Taylor Hawks v SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks
When: Thursday, April 26th, 7pm (Live Streamed)
Where: Pettigrew Green, Arena
Referees: Melony Welleans, Tayla Ammunson, Sam Pan
Game Notes: Last year’s runners up Sharks open the season with their first four games on the road beginning with the Hawks, who have made some key acquisitions in the off-season adding the likes of guards Dion Prewster and Ethan Rusbatch. Sharks have retained the majority of their kiwi line-up from last season with Tall Blacks Alex Pledger and Reuben Te Rangi back. Sharks have added two new imports in Jarrad Weeks and Orlando Coleman Jr who replace Mitch Norton and Nick Kay. Hawks have struggled in the last two seasons with a combined 4-22 record, but with a much improved roster and the addition of new head coach Zico Coronel, the Hawks have a strong chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when they won the regular season with a 15-3 record. Sharks have been dominant in the recent match ups between the two winning the last eight. Key match up will be between centre’s Pledger and Hawks import Angus Brandt. Brandt is coming off a successful stint with the Australian Boomers side that took out the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games.
Cigna Saints v SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks
When: Friday, April 27th, 7pm (Live Streamed)
Where: TSB Bank Arena, Wellington
Referees: Ryan Jones, Yalla Edwards, Marty Davison
Game Notes: The two time defending champs and holder of a 24 game winning streak, the Saints will host the Sharks in a rematch of last year’s final. Since 2014 the Saints have been tough to beat at home with a 32-8 record, but it wont phase the Sharks who have had success in Wellington winning twice in 2015, which included a 108-76 blowout during the regular season and their grand-final victory. Sharks were also holder of one of the longest winning streaks in NBL history with 16 straight wins, which ended on opening night in 2016. Match up of the game will between point guards Shea Ili and Jarrad Weeks who will become team mates in the upcoming ANBL season with the Breakers. The two teams have dominated the NBL since 2010, the Saints winning five titles and the Sharks two. The only team to win a title since during that span is the now defunct Auckland Pirates in 2012.
The Wheeler Motor Rams v 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers
When: Friday, April 27th, 7pm (Live Streamed)
Where: Cowles Stadium, Chrischurch
Referees: Sean Cronin, Gavin Zimmerman, Hayden Pipe
Game Notes: Last year’s semi-finalists the Rams and Rangers will open the season with relatively new rosters from last season. The Rams will have three new imports in Winston Shepard III, Julian Williams-Washburn, and Xavier Thames, who replace McKenzie Moore and Jeremy Kendle. The three imports will have to provide with the majority of the offense with the los-es of key scorers Marcel Jones (22.5 points per game), and Ethan Rusbatch who averaged 12.3 points. The Rangers have also two new imports in Clayton Wilson and Okesene Ale who takeover from Mitch McCarron and Nnanna Egwu. McCarron will be in particular a big loss for the Rangers after leading them in scoring at 22.1 points per game. The Rangers will have the experience advantage with Dillon Boucher and Lindsay Tait returning. Boucher will play his 25th NBL season and will look to add to his record 410 games. Two-time league MVP, Tait, should reach 300 NBL games, currently at 290.
Mike Pero Nelson Giants v 2 Cheap Cars Supercity Rangers
When: Saturday, April 28th, 7pm (Live Streamed)
Where: Trafalgar Centre, Nelson
Referees: Matt Bathurst, Melony Wealleans, Marty Davison
Game Notes: The Giants should be a much improved side from last season after impressive wins in the pre-season Blitz against the Saints, Hawks and Sharks. Nelson stalwart, Mike Vukona, returns to his home franchise where he led them to their last title in 2007. Vukona last played in the NBL for the Rangers in 2016 season, but probably won’t be available for the first few weeks. Nelson will boast three Tall Blacks on their roster with Finn Delany returning and Tohi Smith-Milner joining the side. New head coach and former Cairns Taipans assistant, Jamie Pearlman, has added Jerry Evans and Damon Heuir as imports alongside returning point guard Kyle Adnam. Nelsons core local role players have returned so they will look to take advantage of playing a Rangers team on the second night of a back to back. Rangers were strong last season against Nelson winning all three times, two of which were at Trafalgar centre.
Go Media Jets v Augusta Mountainairs
When: Sunday, April 29th, 3pm (Live Streamed)
Where: Ballroom Arena, Manawatu
Referees: Dallas Pickering, Sam Pan, Duran Whiu
Game Notes: After a two season absence the Manawatu Jets return for their 32nd NBL season. The Jets have a relatively inexperienced roster, but have reportedly added former NZ Most Valuable Player, Marcel Jones, who began his career with the Jets as an import in 2009, where he averaged a career best 27 points per game. Taranaki have been competitive for the last couple of seasons, and will have the same back court of Houston O’Riley and Alonzo Burton returning. But Airs will have a huge gap to fill with veteran Aaron Bailey-Nowell not with them this season. Bailey-Nowell has been with the franchise for the last ten seasons and played a total 199 of 268 career games there. Taranaki, still should have a competitive starting line-up with new imports Javonte Douglas, Xavier Smith and Roger Wood joining the franchise. The franchise has the longest active streak of not making the playoffs at 15. Much like the Airs, Manawatu will heavily rely on their imports of Kuran Iverson, Daishon Knight and Brandon Lucas if they have hopes of making a run for the playoffs.