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Sharks big man ready for opener

At 2.15cm, and with eight years playing in either the New Zealand or Australian National Basketball Leagues, the Southland Sharks possess a not so secret weapon.

The Sharks will open their 2017 NBL campaign in Invercargill on Thursday night against the Nelson Giants.

Southland's 2017 roster contains a raft of key players, but whenever you roll out Alex Pledger he gains much of the attention.

Attention from opposition teams and attention from Sharks fans hoping he yet again delivers on his obvious rebounding abilities.

Pledger led the rebounding stats in last year's New Zealand NBL, his first season with the Sharks, with 11.4 per game.

The 29-year-old, who is coming off yet another season with the New Zealand Breakers, will again headline Southland's charge under the basket this season - an assignment he is used to.

"It has always been a strength of mine and I had a pretty good year in that area last year.

"So hopefully I'll be able to produce something similar [this year], or maybe even better."

The Sharks were beaten semifinalists in Pledger's first season with the Sharks last year and was confident will be a force in 2017.

"Obviously we want to be a playoff team again. We've brought back, obviously not the exact same team, but quite a few of the guys that were here last year," he said.

"We came pretty close to getting Wellington in the semfinals last year so hopefully we can build on that and go a couple of steps further this year."

Southland heads into Thursday night's competition opener against the Nelson Giants as hot favorites - $1.15 at the TAB in fact.

But the Sharks only need to turn the clock back 12 months to avoid any complacency.

The two teams also met in round one last year where Nelson blitzed Southland by 26 points in front of a stunned crowd in Invercargill.

Since last season Nelson have lost quality players and Southland have recruited well but Pledger is mindful of what Nelson will bring to the game.

There is a bit of an unknown factor to the Giants given they have two imports who most in New Zealand have seen little of.

"I don't know a lot about their imports but with Finn [Delany] and Dion Prewster I can't imagine they are a team that wants to play slow.

"I Imagine them being a team that will want to get up and down a bit, those two in particular, are good athletes," Pledger said.

Meanwhile, ILT Stadium Southland have invested in new hoops and backboards for the 2017 Sharks season.

The old hoops caused a wee bit of a stir last year when opposition teams voiced their dislike of the standard of the hoops in Invercargill.

Stadium Southland general manager Nigel Skelt the new hoops were the exact replica of the hoops used in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"We replaced the hoops because of the metal fatigue from players dunking the ball with significant cracks appearing, affecting the health and safety around the use of the hoops," he said.

"They are state of the art, extremely user-friendly, we now only need the Sharks to put the ball through the hoop on a pretty regular basis."

The hoops will also be used by the wider basketball community for their games.

The cost of the new hoops were $45,000 with the Southern Trust ($20,000), ILT Foundation ($10,000) and New Zealand Racing Board ($7000) contributing.

The Southland Indoor Leisure Centre Community Trust picked up the shortfall.


What: NZ National Basketball League

Who: Southland Sharks v Nelson Giants

Where: ILT Stadium Southland, Invercargill

When: Thursday, 7pm


Nelson Giants: Joe Slocum, Curtis Washington, Riley Bensemann, Bronson Beri, Finn Delany, Sam Dempster, Ali Granger, Tom Ingham, Tyler Marsh, Dion Prewster, Sam Seelen, Nic Trathen.

Southland Sharks: Mitch Norton, Nick Kay, Hayden Allen, Luke Aston, Duane Bailey, Connor Coll, Tom Cowie, James Hunter, Jordan Murphy, Alex Pledger, Derone Raukawa, Oliver Smith, Reuben Te Rangi, Andrew Wheeler.

Image and article courtesy of The Southland Times

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