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

8.33am That's it from us this morning. Hope you have a fantastic weekend - get out & enjoy the sunshine. See you on Monday!

8.29am The Three PhotoArtists Exhibiton is an exhibiton by photographers Andrew Netherwood, Barry Whitelaw and Tony Tavares. The exhibition explores photos, artworks and photo art. It's on from 8am-5pm this weekend at the Old Courthouse. If you want to hone your own photographic skills, why not check out the Wollongong Walking Photography Group? It kicks off tomorrow and runs each Saturday from 7am to 8.30am.

8.27am SPORT: The reasons for the sacking of Kevin Pietersen still remain unclear after the England selector James Whitaker said he was "not at liberty to say" why the batsman had been dropped. Curiouser and curiouser.

8.25am Don't forget the Crown St Mall markets will be at the top of the mall today.

8.23am POLITICS: The former staffer found to have conspired with James Ashby to destroy the career of Peter Slipper is suing the former speaker and the federal government, alleging unlawful discrimination. Karen Doane launched the claim in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney on Tuesday, claiming she had been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of her sex, her race and under the disability discrimination legislation.

8.21am TRAFFIC ALERT - ALBION PARK RAIL: one of three northbound lanes is closed on the Princes Hwy near Airport Rd due to a two-car accident. Expect delays.

8.19am LOCAL NEWS: The trial of a woman accused of cruelly assaulting Illawarra teenager Louise O’Brien in the years before her death has been adjourned because a witness was close to giving birth.

8.17am A tribute to Pete Seeger, presented by Illawarra Folk Club, is on tonight at the City Diggers Club from 7.30pm. And if you love live music, why not head to the TBH on Sunday to see Ashleigh Mannix & the Penny Hartgerink trio? It's on from 3pm and it's free.

8.15am Okay, so I forgot to tell you about World Nutella Day. It was on Wednesday. BUT - that doesn't mean you can't celebrate today. Go on, grab a spoon...

8.13am WORLD NEWS: The Italian navy has rescued more than 1100 migrants from nine large rafts in the waters south of Sicily, the latest arrivals from North Africa. Check out the dramatic footage of the rescue here.

8.11am LOCAL SPORT: Jamberoo will celebrate the spirit of football this weekend with the 17th annual Johnny Warren Memorial Cup.

8.09am Cooking like an Italian chef is about more than just sipping red wine & tossing pasta - find out how to make all the classics like a real Italian cook here.

8.06am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Ashton Kutcher has given Charlie Sheen a serve, telling him to "get over" his firing from Two & a Half Men.

8.04am The Casuals will be holding a Spare Art Auction tomorrow to raise money for the Fred Hollows Foundation. There is no commission, just a $25 registration fee on the day for each artwork. Clifton School of Art from 4pm to 7pm.

8.02am MOVIE NEWS: The Wolf of Wall Street has another record to add to its title as the most profane major movie to come out of Hollywood. It has taken $12.96 million so far, overtaking Basic Instinct 's $12.76 million. Also on the list of highest-grossing R-rated movies in Australia are Pulp Fiction ($12.6 million), Kill Bill: Vol. I  ($8.2 million) and Eyes Wide Shut ($7.4 million). (SMH)

8am NATIONAL NEWS: They were young women, contract cleaners busy getting just another suburban house ready for just another tenant. But within moments, both the 21-year-olds were unconscious on the floor of the Medowie house after being bashed by an intruder in an attack so savage it has prompted senior police to rank it as one of the worst cases they have seen, the Newcastle Herald reports.

7.58am Le Cirque De Cabaret opens at Wollongong Workshop Theatre tonight. It's on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at 8pm with a show on Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $15, contact 0455 896 501 to book.

7.56am BREAKING: A 26-year-old man who ‘‘married’’ a 12-year-old girl has been arrested and charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with her. Police allege the man met the girl at Wallsend, in Newcastle last year and became involved in an ‘‘ongoing sexual relationship’’ with her. The pair then allegedly moved to a house in Guildford, in Sydney’s west, where they continued the relationship. Police claim the man and child were ‘‘married’’ in a religious ceremony in NSW earlier this year. He was refused bail and is due to appear in Burwood Local Court today. (AAP)

7.54am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Last year, fit and only 30, Bulli nurse Sharn McNeill had put just one item on her bucket list – to complete an ironman event. Then she was struck down by motor neurone disease. Read more about her battle here.

*A Thirroul woman says she has been left with a dangerous front yard after Endeavour Energy chopped her tree severely during a routine pruning.

*The Environment Protection Authority has confirmed that testing of the Port Kembla Copper stack revealed no signs of asbestos. Read more here.

*The friendship between slain Wollongong solicitor Katie Foreman and her murderer Wendy Evans had soured in the months before her death after Evans allegedly learnt her son and ex-boyfriend had both slept with Ms Foreman, a court has heard.

