

Asked earlier on Monday whether Paris agreed with Trump’s call to isolate Iran, the French foreign ministry said it would “work towards developing political dialogue that should be part of a constructive approach with regard solving regional crises”.

Rouhani said at a news conference on Monday that stability could not be achieved in the Middle East without Tehran’s help.