SOUTHLAND Sharks are not phased they will have to beat an additional team in defending their National Basket Ball league title in the upcoming season.
That’s the opinion of Sharks general manager Jill Bolger as the team prepares to do battle against the first Australian side to enter the competition, the Southern Huskies.
The team based in Tasmania was announced as the ninth franchise late last year, and in joining the competition, became the first Australian sporting side to compete in a New Zealand sporting competition.
Mrs Bolger admits the announcement came as a bit of surprise. “I think we were all a bit taken aback to begin with. Clearly we’re used to New Zealand teams crossing the ditch and playing in Australian competitions, but the whole concept of one coming the other way probably hadn’t been something that had been considered, let alone in the NBL.”
She said it was a move she and other teams were supportive of.
“I’m excited to meet them, I’m excited to see what they bring to the league… I think our fans and our public will react very well and welcome them to ILT Stadium Southland. I have no doubt about that. For them I think it’s an exciting thing.”
The Huskies started off with a bid to enter the Australian NBL, but with that plan facing several hurdles the team decided to hedge their bets by entering what Huskies chief executive Justin Hickey said was a far more competitive league than anything else in Australia outside of the ANBL.
“The NZ NBL is a really good strong tough league with lots of European, New Zealand, Australian and other import talent coming in there. It’s much much stronger than the South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) and the new format for the Victoria league. (I was told) do the ring around and see if there is an opportunity to go into there. Because they’re trying to push that league and make it as high profile as you possible can as well.”
Mr Hickey plans for the Huskies to be able to challenge for the title in their first season, with several big name players already signed up. They’re headlined by former Adelaide 36ers big man and future NBA prospect Harry Froling.
“We’re not coming to make up the numbers. We’re coming out to win,” Mr Hickey said.
It’s a fact which Mrs Bolger admits makes the prospect of coming up against the Huskies a challenging one.
“I think that having another team, which I believe will be very strong in the league, is going to help hopefully to add a bit of interest this season,” she said.
Mr Hickey labelled the Sharks as one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in their hopes of a title in their inaugural season.
“It’s a really strong league. Obviously the Sharks they won it last season. I know full well they’ve put in a lot of time and effort and money into a really competitive team next season,” he said.
As the start of the season fast approaches, Mrs Bolger is relishing the prospect of hitting the court.
“Being hunted is nothing new for us… I think we’re the hunted anyway or whoever is the current champion are always the hunted. It just means there are eight teams that are hunting you instead of seven.”
And given the Huskies’ connection to the Sharks as being the southernmost team for the respective country they represent, Mrs Bolger is happy to come into the season with a win against their new rivals.
“I guess we retain that title of the southernmost team in the league,” she said.