7.52am TGIF! Let's check out the latest weather & traffic for you.

WEATHER We're in for a mostly sunny day with a top of 24 degrees, yay! We will have some light winds tonight so keep a jacket handy. We're in for a pretty great weekend too - sunny skies with tops of 26 tomorrow and 27 on Sunday, yippee! Right now it's 13 degrees in Albion Park (thought it felt chilly!) and 18 in Bellambi.

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

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line but delays on the North Shore & Northern line.

7.48am Maxo & El Bandidtos are playing at North Gong tomorrow night.

7.46am STRANGE BUT TRUE (AND WORRYING!) - Staff would make fun of images from full-body scanners and target passengers from 12 countries, a former US airport security worker has alleged. A former US airport security worker has confirmed the suspicions of many fliers by admitting that staff will often laugh and gawk at the images of naked passengers that appear on full body scanners. Oh no - I knew it!

7.44am LOCAL NEWS: Wollongong businesses not only pay the third highest business rates in NSW – the rates are almost three times higher than Sutherland and Shellharbour. The Illawarra Business Chamber is concerned about the  business community’s ability to absorb further rate increases and has called on Wollongong City Council to put them on hold.

7.42am Plenty of boats will be out on the water today as part of a Sail Training Day at Illawarra Yacht Club. The coaching will concentrate on preparation for racing, boat handling, and theory covering race rules and basic tactics. There will be on water practice in the afternoon, followed by the inaugural South Coast Challenge Race.

7.40am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Miley Cyrus has bared it all again - this time for a German magazine spread. NB pics are not for the faint-hearted.

7.38am NATIONAL NEWS: Tony Abbott has flagged plans to bring forward a new farm household allowance to assist drought-affected farmers with dole-equivalent income support, but the government has yet to finalise a substantial package to help farm businesses with interest, feed or water. (The Guardian)

7.36am Speaking of the Hawks, they're playing the Adelaide 36ers at the WEC on Sunday afternoon. Go along and support the boys!

7.34am We're giving away tickets to see the Hawks take on the Crocs next Friday night. Don't miss out - enter here.

7.32am MOVIE NEWS: Elton John's film company has acquired the film rights to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hugely popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Announcing its acquisition on Wednesday, Rocket Pictures will adapt the stage musical into a full-length animated feature in association with Webber's production company Really Useful Group.

7.30am LOCAL NEWS: Mount St Thomas parent Danielle Broadhead, who campaigned to change child restraint laws after her daughter died in a car crash, believes taxis should not be treated differently to private vehicles.Read on for the full story.

7.28am I love, love, love Neil Finn - so I LOVED watching him on Max Sessions with a special appearance from Eddie Vedder - amaze. Check it out.

7.26am Want to get your feet dirty? The Stomping of the Grapes is on this weekend at Crooked River Wines in Gerringong. Cost: Adults $10, Children $5.

7.24am This has seriously made my life it's an app that replaces Tony Abbott's head with images of cats. You have to check it out, it's beyond description.

7.22am BREAKING: The Australian Greens have criticised the government for returning another boatload of asylum seekers to Indonesian waters, with reports children as young as 18 months old were on board. Dozens of asylum seekers were reportedly sent back into Indonesian waters aboard an Australian lifeboat, which later landed on a Javanese beach. The ABC says the boat was close to Christmas Island when it was intercepted by the Navy earlier this week, with those on board coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Pregnant women and children were transferred to the lifeboat, including one just 18 months old, the ABC said. (AAP)

7.20am NATIONAL NEWS: A Sydney teenager whose forceful arrest at last year's Sydney Mardi Gras parade sparked community outrage has been awarded nearly $40,000 in costs and plans to ride atop a float at this year's celebration.

7.16am Have you checked out Radar Illawarra, our weekly live music round-up? It's great if you want to know what is going around the region - and who doesn't. Read it now!

7.14am Last week, we showed you the world's scariest climbs. This week, we've got the world's scariest bridges - I would definitely poo my pants on some of these!

7.12am WORLD NEWS: Six members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot on Thursday accused their previously imprisoned bandmates of undermining the group's ideals by appearing at a charity concert introduced by Madonna. Read more here.

7.10am Need a laugh? Peter Miesel is a veteran comedian who brings his live show to The Builder’s Basement tomorrow night from 8pm. Tickets start at $15. To book, visit www.wollongongcomedy.com.au.

7.08am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Mila Kunis has been spotted without make-up - and she looks gorgeous. Horrible woman!

7.06am LOCAL NEWS: Animals are looking for love too - the RSPCA is hosting the first national Valentine’s Day pet dating event for animals in need of a new home.Wollongong locals will be able to meet six animals in need of a family on Saturday, February 15, at Petbarn, West Wollongong. Awwwww.

