The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks today go their separate ways after last night's Grand Final loss to Wellington Saints, and you can tell the end of the season is bitter sweet for a squad that developed a very close bond.
Players took to social media after last night's Final to thank the fans
Both coach Judd Flavell and captain Duane Bailey paid special tribute to the 2017 group after the game last night.
Coach Judd: "Individually as players and as people this group just make me proud to be part of them and to coach them. They've been such an easy group to coach and I think it showed in the way we played our games. We weren't always on top of it but we certainly stuck together and at the end of it I think we were a complete team and on any given night we really rated our chances but obviously tonight Saints were too good."
The team now disperses for what will be a busy off-season for many.
Derone Raukawa, Luke Aston and James Hunter fly out for China with the New Zealand Select team on Tuesday for its invitational tournament.
Mitch Norton and Nick Kay now fly home to Sydney and are also China-bound for an NBL Australia selection tour, before both will link with the Australian Boomers' Asia Cup training squad ahead of the FIBA Asia Cup from 8-20 August. The 20-strong squad will be trimmed to 12 for the trip to Lebanon. Both will then re-join the Illawarra Hawks for the 2017-18 ANBL.
The Tall Blacks will also travel to Beirut in August with a squad to assemble in late July. Alex Pledger and Reuben Te Rangi are right in the frame for New Zealand for the Asia Cup and FIBA World Cup qualifying, which will begin with a game against South Korea in New Zealand on 23rd November. Both will then commence full ANBL off-season preparations for the NZ Breakers and Brisbane Bullets respectively.
Hayden Allen returns to Auckland in his role as Community Partnerships Manager for the SKYCITY Breakers, while locals Andrew Wheeler, Jordan Murphy and Connor Coll return to Southland and will be mixing it up on Tuesday nights in the Southland senior competition.
Captain Duane Bailey will consider his off-season playing options, with a return to Brisbane a possibility.
Young talents Josh Aitcheson and Sharks Development Players Tom Cowie and Mac Stodart also face busy times.
Aitcheson is currently in final preparations for the Junior Tall Blacks FIBA U19 World Cup campaign in Cairo, with the tournament beginning on 1st July. Stodart will play for the New Zealand U16 team in the Australian Junior Championships in Perth next month, while Cowie is part of the National U17 squad awaiting confirmation of its path to the 2018 World Championships via the Oceania and Asia zones.
A busy off season for our Sharks and we'll keep you updated on their efforts all year long.