MORNING RUSH: news, sport, weather, traffic and online buzz

8.44am That's it from us this morning. Have a lovely weekend, enjoy the sunshine! We'll see you Monday.

8.41am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Oprah celebrated her 60th birthday this week by cancelling her birthday party as the guest list was "getting out of control".  She decided to take a spin class instead, and according to this video, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

8.38am STRANGE BUT TRUE: If you live in San Francisco, California, then you may be lucky enough to come across the art of Andres Amador. He doesn’t paint or sculpt. He prefers a medium that is temporary but absolutely beautiful: a sandy beach at low tide. He uses a rake to create works of art that can be bigger than 100,000 sq. ft. He spends hours creating these intricate masterpieces, knowing that the tide will soon come in and wash away his work forever. Check them out - absolutely amazing.

8.35am The SuperBowl is on this weekend in the US. Will you be watching?

8.32am Some colourful rhinos have popped up on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. What is going on?

8.29am WORLD NEWS: Move over Superman, it's time for Superpope! In the same week that he became the first pontiff to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, Pope Francis has appeared in cartoon form on a building near the Vatican, his right fist clenched ahead of him in classic Superman style. He is carrying a black briefcase bearing the word valores, Spanish for values, containing a scarf bearing the blue and red colours of his favourite Argentinian football team, San Lorenzo. The artwork, which has been pasted to the wall, is signed Maupal 2014. (The Guardian)

8.25am Medicare turns 30 today! Time for a facelift , me thinks?

8.22am STRANGE BUT TRUE: A man wearing a clown mask and armed with a gun has been terrifying Melburnians in a series of bizarre incidents. There have been at least three cases of the clown following people in the western suburbs, a police spokeswoman said. (AAP)

8.17am Looking for a little home reno project over the weekend? Why not DIY a light bulb vase. Learn all the secrets here.

8.14am WORLD NEWS: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has revoked a nomination in the best original song category for Alone Yet Not Alone after the songwriter, himself an Academy official, violated Oscar rules and emailed voters about submitting the song for consideration. (The Guardian)

8.12am LOCAL SPORT: For the Dragons, yesterday was just another gruelling pre-season session but for Rikki Sutherland and Noel Underwood it was the chance of a lifetime. The pair will represent the First Nations Goannas against the Newcastle Knights at the NRL Festival of Indigenous Rugby League in Newcastle next weekend.

8.10am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Megan Gale showed off her baby bump at the David Jones winter fashion launch this week. She looks stunning - so radiant, just gorgeous.

8.08am Shellharbour's senior residents are the focus of a photo competition to promote images of positive ageing to the community. Each submission needs to include a description of up to 50 words detailing how each image depicts a positive image of ageing. Entries close 5pm, Friday 14 February and selected photographs will be exhibited at Shellharbour Village Exhibition Space from 17-21 March.

8.06am NATIONAL: More than 5000 people are expected to converge on Cottesloe Beach on Saturday, alongside rallies in other locations across Australia and New Zealand, to protest the West Australian government shark kill policy. The beach-side protest follows the one held on January 4 at Cottesloe, which attracted 4000 people. (SMH)

8.04am BREAKING WORLD NEWS: An Italian Appeals Court has upheld a murder conviction against Amanda Knox and set a 28 1/2 year sentence.

8.02am Love live music? Then don't miss Radar Illawarra, our new live music column. Check it out here.

8am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Seems Hugh Grant is quite the babymaker! He now has another love child, after Swedish TV producer Anna Elisabet Eberstein secretly gave birth to a baby boy in September 2013.

7.58am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Students at Coledale Public School have had to use toilets at the nearby surf club for the past two days after thieves stole copper piping from the school's amenities block.

*The Seven Network has been blasted by Port Kembla Copper for airing ‘‘untrue claims’’ about the planned demolition of the stack. Read more here.

*Fed-up residents at Thirroul's The Esplanade have spoken out against campers in nearby Tingara Park, claiming they have long been disturbed by tents popping up over the Christmas, New Year and Australia Day holidays.

*Wollongong needs to focus more on its "foreshore economy", according to new Destination Wollongong chairman Matt Davidson.

7.56am TGIF, good morning sunshine! Let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains.

WEATHER We're in for another gorgeous sunny day with a top of 28 degrees, yippee! The weekend should also be pretty nice - it will be mostly sunny for most of the weekend with tops of 26 degrees. Right now, it's 16 in Albion Park and 20 in Bellambi.

TRAFFIC Everything looks a-okay on the region's roads and for the drive to Sydney or south,

TRAINS Trains are running on or close to time on the South Coast line.