7.04am In other art news, the high-end art market has kicked off 2014 with a bang when sales at Christie’s impressionist, modern and surrealist art auction set a new record high for any London sale. The evening fetched a cool £177 million ($AU325 million), comfortably beating the pre-sale estimate of £113 million to £163 million.The top price was paid for a 1915 painting by Juan Gris, Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux, which fetched £35 million, setting a new world record price for the artist and for any Cubist work. (SMH)

7.02am Malcolm Benham’s exhibiton "Scrap Culture 1980-2014: A Retrospective" officially opens at Wollongong Art Gallery tonight from 6pm. All welcome, refreshments available. The exhibition runs until 25 May.

7am NATIONAL NEWS: 300 Ford workers will lose their jobs in June when the car company reduces production at its Victorian manufacturing plants as it prepares to cease manufacturing. Read more here.

6.58am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Brangelina has left the building. Yep, Brad & Ang appear to have said goodbye to Australia, touching down at LAX with all the kids in tow.

6.56am STRANGE BUT TRUE: A Harley-Davidson motorbike that briefly belonged to Pope Francis has been sold for 241,500 euro ($A369,000), 16 times its highest original valuation, at an auction in Paris. The US motorbike maker gave the 1585cc Dyna Super Glide to the Pope in June to mark the brand's 110th anniversary and while the 77-year-old never rode it, he signed it before donating it to Roman Catholic charity Caritas Roma. "It's a record for a post-vintage motorbike, from the 21st century," said Bonhams France, the auction house, adding the bike was purchased by an unidentified European buyer. (SMH)

6.54am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Last year, fit and only 30, Bulli nurse Sharn McNeill had put just one item on her bucket list – to complete an ironman event. Then she was struck down by motor neurone disease. Read more about her battle here.

*A Thirroul woman says she has been left with a dangerous front yard after Endeavour Energy chopped her tree severely during a routine pruning.

*The Environment Protection Authority has confirmed that testing of the Port Kembla Copper stack revealed no signs of asbestos. Read more here.

*The friendship between slain Wollongong solicitor Katie Foreman and her murderer Wendy Evans had soured in the months before her death after Evans allegedly learnt her son and ex-boyfriend had both slept with Ms Foreman, a court has heard.

6.52am TGIF! Let's check out the latest weather & traffic for you.

WEATHER We're in for a mostly sunny day with a top of 24 degrees, yay! We will have some light winds tonight so keep a jacket handy. We're in for a pretty great weekend too - sunny skies with tops of 26 tomorrow and 27 on Sunday, yippee! Right now it's 9 degrees in Albion Park (thought it felt chilly!) and 16 in Bellambi.

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

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line.

6.50am Okay, so these unicorn shoes are either seriously fashion forward - or seriously butt ugly. What do you think?

6.48am Sugar Cube Wollongong is serving up Valentine's Day wafflepops. Awww how sweet (literally!) Treat your sweetie with some sweet treats!

6.46am BREAKING: A teenage boy is in a critical condition after falling out of a moving vehicle near Bathurst. The 16-year-old fell out of his mother’s four-wheel drive as she slowed down to pull off the Mid Western Highway on Thursday evening, police say. The boy landed heavily on the road. He was taken to Bathurst Hospital before being airlifted to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, where he underwent surgery. He remains in a critical condition. (AAP)

6.44am Do you anyone who tied the knot last year? Check out our gallery of 2013 weddings.

6.42am So, I'm hearing a lot about this new Flappy Bird game. This week, it's become the number 1 free app on the iTunes store. It looks to be causing a lot of rage. Thoughts? 

6.40am The Nowra Show is on this weekend. Don't miss out!

6.38am Potty-mouthed citizens of NSW, take note - swearing in public could soon cost you three times as much as it used to. When the state government more than tripled the on-the-spot fine for swearing in public last week, critics were left asking WTF. NB police will soon be able to issue fines of up to $500 to anyone that displays offensive language, up from $150. Crap! (SMH)

6.36am TV NEWS: This story is hilarious - like a theme-park ride attendant, Australia's Next Top Model judge Alex Perry wants the height restrictions strictly enforced for this season's auditions. Perry says it's in the interests of the winning model that she be at least 178cm (or 5ft 10in), as stipulated in the rules - even though last year's winner, Melissa Juratowitch, is considerably shorter.

6.34am Are those Facebook "look-back" movies spamming your feed? Then you'll love this...

6.32am STRANGE BUT TRUE (AND GROSS):  A previously unidentified species of giant jellyfish is invading southern Tasmania, baffling scientists after one of the animals washed up on the beach. And watch out - the new species is described as being a type of "snotty". Read all about it here.

