The SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks may be on a five-game winning streak, but their 84-70 victory over the Wellington Saints on Friday night in the deep south will be the one they savour the most.
Locking horns once again in the competition's most notable rivalry of the last decade, the Sharks jumped out of the blocks with a plan to run against the previously unbeaten Saints, and it worked a treat as they raced to an early advantage.
Unusually, the Saints couldn't maintain possession and turned the ball over too much for their own liking, errors the Sharks happily snapped up. Coupled with some wayward shooting, the visitors struggled to match the home team and at multiple times found themselves trailing by double-digit margins.
Fouls were a problem at times for both teams and would be telling late in the game, though the foul-shooting was an area the Sharks didn't capitalise on (12-22).
Time and time again the Saints looked to Dion Prewster, Kerwin Roach and Taane Samuel to respond, and even though they found a way to sneak 2-points clear during the third quarter comeback, the Sharks responded through Courtney Belger, Josh Cunningham and Dom Kelman-Poto, while Alonzo Burton was everywhere.
As the clock ticked down during a frantic final period the Saints lost both Smith-Milner and Roach due to fouls and from that point the Sharks sensed they were on the verge of delivering a memorable win.
Belger was very impressive and has clearly found his stride, and of course Kelman-Poto once again showed that his work ethic is a huge plus at the most critical times.
To the delight of the Orange Army, the Sharks cleared out in the dying minutes to record a 14-point win, but even more impressive was their continual ability to thwart the Saints across all four quarters.
Defensively the Sharks came to play and halted the League's leading offensive team, it was a performance every other coach in the competition will be reviewing.
Both teams have just under 24 hours to rest up with the Sharks heading to Dunedin for their first clash with the Nuggets since 2014, while the Saints travel further up the south island to play the Rams.
Six rounds in and every team has won a game, and now every team has lost a game. The second half of the 2021 season just went up a level!
Southland Sharks (84) defeated Wellington Saints (70) - BOXSCORE
Sharks: Courtney Belger (19pts, 7ast), Dom Kelman-Poto (17pts, 11rbs, 6ast), Alonzo Burton (15pts, 5ast, 5stl), Brayden Inger (14pts), Josh Cunningham (13pts, 9rbs).
Saints: Kerwin Roach (17pts, 6ast), Taane Samuel (13pts), Dion Prewster (11pts, 8rbs).
• Courtney Belger continues to impress and once again he was masterful in the way he led his team at both ends of the floor. His slow start to the season is way long gone, he is a genuine star of the competition and arguably one of the best creators.
• The Sharks came in with a plan to run hard offensively and it worked, especially early in the game. They matched it with smothering defence, holding the Saints to just 70 points, while forcing them into 20 turnovers.
• Is Dom Kelman-Poto the hardest working forward in the Sal's NBL? Time and time again he found himself battling with the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner and Taane Samuel in this game, and he came out on top more often than not. His performance was a key factor in the win,
Stuff MVP Votes
Dom Kelman-Poto (Sharks) 10
Courtney Belger (Sharks) 8
Josh Cunningham (Sharks) 6
Dion Prewster (Saints) 4
Kerwin Roach (Saints) 2
Image by John Hawkins