7.52am SPORT: The Central Coast Mariners have infuriated star striker Daniel McBreen by refusing to allow him to join a Chinese Super League club Shanghai East Asia during the January transfer period.To deter interest, the Mariners have slapped a $250,000 transfer fee on the player's head, despite the striker having just four months left on his contract. (SMH)

7.50am STRANGE BUT TRUE: Federal authorities say a tropical fish merchant has admitted smuggling more than 39,000 piranhas into New York City and mislabeling them as common aquarium fish. NB I hope he didn't hide them down his pants! (The Huffington Post)

7.48am Northern Territory police have not been approached with any new information about the location of Peter Falconio’s body despite the current affairs program Today Tonight airing a story claiming to have uncovered new evidence regarding the English backpacker’s murder. Read more here.

7.46am Legally Blonde: the Musical is coming! Moonglow Productions is set to stage the musical for the first time in Wollongong on July 4-5 @ the WIN Entertainment Centre. Auditions are March 1 & 2. Head over to the website to book a spot!

7.44am LOCAL NEWS: BlueScope Steel will proceed with its takeover of the Fielders steel business, after the competition regulator gave its stamp of approval to the acquisition. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has announced it will not oppose BlueScope's acquisition of Fielders Australia from the Hills Group. BlueScope welcomed the news yesterday.

7.42am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Lorde has copped a serve on social media after she tweeted about the "lecherous gaze" of her fans and the media. She took out a full-page ad in the NZ Herald yesterday to apologise - with a hand-written letter. Champ.

7.40am Who doesn't love a good hike? (well me, for one, but I'll pretend for the purpose of this post that I do!) Okay, but how about hiking across rickety wooden planks, thousands of metres in the air!? No thanks. Check out these truly terrifying hikes - for thrillseekers only!

7.38am Have you seen the official outfits for the Winter Olympics? Oh, they're classic. Over-the-top, gaudy, 80s inspired - hello Eurovision!

7.36am NATIONAL NEWS: A majority of the state's public school teachers are not equipped to meet the needs of students from language backgrounds other than English, prompting fears migrant and refugee children could fall through the cracks. There are also concerns a state government decision to devolve support services for teaching English as a second language (ESL) could make the problem worse.

7.32am Back into the back-to-school grind yet? Already stuck for inspiration for items to go in the kids' lunchboxes? Swap a soggy sandwich for some awesome lunchbox eats. Check out some tips & ideas here.

7.30am STRANGE BUT TRUE: A schoolteacher has been arrested after hundreds of living and dead pythons in plastic bins were found stacked floor to ceiling inside his stench-filled suburban California home. Officers said they found more than 400 snakes at least 220 of them dead as well as numerous mice and rats. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. (The Guardian)

7.28am BREAKING WORLD NEWS: One person has been shot at a Florida college. (The Huffington Post)

7.26am A very important thing to do this morning, dear readers - take the quiz below and find out which Harry Potter character you are. Quick!

7.24am Almost half of all pedestrians killed in road collisions in Sydney's central business district in the past decade died after being struck by buses. This is despite buses making up less than 10 per cent of general traffic volumes in the city. A day after two pedestrians were killed in separate incidents in Sydney, police have issued a general warning about people using their mobile phones when walking. (SMH)

7.22am LOCAL NEWS: The federal government has confirmed it will honour the previous Labor government's pledge to provide $2.5 million for trades skills centres at two schools in the Throsby electorate. The centres, previously known as trades training centres, will tackle the current skills shortage and allow students to leave school with a part qualification for a trade. Read here for more.

7.20am The Mercury’s sport journos will be launching some new columns this year. Watch out for some great new content!

7.18am Have you been watching MKR? I must admit, I haven't watched this week. Do you think the whole "tears & tantrums over the stove" bit is tired? Hmmm watch this space.

7.16am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Yet another reason why I love Jennifer Lawrence. J-Law has admitted to damaging costumes in American Hustle - by getting Doritos dust all over them. Ha!

7.14am LOCAL SPORT: Illawarra duo Trent D'Antonio and Josh Dean put their Australian Baseball League hopes on the line in Canberra tonight. The Sydney Blue Sox pair head to the nation's capital for a three-match series with league champions Canberra Cavalry. Good luck guys!