6.30am LOCAL SPORT: Coach Steve Price is confident St George Illawarra can regain their status as one of the NRL's leading teams this season after a raft of personnel changes.

6.28am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Women of the world, I have GREAT news - Ryan Gosling is SINGLE AGAIN!!!! Yep, it appears things are really over between him and g/f Eva Mendes.

6.26am WORLD NEWS: A longtime star of the British soap opera Coronation Streetwas cleared on Thursday of multiple charges of sexual assault against young girls. A jury at Britain's Preston Crown Court found 81-year-old William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow on the show, not guilty of four counts of indecent assault and two counts of rape.

6.24am Saving Mr Banks is on at the sunset cinema at the Botanic Gardens tonight. Grab your popcorn and your chair and enjoy a film under the stars!

6.22am STRANGE BUT TRUE: Staff at Ueno zoo in Tokyo have practised their drills for capturing escaped animals - and it's freaking hilarious. An employee dressed up in a gorilla suit to test the staffs' skills. Too funny - check it out here.

6.20am WINTER OLYMPICS: Aussie snowboarder Alex “Chumpy” Pullin will carry the Australian flag at tonight's Winter Olympics opening ceremony. NB You can watch the ceremony live - at 4.15am. Urgh, good lord no!

6.18am LOCAL NEWS: Ten Gujarat NRE workers will lose their jobs through forced redundancies, the troubled Illawarra mining company announced on Thursday.

6.16am TV NEWS: If you missed this story yesterday, the winner of the US Biggest Loser has been slammed for her dramatic weight loss - many have claimed she looks "skeletal". But she's hit back, saying the weight loss was all "natural". Hmmm - you be the judge.

6.14am NATIONAL NEWS: The picture of Simon Gittany painted by his friends and family in the courtroom seemed completely at odds with the 40-year-old's brutal crime. 44 references were submitted during the convicted murderer's sentencing hearing on Thursday, but virtually none of them conceded that in July 2011 he had thrown Lisa Cecilia Harnum off the 15th storey of their apartment in the Sydney CBD following a traumatic relationship characterised by domination and control.

6.12am BREAKING: Reports are circulating that Schapelle Corby could earn up to $3 million for her story. But her parole could be revoked if authorities suspect she is lying. (Nine News)

6.10am Don't forget the Twilight Markets are on tonight. Sample fresh international cuisine, listen to music and watch the sun set over Flagstaff Hill. From 5:30pm to 8:30pm.

6.08am CELEB GOSS ALERT: Mean Girls reunion! Well, kind of. Lindsay Lohan and Daniel Franzese, who played Cady Heron and her too-gay-to-function bestie Damian, had a random run-in at a Mexican restaurant in NYC this week. Awwww.

6.06am Let's check out the national headlines, via the SMH:

*The Abbott government’s $70 million independent public schools plan has been dealt another blow with the ACT and Tasmanian governments joining NSW in distancing themselves from the scheme.

*The elite private schools that boycotted the Scots College basketball teams over the alleged payment of prohibited scholarships have agreed to resume competition after a five-month stand-off.

*Late fees are under scrutiny after a court ruled that ANZ’s $35 late-payment fee was ‘‘extravagant, exorbitant and unconscionable’’, deeming it illegal.

*Hospitals are being left millions of dollars out of pocket for treating serious trauma cases, according to data that may lead to an overhaul of a new federal funding system.

6.04am Here's what's making news in your Mercury today:

*Last year, fit and only 30, Bulli nurse Sharn McNeill had put just one item on her bucket list – to complete an ironman event. Then she was struck down by motor neurone disease. Read more about her battle here.

*A Thirroul woman says she has been left with a dangerous front yard after Endeavour Energy chopped her tree severely during a routine pruning.

*The Environment Protection Authority has confirmed that testing of the Port Kembla Copper stack revealed no signs of asbestos. Read more here.

*The friendship between slain Wollongong solicitor Katie Foreman and her murderer Wendy Evans had soured in the months before her death after Evans allegedly learnt her son and ex-boyfriend had both slept with Ms Foreman, a court has heard.

6.02am Let's check out what's happening in the sky and on the roads & rail right this second, shall we?

WEATHER We're in for a mostly sunny day with a top of 24 degrees, yay! We will have some light winds tonight so keep a jacket handy. We're in for a pretty great weekend too - sunny skies with tops of 26 tomorrow and 27 on Sunday, yippee! Right now it's 10 degrees in Albion Park (thought it felt chilly!) and 16 in Bellambi.

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

TRAINS There is a good service on the South Coast line.

6am Good morning and TGIF!  We made it! We're in for a gorgeous weekend (I'm working tomorrow, ho hum :() with beautiful sunny skies! Stay with me this morning for all the latest news - plenty happening around the traps.

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