As the Sal’s NBL celebrates its 40th season, so do the Mike Pero Nelson Giants, and a loud, amped Trafalgar Centre will be waiting to welcome them home this afternoon and watch them get their season underway. Standing in the way of the perfect start to the milestone season are the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks. The perennial title contenders will be frothing to get back to basketball after sitting out the 2020 Showdown.
Potential Giants line-up
Import PG Hunter Hale will run the cutter for the Giants, alongside the ferociously energetic Tom Ingham. Former college star Donte Ingram will need to perform in the 3 spot if the Giants are to fulfil their potential this season, while the Trafalgar Centre faithful will reserve their biggest cheer for local favourite Sam Dempster, who returns for season number 13 having missed 2020. Coach Mike Fitchett has a decision to make at centre, with veteran Bronson Beri back on board, but look for young Anzac Rissetto to aptly start on the holiday Monday.
Potential Sharks line-up
Experienced import PG Courtney Belger has popular shoes to fill with no Jarrad Weeks in Sharks colours this season. He’ll likely line up in a backcourt with a man who knows this league very well, Alonzo Burton. Rob Beveridge could throw vaunted youngster Brayden Inger out for his NBL debut, and with the loss of Alex Pledger for at least the first 6 weeks of the season, Dom Kelman-Poto and Josh Cunningham will likely shift up a spot each to form the frontcourt.
The Giants will lean on their army of Nelsonians to come off the pine. Tysxun Aiolupotea will back up Hale, while Nic Trathen is set for a big season as a second unit swingman. Tyler Marsh is back from the US and impressed in the limited pre-season.
The Sharks made a sneaky good off-season steal, nabbing Toby Gillooly from the Rams. Expect to see plenty of him over the course of the season. Beyond that they don’t run super deep, but we may see minutes from the likes of Johnny Helu and Tom Cowie, while big Liam McRae's role may have increased in the absence of Pledger.
Not many people know Nelson, or the Giants, as well as Mike Fitchett. He devoted almost all his playing career to his hometown team and is back for his 3rd season as head coach.
Meanwhile, Rob Beveridge enters the Sal’s NBL a year later than originally planned, and comes with one of the biggest reputations the league has seem for some time. The long time Australian NBL coach is ready for something new and is a huge get for Southland.
Where it’ll be won
There’s no hiding the fact that the loss of Alex Pledger late in the off-season is a big blow to the Sharks plans. The Giants will look to capitalise through their two big bodies, Rissetto and Beri. The Giants certainly run deeper than the Sharks, but the four unknowns are the four American imports, who could make or break the game for their teams. It may sound simplistic, but with two astute coaches on display, it’ll likely come down to which team executes the best. A frighteningly close one to call.
How to watch
SKY Sport 4 – 2pm – Commentary from Huw Beynon and Phill Jones