7.12am Cardboard heir Anthony Pratt has leapfrogged gaming tycoon James Packer to become Australia's second richest person. Gina Rinehart keeps the top spot on the Forbes Australia Rich List, with the iron ore queen's fortune climbing by a cool $804 million, or 4 per cent, to $20.3 billion in 2013. Australia now has a record 30 billionaires, according to Forbes, when their fortunes are expressed in Australian dollar terms. (SMH)

7.08am MOVIE NEWS: Meg Ryan is directing her first feature film, Ithaca, an adaptation of the 1943 William Saroyan novel The Human Comedy. She will also star in the film alongside Sam Shepard and Melanie Griffith, while Tom Hanks will be executive producer. (The Guardian)

7.06am STRANGE BUT TRUE: Brokeback Mountain, the opera. Yep, it's real, it happened. It's on in Madrid. I have a lot of questions.

7.04am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Oh George Clooney. You are perfection. Check out this article below for 13 things you didn't know about the swoonable Mr Clooney. Oh sigh.

7.02am LOCAL NEWS: Merrigong Theatre Company's latest production is both insular and open, moving from inside a man's head to outer space. The Man Who Dreamt The Stars is a collaboration between Merrigong and the Disability Trust. The project began in 2008 and, after countless workshop sessions is finally ready to be unveiled in February. Check it out here.

7am The Illawarra Folk Festival thank-you concert is on tonight. One of the festival’s international guest acts, the London Klezmer Quartet, returns for the concert. It's on at City Diggers from 7.30pm. Doors open at 7pm.

6.58am Anyone else seriously excited for the INXS mini-series? Great story on the SMH this morning about original band member Tim Farriss becoming very emotional after watching the show being filmed.

6.56am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Students at Coledale Public School have had to use toilets at the nearby surf club for the past two days after thieves stole copper piping from the school's amenities block.

*The Seven Network has been blasted by Port Kembla Copper for airing ‘‘untrue claims’’ about the planned demolition of the stack. Read more here.

*Fed-up residents at Thirroul's The Esplanade have spoken out against campers in nearby Tingara Park, claiming they have long been disturbed by tents popping up over the Christmas, New Year and Australia Day holidays.

*Wollongong needs to focus more on its "foreshore economy", according to new Destination Wollongong chairman Matt Davidson.

6.54am TGIF, good morning sunshine! Let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains.

WEATHER We're in for another gorgeous sunny day with a top of 28 degrees, yippee! The weekend should also be pretty nice - it will be mostly sunny for most of the weekend with tops of 26 degrees. Right now, it's 13 in Albion Park and 19 in Bellambi.

TRAFFIC Everything looks a-okay on the region's roads and for the drive to Sydney or south,

TRAINS Trains are running on or close to time on the South Coast line.

6am TGIF, we made it Rushers! Happy Friday, hope you have a wonderfu

6.52am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Lara Bingle va-va-va-voomed onto the AACTA red carpet yesterday - with her date Sam Worthington.

6.50am NATIONAL NEWS: Mandatory minimum sentences for fatal alcohol and drug-fuelled assaults and earlier lockouts will be enforced from tomorrow after the NSW parliament passed anti-violence legislation on Thursday night. Party-goers will be locked out of clubs from 1.30am in the Sydney's top entertainment precincts, and final drinks will be served at 3am. (SMH)

6.48am Don't forget the Sunset Cinema is on tonight at the Botanic Gardens. Grab your popcorn and your chair & head outdoors tonight to see Free Birds.

6.46am SPORT GOSS: Could David Warner and Candice Falzon be expecting a babyThe Australian Test opener is understood to have told friends that Falzon is expecting their first child. Contacted by Fairfax Media on Thursday, neither would confirm nor deny the pregnancy. NB what a blessed sporting child that would be!

6.44am HISTORY: "We must be the change we wish to see in the world" - Gandhi died on this day in 1948.

6.42am TV NEWS: Did you love Full House as a kid? Frankly, what wasn't there to love - the Olsen twins, John Stamos, it was all good. Well, some of the Full House gang have reunited for a spoof on Jimmy Fallon's show. Hilarious!

6.40am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Actress Scarlett Johansson (ScarJo to her friends) has quit as global ambassador for Oxfam after the aid group deemed the role "incompatible" with her promotion of an Israeli firm that has a factory in the occupied West Bank. Johansson, 29, appears in an advertisement for home drinks carbonation firm SodaStream, which was due to air during the US Super Bowl on Sunday but was banned as it mentioned other popular soda brands - a no-no in the US.: 

6.38am Speaking of the Hawks, check out this week's Hoopla video - join reporter Mitch Cohen as he discusses the latest on-court action.

6.36am Want to win family passes to see our Hawks take on the 36ers on Feb 9? Enter our competition here.

