NZNBL Round 1 preview: New season tips off
AFTER an extended off-season, the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) returns tonight, with the first of six games across the weekend. A total of 10 teams will begin their road for glory, with reigning premiers Wellington Saints and runners-up Hawke’s Bay Hawks among the title contenders. Newly renamed Auckland Tuatara enter the fold, with six sides able to qualify for playoffs.
Friday, April 29 @ 7:30pm
The highlighted match for Round 1 is the blockbuster clash between Wellington Saints and Southland Sharks. The Saints will naturally be favourites for the game, but the Sharks are at home at ILT Stadium. The top-end talent of the Sharks could match it with the Saints, with the extra depth of the Wellington outfit likely to be the key difference.
Southland has recruited well, bringing in Australian NBL excitement machine Mojave King who will look even better in the NZNBL, whilst the likes of Jaylen Gerrand and Romaro Gill join the already damaging Dom Kelman-Poto and Brayden Inger. On paper, the starting five is just as strong as the Saints, which is why it makes it such an entertaining contest. Though what will be the litmus test will be the rotations, and whether or not the likes of Tom Cowie and Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape can continue that form.
It is no surprise to see Wellington again amongst the top couple of teams in the competition. Along with Hawks, the Saints have top-end stars and depth, lead by 2020 NZNBL MVP Tom Vodanovich who joins ex-Nugget Jordan Ngatai as a couple of massive recruits. The likes of Taane Samuel, Francis Mulvihill and Ken Tuffin are all such potent shooters, whilst Johnny Helu and Rangimarie Dougall-Mita can contribute to the team’s success.
Wellington to win in a thriller.
AROUND THE COURTS
Tipping off action tonight is a battle between the Nelson Giants and Otago Nuggets, with both sides recruiting some impress imports in Trey Mourning and Tahjere McCall respectively. Both teams should be around the mark this season, and though perhaps a touch off the top couple, will be exciting teams to keep an eye on. The Nuggets also take on the Canterbury Rams on Saturday, hitting the road for a second successive time in week one.
Meanwhile the other side to play two matches is the Taranaki Mountainairs up against Auckland Tuatara and Manawatu Jets. The Airs finished on the bottom last season and have lost their star player in Marcel Jones but were able to pick up Richie Rodger to complement Carlin Davison. It is a big year coming up for Tai Wynyard who assume’s Jones’ mantle as the star player.
Elsewhere, the Hawks open their account against the Franklin Bulls. The massive recruit of Jack Salt along with ex-Rams coach Mick Downer means the Hawks are in the box seat for a title this season given they have the ridiculously-stacked team that features Hyrum Harris, Jarrod Kenny, Derone Raukawa and Jordan Hunt. Good luck trying to stop that side, but the Bulls will be the first to give it a crack, having brought in experience with Corey Webster and Leon Henry to try and help them rise up the ladder.