NIGHT one of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showndown results are in the books, with Taranaki Mountainairs and Canterbury Rams emerging victorious to tip-off their seasons on the right note. Now the Airs front up again tonight to take on Franklin Bulls, whilst Manawatu Jets and Otago Nuggets are up first for their respective first games of the season.
MANAWATU JETS VS. OTAGO NUGGETS
In the final match of three games between sides yet to step out on court, two teams that have plenty of top-end talent will go head-to-head in what is predicted to be an exciting contest. Manawatu Jets might have finished on the bottom of the table last season, but expect that to change in 2020 with the former Southland Sharks duo in Tom Vodanovich and Hyrum Harris running around in the green, black and white. Similarly, whilst the Nuggets might not have played last season, they picked Jordan Ngatai with the first pick in the Player Draft, and then managed to secure another player they had potentially earmarked for the top pick in Jarrod Kenny. All four players have some serious skill and expect them to be among the top players to watch this season for their respective sides.
The Jets are a side that has plenty of local talent too, with captain and club legend Tia Temata-Frost one who is important to the structure of the side. Whilst he cannot play in this game, or indeed until July, Nelson Kirksey looms as a shrewd pickup and one who if the Jets can start off on the right note, could have an impact late in the season leading up to playoffs. The Nuggets might be an unknown quantity in terms of what they could offer, returning to the league for the first time since 2014. They have been able to pick up a lot of local selections to surround their two stars, with Josh Aitcheson and Darcy Knox among the ones to watch heading into the season.
We saw last night how important cohesion and familiarity can be on the court with Canterbury Rams so accustomed to playing together. This will likely give the Jets an advantage, but with the Nuggets having that damaging duo on court, they will be hard to stop.
FRANKLIN BULLS VS. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS
In the first of many this season, a side having played a game the day before takes on a team fresh off a break. But in this encounter, Franklin Bulls will play their inaugural game in the competition, as the side enters the Sal’s NBL for the first time in history. They take on a Taranaki Mountainairs team that is looking to roll over its form from the night before into this clash, having already notched up a win against Nelson Giants.
The Bulls come into this match with a couple of important bigs in Dom Kelman-Poto and Sam Timmins likely to shake up the competition on court. Led by new coach Liam Simmons, the Bulls are that unknown quantity, but have some serious young talent down to their last selection in the draft in Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape. Jackson Stubbins showed some promising signs for Manawatu Jets last season and had earned a co-captaincy there for this season, but will now be looking to ply his trade for the Bulls and get Franklin off to a perfect start in their inaugural game.
For the first time in these previews, there is some evidence to go in with for one side, and the Mountainairs showed they will not be an easy beat this season, coming from a point down at quarter time against the Giants to run out 112-96 winners. Derone Raukawa lived up to all expectations as the second pick in the Player Draft, dropping 28 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and a steal, sooting at 66.7 per cent from the field, including a remarkable five of six three-point bombs. He will be hard to stop, but it was the contributions of Francis Mulvihill (16 points, five assists and two steals) and Marcel Jones (13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) that really showed there will be plenty of support for Raukawa on the court.
The Airs will be hard to stop if they can bring last night’s form into this game, but the Bulls have the element of surprise on their side, making this a tantalising clash.