6.34am NATIONAL NEWS: A tropical storm moving towards the north Queensland coast has been upgraded to a cyclone. The declared category one cyclone, called Dylan, is expected to make landfall between Lucinda and Proserpine in the early hours of today. The cyclone threatens to bring dangerous storm tides, heavy rain and gusts of up to 120km/h. (The Guardian)

6.32am Not sure what to wear this year? We've got what's hot - and what's not for 2014. It's going to be all about pink coats, flat shoes & leather jackets. But say goodbye to peplum & the mullet dress (THANK GOD!)

6.30am WORLD NEWS: A former tabloid reporter who admits illegally snooping on voicemails said on Thursday that he "routinely" hacked the phone of actor Daniel Craig. Read more here.

6.28am The Getaway Plan + Wendy Icon are playing at the TBH tomorrow night from 8pm. General Admission tickets are $20. Head on down for some great live music.

6.26am BREAKING SPORT: Michael Schumacher’s doctors have started the process of bringing the former Formula One champion out of the coma he has been in since a skiing accident a month ago. The 45-year-old suffered serious head injuries when he fell and hit the right side of his helmet on a rock in the French resort of Meribel on December 29.

6.25am LOCAL NEWS: For Corrimal's Mihyun Lim, today's lunar new year celebrations wouldn't be complete without traditional Korean meals and games. While the Chinese eat their dumplings, Koreans make a rice cake soup called duk gook and play yut nori, a strategy game where yut-sticks are cast instead of dice to advance on the board.

6.23am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Glee star Lea Michele has opened up about the death of her fiancee Cory Monteith in the new Teen Vogue mag.

6.20am The Big Day Out is reeling mid-tour, plagued by detailed rumours that organisers have inflated attendance figures and that its owners, AJ Maddah and Texas-based company C3, are likely to face off in court as they face losses between $8 million and $15 million. 

6.18am People, I bring you kittens. Several kittens. Several CUTE kittens.

6.17am BREAKING WORLD NEWS: Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. (AP)

6.16am Did you get hitched last year? Know someone who did? Check out our gallery of weddings from 2013.

6.14am The ACCTA Awards were on yesterday - and there were some STUNNING looks on the red carpet. Cate Blanchett looked divine, as did Jacki Weaver & Jesscia Tovey. Check out all the action here.

6.12am If you haven't had enough "show action" over the past few weeks, the Berry Show is on today and tomorrow. Head to the Berry Showground for beat utes, steak sangas and giant pumpkins.

6.10am BREAKING SPORT NEWS: Olympian Ian Thorpe has checked himself into rehab in Sydney while battling depression and alcohol abuse. Friends say Thorpe has struggled to adjust to life after swimming and with the disappointment of a failed comeback at the London Olympics in 2012.

6.08am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Poor ol' Justin Bieber. He's in more trouble - he's now facing assault charges in Canada. OMG.

6.06am Here's the national headlines, courtesy of the SMH:

*The Abbott government has launched a cost-cutting study of the ABC and SBS, following public criticism of the national broadcaster by the Prime Minister.

*A teacher has resigned from one of the north shore’s leading Catholic boys schools after an internal investigation revealed she had been having ‘‘inappropriate relationships’’ with boys in year 12 last year.

*The Royal Commission has heard NSW Police had evidence an alleged paedophile network may have been operated by a Salvation Army officer from a southern Sydney boys home in the 1960s.

6.04am Let's have a look at what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Students at Coledale Public School have had to use toilets at the nearby surf club for the past two days after thieves stole copper piping from the school's amenities block.

*The Seven Network has been blasted by Port Kembla Copper for airing ‘‘untrue claims’’ about the planned demolition of the stack. Read more here.

*Fed-up residents at Thirroul's The Esplanade have spoken out against campers in nearby Tingara Park, claiming they have long been disturbed by tents popping up over the Christmas, New Year and Australia Day holidays.

*Wollongong needs to focus more on its "foreshore economy", according to new Destination Wollongong chairman Matt Davidson.

6.02am If you're just waking up, good morning sunshine! Let's have a look at the weather, traffic and trains, shall we?

WEATHER We're in for another gorgeous sunny day with a top of 28 degrees, yippee! The weekend should also be pretty nice - it will be mostly sunny for most of the weekend with tops of 26 degrees. Right now, it's 14 in Albion Park and 19 in Bellambi.

TRAFFIC Everything looks a-okay on the region's roads and for the drive to Sydney or south,

TRAINS Trains are running on or close to time on the South Coast line.

6am TGIF, we made it Rushers! Happy Friday, hope you have a wonderful day. Stay with us this morning for all the latest news, celeb goss & what's on over the weekend.

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